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COVID in Austin Update (June 21)

To start off, an updated list of counties requiring businesses to require masks:

  • Bexar County (San Antonio)
  • Brooks County (Falfurrias, I’ll forgive you if you don’t know it. Population 7k. Props!)
  • Cameron County (Brownsville)
  • Dallas County (Dallas)
  • El Paso County (El Paso)
  • Harris County (Houston)
  • Hays County (San Marcos)
  • Hidalgo County (McAllen)
  • Jim Hogg County (Hebbronville, population 5k)
  • Kleberg County (Kingsville)
  • City of Port Aransas
  • Travis County (Austin)
  • Webb County (Laredo)
  • Nueces County (Corpus Christi)*

Nueces County hasn’t officially issued the order from what I can tell, but the county judge said it is coming.

I haven’t checked each county’s orders, but most are enforceable starting tomorrow. But, why wait? Just wear a mask now. If you’re reading this, I’m likely preaching to the choir, but still, wear a mask.

There are still counties in metro areas that are actively intending not to issue mask requirements (looking at you Tarrant County and Fort Worth, Williamson County and Round Rock) and plenty that “recommend” masks. Come on, mandate them. You still have the discretion of when to fine a business or give them a warning, but at least act like there is a serious situation, at least in the metro areas.

That brings up a good point. Texas is a big state. Why should Clay County (population 10,000) do the same thing as Harris County (population 4.7 million). That’s a fair point. My concern is that while testing capacity and availability has increased in the metro areas, the rural areas seem to be still a bit behind. Maybe rural counties don’t need to require masks, but how confident are we that we actually know that?

In either event, at least if your county is seeing any increase in cases and you aren’t masking, put on a damn mask. I won’t be able to keep the list up to date—there are 254 counties in Texas after all, but I did want to share that an increasing number of counties are requiring it—both urban and rural.

On the State level, Governor Abbott announced a press conference for 2 p.m. tomorrow regarding the virus. For awhile, all of his press conferences have been to announce that we’re doing fine and to reopen more. We’ll see if he continues on this path or acknowledges things aren’t going great.

Speaking of not going great, for the 10th straight day, we’ve his a new record for hospitalizations with 3,409. We had 3,866 new cases reported, 2nd to yesterday’s high.

Yesterday, there were a very high ~65k tests recorded, but today, down to a more normal ~25k. I use fuzzy math here because the total tests include both viral (e.g. currently infected) and antibody (e.g. ever at any point had an infection) tests and takes a day or so before they break it out. Without breaking out the antibody tests, we’re looking at about a 10% positivity rate over the last 7 days, which is well above the 5-6% stated as our goal. (Including antibody tests pollutes the data and isn’t good, so don’t trust me with these numbers except to say, we are returning more positive tests than we should for having this under control).

To follow up on Hays County, south of Austin, which saw a really amazing spike late last week. Things seem “better” in that they’ve only been at about 100 a day, which is still high. To give you a sense of things, Hays County has almost the same number of active cases as Travis County right now. Hays has a population of ~230,000 compared to Travis’ 1.2 million.

I haven’t discussed “active cases” before now. I don’t like the metric because it is based on a lot of assumptions. Travis County used to report “recoveries” only when they confirmed the person had recovered, but switched to the State’s method on June 4th. The method now used is taking the number of positive results, subtract deaths, assume 20% of the remainder resulted in hospitalization (thus 80% didn’t), then assume that a hospitalized case takes 32 days to recover and a non-hospitalized case takes 14 days to recover.

That’s a lot of assumptions for me to feel comfortable taking a lot of stock in “active” cases or “recoveries”. Perhaps it is a fine proxy to see roughly how many cases matter right now, but I’m not going to celebrate “recoveries” under this method, personally.

On to Austin, the good news is we only had 10 new hospital admissions, the lowest we’ve had in some time. The brings down our 7-day average to 25.7. I’m going to guess this is only a temporary relief looking at the rest of our numbers.

We’ve had another death, putting us at 110 total. Thankfully, we still haven’t seen this number spike.

The total hospitalization count is at 174, just shy of last week’s record of 176. ICU patients jumped again to 84. Like I said yesterday, this is what concerns me most. This is 20 more ICU beds taken by COVID patients since Friday, which was 20 more than the Friday before.

Then, of course, total number of new cases. Yesterday, we had a mind-boggling 418, which was 200 more than the previous single-day high. Today, we hit 506 new cases.

I don’t know what the Governor is going to say tomorrow, but I’m eager to hear it.

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COVID in Austin Update (June 20)

On the news front, it has been pretty quiet today.

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) issued emergency 30-day suspension of license to two Austin bars for violating COVID-19 protocols, the agency reported today. If you’re planning to get a drink at Buford’s Backyard Beer Garden or Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot Icehouse (both in the 700 block of W. 6th St) anytime in the next month, keep on going. The TABC on Friday pulled the license for three bars outside of the Austin area. It’s Saturday and I want to believe happy thoughts on the weekend, so let’s hope that this means virtually the rest of the bar scene is respecting the protocols. 🤞

The Austin American-Statesman had an article about hospital capacity with some new-to-me details.

The notable takeways:

  • The County is prepared to stand up a field hospital at the Austin Convention Center in 100-bed stages, up to final capacity of 1,500. There’s no indication that this will be needed, but the County is looking ahead.
  • Seton moves all COVID cases either to Dell Seton Medical Center (e.g. the medical center at UT) or Seton Medical Center (the 38th Street hopsital). Both hospitals are still serving non-COVID cases, but if you’re sick and visit other Seton facilities, you’re heading to Central Austin.
  • Hospitals are better at treating cases than they were earlier in the cycle. Basically, better medical protocols mean better treatment and more success. That’s encouraging. St. David’s System noted a decrease of deaths: “He attributed that to having access to plasma from donors who have already had the virus as well as two medications, an antiviral, remdesivir, and a steroid, dexamethasone, that are being studied with good initial results.”
  • Still take this seriously.

Statewide, same headlines, different day. New hospitalization record at 3,247. New record for daily new cases at 4,430. This blows out the previous record on Thursday of 3,516. Remember when a few days ago, Governor Abbott was making a big deal that the 4,098 new cases reported was actually only 2,622 new cases since the rest were delayed reports from the inmate population?

In Austin, I hate the numbers.

Today, we saw an increase of 418 new cases. Yesterday was 295, but counted for two days. Maybe, just maybe, 418 is artificially high because of the dashboard issues? 295 over two days is actually pretty good, so maybe that was optimistic? I hope… I want happy news on Saturdays, but we don’t always get what we want, eh?

418 new cases is huge. Two weeks ago, I was shocked to see us jump above 100 for the first time. As I noted last week, weekends used to have depressed reporting, but the COVID train’s conductor is asleep at the wheel and not applying the brake on weekends anymore.

This is not what “winning” looks like.

Hospitalizations are stable (172 compared to 173 yesterday), but ICU has jumped to 71. That’s a new record over the previous of 64 yesterday. New admissions down to 29, but still looking at an increase of our 7-day average to 28.6, the highest level we’ve been at.

The ICU increase is what is concerning me the most. Let’s hope we can get that under control soon. The caseload number is mind-boggling. The county doesn’t report on the dashboard the number of tests or the positivity rate. Across the state, while the number of tests is increasing, the positivity rate (the percentage of tests that come back positive) is increasing and the overall numbers are increasing faster than the testing—meaning this isn’t because of more testing.

Good luck, Austin. Stay home. Wear a mask.

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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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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: