Gov. Abbott has ordered that bars can reopen starting October 14th if the county judge opts-in and only in areas where the COVID hospitalization rate is under 15%.
Here’s the current status of that:
% Hospitalization for COVID, Oct 7
As of today, those in the Amarillo, Paris, Lufkin, Victor, or Laredo regions couldn’t reopen whether or not the county opts-in. Lubbock, Longview, El Paso, Waco, and the Rio Grande Valley are borderline, but under 15%.
You can watch Gov. Abbott’s announcement on his Facebook page:
The Texas Education Agency, which had revised their funding guidelines to indicate the schools closed upon order of local health officials would continue to receive funding as long as they continue virtual instruction, revised their guidelines again to say that schools that close due to health authority orders would not get funding (outside of the TEA’s stated phase-in period).
Whether or not the AG’s opinion is right (I have to admit, in just reading the text of the statute, it sounds like a bit of a stretch that the legal grounds for the order intended to be used in such a broad way), with schools slated to start (in some form) in just a few weeks, this constant flip-flopping on what may or may not be allowed is inexcusable at this point.
While this news was breaking, Dr. Mark Escott, the interim health authority for Travis County/Austin held two briefings almost at the same time. He presented to the City Council, then jumped over to the Travis County Commissioners Court meeting.
In his comments to those bodies, he indicated he is advising schools to try to stay at or under 25% capacity when they reopen, to prioritize those who must in school.
He also expressed that he was surprised by UT’s announcement that they’re going to fill the football stadium to half capacity, which still ends up around 50k.
His goal is to advise districts on the
State of Texas
In some good news, Texas—as a whole—has the lowest Rt in the country right now. Rt as you recall is effective rate of transmission. It has some shortcomings—it depends on test results and can lag—but still worth noting.
On the bad news front, South Texas is kicking their ass kicked right now.
Hidalgo County (McAllen) saw 64 deaths today. To give you some sense of the scale, Hidalgo has a population of 869,000 as of 2019 and say 64 deaths today. Travis County (Austin) has a population of 1.3 million people hit a record this last weekend with 12 deaths.
Hidalgo has almost 900 hospitalized and 228 in the ICU. Mind-blowing.
8,342 new cases with 164 new deaths (using the new death certificate method). Positivity continues to drop—12.83% today. Hospitalization data is still messed up.
In either case, this is the first real sign that he’s not expecting things to be back to normal anytime soon.
On the local front, the youth baseball league I help run received word from Austin’s Parks and Rec that our facilities will be closed through September 8th. Previously, we were ordered closed until July 31. In our case, we’re a private non-profit that has a contract with the City to run youth sports on city parkland at Bartholomew Park, so they can order us closed.
Sorry for missing yesterday! My wife had an urgent surgery yesterday—they waited until the next day to do the surgery, so I guess “emergency” isn’t the right term?
I’m going to reverse order and start with the numbers today.
Travis County (Austin)
I want to start on a solemn note. Today, we had 12 deaths, the highest single-day report and the first time we had a double-digit report. After 7 deaths yesterday, our 7-day rolling average is 6.4 deaths per day.
Continuing the trend, while our deaths are the longest-lag so are only now going up after our earlier hospitalization spike, the most of our numbers continue to trend well.
423 (lowest since July 3)
102 (sadly, this decline is likely related to our death count)
New Hospital Admits
47 (7d-avg down to 57.3, lowest since June 27)
Austin Public Health did report to KXAN that over 90 infants have tested positive in Travis County. I share it only to say that people of all ages can catch the virus. I don’t think it is anything to be scared about.
State of Texas
Similar to the Austin report, deaths are high. 196 deaths today in Texas from COVID-19, one under the record from two days ago. We’ve now had 4,717 die in Texas from it. Over 550 of them in the last three days alone. Looking at the 2017 data and same when exploring the 2018 data, this would put COVID-19 at the 8th highest cause of death in the state and we still have a lot of year left.
On the data front, annoyingly, due to the federal data reporting changes, we apparently don’t know how many people are in the hospital in Texas anymore.
For the last two days, DSHS indicated they had incomplete data from hospitals. So, we know that at least 10,036 people were in the hospital today with lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19. The state does not have 10% of hospitals reporting data.
10,036 is about 50 under the record from a couple days ago, so we are probably continuing to hold relatively steady from the statewide view.
On the positivity rate front, we’re at 13.73% statewide (based on a 7-day rolling average). Our ideal is ~5% and our “alarm status” starts at 10%, so we’re still too high. It’s better, though, than the 17.43% we saw on July 16th.
