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.

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.

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.

COVID in Austin Update (July 9)

Other People To Listen To

I’m just a layman. I’m not in public health or anything. This is just me ingesting an unhealthy amount of news and needing to process it in a productive way. I’m glad so many people have told me it has helped them.

If you want to follow some experts who share fact-based, data-driven takes, here are a couple of suggestions. These are folks who I trust their read of the data and are apolitical.

On Facebook: Your Local Epidemiologist
On Twitter: Dr. Peter Hotez

Dr. Hotez is pretty vocal with criticizing the political response (like me), but he often rebukes attempts to make this political by trying to slam the governor more personally or the GOP.

New Orders

City of Austin

As mentioned yesterday, at today’s City Council meeting, the Council passed two resolutions allowing for a $2,000 civil fine for failure to follow health orders (e.g. wearing a mask) and instructing the city to levy a lawsuit against any business not following health protocols.

Due to the emergency nature of the pandemic, both are effective basically immediately and are on the books until December 31st. (Not that we must wear masks until December 31st, but that the Health Authority can create rules that can be enforced with fines up to $2,000 until then, unless modified by the Council).

Round Rock

Meanwhile, Round Rock reduced the penalty for lack of wearing a mask to a warning followed by a $200 fine. They also voted today to push the postponed May 2020 city council elections to May 2021. Abbott had ordered them postponed to November.

Governor Abbot

The Governor issued a proclamation to amend GA-27, the order prohibiting elective surgeries in a number of counties. It’s a lot of counties.

Now, all of the counties within the following Trauma Service Areas, as shown on the map below, are included in the restrictions. Areas J, K, M O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V and Dallas County. Basically, most of Texas except North Texas, Northeast Texas, the Panhandle and Lubbock areas, and El Paso.

State GOP Convention

🍿 I’m obviously won’t be heading to the convention either way, but yesterday, Houston cancelled their contract. Today, Montgomery County’s (Conroe and The Woodlands) Judge invited the convention to drive up IH-45 and the State GOP sued the City of Houston over the cancelled contract.

The district judge already ruled for Houston in the suit and the GOP has appealed directly to the Texas Supreme Court. As Mayor Turner said, it’s a bit ironic that the GOP is arguing it is safe for a 6,000-person in-person convention while the courts are still meeting virtually.

Houston’s Hospitals

I haven’t said much about Houston lately. Just too much locally. But, they’re still in the same position. ICUs are at 105% of capacity at the Texas Medical Center as they’re solidly in “Phase 2”. Phase 1 is their normal ICU beds. Phase 2 is their first level of supplemental capacity. They still have a lot of room in these supplemental phases, but of course, you can only run on supplemental for so long..

Sports!

There’s been a lot of chatter on the sports front. Most of it is more national in scope so I haven’t worried about covering it. The short of it is the NBA, MLB, and MLS are all in various stages of their beginning play. MLS have started games. MLB teams are working around again for a start later this month. NBA teams are now reporting to their “bubble” at Disney World.

Notable, there has been testing problems where MLB teams haven’t received results in a timely matter and MLS kicked FC Dallas out of the first tournament due to too many players testing positive.

But now, eyes are looking toward the big one for us in Texas. Football.

On the college front, for those who didn’t realize it, the Ivy Leagues still play football, but not this year. They’re cancelling all of the Fall sports.

The Big Ten announced they are only playing their conference games this Fall. None of the other major conferences have joined them (yet), but ACC did announce that if more conferences went that route, they would help ensure Notre Dame has games—6 of Notre Dame’s games this season are against ACC teams already. ND is independent for football, but in the ACC for the rest of their sports. Either way, ND’s AD isn’t really expecting the season to start as schedule.

Ohio State’s AD is even less optimistic.

Locally, Big 12 said it is too early to talk about such things, though word is spirit groups and bands won’t travel to away games this season.

Dallas ISD’s superintendent isn’t expecting there to be high school football either.

Some schools are going to go to esports instead? If that’s your thing, cool.

Stats

State of Texas

We’re not seeing any improvement on the state numbers. 9,782 new cases today. The “good” thing is this is the second day in a row it has declined. But, this is the 3rd highest daily value and still 1500 higher than the 4th highest daily value. We’re bringing in 14% of the country’s positive results.

For hospitalizations, we’re at 9,689, a new record yet again. The only ray of sunshine is the increase is lower than we’ve been seeing.

