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COVID in Austin Update (July 28)

Education (aka What The Hell, Texas?)

To preface, a reminder that the Attorney General in Texas is a totally separate elected official from the Governor. Unlike on the Federal level, the AG does not serve the chief executive.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a non-binding letter regarding local heath authority’s abilities to close schools. Paxton—whose name may ring a bell as he’s under indictment for felony securities fraud—said that the local health authorities ability to wholesale close schools down does not exist and those orders are not legal.

The Texas Education Agency, which had revised their funding guidelines to indicate the schools closed upon order of local health officials would continue to receive funding as long as they continue virtual instruction, revised their guidelines again to say that schools that close due to health authority orders would not get funding (outside of the TEA’s stated phase-in period).

Whether or not the AG’s opinion is right (I have to admit, in just reading the text of the statute, it sounds like a bit of a stretch that the legal grounds for the order intended to be used in such a broad way), with schools slated to start (in some form) in just a few weeks, this constant flip-flopping on what may or may not be allowed is inexcusable at this point.

While this news was breaking, Dr. Mark Escott, the interim health authority for Travis County/Austin held two briefings almost at the same time. He presented to the City Council, then jumped over to the Travis County Commissioners Court meeting.

In his comments to those bodies, he indicated he is advising schools to try to stay at or under 25% capacity when they reopen, to prioritize those who must in school.

He also expressed that he was surprised by UT’s announcement that they’re going to fill the football stadium to half capacity, which still ends up around 50k.

His goal is to advise districts on the

State of Texas

In some good news, Texas—as a whole—has the lowest Rt in the country right now. Rt as you recall is effective rate of transmission. It has some shortcomings—it depends on test results and can lag—but still worth noting.

Rt for Texas is estimated at being 0.89. This means that every infected person is expected to make 0.89 other people sick. The virus isn’t spreading all that fast right now.

On the bad news front, South Texas is kicking their ass kicked right now.

Hidalgo County (McAllen) saw 64 deaths today. To give you some sense of the scale, Hidalgo has a population of 869,000 as of 2019 and say 64 deaths today. Travis County (Austin) has a population of 1.3 million people hit a record this last weekend with 12 deaths.

Hidalgo has almost 900 hospitalized and 228 in the ICU. Mind-blowing.

8,342 new cases with 164 new deaths (using the new death certificate method). Positivity continues to drop—12.83% today. Hospitalization data is still messed up.

Travis County (Austin)

So far, so good.

  • 223 new cases.
  • 3 new deaths.
  • 370 in the hospital.
  • 133 in the ICU.
  • 97 on ventilators.

We’re making process, slow and steady.

By Brandon Kraft

My life is an open-source book.

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