I’m taking the day off so holding off on most of my news reading. I’m assuming not much is going to break on the holiday. (I’m writing this part on the 3rd)
I did want to cover what exactly I do. I’m not a journalist nor an expect in public health or anything related to this. I like having clear information and data and I like having it as close to the source as possible.
With this virus, following along with the news, then reviewing information myself, I’ve found often there are disconnects between the reporting and the actual information. Sometimes, these seem more extreme (“masks are pointless!” as seen on some cable news shows) and sometimes, it is subtle things.
As a Catholic, whenever the press writes about the Church, they usually get some little things wrong. I can tell someone who was an outsider wrote it
Plenty of time, the media is correct, but there’s enough mess like the above out there that I follow the idea of “trust, but verify”—the Russian proverb that was made famous in the states by Ronald Reagan.
I have my national news outlets that I usually read for general information, such as the New York Times or the Washington Post. I would read the Wall Street Journal to help provide some different angles, but even their all digital subscription was too expensive the last I looked. I follow Austin’s public media station, KUT, closely and the Texas Tribute for Texas political issues. I skim the Statesman and local TV media sites.
Generally, if they have some piece of news that is interesting to me regarding a topic that I care about—like the coronavirus—I try to find an original source. For example, yesterday’s story about the July Bar Exams being cancelled, I looked up the Texas Supreme Court’s site and found the press release. Same thing when someone reports TABC closed something down.
Remember the movie, Men In Black, when Tommy Lee Jones picks up the tabloids from the news stand as his “hot sheets”?
That’s me with the real media. 😀 Find a tip, then dig into more primary sources when I can with relative ease. Yay the Internet! The New York Times has a really in-depth county-by-county dataset for cases and deaths, but you better believe I spot-checked a few counties to make sure the NYT data matched the official data before I used it as a data source. Trust, but verify.
In addition, I have a few experts I follow that when they give opinions, they link the data behind it, whom I trust their opinions and I verify their data makes sense to me—not that I’m an expert, but I have a little statistics training, so trying to spot obvious-to-me flaws.
Lastly, I follow various primary sources directly.
The only thing I have on the news front is to ask for prayers for my family. No one locally, but members of both sides of our family in the last 24 hours have either been tested due to showing symptoms or received a positive result back. My little branch of the family tree is very physically far removed from those branches, but the first family cases we’ve had that I know about.
In the State of Texas, we had a record-setting 8,258 new cases with a still high 13.15% 7-day positivity rate. Hospitalizations set another record today with 7,890.
For the Travis County/Austin, as expected, we’re seeing new cases go waaay down. CommUnity Care, the clinic handling free testing for Austin Public Health, closed their drive-up testing locations yesterday and today, resuming operations on Monday. I appreciate their staff has been worked to the bone and I get it is a holiday. Personally, I’d liked to have seen some way to keep it going (National Guard? Medical volunteers that have offered through the State system?), but not so.
They last took a testing day off on Memorial Day.
Anyhow, new cases are down to 122, which would have been record-setting three weeks ago.
Now, the numbers that won’t change because of the testing closure.
We saw two deaths in the last 24 hours (136 total), putting our 7-day average at 2.71/day, which is the highest we’ve seen at any point in the pandemic. The daily death count for the last 7 days: 0, 4, 3, 4, 5, 1, 2.
New hospitalizations remain high at 64, pushing our 7-day average to a new high of 61.7.
Total hospitalizations is at 434 with ICU census at 156 and ventilator use at 70. All three are records (ventilators tied with the count a few days back).
To give you a sense of growth, last Sunday, we were at 351, 114, and 60 respectively.
That’s it for me today. Going to watch some fireworks on TV.
Today, we celebrate our nation’s birthday. Before country, God is my first sovereign and following that I have a deep love for our country.
The American Experiment, 244 years after the Declaration of Independence, is still ongoing and still a work in progress.
The declaration made by the thirteen colonies is a declaration that we continue to make—”we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
Thomas Jefferson, who penned these words, had many faults. All those who signed the Declaration in 1776 had faults. All of us who lived under the country formed by these words have faults.
