Categories
Current Events

COVID in Austin Update (July 1)

The quick two-second report from today: We absolutely need to follow public health advice this weekend. Stay home. Watch fireworks at home.

News

State of Texas

After seeing a number of cases, the Texas Juvenile Justice Department will be testing all staff and juveniles.

“High Unemployment” triggers a longer unemployment window. Usually, Texas will give 26 weeks of unemployment payments, but between the federal efforts and a provision for being in a time of “high unemployment”, folks could see 59 weeks of payments.

Despite studies that say kids aren’t major spreaders, Texas is seeing a jump in kids at day care’s coming down with the virus.

Harris County (Houston): ProPublica and NBC News reported that while Houston-area hospital executives said everything was fine, the situation on the ground was not. The long and short of it from this article and hearing reports from the local ABC station—running out of room and medications in the hospitals, ERs were full of folks waiting transfers to other hospitals, which ended up causing issues where EMS had to regularly wait over an hour to release a patient to the ER.

The Houston Chronicle reported that the Texas Medical Center has exceeded 100% of ICU capacity and is surging by converting regular floors to supplemental ICU floors.

Austin

No ACL

On the upcoming events front, originally scheduled for two weekends in October 2020, the Austin City Limits festival has been cancelled. If you’ve bought wristbands already, check your e-mail. You can keep them for 2021 access or request a refund.

Hospital Capacity

Austin Public Health had a press conference today. I wanted to highlight one particular point to start this topic.

Hospitals are running at about 70% capacity right now—general beds. They usually run at 85%. While the number of hospital beds for COVID patients is increasing, between cancelling elective procedures, fewer accidents (e.g. fewer people are driving, so fewer crashes), etc, we are currently doing okay for general capacity. A lot of what we’re talking about is where we are trending. We are trending to a place where the above is no longer true, but we’re not there yet. We’re still able to change our behavior to change the outcome, but we are running out of time.

KXAN investigated hospital capacity and (like me) wished there was more transparency about it. The reason we don’t know capacity—it’s partly about raw number of beds, but it’s also about staff. There are a few moving pieces, so Travis County and the hospital themselves are being pretty quiet.

Williamson County is at 87% ICU capacity and the article has a hospital-by-hospital breakdown.

For the overall area, the hospital chains say their 483 ICU beds are 80% full, after being at 70% last week. They are not providing hospital-by-hospital breakdowns. KXAN shared some projections suggesting that Dell Seton (UT Medical Center) and St. David’s on 32nd may run out of ICU beds this week. I haven’t seen the site that KXAN cites for these projections used elsewhere, so I don’t have a sense how much credit to give it. From earlier reports, in my head, I had 150 COVID ICU patients as a magic number of when we may be getting into a bad situation.

I think it is fair to say that this is a very fluid situation, we are definitely on the edge, and the more we can do right this second, the better that chance will be that we won’t fall over the edge.

New CHOP Projection

The Policy Lab at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia released new projection for cases in Travis County.

The data includes through the weekend and the two zero marks in the chart were days that Austin did not report. I don’t know if they account for the spike following actually being over two days. In any event, assuming nothing changes, we could be seeing 1000 cases per day in Austin by the end of the month by their math. Hopefully closing bars will help flatten that down some.

Robocalls Coming

Local officials will be sending texts and robocalling landlines and registered cell phones alerting everything to play it safe this weekend (e.g. stay home). They are using the Warn Central Texas system which is a collaboration of a number of counties and cities in the local area. I just got my robocall at home (yes, I have a landline) at 4:55 p.m. and my cell phone right at 5:00 p.m.

Data

State of Texas

Today sucks.

In terms of new cases, we blew past yesterday’s record. We had 8,076 new cases yesterday.

Daily new cases.

In the category of news that hadn’t been all that bad before that is worrisome. We had 57 deaths in Texas since yesterday. This is the second-highest daily number since we had 58 on May 14th.

Daily deaths.

For hospitalizations, we have 6,904 as of today. As usual, a new record.

Hospitalizations by day.

