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COVID in Austin Update (June 19)

Off of yesterday’s report from the Governor Abbott that schools will be in session without masks or testing, Austin ISD released a statement:

Austin ISD has planned extensively for reopening schools on Aug. 18 with guidance from state and local authorities and health officials, working to ensure that health and safety procedures are in place. 

We have been using what we learned from our students, staff and families to create a hybrid learning model that includes in-person and virtual learning for the fall. Our families want choice for in-person and virtual learning.

This model is designed to support the health and safety of our staff and community and the learning needs of our 81,000 students and their families. We are eager for additional guidance from the Texas Education Agency.

In short, they’re trying to calm the waves of parents who I’m sure aren’t ready for decisions regarding the next semester as our trends are what they are.

On the State level, no shocker here. New record-high hospitalization at 3,148. Daily cases were 3,454, slightly down from yesterday’s record of 3,516. We’ve officially hit 100,000 cases in Texas. Our fatalities aren’t really notable yet. Not a record, but the trend isn’t great.

The Texas Tribune reported today that, statewide, cases at child care centers have started increasing at the same time that the licensing agency reversed the required emergency protocols. I need to dig to find if that information is published. Our own preschool has seen a massive drop in attendance, but that is in major part to having the privilege of being able to work from home and figure out alternative arrangements. My opinion is this is another example of economic injustice resulting in physical harm, as the majority of kids in child care are those without other options.

In another example of things that don’t make sense, Texas Motor Speedway announced that the July 19 NASCAR race held there (postponed from March) will be the first major sporting event in Texas with fans present. There will be social distancing, encouragement to wear a mask, and a new Assumption of Risk.

This doesn’t directly impact Texas (yet), but Apple will close their stores in a number of states with an increased number of infections. If you need to get something from Apple and need to do it in-store, wear a mask and do it now. I’d bet Texas will be coming soon.

Quick update on Hays County, only 103 cases today, which would have been an all-time high a week ago. Only the 5th-highest single-day caseload now. I’d expect it to be a blip and the trend to continue upward, but let’s hope the last week was the blip.

Harris County (Houston): Texas Medical Center reported concern that the trajectory suggested ICU capacity could be exceeded in two weeks. The chart of new cases from the Greater Houston area (Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Liberty, Montgomery, and Waller counties) is sobering. Harris County is now also requiring businesses to require masks.

Moving back to Travis County, Austin Public Health is expanding testing to include new mobile sites for those who may not be able to travel to the drive-through or CommUnity clinics. Online registration remains open or you can call 512-972-5560 (8-6 M-F, 9-1 Sat) to schedule a test.

I’m sure a lot more of these stories will come out in the weeks and months to come, but KUT had an interesting report about Austin’s attempts—and many failures—to secure more N95 masks.

Last thing I’ll mention on the local news front is Alamo Drafthouse announced that when they re-open, masks will be required. While they have to either way in Austin, this is more directly a response to the AMC Theatre chain indicating they wish to not get into the political debate and not require masks. AMC, within 24 hours, reversed course and will require masks.

On to Austin’s numbers. They pain me and are confusing, so here they are straight:

Today’s new case count was 295. I don’t know if this combines yesterday’s unreported number or not. The dashboard doesn’t give information about yesterday at all

UPDATE: Clarification from the City. There has been 295 new cases since the last data drop on Wednesday evening. They did not disclose yesterday vs today, so I’m going to count both as 147.50 cases each of the last two days. If we look at 295 cases as being over two days, it is a decline of new daily cases from the 220 we saw on Wednesday.

With the 295, our total case count is 5,286.

We had 34 hospitalizations today, a new record, which brings up our 7-day average to 27.7. We have 173 in the hospital, a new high. 64 in the ICU, a new high. 27 on ventilators (not a high).

UPDATE: Mayor Adler reported that yesterday’s hospitalization admission number as actually higher than originally reported. Yesterday was and still is the record for COVID at 36.

