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COVID in Austin Update (July 15)

More Education News

Word on the street is TEA will now allow districts to go virtual for the entire fall semester—if ordered to do so by the local health authority. Apparently, TEA will announce this in revised guidelines tomorrow. I’m curious to read the fine print.

Houston ISD released their reopening plan, which is the most extreme I’ve seen so far. Virtual classes will begin September 8th and in-person instruction won’t resume until October 19th.

Starting on October 19th, parents can choose in-person or virtual instruction for the remainder of the fall semester or the entire school year—ending June 11, 2021. Whichever option, parents are committing for the six-week grading period.

While speaking of Houston, Rice University will be teaching in tents when classes resume next month. Personally, I would ignore the haters they quote. I’m not sure why news outlets think I want to hear opinions from random people. That’s what a personal website is for :).

From experience at conferences, I ate all my meals at a conference with nearly 1,000 people in an outdoor tent in September in Florida that was fully enclosed with AC. I’m not sure exactly what they’re buying, but “tents” can be relatively fancy.

In more higher education news, Texas A&M System will provide 15,000 COVID tests each month, distributed to their 11 campuses. The California testing company committed to having results within 30 hours of receipt, which is a far cry from the 7-10+ days regular folks are seeing now. It’s unclear how many of the system’s 150,000 students will be returning to the classrooms next month.

State of Texas

Texas saw a record high number of new cases and deaths today. 10,491 new cases. 110 new deaths.

Our positivity rate stays very high. Practically tied with yesterday’s record. 16.89% yesterday, 16.81% today.

Hospitalizations remain high at 10,471, down 98 from yesterday’s record high.

Travis County (Austin)

In a briefing today, Austin Public Health confirmed that the Austin Convention Center Field Hospital will be operational next week. It will not have ICU capabilities, but will be able to take regular COVID patients. Hospitals can send to the ACCFH to help make more space on-site for more critical COVID patients or to possibly expand their ICU capacity. The latter always sounds good, but relies on having staffing.

While our hospitalizations have flattened a bit, it did so at still really high levels, so long-term, it is straining.

Speaking of facilities, the isolation facility has 87 folks occupying it right now. It is a city-leased site where folks can stay during their isolation period if their homes are not suitable—notably with a separate bedroom and bathroom different than anyone else in the home would be using. While there is still plenty of space in it, the City is preparing to sign a lease for a second facility to ensure they can handle any increase.

In terms of our daily numbers, everything is bad news today:

  • 572 new cases.
  • 4 deaths.
  • 492 hospitalized (new record, +23 from yesterday’s record-tying census).
  • 159 in the ICU (new record).
  • 97 on ventilators (new record) .
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Current Events

COVID in Austin Update (July 14)

New Orders

In Austin/Travis County, a couple of sets of new orders came down.

Education Beat: Travis County Schools Closed Through September 7

As mentioned yesterday, Round Rock ISD announced it would not seat in-person classes until after Labor Day. Today was a rush of activity with, basically, schools across the state making similar announcements. At this point, I haven’t seen any that extended longer than three weeks, in major part, because the Texas Education Agency will only allow districts to delay re-opening physically by three weeks.

However, Governor Abbott said that will be changing. In his usual TV rounds, Governor Abbott said that the TEA will be announcing an extended phase-in period for in-person instruction. We’ll see what it actually will be.

In either case, all schools within Travis County will not have in-person instruction until after September 7th. Travis County Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott issued a Health Authority Order applicable to all schools, public and private, with any grade Pre-K to 12th grade ordering them closed to physical instruction, including extracurricular activities and sports. Schools have to submit to his office their plans at least two weeks before reopening.

This officially means the first week of high school football won’t happen in Travis County.

I think it is fair to say the outcry against the TEA’s recent guidance has been pretty universal. I would be surprised if schools go back in session at Labor Day given how things look today.

Emergency Rules Adopted

At last week’s City Council meeting, the Council approved an ordinance giving the Health Authority the ability to adopt emergency rules. Failure to comply with the emergency rules could result in a $2,000 fine.

Today, Austin Public Health officially announced the current emergency rules. These are effective immediately until November 12th unless otherwise modified.

The rules, in brief:

  • Everyone over 10 needs to wear a mask except those situations that were already announced and a part of the State’s mask mandate.
  • No standing or gathering in groups larger than 10.
  • Generally, must stay six-feet apart from other people.
  • If you have COVID or awaiting results, the entire household must isolate.
  • If you’re isolating because of a pending or positive test, must notify a health professional in advance of a visit or the 911 operator if contacting 911. There are some other things too.
  • Business must ensure masks are worn and the premises are cleaned per the rules’ instructions.
  • Businesses are to conduct health screenings of employees.
  • Businesses must comply with and let employees comply with instructions from APH if they test positive.
  • Some more specific rules for construction sites and Child Care sites with a positive test must contact APH.