Travis County (Austin)

Hospitalization Demographics

Before getting into the current counts, I was asked about demographics of those in the hospital. From yesterday’s release of raw data tables from Austin Public Health, we can see the age breakdown that is updated weekly. (The public dashboard reports this. There was an issue that kept it from being updated for the last two weeks, but after I reached out to them, they updated it).

For the period ending on June 30th, here’s how the breakdown works out.

Age GroupPercentage of those Hospitalized
Under 10.5%
1-90.3%
10-191.0%
20-299.6%
30-3913.6%
40-4915.2%
50-5919.3%
60-6916.7%
70-7912.9%
80+11.1%

It’s about evenly split between men and women (52.7%/47.3%), but 60.6% of those hospitalized are Hispanic. This again ties into the theme that the virus is both a public health issue and an economic justice issue. In Austin, Hispanic folks are more likely to be in lower economic brackets, working in essential jobs (construction, janitorial, etc), living in close quarters, and generally not have the same ability as more economically-advantaged folks.

The CommUnity clinic test result data (which I don’t like sharing the actual numbers since it is only a subset of Travis County data and a subset that does skew toward lower socioeconomic groups. It’s interesting, but incomplete) does show a substantially higher positivity rate for Hispanic vs White Non-Hispanic and a substantially higher positivity rate for those on Medicaid or uninsured vs those with commercial insurance or Medicare. I don’t know if this really means something, but everything added up, it’s still interesting to me.

Today’s Counts

To repeat myself from the State data section, today sucks.

We added 597 new cases to put us over the 10,000 mark. We set new records for hospitalizations (376, +7), ICU (133, +1), and vents (67, +3).

We did see 4 more deaths today. We’ve had 11 deaths over the last three days and our 7-day average is sneaking up—1.7 now. We’ve had worse. We had a 3-day 12-person death run back in May and we went as high as 2.71 for a 7-day average when we had 19 people die within a week. So, straight looking at the numbers, we’ve been worse off on the deaths front, but three days of 3 or 4 in a row is different enough for this “reopening wave” for me to take note. If we keep on this 3-4 per day thing, we’d be seeing record levels of fatalities. Deaths have been pretty random, numbers-wise. Even last week, we had 1 death over four days, then all of a sudden 4, 3, and 4 in a three-day span.

In short, I hope this is just a random blimp, but my ears are perked up.

Wherein I just ramble a bit

How are y’all doing?

Following the progression of this virus isn’t bothering me. Even the the stuff that should scare me—like the story about the increases in cases at child care centers—don’t bother me. My wife, Vanessa, is concerned about the next school year, but I’m not. Not because I think it is safe nor that I expect us to go back to a more or less normal school year. Mainly, that’s still six weeks away and seeing how quickly things changed back in March and April, I can only take some of these things one day at a time and that isn’t on today’s agenda.

What gets under my skin is the deniers.

People of good faith can disagree. We can discuss policy, how to stimulate the economy while staying safe. We can talk about how virtual conferencing has changed our society and whether that will continue long-term or not.

But, when people deny the basic facts. I don’t get that. The people who can’t seem to accept even a little hardship for the greater good. I can’t process that without feeling just a little hopeless. “I have to keep on living my life” where that life means eating out—inside a restaurant. “I can’t wear a mask because it fogs my glasses so I’m not going to.”

No one is happy about wearing masks.We might find some silver linings out of it, but without this event, we wouldn’t be having a conversation about mask fashion trends. But, the data says it is a small thing we can do to help prevent the spread of the virus AND be able to return to some venues of pre-pandemic life. Why not wear one then?

It’s hard. The few times I’ve left the house, I’ve had to go back inside every single time because I left without grabbing a mask from the table by the front door. Maybe you feel silly trying to tie this pink polka dot mask while someone is outside your door knocking. It’s not all that comfortable. It’s Texas, it’s hot outside. This isn’t the time of the year I’m trying to add clothing.

