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COVID in Austin Update (July 19)

Education Beat

While TAPPS—the coordinating body for private schools—announced that Fall sports will begin in late September, we expect UIL—the coordinating body for public schools (and a couple of private schools who have opted into competition against public schools)—will be meeting tomorrow to decide the next plan for Falls sports.

With the Travis County Health Order, the start of the season is already cancelled until after Labor Day.

Send in the Navy!

The Navy has sent medical personnel to south Texas—Harlingen, Del Rio, Eagle Pass, and Rio Grande City—to augment local staffing due to the crush of hospital patients.

The Austin Convention Center Field Hospital opens tomorrow, but it may not see patients. Thankfully, our hospitalization rate has stopped climbing so fast. Hopefully the field hospital and the extra morgue trailers we have on hand from FEMA aren’t needed.

There was a since-deleted post from someone claiming to be a nurse at St. David’s South Austin Hospital (near S. 1st and 290) who made the situation there sound dire. KVUE confirmed from one of their sources that the details were accurate and reposted the post.

I don’t share this to drive up fear or anything like that. Only that while I talk about numbers on a daily basis, there are real people behind those numbers—not just the 400 and something currently in the hospital, or the 70 a day being admitted into one, or the 200+ people who have died—but those who are maintaining the health care system.

Staying home and wearing a mask helps everyone by keeping people from needing to add more stress on the system yes, but more importantly, the individuals who make up the system.

Support Local Media

Just a quick shout out for KUT.

I’ve been following Matt for awhile and a number of other KUT reporters. While I personally review a lot of the different datasets on a regular basis, I don’t do it daily. I’d miss things like noting that yesterday’s 239—while sounding low—was only based on about 1000 tests, giving us a 24% positivity, which is bananas high.

KUT announced they are starting voluntary furloughs and early retirements due to budget shortfall. As a non-profit public service funded primarily by the community, if you’re a listener and able to donate or donate more, head that way.

State of Texas

  • 7,300 new cases—a big drop, but Sunday/Mondays typically are low due to the weekend.
  • 93 new deaths reported. A bit lower than the last few days, but would have been a record high about a week ago.
  • 15.03% positivity. Lowest we’ve seen in the last 10 days, but still way about the 10% “red alert” line.
  • 10,592 hospitalized. This is stable—only less than 100 fewer than yesterday.

Travis County (Austin)

  • 192 new cases (weekend dip).
  • 0 deaths. First no-death day in about 10 days. Could be lack of reporting due to the weekend.
  • 480 hospitalized.
  • 158 in the ICU—over a week we’ve stayed in the 150s.
  • 110 on ventilators, a new record high.
  • 63 new admissions, making our 7-day average 69.4.

In Closing…

Did y’all see the Fox News interview with President Trump this morning? I try to stay reserved and don’t get too political in these posts.

But, the President is living in a different reality than the rest of the country. Vox reporter Aaron Rupar tweeted out a good number of clips from it—I couldn’t immediately find the full interview on the Fox News website. Click through the Twitter for a full thread of clips.

The claim that our increase of testing is why our numbers are spiking just isn’t true. Yes, our testing has increased, but our number of cases have increased faster. Hospitalization rate isn’t due to testing.

While the New York area, which really got slammed very hard when much of the country was spared, is doing much better, the southern states (at least) are all doing far worse than we were earlier in the pandemic.

Seeing how impacted we all are by this, how strained our medical system is, how supply chain and testing chains are stretched, and seeing that not only is there no leadership coming out of Washington on this topic, but there isn’t even awareness of reality. That’s getting to me maybe even more than the mitigation efforts we’re doing in La Casa de Kraft.

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COVID in Austin Update (July 18)

New Study Regarding Child Transmission

I usually avoid the national news or politics in these posts, but wanted to share a new study. The New York Times wrote about it, but the CDC has the technical scoop.

The summary is a study out of South Korea indicate that children 10-19 can spread the virus at least as well as adults. It suggests that children in that age group there actually spread it more than adults, but there may be behavioral things in play (e.g. they spread as much as adults plus less likely to comply with behavioral rules regarding spacing, hand-washing, as adults… at least Korean adults. Their kids might be on-par with some Americans, but I digress.)

Meanwhile, a group of Texas teachers protested via caravan at the Capitol today.