News

Numbers

State of Texas

We set a new record with 10,745 new cases today. We edged out yesterday’s positivity record with a new record today at 16.89%.

A record high 10,569 hospitalized.

We saw 87 deaths. A bit off of the record high, but it would have blown away the record if it was a week ago.

Austin (Travis County)

I was trying to be cheerful. I want to bring good news.

We saw 553 new cases today. With yesterday’s 657, it is the second highest two-day total after last week’s ~1400 couplet. We had 7 new deaths.

I was hoping that our hospitalization decrease of the past few days would be the beginning of something. Well, today we have 469 COVID patients hospitalized, which ties for our record.

We have 154 in the ICU, two shy of the record. We have a new record of 92 people on ventilators right now.

At least it hasn’t been spiking upward as fast as it was.

We saw 74 new hospital admissions. Our 7-day rolling average has been right at 70, give or take, for a few days now.

In closing, stay home as much as possible and wear a mask. There’s some initial research suggesting that the virus may be able to persist in the air longer than previously thought, so while masks can absolutely help, nothing is more effective than staying at home.

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Current Events

COVID in Austin Update (July 13)

Hope y’all are staying cool! It is 107°F outside as I’m writing this. If you need dinner plans, eggs a la sidewalk is today’s special.

GOP Goes Virtual

The Supreme Court of Texas denied the appeal from the State GOP trying to force Houston to host an in-person convention this week.

As of me writing this, the State GOP announced they will vote to move the convention online tonight.

Schools Going Back?

The national news today is reporting on LA and San Diego announcing they are going to online-only for the Fall.

Within Texas, Laredo and El Paso have worked around TEA in a way by their local health authorities ordering schools to not return to in-person instruction until after Labor Day.

I struggle to stay impartial on this topic. Everyone I know involved in education is concerned and my personal social network echos KUT’s reporting.

The Secretary of Education hasn’t comforted me.

In particular, SecEd speaks of ensuring everyone is in school, but if there are issues, locals should handle it. But there aren’t any details on what does “handling” actually mean?

I’m just not convinced that there is a cohesive and sustainable plan for us to return back in a month. The kids’ health is part of it, but teachers too. I’m concerned for the kids’ mental health—what will teachers disappearing because they need to quarantine impact kids?

While, yes, there will be virtual vs in-person option. Schools fulfill a big role in child care so people can work. There is inherit privileged in being able to choose a virtual option, which I’m sensitive to given the outsized impact that COVID-19 has had on particular socioeconomic groups. I want my kids in school. I just need more than what AISD is able to do (or should do).

Austin Public Health is to be having a meeting about schools this week. If you’d like to contact their director about it, you can do so on the City’s website.

Up IH-35, Round Rock’s school board is asking TEA to not require in-person classes until Austin’s Staging Indicators are at Stage 2 or lower. (We’re currently at Stage 4, flirting with Stage 5).

In the next tweet, they’re encouraging RRISD parents to write to the TEA Commissioner directly at Commissioner@tea.texas.gov

UPDATE:

On the higher education fronts, more Texas schools are trying to figure out how to help international students whose visas are in jeopardy if they end up going to all-virtual learning. As a reminder the Interim Director of ICE stated that the policy—which will require international students whose universities only offer virtual learning or their particular class load is fully virtual—to leave the county is literally just an attempt to encourage universities to open.

State of Texas Data

Today’s report from Texas is of a slow day. New cases hit 5,655, about half of a few days ago. Mondays are usually slow coming off of the weekend.

Also, new case numbers are increasingly less reliable as labs are struggling to keep up. Quest Diagnostics shared that while they turn around Priority 1 patient tests in a day, everyone else is 7 days or longer.

We’ve seen 43 deaths in the last day.

Our hospitalizations were stable, slightly decreasing by 5 to 10,405.

Statewide positivity hit a new high of 16.85%

Travis County (Austin) Data

As part of a Facebook conversation, I did some back-of-the-napkin math for our positivity. Austin Public Health does not release the positivity rate nor the number of tests performed. The State of Texas additional datasets include a county-by-county daily cumulative number for tests and active cases. Looking at the delta of tests between July 5th and July 11th and the delta of active cases between those dates for Travis County, I estimate Travis County’s positivity rate to be 25.75% for that 7-day period.