But, it’s such a small sacrifice in the scheme of things. It costs so little—an old t-shirt or a $1 bandana is enough. Though, I must say I picked up some baseball-themed masks that are in-route to me now. (If you’re interesting in buying anything from them, use my referral link for 15% off your first order)

Like, why not wear one? I mean, really? Look at what life is like in Austin in 2020. No SXSW. No ACL. No UT graduation. No Austin Symphony Fireworks. Our internationally-renowned Central Library has been empty for 100 days. No Barton Springs or Deep Eddy. No drunken bachelorette parties on 6th (okay, maybe that one we’re fine not having).

We’re in a situation where we do need to not have these things right now. It sucks. I don’t like it. But, if by wearing a stupid mask, we can get back to normal faster, why not wear the stupid mask? If skipping a 4th of July BBQ this year means that maybe things will be better by Labor Day instead of Christmas, why not skip the BBQ? If ordering takeout instead of dining in helps everyone dine-in sooner, thus saving who knows how many local restaurants, why not order takeout instead?

Anyhow, closing thought is from Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO. No matter your opinion of the WHO right now, it doesn’t change the accuracy of the statement 😀:

Categories
Current Events

COVID in Austin Update (June 30)

Let’s review the month and the quarter, shall we?

It’s been a hell of a month and a hell of a quarter.

Okay, that’s enough of that. If you’ve been reading along these posts alive in America, you don’t need a summary. Moving on.

News

Baseball

Very minor in the grand scheme of things, Minor League Baseball announced there will be not be a 2020 season this year. MiLB is a separate entity from MLB. MLB teams are affiliated through Player Development Contracts to the various MiLB teams—the Round Rock Express is the Triple A affiliate of the Houston Astros, for example. The MLB provides and pays for the players and the coaches, while the facilities and the rest of the staff are provided and paid for by the minor league team. In other words, Round Rock provides the stage and the Astros provide the on-field talent.

Today, MLB announced they would not be providing the talent this year, so MiLB has no players to showcase. Thus, no season. (The Astros will pay their MiLB players through the end of August, though.)

The Round Rock Express, I suppose expecting this, was granted a temporary expansion team in the Texas Collegiate League. This is a wood-bat league (college usually plays metal bats) that will be playing over the summer as the Round Rock Hairy Man. Originally, the Hairy Man was going to be one of the random mascots that the Express will play as during the season for a few games. It’s named after a local legend. Anyhow, you’re not here about baseball.

State

Quick thing—HEB statewide will require masks for shoppers and employees, whether or not they are mandated by the local authorities.

Unemployment Benefits Update

The Texas Workforce Commission announced they will not be implementing a “seeking work” requirement on Monday as originally scheduled.

Usually, unemployment benefits require that the individual is actively trying to land work, but that was suspended in the pandemic. Citing the recent upward motion of the virus, the TWC changed course.

Republican Convention

The Texas Medical Association, a major sponsor of the Republican’s in-person, no-mask convention in Houston in a couple weeks, wrote a letter to the party strongly urging them to reconsider the physical conference. As of when I’m writing this, the TMA says that the state GOP is taking the request “seriously”. Props to the Tribune for spreading word that TMA was still a sponsor.

Hospital Capacity

Governor Abbott extended the “no elective operations” order to four additional counties. In addition to the existing ban for Travis (Austin), Bexar (San Antonio), Harris (Houston), and Dallas counties, they are now banned for Cameron (Brownsville), Hidalgo (McAllen/Edinburg), Nueces (Corpus Christ) and Webb (Laredo) counties.

Laredo and the Valley has been particularly hit hard with capacity issues, including having the National Guard come in to provide additional medical staffing support. Houston had been taking the ICU capacity headlines, but Laredo Medical Center hit 100% before Houston’s Texas Medical Center.

Not worth a bullet on it’s own, but Governor Abbott was on KXAN (Austin’s NBC affiliate) last night and celebrated that 2/3rds of Texans were under mask mandates. I didn’t fact-check—I assume he means by population, not 2/3rds of counties. I’m going to refrain from expressing my thoughts on the Governor now praising that local officials had to invent a way to thread a needle to get these orders in place. You probably know how I feel.