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COVID in Austin Update (June 18)

Masks are the name of the game today. After yesterday’s busy day with Bexar County’s order and the Govenor giving in, other jurisdictions are jumping onto the bandwagon requiring businesses to require masks, with fines up to $1,000 for businesses not in compliance under the state law imposing that for failure to heed a disaster order:

  • Bexar County (San Antonio)
  • Cameron County (Brownsville)
  • Hidalgo County (McAllen)
  • Travis County (Austin)
  • Hays County (San Marcos)
  • El Paso County (El Paso)
  • Harris County (Houston, added June 19th)

I haven’t seen anything from the DFW or Houston areas about any jurisdictions following suit (yet).

In terms of the numbers, same story. On the statewide level, 3,516 new cases today (new record). We’ll hit 100,000 cases in Texas tomorrow. 43 dead in the last day, which is inching higher, but we’ve seen higher a few other times (sadly). The record high is 58 deaths on May 14th. New record for hospitalizations today too with 2,947 across the state.

Locally, while I’m really focusing in on Travis County, it’s impossible not to be keeping pulse on Hays County right now.

According to Austin’s ABC affiliate, KVUE, Hays County is seeing a 532% increase in new cases per day from two weeks ago as of yesterday.

Sadly, today’s numbers out of Hays County are bonkers with 210 new cases today. Looking at their data, the majority of the cases are in the San Marcos area which is the home to Texas State University. Texas State will be holding in-person classes on campus starting with their Summer II session beginning on July 9th.

Williamson County—the county containing the northern bits of Austin, Round Rock, and Georgetown—is seeing an increase, though not nearly as steep as Hays.

In Austin, we don’t know.

Wait, what?

I presume we’re at over 5,000 total cases in Austin today, but the data dashboard greeted me with this notice that they’re offline until tomorrow.

Per the Mayor, the number of new hospitalizations was 29, kissing Saturday’s record of 30. Our 7-day average notched up to 25. Mayor Adler also said that we had 153 in the hospital which is great news given that yesterday we had 176.

UPDATE June 19th: Mayor Adler misspoke. The correct number of new hospitalizations was 36, a new record by far.

The other local virus news is that Governor Abbott told lawmakers that kids would be back in the classroom in the fall, without masks or tests. Austin ISD already published a statement supporting their existing plan to explore blended (in-person and remote) approaches. I’m waiting for the Texas Education Agency’s guidance being released next week before diving into it.

That’s it for now. Wear a mask or stay home.

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Current Events

COVID in Austin Update (June 17)

No new orders… yet. Update: Businesses are required to have a mask-requiring plan in place by June 23rd in Austin.

After Governor Abbott’s caving by allowing the Bexar County orders, Austin’s Mayor Adler said that we’ll be under similar orders soon. Don’t wait for a business to require it. Just wear a mask now.

Mayor Adler was kind by saying “The Governor has now given us a path”. He didn’t, but I digress. The Governor will have trouble from the Right with his allowance.

That’s a political issue and, all in all, not what I’m worried about. Just a bit of popcorn fodder 🍿.

We’re not looking good, friends. On the State level, we had an astronomical increase of 4,098 yesterday, but state officials were big to point out that there were only 2,622 new cases and 1,476 additional cases that were previously diagnosed in prison inmates that had not be added to the rolls.

Either way, 2,622 would have been a single-day record for Texas. Until today.

Texas added 3,129 new cases today making it the single highest new count day, granting the officials clarification about yesterday’s number.

For hospitalizations, same thing. We’re at 2,793 in Texas, a new all-time high. After yesterday’s all-time high of 2518. After the day before that’s all-time high of 2326. You get the point.

Before getting to today’s Austin numbers, the Policy Lab at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) has been doing excellent work with forecasting COVID-19. It’s only one forecast, sure, so usual disclaimers apply, but they break things down county-by-county.

For Travis County:

It takes them a little bit of time to crunch numbers, so this doesn’t include the last few days. The only good news here is we don’t look as bad as Harris County (Houston).

So, today’s Austin numbers.