Travis County saw 657 new cases today, our third-highest single day total.

We saw 3 more deaths. Inpatients jumped up 25 to 459.

The ICU stayed at 151 with one fewer ventilator in use (86).

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Current Events

COVID in Austin Update (July 12)

Today was pretty quiet on the news front, at least in Texas. Florida made headlines with 15,000 new confirmed cases reported today, while Disney World is reopening.

Testing

Of course, while we aren’t pulling 15k new cases in a day, we are seeing delays in test results. This piece from the Washington Post shares more about the situation nationally, but Travis County/Austin Health Authority, Dr. Mark Escott, reported during last week city council’s meeting that some of the results his office was seeing were for test samples collected two weeks prior.

For us to get a grasp on this, that has to change. As the CDC posted on their site long before Texas started reopening, we have to have case investigation and contact tracing to include anyone with contact of 15+ minutes 48 hours before symptom onset. Between realizing they’re sick—since our testing is overwhelmed enough that the public system is only testing symptomatic folks—scheduling a testing appointment (“appointment” being generous given the lines and times waiting), then waiting 7-10 days or more for a result, by the time “case investigation” can really start, it’s virtually pointless.

Really, if you think you need to get tested, you should isolate. Everyone in your family should isolate away from you, but also away from the world, and you should inform everyone you’ve been in contact with over the few days prior, and they should all isolate, and so forth. That would allow the virus to work through those who have it without exposing it to others outside the cluster.

Our testing is just too slow and too limited to be helpful with that.

State GOP Convention

Be it in Austin, we are a political town for the state. Even though this event is scheduled for Houston, it still has my attention. I haven’t heard anything from the Supreme Court of Texas on the lawsuit the GOP filed against Houston for cancelling their contract, but the State GOP did update their folks.

The convention is next week. They looked at other sites offered to them and they wouldn’t work. They’re outside or too small. It’s Houston or virtual. They’re still planning for in-person initial meeting tomorrow and reminding everyone that the hotel has a 48-hour cancellation period. Heh.

Lock Down Coming?

As reported on this site, on Friday, Gov. Abbott told Lubbock local news in one of his regular daily TV interviews that we were looking to having another lock down unless we got things under control.

Houston and Harris County is asking for an immediate two-week lockdown to try to get things under more control. In March, this would have been a local option under the State’s disaster laws, but now it depends on Gov. Abbott since his executive orders suspended the local jurisdiction’s options. Will Governor Abbott backdown again? I don’t know how much worse things need to get before he does. (Aside, I agree with the Houston Chronicle’s Editorial Board’s read. The salon incident (“the haircut heard around the world”) was the moment where Gov. Abbott crossed the Rubicon.)

Meanwhile, the Chronicle article linked above includes that the DoD is sending medical personnel to the state, hopefully popping up to 50 additional beds in Houston. Additionally, Texas is asking for federal help in setting up a field hospital in the Rio Grande Valley.

So, how are the hospitals looking?

In terms of base numbers, today, in Texas, we set a new record with 10,410 people in the hospital.

Here’s how we look over time, broken up by Trauma Service Area:

TSAJune 1June 15July 1July 6July 12Remaining Open Beds
Amarillo4716253147369
Lubbock14157286125335
Wichita Falls00112135239
Abilene20103334439
DFW5807011411160718952689
Paris1428385169809
Longview/Tyler495579121220547
Lufkin1628354663183
El Paso10994177218277382
Midland/Odessa18235990113462
San Angelo02152841187
Belton/Kileen2329545277244
Waco25313158211
Bryan/College Station2329545258172
Austin89141404485483684
San Antonio105165109113131490657
Houston4827302139265628631842
Galveston111154318364431302
Victoria17116210816163
Laredo1411829315496
Corpus Christi615163249360375
Lower Rio Grande Valley37875889541356439
Statewide Total17562326690486981041011726

Every single TSA has more COVID patients since July 6th except for Austin. Everyone has more since July 1st, so don’t get all proud and boastful about Austin yet.

How about the ICUs?

TSAJune 1June 15July 1July 6July 12Remaining ICU Beds
Amarillo19810141929
Lubbock9828414424
Wichita Falls0065915
Abilene109111314
DFW240247419480604297
Paris61317232791
Longview/Tyler282629335383
Lufkin31210111712
El Paso575570709136
Midland/Odessa13719414634
San Angelo0127813
Belton/Kileen6713142112
Waco151918257
Bryan/College Station981012811
Austin415213714415774
San Antonio365127738242260
Houston21426462475681597
Galveston4265709410823
Victoria121427385
Laredo572835517
Corpus Christi3551821024
Lower Rio Grande Valley141813121731729
Statewide Total748861199325172995977
Note: This is for the TSA regions. Individual counties may be more or less constrained.