Education

The State Board of Education was briefed today by the Education Commissioner about COVID today. I didn’t watch the briefing, but borrowing notes from a reporter who was there:

  • Texas students will sit for the STAAR exam this year, though they will expand the window districts can administer the exam and offer an online option.
  • Schools will have digital delivery options.
  • There are no public health guidelines for in-person instruction yet.
  • Money will be an issue probably. We used our federal money to make this last school year’s budget work.
  • The State has provided PPE to districts, but there aren’t mandates to use it.
  • Hiring is a local decision, so how districts handle teachers who are high-risk for COVID is up to individual districts.

Austin

Austin Public Health announces new Stage criteria

I mentioned a few days ago that the criteria for the various “stages” of response had changed without announcement, marking stage 4 as 40 new hospitalizations on a 7-day rolling average instead of 20.

They announced it today.

I am a bit frustrated, though, by APH’s communication efforts. I can appreciate they are handling a situation they have never had to handle before. The announcement of the new criteria:

Notice something?

They included the old charts.

The new chart sets stage 4 at 40 and stage five being triggered at a hand-wavey 70-123.

On the good front, they released some additional datasets. You need an account to see them. I’ve been trying but haven’t been sent the activation link yet. From the titles, I think they are the existing data we have, but maybe it’ll include historic information. That’ll be good to compare to my manually-recorded historical information. Hopefully, I’ll have access in the next day or so.

APH had bad data on the mobile dashboard for over a week. I think they finally have it updated, but took a bit (and a call to 311 after no response previously) to get them to update it.

Anyhow, on to the data.

Data

State of Texas

After a previous record of 5,996 on June 25th and dipping below 5,000 finally yesterday, we jumped up to 6,975 new cases.

Statewide, deaths are still looking okay. I’m still really hopeful that our efforts to help protect the older segment of population is making the big difference here.

For hospitalizations, a new record again. 6,533 in the hospital. We’ve set new daily records every day since June 12th, except for the 28th.

Our positivity rate for the state went back over 14% again.

Travis County (Austin)

On the local front, let’s see how we are doing.

Today, we had 558 new cases, the 2nd highest daily number. This was after the record 636 on Sunday and 508 yesterday.

We had 3 deaths since yesterday. That’s 7 between yesterday and today. We last had 7 over 2 days on May 12-13.

For hospitalizations, we’re at 369, up a smidge from yesterday’s 368. We’ve gone up every day from June 21st onward. A month ago, we were at 78 on May 30th.

We had 67 new hospitalizations today. That’s a new record and what concerns me the most.

There are 132 in the ICU and 64 on ventilators. Increases from 121 (+11) and 65 yesterday (-1 yay!), respectively.

Until tomorrow…

LATE: ICUs are at 80%:

Categories
Current Events

COVID in Austin Update (June 29)

News

A few particular things I wanted to share today.

Travis County Parks will be closed this coming Thursday through Tuesday. City of Austin late on Monday announced the same. Virtually all the parks did this around Easter to try to discourage people from gathering.

Williamson County itself still won’t mandate businesses to require masks, but the cities within the county are taking action themselves. Round Rock and Cedar Park announced that masks will be mandated starting July 1. Cedar Park’s mayor shared that Georgetown, Taylor, Hutto, and Leander will issue similar orders.

The University of Texas unveiled a new website with their plans for the Fall Semester. The current plan is to kick things off at “Level 2“, the third of six states between “Normal Operations” and “End-of-Spring Closure”. Masks will be required and classes won’t have more than 40% of capacity. Students will have the option for a fully-online schedule too.

HEB is now limiting purchases again. Generally, toilet paper 🧻 and other sanitary products are limited. The only food item limited in Central Texas is briskets. Limit 2. 🐮

In Houston, the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston announced four priests, including the former archbishop and a former auxiliary bishop, have tested positive as part of a small cluster at cases at their retired priest residence. 12 have tested negative and two are still outstanding. So far, not serious.