Around the State

  • 10,158 new cases (5th day in a row of 10k)
  • 130 new deaths (2nd highest after yesterday)
  • 10,658 hospitalized (new record)
  • 16.05% positivity.

The national news outlets have started paying attention to Corpus Christi. The particular headlines are about the 85 babies who have tested positive. I’ve mentioned Corpus before as having virtually no ICU room left (currently 4, but they went as low as 2 a couple of days ago) and their county’s rate of infection is at the top of the list for the state.

Travis County

  • 239 new cases.
  • 7 new deaths — this puts our 7-day rolling average to a new high of an even 5 per day. This also puts us at over 200 deaths for Travis County.
  • 466 hospitalized.
  • 77 new hospital admits (70.8 7day-avg).
  • 151 in the ICU.
  • 105 on ventilators (new record).

I learned today that The University of Texas at Austin has their own dashboard for specifically tracking the university community. The UT community has had 500 cases via self-reports (I presume people who were tested off-campus and reporting it to the university) or students/staff who were tested at UT Health (the clinical arm of the med school) or University Health Services (student clinic). Per Megan Menchaca, the managing editor of the student The Daily Texan, in the last 10 days, there are 120 new student reports and 45 new staff/faculty reports.

Considering in-person classes aren’t meeting, that’s interesting. Dorms open August 20th.

Other Things

This is a Twitter thread worth reading by Andy Slavitt, former Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services from 2015-2017.

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Current Events

COVID in Austin Update (July 17)

Got to this late today, so just a quick couple things and the numbers.

State GOP Convention

I thought I wouldn’t be bringing this back up, but bust out the popcorn. 🍿

Judge Lynn Hughes, a Federal judge of the Southern District of Texas, issued a ruling that the State GOP Convention can use the Houston convention center this weekend or next weekend.

The convention, which is ongoing now as a virtual event, faced a few technical problems that led to hours-long delays and a postponement of today’s activities.

It doesn’t sound like they’re going to utilize this new option unless they can’t figure out how to join the Zoom tomorrow.

Public Education Update

TSA’s teased revised rules finally dropped. Basically, instead of three weeks to transition to on-campus learning (what districts have generally used to delay the start of on-campus), the TEA extends that to four weeks with an additional four weeks allowed if there is a school board vote.

They are also going to have some hold harmless calculations for the funding of the first two six weeks. The TEA notes this is the same processed used after Hurricane Harvey, which is basically calculating the expected attendance based on the past few years worth of data and using that as a minimum-level of support.

Lastly, the TEA does specifically fund hybrid models. Before, while their documentation mentioned hybrid learning, it wasn’t clear how attendance would count toward funding.

Private Education Update

Religious schools, to be specific, hit the news today. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton released a letter to religious to let them know that either the TEA rules nor local health authority orders. Really.

Sigh.

Meanwhile, the Diocese of Austin released their guidelines for how to operate schools when they reopen.

State of Texas

San Antonio’s Mayor had an explainer about the revision of San Antonio’s official count-per-the-state that I mentioned yesterday:

Makes sense to me.

The numbers:

  • 10,256 new cases.
  • 174 deaths (new record, +45 from yesterday’s record)
  • 10,632 hospitalized (new record)
  • 17.43% positivity (new record, from 16.89%)

Travis County (Austin)

  • 232 new cases, a relatively light day when looking at the last couple of weeks.
  • 7 new deaths.
  • 469 hospitalized (second day of decline after 492 record on Wednesday).
  • 158 ICU — this bounced a bit. It was a record-high of 159 two days ago.
  • 102 on ventilators (-1 from yesterday’s record).
  • 64 new hospital admissions today, which brought down out 7-day rolling admissions average to 70.3

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COVID in Austin Update (July 16)

Education Update

School updates are coming quick as the time of year schools would usually be starting is coming close.

Hays CISD released their July 20th edition of their reopening plan—the Internet is amazing where they publish their July 20th edition on July 16th—and it notable that they are pushing back the start of the year until after Labor Day, then doing three weeks of virtual instruction.

To me, this feels a lot like when the virus first hit the local area where any particular plan or announcement doesn’t really matter because it’s probably going to be outdated within 48 hours.