All hospital data in the charts above are per today’s update of the State DSHS data and on the TSA level. Other dashboards (like Austin’s) may reflect different geographical areas or may take the snapshot at a different time of the day.

As mentioned before here and by the health authorities, ICU capacity is or will be the crunch point in Texas. The Corpus Christi region has 102 COVID ICU patients of 170 total ICU beds occupied—a full 60% of their ICU census—with only 4 ICU spots open.

The Rest of the Numbers

For Texas, we saw 8,196 new cases and 80 new deaths. Sundays are usually a bit of a slow report day, but I’ll take it. Hospitalizations, as mentioned, don’t slow down and we’re at 10,410.

The Chronicle published the result of an investigation they did that shows that Texas is likely undercounting deaths right now. This makes sense to me since Texas only counts a death if it has a lab-confirmed COVID test associated it. I only share the data that I can find, so I don’t want to harp on this too much. In time, we can look back at the excess death rate—the number of deaths occurring in 2020 by month/week over the average of the past so-many years—and get a sense of the potential “collateral damage” of those either undiagnosed or avoid seeking treatment, etc.

Our positivity rate has hit a new high at 16.33%. The state reports on the previous 7-day rate. This is the data point that proves that the logic of “we have more cases because we are testing more!” is just bullshit (sorry, not sorry).

As we see from the chart above from the School of Public Health at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, our cases are rising significantly higher than our testing.

How about Austin?

As I said yesterday, I don’t want to trust that things are getting better. I want it to be true, but seems a bit too good to be true given everything.

Anyhow, we had 166 new cases today. Sundays are slow, yes, but ignoring July 4th, 166 is the lowest new case number since June 22.

We did have one new death. Our deaths the past couple days matched what we had seven days ago, so our 7-day rolling average has been holding at 4.57 for the last 3 days.

We saw another decrease in hospitalizations (-1) with 434 today, which means our 7-day rolling average of hospitalizations decreased today for the first time since June 9th. Again, don’t celebrate. The June 9th decrease went from 90 to 89 and we’re looking at a 448.6 average right now. But still, I can hope.

Our ICU census, though, went went up. We saw 17 more ICU beds occupied with 154. Ventilator count remained at 87.

As been true every day for the past 3o or so I’ve written these updates, we need to keep wearing masks and keep staying home except for the essentials.

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COVID in Austin Update (July 11)

Medical

I mentioned yesterday or a couple days ago about the “Your local epidemiologist” that I follow on Facebook. She shared a very interesting study.

The study, published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, looked 143 individuals who were released from the hospital, who now tested negative to see how they were doing ~60 days later. Only 13% had no symptoms. The majority had 3 or more symptoms still (none had fever indicating an active infection). Here’s the results section of the abstract:

Patients were assessed a mean of 60.3 (SD, 13.6) days after onset of the first COVID-19 symptom; at the time of the evaluation, only 18 (12.6%) were completely free of any COVID-19–related symptom, while 32% had 1 or 2 symptoms and 55% had 3 or more. None of the patients had fever or any signs or symptoms of acute illness. Worsened quality of life was observed among 44.1% of patients. The Figure shows that a high proportion of individuals still reported fatigue (53.1%), dyspnea (43.4%), joint pain, (27.3%) and chest pain (21.7%).

This is different than the flu.

Statewide

The Texas Tribune covered more in-depth what I talked about yesterday concerning Governor Abbott’s political struggle needing to act more while getting flack for it.

On the State GOP convention front, the Republican Attorney General’s office through the Solicitor General to support the City of Houston. (It’ll be available after the SCOTX website does the nightly update. See the briefs at the bottom for the eventually-will-work link).

On the topic of Houston, I didn’t see anything particularly notable new. A couple weeks ago, the forecasts suggested that Houston could become the most impacted city—overtaking New York if the trend continued—and there’s a little about that in this Twitter thread.

Down in the Rio Grande Valley, Hidalgo County (Edinburg/McAllen), the 7th most populous county in Texas, is getting hit hard. The San Antonio Express-News covers the story, including 20 deaths and 1,274 cases being reported in a day. As mentioned yesterday, the hospitals down there have requested hospital beds in Austin to send patients.

In terms of cases and deaths, we passed 250,000 total cases with a single-day record new cases for Texas today. 10,351 new cases.

We saw 99 new deaths in the last day. Our positivity rate set a new record at 15.81%.