Statewide, TABC visited 1,500 bars over the weekend to ensure compliance with the Governor’s latest executive order. 59 were operating in violation of the order. 52 agreed to close immediately. The remaining seven did not agree to close and are facing a 30-day license suspension now, including The Park @ The Domain in Austin.

Data

State of Texas

On a potential good note, for the first time in nearly a week, we have less than 5,000 new cases: 4,288.🤞I don’t see any reason why it would go down yet, but hey, maybe we can get lucky.

Hospitalizations, as expected, increased. After a slight decrease yesterday, we’ve set a new record at 5,913 current hospitalizations.

Travis County (Austin)

In Austin, we had 508 new cases, second only to yesterday’s 636. Sadly, we had 4 deaths, most in a day since May 12th (we had a few days of either 5 or 6 daily deaths earlier during the pandemic).

We had 48 new hospitalizations (down from 60 yesterday), but the overall trend moves up our 7-day average to 53.4. We have 7 more people in the ICU (121) and five more people on ventilators (65).

Commentary

I enjoyed a story this morning from NPR’s Morning Edition speaking with two former federal health officials. In particular, I like the way they phased the need to wear masks.

So, you know, it does require a little bit of the society coming together and decide what’s important. Is it more important for us to wear masks, or is it more important for us to send our kids to school? Is it more important to invest in contact tracing and testing, or is it more important to decide not to follow kind of the guidance that’s out there? And that’s going to be a really important set of decisions that we’re going to face in the next weeks, if not immediately.

Andy Slavitt, former director of Medicare and Medicaid

Is going to the bar this weekend more important than being able to send our kids to school in the fall?

The interview did underscore and make clear, again, that the increase in positive cases is not because of increased testing. It just isn’t true.

In terms of the statewide response, I agree with virtually every word of Ross Ramsey’s column. In the early days, I thought the state should have acted sooner, but I wasn’t terribly worried because Austin/Travis County did act. Whether or not, Gov. Abbott would do anything, it didn’t matter since the local folks were on top of things.

Then, he did act. He did what I thought was reasonable. I was happy with his reaction originally.

Then, it turned political. Abbott rode into the crisis like a general arriving after the initial fighting had happened—without him. Then, he seemed to see the “war” over, took off the helmet, and became a politician again. Yes, our financial health is important. Hearing that unemployment has tripled in the Valley hurts. It hurts to see local breweries asking people to just buy their beer—from anywhere—since every business needs help. My kids’ pre-school is taking about permanent closure depending on how the next 4-6 weeks shake out.

There were ways to account for that without a straight reopening. From day one after we closed, I knew and a lot of us knew that reopening too early because of the economy would not actually save the economy because people would be afraid to go out or they’d go out, re-trigger the pandemic, resulting in more closures.

Instead of a single, longer closure for this wave, we had a closure, a subpar reopening, and on the verge of new closures again. New York City has been closed longer, but they are in a far better position for a phased reopening than Texas. They were harder hit than Texas, but maybe not once we’re done with this.

So now, we’re seeing increasing cases, increasing hospitalizations, and while we haven’t seen an increase in deaths, we are still within the window where those deaths could have just not happened yet.

This is a slow-moving crisis. Gov. Abbott opened quickly and went against his own word by opening more faster before seeing the impact. Now, we’ve pulled back a little, but we won’t know for weeks if that was enough or not. Do we need to pull back more to ensure we’re not undercutting our efforts now? I don’t know, probably. But now it’s a political thing.

Abbott erred by getting into the mud about the salon owner. He turned his role from an emergency director to a politician. He changed the language that this was a crisis that we needed to work together as Texans to resolve to this is yet another example of right vs left, red vs blue.

And so now, the Governor is playing reactionary politics. He’s playing to his base and restricting local officials from acting. He tries to play the local card—saying that there are times where the entire state doesn’t need the same thing—while also not letting that card be played by others.

I was accused today of being a fear monger. I had to laugh a little. I don’t want to incite fear—and hope I haven’t. This isn’t anything to be scared of. This is something to be prepared for. That’s true for all emergency or crisis situations. Fear doesn’t help anything, but not being prepared for it and not taking something this serious seriously makes things far worse.

I want to get back to normal. I want my kids to go back to school. I want to go sit in a coffee shop. I want to go to church. I want a waiter to bring me coffee at breakfast after church. But, we have to get this under control and by jumping the gun, we just make it harder for ourselves longer.

Categories
Current Events

COVID in Austin Update (June 28)

A reminder that tomorrow begins Early Voting for the primary run-off (moved because of the coronavirus) and the State Senate, District 14 special election. The early voting locations are different than usual📄. My usual early voting spot is the local Fiesta grocery store, but because of the pandemic, Travis County is not using any grocery stores for election sites for this one. You can vote in the run-off even if you didn’t vote in the original election.

You can look up your registration and see a sample of your particular ballot at votetravis.com.

State of Texas

Statewide, Vice President Pence and a few others DC folks met with Governor Abbott this morning in Dallas. The meeting was added to the VP’s schedule as he was already going to be in Dallas to speak at the First Baptist Church there.

Of note, nothing, in my opinion, came out of the televised session worth talking about. The usual VP praising the Governor and everyone acknowledging Texas isn’t in a great spot. I suppose, sadly, it is notable that everyone—the Vice President, Gov. Abbott, and everyone else—were wearing masks when they greeted each other on the tarmac when Air Force Two landed.

On the data front, we had 5,357 new cases statewide—the 6th day in a row we were over 5,000. For hospitalizations, we finally did it. We didn’t set a new record for today. We’re at 5,497 in the hospital, down 26 from yesterday, making this the second-highest day we’ve had.

Our positivity rate sucks. We jumped up to 14.31%, our highest since the pandemic started. This matters to me because it is a proxy to how well we’re able to test the overall community in order to have a solid picture of what’s going on with this virus. Our goal was to be around 5-6%.

This is also evidence of what I’m going to cover in the Travis County section of the update… Moving on.

Harris County (Houston)

Friday was a weird day with data. Just not as much out there as I’d like. I jumped on my phone this morning to try to catch up on some that I hadn’t seen updated—like the Texas Medical Center’s ICU projections. I couldn’t find it. I figured maybe I was just looking on the wrong page since I usually look up everything when I’m on my computer, leaving my phone just for checking in with news outlets.

Sure enough, it wasn’t on the TMC website anymore. I liked the ICU projection product because it was the only one in Texas I’ve seen that projected forward need against capacity.

Later in the day, the Houston Chronicle broke the story that TMC took them down after pressure due to the reporting around ICU capacity.

Tonight, they re-added the deleted products, but changed them. No longer does it mention the “100% base capacity” and the “surge” levels it did before. It mentions Phase I and Phase II IC, which looked to align with the previous “sustainable” and “unsustainable” surge language.

In any event, over 37% of ICU patients are COVID patients right now in Harris County. That’s a lot. It’s over 39% it you look at the entire SETRAC region. I’m not in Harris County, so I’m just going to look at SETRAC here on out.

On a separate note, news out of the County Judge’s office that Judge Lina Hidalgo will be self-isolating at home after a staffer in her office tested positive.

Williamson County (Round Rock/Georgetown)

Our friends to the north in Williamson still live without a business-must-require-masks mandate. Today, they saw a notable jump in number of new cases (169), so need to watch them over the next few days to see if this is an outlier or beginning of a sharper trend.

Hays County (San Marcos)

Thankfully, while they are still seeing extremely high numbers, they aren’t continuing to increase.

I don’t know the positivity rate or testing numbers over time for Hays—are there actually fewer cases being caught or is there are other things in play. In either case, it’s still way too high.

Travis County (Austin)

Bad news to start: we’re back in a really crummy testing position.