We had 8,701 new cases which looks like the state, as a whole, may be starting in the right direction (masks work!)
I’ve said a few times things like “the state, as a whole”, because Texas is a big state and we’re not uniform in how the virus is impacting our communities. The Rio Grande Valley and Corpus are still getting hit hard.
Corpus Christi is also now having to deal with what will likely be Hurricane Hanna coming in tomorrow afternoon and the track looks like it’ll move over the RGV afterwards. If this was a weather blog, I’d mention this is the earliest we’ve had an “H”-named storm, beating out the previous record holder–Harvey.
Just in brief. Harris County (Houston) has officially delayed in-person instruction until after Labor Day after previously only suggesting it.
Dallas, while delaying in-person instruction through a county order, is seeing their Catholic schools going back early. The Texas Attorney General issued an opinion that religious schools were exempt from local orders (in line with Governor Abbott’s exclusion of religious worship from pandemic orders).
No Evictions in Austin
After Travis County banned evictions, Austin followed suit. Evictions—unless the order is modified—can not resume until September 30th.
Austin Convention Center Field Hospital
The ACCFH, as I call it, is now ready to be activated. It is fully ready to take in 100 patients, but since our hospitalizations have—knock on wood—appeared to have peaked, we’re all hopeful that it won’t be needed. Of course, UT dorms are still expected to open in less than a month and we’ve seen how fast things can change.
To catch up with links from yesterday, UIL released updated calendars for the fall activities. Gov. Abbott during his nightly television interviews also said that if districts/health officials wanted to delay activities further, that is fine by him. Basically, he said it should be a local decision.
When Gov. Abbott isn’t treating the virus like a political football, he’s actually not horrible at this.
In other news, the Southwestern Athletic Conference, which includes Prairie View A&M and Texas Southern, has announced they are moving football to the spring this year. The Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference, which includes Texas Lutheran, announced it won’t hold Fall sports this year.
While Travis County schools are physically closed until after Labor Day, Tarrant County (Fort Worth) will keep schools physically closed until September 28th. Harris County (Houston), one of the harder hit areas, only suggested schools take advantage of TEA’s 8-week allowed phase-in (four week automatically allowed + four additional weeks allowed via school board vote), but is not mandating it. (Houston ISD had already announced they will waiting six weeks at this point.)
Travis County won’t let new notices to vacate—the first step of the eviction process—be filed until then. The various JP courts have also paused existing eviction processes until the end of September.
State of Texas
9,879 new cases today.
197 new deaths—a new record (previous 174 on the 17th).
10,892 hospitalized—a new record.
Sharing a few graphs now.
All in all, I’m encouraged. We are still very far from over, but masks work. Hopefully it is enough and we won’t need additional orders.
Travis County (Austin)
Since I missed a full report yesterday, I’ll report both days’ numbers:
7 day rolling avg
How to break this down? In short, we are trending better, but we aren’t out of the woods.
Our new cases, based on 7-day rolling average:
Hospitalizations have flat-lined, but new admissions have been slowly dropping. Deaths are still rising, but I’d expect that to lag just a bit behind the others.
We’re still far from being out of the woods. Not at all time to back off yet, but what we’re doing does seem to be making some difference.
I don’t want to minimize things. They’re still bad. Hospitals are still strained. The Austin Convention Center Field Hospital hasn’t opened because, in part, staffing concerns. with the City’s medical professionals overtaxed.
But, maybe there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
This isn’t really my normal update. Someone in the family is under the weather and the doctor’s appointment turned into a long ER visit. Everything is fine now and nothing COVID related, but it’s past 10 pm and I haven’t had dinner. Forgive me!
Quickly, though, in passing, UIL announced guidelines for fall sports in Texas public schools. For the larger 5A and 6A schools, fall sports are delayed until later in September. Smaller schools can start on time (beginning of August for practices).
Eastside High is the only 4A school that I can think of off the top of my head in AISD that could start in August, but the County Health Order already will force them to wait until after Labor Day anyhow since it suspends extracurricular activities too.
All schools, though, must wait for marching band. No band camp this year.
Meanwhile, California announced fall sports will start in 2021.
In terms of numbers, Texas hospitalizations hit a new record high and our deaths were high again. I’ll recap everything in full for tomorrow’s post.
Within Austin, we had 600 and someodd cases. Hospitalizations and hospitalization admits were still lower than we had been seeing. Deaths, though, we saw 9 of them reported today. That’s a single-day high.
As deaths are the metric with the longest lead time, it makes sense we’re going to see increasing and higher deaths for some time until the flattening/decrease catches up.