We set a new record for hospitalizations of 10,083.

Austin

Austin ISD released a video about the current plan for the next school year.

As previously shared, there will be a 100% virtual and a 100% physical option offered. There’s no mention of a hybrid option, so I’m assuming that’s currently off the table coupled with the TEA documentation not explaining how hybrid funding would work.

Some notable things from the videos: School buses that usually hold 60 kids would be limited to 12-14. For teachers who “can’t” teach in-person, they will be augmenting virtual learning. The video didn’t define what “can’t” means—can teachers opt-out or for those who are older or with pre-existing conditions? It wasn’t clear.

On the health front, Austin Public Health, using federal funding, has purchased 1,000 oximeters that they’ll distribute to folks who are recovering at-home from the virus who are at a higher risk to help them self-monitor. One thing we’ve seen are people who seem to be doing okay can quickly go downhill and one indicator that someone appears healthy who won’t be long is their blood-oxygen levels.

On the data front, frankly, it was a pretty good day.

“Only” 318 new cases, continuing the decline from 753 on the 8th. We declined by 3 the number in the hospital to 435. We increased the ICU census by 1, but one less on a ventilator.

The sad news is two more people died in the last day.

With the holiday last weekend, I don’t want to put too much stock of the microtrend of the past couple days. I hope it continues, but in either case, this doesn’t mean anything in terms of being able to loosen up. We were doing okay, then we reopened too early. We can’t do that again.

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COVID in Austin Update (July 10)

Politics

I’ve been critical of Governor Abbott and his response to the pandemic. He acted slow in the beginning, relying on local officials to try to contain it. Then, he swooped in, removed local officials’ authority, and did what they were doing—taking credit for it along the way. Then, he reopened too early, reopened more too quickly, said he’d use data, then didn’t, and make it all a political thing with the salon owners. Now, he’s doing too little too late.

Of course, once he mandates masks, 4 county GOP parties have censured him for it. He’s damned either way. Meanwhile, Sen. John Cornyn—who has accused me of being against free speech—sat for an interview where he stated he wasn’t sure if kids could get the disease and that “no one under 20 has died from it” on why schools should open in the Fall. Heaven help us.

As of tonight, I haven’t heard any news out of the Texas Supreme Court regarding the State GOP Convention lawsuit. The first meetings were to be Monday, so the GOP is looking for a quick response.

The State of Texas

Technically important but practically not, Gov. Abbott extended the disaster declaration in Texas for another month. His emergency powers are only in play with a declaration in effect and they only last 30 days without being renewed. This is him just resetting the 30-day clock.

Today, Fiesta San Antonio announced that their April-delayed-until-November 2020 event would not happen this year at all. This was after the Dallas-based Texas State Fair held in the fall (during which the Texas-Oklahoma game is played) will also not be held in 2020.

In terms of new cases, we saw 9,765 today. A little less than yesterday

We also had 95 die in the last da after yesterday’s record 105. As a reminder, Texas only counts a death when there is a lab-confirmed positive test. If someone dies at home or before a test is sent off, they may not be counted. And we may be really undercounting them.

We set a new record with statewide hospitalizations at 10,002.

Governor Abbott told KLBK in Lubbock that those passing away generally caught the virus in late May and that things are going to get worse before they get better. He said to expect next week to have higher numbers across the board. He’s also throwing around “lockdown” more as something we can expect to see.

Abbott’s extending the declaration and warning of it’s going to get worse. Current deaths are those who caught covid at the end of May. Lockdowns will come if things don’t turn around.

We’re going to see more national news and headlines that isn’t good looking at Texas. We’re already seeing ambulances being turned away from hospitals whose ERs are full because there is no room to send folks upstairs to the ICU.

The State of Travis County (Austin)

How are hospitals in other areas of the state dealing with their filling hospitals? Austin has received requests from hospitals, namely in the Rio Grande Valley, to take patients from there. Austin Public Health reported that it is up to each hospital how to respond to those requests.

The hospital systems did report that they’re at 86% ICU capacity as of this afternoon.

In terms of numbers, Austin saw 440 new cases today and 7 deaths. This puts us with the highest 7-day rolling average we’ve seen at 4.57/day.

Our hospitalizations dipped again. Net -2 to 438. The 7d average is still increasing, but we’ve been slowing dropping for four days now. 133 (+1) are in the ICU and 88 (-3) are on ventilators.

We saw 66 new hospitalization admissions today.

Our hospitalizations dipping over the last few days is giving me some cautiously optimistic hope. Maybe misplaced, but I’ll take it.

Keep wearing those masks.