CommUnity Care Testing at the Hancock Shopping Center at IH-35 at 41st Street. Photocredit: Texas Tribute

Texas Tribune covers this across the state, but we are starting to again exhaust our testing capacity. At the Hancock site above, folks reported waiting four hours to get tested. From friends on Facebook, they were given testing appointments over a week into the future.

CommUnity Care, who has a number of testing sites across Austin including the one pictured above, is reporting a 29.5% positivity rate for the last week. (This does not include private testing done in town; Travis County does not release overall testing information.)

An interesting bit of data from their dashboard goes into the economic injustice related to this virus.

The chart above is for the week before last, but it shows ~15% positivity for those with standard health insurance or Medicare (the one for seniors), but 26-28% for those on Medicaid (low income support) or uninsured. The data has indicated that poorer folks are being hit harder by this for a variety of reasons—required to work outside the home, often living in closer quarters, majority of the bulletins from officials have been in English, etc.

The positivity is only going to increase as Austin Public Health is no longer giving testing appointments to anyone who is asymptomatic, so we’re back to only testing sick people.

Next, let’s look at our data again.

The good news—we had no deaths since yesterday.

We had 636 new cases since yesterday. The previous single-day high was 506 last Sunday. Hospitalizations are up, again, to 351. We had a record high 60 new admissions today, putting us at a 7-day average of 52.

Oddly, Austin Public Health, without an announcement that I found, changed the criteria for their stages according to their dashboard.

As published in late May, and posted below, Stage 4 was 20-70 daily new hospital admissions based on a 7-day average.

The website changed it to 40. Either way, we’re well above it at this point.

Stay safe.

Categories
Current Events

COVID in Austin Update (June 27)

I didn’t scour the web for news today, so will be pretty brief today.

State of Texas

On the statewide news front, Governor Abbott has waived additional alcohol regulations to allow some bars and restaurants to sell mixed drinks for to-go or delivery orders.

Some rules were waived awhile ago that basically allowed restaurants to sell sealed spirits (e.g. the small bottles of liquor) along with mixers, beer, and wine. This expands it to allowed businesses to mix and “seal” the drinks for off-site consumption. There are a few rules involved, such as the bar selling must also have permanent food service and must serve the alcohol with food. The notice does clearly state that there is no ratio of food to alcohol required.

On the statewide data front, new cases were still high—but not a record—5,747. Thursday’s record stands with this coming in second.

Hospitalizations set another record today with 5,523.

Positivity rate jumped up, which isn’t good, so now we’re at 13.23% for the last 7 days.

Travis County (Austin)

Mayor Adler announced that Austin Public Health will not be testing asymptomatic folks anymore—just too much demand for testing. Another bad sign that we don’t have the testing capacity to really stay on top of understanding this virus.

With the data today, there was no report yesterday, so this is since Thursday at 6 p.m.

Since Thursday, we had 728 new cases. For daily counts, I’m considering this 728/2, or 364 for each of the last two days. Technically, this is the single highest new count we have, but being over two days is cheating a bit. 364 a day would make both days third (we had a 506 and 418 last week).

We’ve had 117 total deaths (up from 116) and we currently have 316 hospitalizations, a new record from Thursday’s record at 293. 114 are in the ICU and 47 are on vents.

We had 46 new hospitalizations today (after yesterday’s 59), which has moved our 7-day average to 48.9 a day.

None of this is good. Stay safe, Austin.

Categories
Current Events

COVID in Austin Update (June 26)

Statewide

Big day, so let’s jump right in. Governor Abbott issued GA-27, an executive order “relating to the targeted response to the COVID-19 disaster”. The key points:

  • Bars are now closed (as of Noon today). To-go service is still allowed, so, for example, a brewery can still sell beer for at-home consumption.
  • Restaurants must limit indoor dining to 50% of capacity, effective June 29th. Previously 75%.
  • Outdoor gatherings of more than 100 are banned, unless specifically allowed by the mayor or county judge. Previously, it was gatherings of 100+ could be regulated by local authorities. Prior to this week, it was 500+.
  • Rafting and tubing businesses—like going to go tubing down the river—are closed.
  • As before, generally, everything is open at 50% capacity with the same exceptions as before (salons, etc can exceed as long as there is proper distance, outdoor venues are not capped except for pools, et al).

