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COVID in Austin Update (July 4)

New hospitalization records and sharing my reporting methods.

Happy 4th of July! 🇺🇸

I’m taking the day off so holding off on most of my news reading. I’m assuming not much is going to break on the holiday. (I’m writing this part on the 3rd)

I did want to cover what exactly I do. I’m not a journalist nor an expect in public health or anything related to this. I like having clear information and data and I like having it as close to the source as possible.

With this virus, following along with the news, then reviewing information myself, I’ve found often there are disconnects between the reporting and the actual information. Sometimes, these seem more extreme (“masks are pointless!” as seen on some cable news shows) and sometimes, it is subtle things.

Sometimes, the news media deserves it: when CBS aired B-roll from hospitals in Italy where were completely overwhelmed at the time while talking about New York City hospitals or when Fox News photoshopped a man with a long gun into various pictures of Seattle.

As a Catholic, whenever the press writes about the Church, they usually get some little things wrong. I can tell someone who was an outsider wrote it

Plenty of time, the media is correct, but there’s enough mess like the above out there that I follow the idea of “trust, but verify”—the Russian proverb that was made famous in the states by Ronald Reagan.

I have my national news outlets that I usually read for general information, such as the New York Times or the Washington Post. I would read the Wall Street Journal to help provide some different angles, but even their all digital subscription was too expensive the last I looked. I follow Austin’s public media station, KUT, closely and the Texas Tribute for Texas political issues. I skim the Statesman and local TV media sites.

Generally, if they have some piece of news that is interesting to me regarding a topic that I care about—like the coronavirus—I try to find an original source. For example, yesterday’s story about the July Bar Exams being cancelled, I looked up the Texas Supreme Court’s site and found the press release. Same thing when someone reports TABC closed something down.

Remember the movie, Men In Black, when Tommy Lee Jones picks up the tabloids from the news stand as his “hot sheets”?

That’s me with the real media. 😀 Find a tip, then dig into more primary sources when I can with relative ease. Yay the Internet! The New York Times has a really in-depth county-by-county dataset for cases and deaths, but you better believe I spot-checked a few counties to make sure the NYT data matched the official data before I used it as a data source. Trust, but verify.

In addition, I have a few experts I follow that when they give opinions, they link the data behind it, whom I trust their opinions and I verify their data makes sense to me—not that I’m an expert, but I have a little statistics training, so trying to spot obvious-to-me flaws.

Lastly, I follow various primary sources directly.

The only thing I have on the news front is to ask for prayers for my family. No one locally, but members of both sides of our family in the last 24 hours have either been tested due to showing symptoms or received a positive result back. My little branch of the family tree is very physically far removed from those branches, but the first family cases we’ve had that I know about.

Data

In the State of Texas, we had a record-setting 8,258 new cases with a still high 13.15% 7-day positivity rate. Hospitalizations set another record today with 7,890.

For the Travis County/Austin, as expected, we’re seeing new cases go waaay down. CommUnity Care, the clinic handling free testing for Austin Public Health, closed their drive-up testing locations yesterday and today, resuming operations on Monday. I appreciate their staff has been worked to the bone and I get it is a holiday. Personally, I’d liked to have seen some way to keep it going (National Guard? Medical volunteers that have offered through the State system?), but not so.

They last took a testing day off on Memorial Day.

Anyhow, new cases are down to 122, which would have been record-setting three weeks ago.

Now, the numbers that won’t change because of the testing closure.

We saw two deaths in the last 24 hours (136 total), putting our 7-day average at 2.71/day, which is the highest we’ve seen at any point in the pandemic. The daily death count for the last 7 days: 0, 4, 3, 4, 5, 1, 2.

New hospitalizations remain high at 64, pushing our 7-day average to a new high of 61.7.

Total hospitalizations is at 434 with ICU census at 156 and ventilator use at 70. All three are records (ventilators tied with the count a few days back).

To give you a sense of growth, last Sunday, we were at 351, 114, and 60 respectively.

That’s it for me today. Going to watch some fireworks on TV.

By Brandon Kraft

My life is an open-source book.

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