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COVID in Austin Update (July 8)

$2k fine for not wearing a mask? It’s about to be possible.

News

New Orders Coming

The Austin City Council is meeting in special session tomorrow to look at two things, specifically:

  • Declaring any site (e.g. business) that does not comply with minimum safety standards a “public health nuisance” upon whom a civil suit can be filed by the City upon request of the Health Authority.
  • Creating a civil fine of up to $2,000 for any violation of a public health safety rule created by the Health Authority.

The first item is really an extension of the previous “requiring businesses to require masks” style of force and also includes things like requiring certain cleaning, washing hands, etc. Child care sites, individual homes and whatnot are exempted.

The second item allows the Health Authority to make rules (such as you must wear a mask) which can be enforced with a civil fine of up to $2,000. Unlike the Gov. Abbott’s GA-29 mask mandate, there is no required first warning. So, under this combination, the first time you’re found without a mask, you can be given a $2,000 civil fine and a state warning. If they come to visit you again on the same day, you’d get a $250 criminal fine from the State’s order.

Per the Statesman, Abbott is okay with it. GA-29 did specifically strike out GA-28’s “no jurisdiction can impose a civil or criminal penalty” for lack of a mask.

State GOP Convention Fight

Houston’s Mayor Turner directed the city-owned convention center to cancel their contract with the State GOP. Mayor Turner did not want to exercise the contract’s cancellation clause—he didn’t want to make this a political thing—but after repeated failed attempts to convince the GOP to move to a virtual convention, he opted to direct Houston’s legal department to proceed with the cancellation. Read the letter to the GOP.

The State GOP is reviewing their legal options, so this isn’t the last word.

Diocese of Austin

This isn’t new, but something I hadn’t reported on. The Diocese of Austin on July 1st released updated protocols for liturgical services.

Frankly, I’m disappointed.

As you may recall from the Governor’s Executive Orders, church services are exempt from most COVID regulations. The Diocese had set a 25% capacity limit, which was increased to 50% with the July 1 protocols. The new protocols also require parishes to resume their pre-pandemic Mass schedule no later than August 1.

Meanwhile, the Travis County Health Authority and Catholic himself (if I recall correctly from Q&A sessions with him), while acknowledging that he’d rather go to Mass in person too, is asking for us to stop attending. (Apologies for the non-primary source, the City hasn’t uploaded the recording to their YouTube channel yet).

I can appreciate the slow reopening that we started, but as things are getting worse, we absolutely should not be increasing capacity.

Talking to multiple priest friends of mine, off the record, there is a lot that has gone into making the return to Mass safe and it is hard to do the work needed to turn around the facilities between Masses, with fewer volunteers than before.

This will be impacting us for awhile to come and I’d wish we would focus, as a Church, on how to make more accessible to people. How do we do catechism classes in the Fall? Doing Zooms are the time isn’t the answer—props to one of my kiddos’ catechist who did that—but that’s a short-term immediate answer, not a sustainable long-term one.

As a counter-example, the Diocese of El Paso never resumed Sunday Masses with daily Masses at 25% capacity, plus weddings and funerals, etc. With the increase of cases they’re seeing there as well, they’re backing up a bit and have again suspended public funeral and wedding Masses. They will continue to have graveside services, but with a limit of 10 individuals.

I truly hate that I haven’t been to church since the 3rd Sunday of Easter—I lectored for our parish’s livestream that weekend—but in good conscience, it doesn’t make sense. I don’t care that bars reopened so “why can’t churches‽‽‽”. Just because we enjoy the legal ability to do doesn’t mean we need to exercise that ability.

Let’s help teach people how to pray at home and how to pray together virtually. Mass is all about presence. The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and us being in that presence. In my opinion, that falls apart trying to “do Mass” virtually. It doesn’t compute. As a Church, we have centuries of liturgical and devotional tradition. Liturgy of the Hours. Stations of the Cross, lecto divina, and so on. Things that we can do together but physically apart without distinction.

Related, if I started a daily midday prayer and reflection thing, would anyone join? I’ve been toying with it, but hadn’t invited anyone to join yet.

Austin is still Stage 4

With yesterday’s data, we have entered the data range to move to Stage 5 mitigation as a City. Much of this mitigation isn’t legally enforceable because of the State, but Austin Public Health is not yet moving us to Stage 5. The idea was between 70 and 123 new admits a day (7-day average), we would move into stage 5, but it depended on how the trajectory and projections look.

Depending on how our ICU bed projections are looking, we may enter Stage 5, but they’re going to look at additional data before suggesting becoming stricter than the data suggests we have to be.

Education

I won’t go into much after yesterday, but teacher groups are pushing back on in-person classes come Fall. NYC, as the sake of an example from the country’s largest school system, will only have kids in the classroom between 1 and 3 days a week in a rotating fashion.

There’s word that El Paso is preparing an order to keep schools closed until after Labor Day. There’s a lot of open questions on what that would impact, so will be interesting to see how that comes down.

Testing Delays

We’re back to a point of seeing nearly two-week delays in getting results back. That’s just ridiculous.

Houston Seeing Increased “Dead on Arrival” Calls

Texas Tribune and ProPublica published an article today reporting on the increase of DOA calls fielded by Houston paramedics. We saw this in New York City where the number of people who died at home jumped during the horrible pandemic phase they faced earlier. This spike is going back toward March, so I don’t want to draw an immediate “this is why we shouldn’t have reopened” conclusions from it—more that this pandemic sucks because it is killing people pretty fast sometimes.

Stats

State of Texas

After breaking 10,000 for the first time yesterday, we saw 9,979 new cases today. The positivity rate, after spending a few days at 13.5-ish% jumped up to 15.03%.

Statewide deaths, after setting the record of 60 new deaths yesterday, we saw 98 new deaths today.

We have set another new hospitalization record at 9,610.

Travis County (Austin)

On the one positive note I have, we have seen a decreased in the number of hospitalized individuals for the first time in over two weeks: 458 after yesterday’s 469.

ICU is still under the record, but up one from yesterday—149. Previous record was 156 on the 4th of July.

We have a record 91 people on ventilators.

Ventilator use, raw daily number.

67 people went into the hospital, increasing our 7-day average to 75.1.

We set a new daily record of 753 new cases reported. Previous record was 636 on Sunday, June 28th.

We set a new daily record of reported deaths at 8. Previous was the last two days at 7 each. That puts us at 4.4 deaths/day on a 7d average.

7 day rolling average deaths per day.

Not really anything more to say. Wear a mask. Stay home, except go vote. Early Voting closes on Friday, then election day is Tuesday, July 14.

By Brandon Kraft

My life is an open-source book.

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