To stay positive, at least it is something to try to get this under some type of control. The downside is we won’t really know for another 9-16 days how effective these efforts are and if they are enough. My understanding is contact tracing in Texas was not at the level the Governor said we would be at for this phase of reopening, which is especially problematic now, since that hurts our ability to suitably understand where the transmission vectors are. Bars and restaurants logically make sense.

I hope this will help people realize the need for masks and taking this seriously. Closing a bar won’t help prevent situations like the family, who after a surprise birthday party, now has 18 members positive with 3 hospitalized. Masks and staying home unless necessary really is still the best course of action.

On a personal front, us and my in-laws have formed a “bubble” where we agreed to the same standards—no direct personal interactions with folks outside the bubble else a 14-day waiting period, etc—so we now interact with each other like before. The kids go to their house, they come over like before. I appreciate total isolation for 100 days is hard, but there are ways to expand that very conservatively.

I realize this hurts businesses, which does mean it hurts individuals, friends, and family. Most businesses aren’t the huge international seemingly faceless companies. Without getting into a broader political question, this is the time where emergency failsafes are to be used. If we should be paying more or less taxes, more or less regulation, whatever, those are fine political conversations, but this would be the time to use the ability of government to try to keep the ship afloat. Anyhow.

Also, from the Governor’s Office, after news earlier this week that the Federal government would pull back funding for testing sites, Gov. Abbott announced that the Feds will continue to provide funding.

Coming out of Washington, Associate Justice Samuel Alito denied the Democratic Party of Texas’ attempt to enforce a federal court order to allow mail-in ballots for all voters because of the coronavirus. The argument was that lack of immunity to the coronavirus should be considered a “disability” in terms of the state election law.

A qualified voter is eligible for early voting by mail if the voter has a sickness or physical condition that prevents the voter from appearing at the polling place on election day without a likelihood of needing personal assistance or of injuring the voter’s health.

Texas Election Code 82.002

There was additionally a second argument that 82.003—”A qualified voter is eligible for early voting by mail if the voter is 65 years of age or older on election day.”—is violating the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The 26th protects the right to vote will not be “denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.”

Justice Sotomayor thought that was interesting and should be considered before the general election, but not within the context of an emergency request today.

In short, if you were hoping to be able to vote-by-mail in Texas for the run-off and special state senate election next month and didn’t already qualify to do so, you still won’t. There’s no further recourse for this election. 😬

Harris County (Houston) issued a “Stay-at-Home Advisory“. Since the Governor’s statewide orders overrule a county or city’s ability to do almost anything, Judge Lina Hidalgo issued a largely unenforceable advisory that mirrors the Stay-at-Home orders from earlier in the pandemic. Basically, Harris County has determined they should shut everything down, but can’t.

Data

Good news? We didn’t set a record for new cases today (5,707, down 289 from yesterday’s record) and positivity is very slightly down—still 11%.

Hospitalizations set another record for the 15th straight day. We broke the 5k mark to hit 5,102.

Hays County (San Marcos)

Cases are still very high, but seems to be only bouncing around a bit—not pointing straight up like they were there a week ago or so.

Hays does have a “businesses must require masks” order.

Williamson County (Georgetown/Round Rock)

Similar to Hays, new cases are still very high, but without the rate of increase we saw a short time ago.

Williamson does not have a mask order.

Travis County (Austin)

There’s not much to report hyperlocally today. Austin Public Health is upgrading their dashboard and said they are updating their daily dashboard. Like last time, I’m expecting them not to have a number for new cases today and that they’ll combine them for tomorrow’s report.

Last time they did this, Mayor Adler released some numbers (and ended up misstating one of them!), so I’ll append those here later tonight if he does that again. Last time, he announced total hospitalized and new entries, so we’ll see if we get that again. I’m not going to wait on it though.

On the news front, two things.

Until tomorrow, stay well, stay home, and wear a mask.

Update: