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COVID in Austin Update (July 7)

More records set. New guidelines for school reopening.

News

Today was a pretty solid news day, so let’s jump to it.

Returning to School

“Returning justly or just returning”. I saw that on something unrelated earlier and stuck with me. The Texas Education Agency released their guidelines for reopening schools in the Fall.

Masks will be required in counties more than 20 cases (per the Governor’s order) and PPE will be provided to schools.

Parents can opt for in-classroom instruction or virtual learning. Parents can opt to change their decision too, with a suggested two-week notice period before the change. Schools can ask that parents commit to it for a period (e.g. the six-week grading period, etc).

From a Facebook friend who is working with Austin ISD’s health and safety group, relatively late in the draft period, TEA decided that they would not fund that. In reading the funding section of the Remote Learning documentđź“„, I don’t see reference to funding hybrid, but there are mentions of it later in the document. 🤷‍♂️

There’s a lot of different small bits coming out of TEA at any given moment that I don’t have the bandwidth to really follow and understand, to be honest.

Note: These notes below are based on the State’s guidence that local schools will convert into actual policy. Just because it is stated below doesn’t mean your particular school will offer anything in particular.

Looking at virtual education đź“„, they will fund either a synchronous or asynchronous method. The synchronous method is basically like in-person school, just held online. You have to be logged in at a specific time to be counted as present, you need a certain number of instructional minutes per day for it to be a school day, etc. This will be an option for 3rd grade and up.

Asynchronous is more like what my kids experienced at the end of last school year—using software like Blend/Canvas—and is more self-guided. Students do need to be “engaged” every school day—you have to do something each day.

There is a third option for high school students, the existing TXVSN system of online high school course or completely full-time online high school. I believe this is used often in schools where they may not be able to offer a course for a particular students, so can lean on the remote offering. Funding in this case only will be given if a student passes. No pass, no play money.

In either case, while schools are required to offer an in-person option, they are not required to offer a virtual option. BUT, if they need to close because of the virus, they will not be given a waiver for missed instructional time unless they have a virtual program in place (in which case, they would be credited for the number of minutes—because, yes, Texas counts school time by minutes—their on-campus schedule would have been if they weren’t closed forcing everyone onto the virtual track.

For reference, the existing AISD documentation is still online, but I would imagine something new would be coming once the powers that be digest this a bitđź“„. TEA issued a Planning Guidebook đź“„ to help districts prepare.

New Testing Sites in Austin

Austin Public Health is standing up some new testing sites in neighborhoods harder hit.

The testing sites — run by Austin Public Health — are at Southeast Branch Library, 5803 Nuckols Crossing Road, and Little Walnut Creek Branch Library, 835 W. Rundberg Lane.

The third site is scheduled to open Monday at Givens Parks, 3811 E. 12th St.

Austin Convention Center Field Hospital to be ready July 20

Former County Judge and now the County Covid Czar Sarah Eckhardt told the Statesman that—if needed—the field hospital will be able to open on July 20th. The local hospitals currently report about 75% of the general beds and 85% of ICU beds occupied.

The County is preparing based on exceeding 1,500 general patients and 250 ICU patients across the area hospitals. Area hospitals, though, say they will be able to squeeze more people in after that.

Politics

A few political things today.

State GOP Convention

Will continue in-person still, but local officials will give their speeches virtually instead of in-person. Okay.

Speaker Bonnen

Just a couple of politically-minded things on the state side, I wanted to note. Speaker of the Texas House Dennis Bonnen tweeted out remarks he made a couple weeks ago regarding how he’s infuriated with people who aren’t wearing masks.

I’m glad he’s mad about it. It gives me pause that he is mad about people not wearing masks because it could kill the economy. Not about not wearing masks infecting other people, killing some.

Governor Abbott

I’ve tried to not get too political on these updates. I really don’t think majority of the COVID-19 issues need to be political. But, remember, I can break my own rules and, speaking of being infuriated, Governor Abbott made me so after his interview last night with KFDM, the CBS station out of Beaumont.

The opening question, which the Governor seems very prepared for, asked about those county judges and mayors who are asking for additional authority—like they had earlier in the pandemic before the State responded at all. His response floored. It’s the first question, his answer starts around the 45 second mark on the video linked above.

He blasts local officials saying that if only they enforced his existing orders first, everything would be fine. He accused them of “absenteeism”! I’m shocked!

Whether you agree or not with putting someone in jail (I don’t think jail is advisable), remember, he’s the one who threw down because a judge in Dallas ordered the salon owner—who openly refused to comply with shut down orders—to jail on contempt. Jail time was specifically authorized by the Executive Orders in force at that time!

When local areas started mandating masks, his response was to ban those local authorities from being able to issue any penalties to individuals for lack of compliance.

Governor Abbott failed to lead on the mask issue. He berated local officials for not being able to divine how to weasel around his lack of granting enforcement power, then acted like that was in plan all along. (Narrator: it wasn’t in the plan). That plan? Local business regulation. From the governor who has taken every possible chance to strike down any business regulations coming from the City of Austin.

So, Kraft, you’re amped up about this. Let’s just take it at face value. Local officials should enforce the orders that in place now before getting more. Ha!

Per KFDX, the local NBC station in Wichita Falls—the hometown that both Abbott and I share—spoke to the Wichita County Judge, Woody Gossom. Before linking or quoting, Wichita Falls is red. 72.9% voted for Trump in the 2016 election. Woody Gossom has been on the county court or the county judge since 1989. He’s solidly Republican. I’m not quoting from someone who is politically on the opposite side of Gov. Abbott.

KFDX shared that Judge Gossom isn’t really sure how enforceable the mask mandate will actually be. ““The clarity, it’s gonna be an interesting day in the courtroom to determine did that person get a warning before that,”

The mask order mandates that a first offense is a warning with second or following offenses result in a fine.

So, unless they visit the same person at the same place a second time, they’re not going to fine a person.

The goal isn’t fining people, no. The goal is voluntary compliance. There aren’t enough law enforcement officers to really enforce it, but in either case, Governor Abbott’s response to local authorities is absolutely nuts.

Gov. Abbott’s polling on how Texans think he is handling this is trending like our viral data — the direction Abbott doesn’t want. (April vs June polls).

Anyhow.

Data and Numbers

I hope this is the “going to get worse before it gets better” phase and not the “going to get worse before it gets more worse” phase.

State of Texas

Texas set a new single-day new cases record hitting five digits: 10,028. I hope this is just post-holiday lag after having low numbers the last two days. Our positivity rate has been pretty stable the last few days at 13.5% (way too high).

We also set a record on daily fatalities. This is new. May 14th was our previous record-setting day. Today, we had 60 new deaths reported (possibly including the first death in The University of Texas at Austin community).

It almost goes without saying that we hit a new hospitalization record too at 9,286 in the hospital.

Travis County (Austin)

We saw 482 new cases. We had 7 new deaths—tying the record set yesterday. I don’t like this trend.

New record hospitalization census at 469 with 148 in the ICU and a record 89 people on ventilators right now. By my quick look, this is the 16th day in a row we’ve set a hospitalization record for the Austin MSA.

We had a record-high 73 new hospitalizations today.

Austin Public Health announced a change. “Previous data sets did not retroactively adjust new hospital admissions for patients who were admitted to the hospital but did not receive a positive COVID-19 test result until after their initial admission date.

I’d like to have more explanation on this and see the updated data, but with their revisions, our 7-day rolling average admission average is 74.8, solidly putting us in the Stage 5 potential. Stage 5 is, basically, a shutdown, but the City/County lacks the authority to do that now.

The public data sets have the previously announced admissions numbers—not the revised—so we’re at a 7-day average higher than any single value. Heh.

How high are we going to go?

Wear a mask. Love Hamilton? Not sure about wearing a mask? Watch and wear.

By Brandon Kraft

My life is an open-source book.

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