The good news is we only had 21 new hospitalizations, which slightly lowers the 7-day average. Still over 24 and we’re going to remain over 20 for the foreseeable future.

The bad. New records in most categories. We exploded to 220 new cases. Hospitalizations up to 176. ICU patients up to 63. All new highs.

Nothing more I can say besides wear a mask. Stay home.

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Governor Abbott Caves

The Governor walked backed his weak position on masks by “allowing” local jurisdictions to mandate that businesses require masks.

As discussed yesterday, Governor Abbott removed the ability for local jurisdictions to enforce mandated masks. While local officials can still require it, no individual can be fined or jailed for it.

In yesterday’s conference (see the 42:20 mark), he responded to a question about the Dallas County Judge wanting more enforcement power:

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Covid in Austin Update (June 16)

Before we jump to today’s update, I wanted to share a little art that Austin Transportation added to Congress Ave today.

In addition to the usual data drop, Governor Abbott held a press conference today looking at hospital capacity. Personally, the press conference was overall underwhelming.

Numbers are going up, though in some places, Governor Abbott was keen to point out, the number of cases can be attributed to things like a big batch of prison tests coming back. It felt a bit like trying to point out a couple of examples to try to show that there’s nothing to worry about. In reality, while there are some outliers, we are trending in the wrong direction.

Governor Abbott did rightly suggest the Memorial Day gatherings, bars, and other social gatherings are the likely causes of the general upward trend.

There’s not much else of the Governor’s remarks worth noting except he isn’t planning on changing course for reopening the economy and he has no intention of allowing local jurisdictions the ability to enforce masks.

There was a presentation about hospital bed capacity. The basic gist of all this is there are still plenty of standard hospital beds in Texas. We have a good number of beds available and we have plenty of options to add capacity if needed. The presentation did look at each TSA’s status.

The Department of State Health Services divide Texas into a couple dozen Trauma Service Areas where a regional advisory council coordinate regional health care response.

Here’s an important note for those following along with my commentaries or those discussing Austin/Travis County’s reports. Austin’s TSA is composed of a number of counties: Bastrop, Blanco, Burnet, Caldwell, Fayette, Hays, Lee, Llano, San Saba, Travis, and Williamson. Austin/Travis County, however, reports hospitalizations based on the Metropolitan Statistical Area: Bastrop, Caldwell, Hays, Travis, & Williamson counties. I wouldn’t expect there to be a major difference in the number of general beds or ICU beds.

As of tonight’s data drop, Austin reported 59 individuals in the ICU—a 13% jump from yesterday. Based on the TSA’s ICU beds available, we could likely handle another 100 people in the ICU presuming the number of non-COVID ICU patients remain stable. Our total hospitalization count for Austin is at a new high at 158 from 142 yesterday. We have about 900 empty hospital beds in the area—which includes Dell Children’s Medical Center (~250-bed facility).

In short, we still have a ways to go before we fill up our hospitals.

I don’t know about you, but having the State’s response to the increasing numbers be “it’s okay, we still have hospital beds for you!” isn’t comforting.

Moving on, today’s numbers continue the “not great” trend. 107 new cases, no deaths. “Only” 22 new hospitalizations, so our 7day-avg climbed to 24,6. Our ICU jump to a new-high of 59 is concerning. We were at 48 on Saturday.

To keep iterating, we’re not out of the woods. Wear a mask, stay home, and if you can’t stay home, stay at least six feet away from each other.

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Governor Abbott Should Allow Mask Enforcement

Today during his press conference discussing the latest in the State of Texas regarding COVID-19, Governor Abbott repeated that he will not mandate nor allow local governments to mandate mask wearing.

Per the Governor’s executive orders, while the Texas Government Code 418.173 allows for fines of up to $1,000 or a year in jail for failure to comply with a disaster order, Governor Abbott overruled state law to disallow use of jail for any COVID-19 penalty and, specifically, stated that no jurisdiction can fine or jail anyone for failure to wear a mask.