If you’re tired too, generally speaking, the start of the year for everyone is going to be weird and almost across the board will be virtual. That’s it. That’s the tweet.

Eyes are on the Texas Education Agency awaiting new guidence. It’s been teased that their previous announcements of a three-week virtual period being allowed will be replaced by a new announcement of allowing the entire semester virtual if ordered by local officials. But still waiting on it. I can’t blame the TEA for being a day late considering the CDC is now saying they’re going to have guidance at the end of the month.

Meanwhile, they are distributing PPE across the state to districts and Education Service Centers (e.g. “Region 13” in the common tongue) for distribution to schools.

I will give credit for the TEA that they add dates to everything on their site. Each section has a “last updated” date, then the list of documents for any section includes the date posted. For documents updated, within the document itself, they date each question or section for when that section was last updated. Really helpful to skim and see what’s changed.

The last thing I’ll mention on the education front. The White House Press Secretary is getting flack for the line “Science should not prevent schools from reopening”. The full-quote, she obviously means that the science indicates that schools should reopen. She mentioned research in JAMA (the Journal of the American Medical Association), but I’m not sure what she cited.

I found one article that outlined things that must be done before we reopen that includes stating that Congress should be sending billions of dollars to schools to help them prepare. Another acknowledges that we’re making it up as we go. Another looks at what other countries are doing, all of which takes a lot of planning, but there’s not even guidance from the CDC that hasn’t “required revisions” at the request of the White House.

Nursing Homes Impacted

For the first time in awhile, nursing homes are in the news. In a presentation made Tuesday, Dr. Mark Escott reported a spike in nursing home-related cases.

Nursing homes have been under a lock-down of sorts for months since GA-08, Governor Abbott’s executive order of March 19th, where visitors haven’t been allowed.

Abbott Faces His Party

Gov. Abbott addressed the State GOP Convention—virtually—today. While the Governor has been on my naughty list for his lack of leadership, he’s been in his own party’s crosshairs for doing too much. Multiple counties have censured him for his mask mandate.

He faced the music directly with a firm defense of the mask mandate.

At the same time, he also said later today that there is no shutdown coming. From knowing him, I think he can expect him to hold his ground especially now that there seems to be a little slowing of the increase. He says he wants to give the mask mandate time to work, but I don’t think he’ll take further action unless things get notably worse, even if the White House COVID Task Force says he should (Texas is on page 302).

State of Texas

Before saying anything else, The University of Texas Health Science Center Houston School of Public Health released a new version of their dashboard. Oh, it’s a beauty.

I’ve been getting my numbers that I report daily from the DSHS official datasets, which is the source for this dashboard too.

Check out the chart of ICU hospitalizations in Texas by TSA. I’ve reported this a couple times in a table format, but this graph? So good.

Before moving on to the state numbers, there was a correction issued. Bexar County (San Antonio) had to pull back about 3,000 of their cases and was removed from the state’s official data.

The state only accepts a positive test from the PCR test. There is also an antigen test, which also detects an active infection, but that State won’t accept those for their numbers. (Note: this is totally different than an antibody test.)

Bexar County had included antigen positives in the number.

This strikes me because there isn’t a question that a positive antigen test is a positive. From what I’ve seen, the major problem with an antigen test is reports negative for an infected person too often. It has the advantage of being fast. Similar to a pregnancy test, when it says you’re pregnant, you’re pregnant. When it says you’re not, eh. Maybe you’re not, maybe the test just couldn’t pick up the pregnancy yet.

In other words, since Texas only counts PCR confirmed cases, there are absolutely known cases or very highly probable cases that aren’t included in any of the numbers we talk about.

Moving on, the Texas numbers for today:

  • 10,291 new cases.
  • 129 deaths (a new record, +19 from yesterday’s record).
  • 16.89% positivity (tied the record from the day before yesterday).
  • 10,457 hospitalized (about a 100 down from the record a couple days ago).

Travis County

Our hospitalization admit continues to hover at 70/day.

  • 413 new cases.
  • 479 hospitalizations.
  • 151 in the ICU
  • 102 on ventilators (new record, +5 from yesterday’s record).
  • 6 deaths

After having record hospitalization and ICU census counts yesterday, nice to not increase more. Seeing more neighbors on vents sucks.

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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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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.