The American ideal is one where we do not accept these faults. The American ideal demands that we work through them and past them.
“That all men are created equal.” Even in 1776 as we proclaimed it to be self-evident, it was not realized. When they said “men”, men are to whom rights were extended. White men, actually, and property owners at that. In the last 244 years, we have continued to shed away boundaries and distinctions that have separated us from stating that “all men are created equal” and living that all people are created equal.
Next month, we celebrate 100 years of women having the constitutional right to vote. Last February, we celebrated 150 years since race was no longer a factor—though it took us far too long after that to realize that constitutional amendment in a substantial way across the land.
Today, we continue our struggle making the American Ideal a reality. We are dealing with long-brewing inequality that still exists in our society. For many, this has been a daily experience. For many others, they may never have realized it existed. This is a difficult time—but that is not a bad thing. For us to best honor our heritage, we have to continue pushing to realize our Declaration of Independence, which means continuing the American Revolution. The battle against England has long, long been settled, but the battle to rise above ourselves to be better, to be the shining city on a hill that serves as the beacon of democracy and governance to all.
I love this country. I firmly believe that being an American and striving for these ideals make me a better person (and a better Catholic). That love of country does not mean there are not faults in America nor does it mean that I accept these faults. My love demands that I take an honest account of where we stand in our American Experiment, to utilize our self-evident rights that we have etched into our Bill of Rights, and to push to make this country better for my children and grandchildren than the one I’m in today.
If I can’t look at this country honestly, if I can’t hear the experiences of others and see the flaws that we still have, if I fail to heed the least of our brothers and sisters—both citizens and those outside our borders who believe this land is the land of hope and opportunity, then there is no way for me to make this country better for myself, my family, or my fellow citizens.
As expected, yesterday’s executive order allows local authorities to now limit outdoor gatherings of 10 or more people. The executive order gives the authority to counties for unincorporated areas and mayors for incorporated areas.
Travis County and the City of Austin has prohibited outdoor gatherings of 10 or more. With a quick skim of the previous executive orders, I think this is the first one that states that county judges and mayors have equal authority with outdoor gatherings and other cities in Travis County (Lakeway, West Lake Hills, etc) announced the 100-person prohibition as “per County order”.
Today was pretty quiet. I suppose a lot of folks were on holiday today. Speaking of the holiday, I know testing in Austin will be taking a holiday so I would anticipate an immediate dip in new cases in the next few days to account for that. I’m not going to read much into any decrease in new cases until later next week.
Just as a reminder to my Catholic friends, the obligation to attend Mass in the Diocese of Austin is still dispensed for those concerned about getting the virus. Additionally, you can attend a Mass without receiving communion. There is absolute spiritual grace in attending Mass without receiving. Priests are people too, so let’s keep their safety in mind too. Fr. Henry Cuellar at St. William’s in Round Rock announced he has a positive test result. Keep him, and all impacted, in your prayers tonight.
On the baseball front, unrelated to Texas, there was a video on Twitter of how the Red Sox are keeping their players spaced out. They have converted their box suites into mini-locker rooms for a couple of players each.
If you’ve been watching MLB news, they did change a few playing rules this season. Some are more gameplay related (extra innings start with a runner on 2nd to help games not extend into too many innings), but others are very obviously virus-related. Get within six feet of an umpire to argue a call? You’re out of the game.
While I do strongly feel it is not worth trying to play youth sports right now—my little baseball league simply doesn’t have the financial or human resources or the educational knowledge to pull this off well, in my opinion—maybe, maybe some pro sports can figure out something.
State of Texas
New record for hospitalizations, again. 7,652 are in the hospital statewide. We had two tiny decreases on two separated days, but otherwise, we’ve setting a new record daily since June 8.
We had 7,555 new cases. The third-highest amount after yesterday’s 2nd highest, and Wednesday’s current record.
We had 50 deaths since yesterday. That’s the 4th highest daily number all-time, so not the obvious upward record-setting trend that we’ve had with cases and hospitalizations, but trending higher slowly.
Travis County (Austin)
While noting it is a holiday, so some testing locations are closed and there will likely be weird results for the next few days, here are today’s counts.
Our new daily count is the lowest all week with 314 new cases, putting us over 11,000 total cases.
We had one more death, pushing our 7-day average to 2.57/day. Not the highest, but still creeping up.
We’ve set a new record for both regular bed and ICU census counts at 418 and 151 respectively. Our new hospitalizations today was 65, which helped pushed up the 7-day average to 59.1 (highest we’ve seen).
Nothing terribly new to say about this. Keep wearing a mask. Enjoy the 4th at home with a couple of beers and some hamburgers on the grill with your family.
While eating, drinking, exercising (while keeping distance), driving alone or only with your family, swimming, giving a speech, etc.
Religious services, though still encouraged.
Voting, though still encouraged.
When security requires you to show your face (e.g. a bank, TSA checkpoint at an airport, etc).
Personal care to the facial area (e.g. dentist appointment).
Or a county with less than 20 active cases. Which aren’t any around here. Counties have to opt-out of it with a form to the state, it isn’t automatic.
Penalties include a fine, but no jail. Though, if a business asks you to leave for not wearing a mask, normal trespass laws still apply, so if you’re a punk about it, be aware. But don’t be a punk about it.
Parks and Rec to, basically, close for the month of July. After the holiday weekend, trails are open with distancing required. Playground, pools, etc will be closed.
Austin Resource Recovery (sanitation) will again suspend curbside bulk pickup. Regular trash, recycling, and compost service continues without change. If you got a notice that your curbside service is coming up, they will still honor those notices. If you didn’t get a postcard yet, you won’t for the time being.
Across the state, things seem pretty quiet. A lot of park closures for the holiday weekend. I’m expecting a flurry of convention cancellations after the State GOP convention came into the spotlight with the Texas Medical Association asking them to go virtual. Nothing moving there.
On the state level, we set another new record of hospitalizations at 7,382 (+478). Thankfully, the state’s daily new cases slightly declined to 7,915 (-161), which is still the 2nd highest daily count by a thousand. Positivity is still high—over 13%.
Hays County (San Marcos)
After the initial shocking spike, things seem to be quieting down, though still very high. I’m glad they aren’t increasing and setting new case records right now, but let’s hope that downward trend goes way down.
Williamson County (Georgetown/Round Rock)
Similarly, new cases aren’t rising, but they aren’t really going down all that much yet either. Today was the lowest number in awhile. I don’t know if there’s an underlying reason (e.g. testing access?) or what. We’ll see how it trends over the next week or so.
The county reported a record-high hospitalization level. I don’t pay close attention to Williamson County since Austin/Travis County includes the five-county MSA, including Williamson.
Travis County (Austin)
So. I wrote the above about Hays and Williamson County before Travis released their daily numbers. I was feeling a little good seeing a little tiny bit downward motion.
Then, I saw today’s Travis County dashboard.
We added 571 new cases, making it five days above 500.
We saw 5 new deaths, putting us to 133 total. Seeing daily numbers of deaths at 4, 3, 4, 5 is worrisome, like I mentioned yesterday. We did have one time hitting six in a single day earlier in the pandemic, so it isn’t a record. But, I’m nervous. I really really am hoping that our deaths won’t begin to increase and that our care of the elderly will be the difference.
We had a record 71 new hospitalizations, putting today’s census count at 415, jumping up from yesterday’s 376.
We’re also at a record 145 in the ICU and 70 on vents.
We’re probably going to see a bit more of this trend until the more recent changes (bars closing and now masks) make an impact, so hold on tight.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
State of Texas
In terms of new cases, we blew past yesterday’s record. We had 8,076 new cases yesterday.
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.
For hospitalizations, we have 6,904 as of today. As usual, a new record.
Travis County (Austin)
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.
Percentage of those Hospitalized
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.
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.
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 :
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.
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.
Quick thing—HEB statewide will require masks for shoppers and employees, whether or not they are mandated by the local authorities.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.