On the death front, it’s bad news. We hit 105 deaths, a record for the 3rd day in a row. Also bad news, our positivity rate is a new high at 15.56%.

I want there to be good news, I do. We should expect deaths to continue to increase.

Travis County (Austin)

Before touching on today’s numbers, as mentioned the other day, Austin Public Health tweaked how new hospital admissions are calculated after they realized an error on their part. They updated the data on the public sets now. The noteworthy thing was a retroactive new record for hospital admits goes to July 2nd with 92 new admissions, which is a hell of a lot higher than the number we had before (in the 70s).

On to today’s update. For the second day in a row, we had over 700 new cases. 703, to be exact.

Good news—after three days of record-high deaths, we had none reported today. Hospital census and ICU census also declined again. Not by a lot and looking at the 7d-rolling average for hospitalizations is still increasing, so no celebrations or anything.

We still have 91 people on ventilators, though. Same as yesterday’s record setting number.

We’re still in Stage 4. According to the UT models presented, we may be slowing things down, but models lack confidence. In other words, the data is mixed enough it doesn’t obviously support pushing for a 35-day shutdown. The models do suggest that COVID positive kids will be heading to the classroom if they open as they’re scheduled to open, even if we did have a 35-day shutdown. Local officials are asking Governor Abbott to roll back to Phase 1 reopening.

Also, the data indicated that ICU capacity would be the first to be hit. Generally, they had be focusing more on the 1500-bed total available, but the 331-474 ICU beds will run out first. The KXAN article linked above pretty accurately reports what they said during the meeting today for the parts that I was able to catch.

In the end, we still have a fighting chance. Wear a mask. Stay home as much as possible.

COVID in Austin Update (July 8)

News

New Orders Coming

The Austin City Council is meeting in special session tomorrow to look at two things, specifically:

  • Declaring any site (e.g. business) that does not comply with minimum safety standards a “public health nuisance” upon whom a civil suit can be filed by the City upon request of the Health Authority.
  • Creating a civil fine of up to $2,000 for any violation of a public health safety rule created by the Health Authority.

The first item is really an extension of the previous “requiring businesses to require masks” style of force and also includes things like requiring certain cleaning, washing hands, etc. Child care sites, individual homes and whatnot are exempted.

The second item allows the Health Authority to make rules (such as you must wear a mask) which can be enforced with a civil fine of up to $2,000. Unlike the Gov. Abbott’s GA-29 mask mandate, there is no required first warning. So, under this combination, the first time you’re found without a mask, you can be given a $2,000 civil fine and a state warning. If they come to visit you again on the same day, you’d get a $250 criminal fine from the State’s order.

Per the Statesman, Abbott is okay with it. GA-29 did specifically strike out GA-28’s “no jurisdiction can impose a civil or criminal penalty” for lack of a mask.

State GOP Convention Fight

Houston’s Mayor Turner directed the city-owned convention center to cancel their contract with the State GOP. Mayor Turner did not want to exercise the contract’s cancellation clause—he didn’t want to make this a political thing—but after repeated failed attempts to convince the GOP to move to a virtual convention, he opted to direct Houston’s legal department to proceed with the cancellation. Read the letter to the GOP.

The State GOP is reviewing their legal options, so this isn’t the last word.

Diocese of Austin

This isn’t new, but something I hadn’t reported on. The Diocese of Austin on July 1st released updated protocols for liturgical services.

Frankly, I’m disappointed.

As you may recall from the Governor’s Executive Orders, church services are exempt from most COVID regulations. The Diocese had set a 25% capacity limit, which was increased to 50% with the July 1 protocols. The new protocols also require parishes to resume their pre-pandemic Mass schedule no later than August 1.

Meanwhile, the Travis County Health Authority and Catholic himself (if I recall correctly from Q&A sessions with him), while acknowledging that he’d rather go to Mass in person too, is asking for us to stop attending. (Apologies for the non-primary source, the City hasn’t uploaded the recording to their YouTube channel yet).

I can appreciate the slow reopening that we started, but as things are getting worse, we absolutely should not be increasing capacity.

Talking to multiple priest friends of mine, off the record, there is a lot that has gone into making the return to Mass safe and it is hard to do the work needed to turn around the facilities between Masses, with fewer volunteers than before.

This will be impacting us for awhile to come and I’d wish we would focus, as a Church, on how to make more accessible to people. How do we do catechism classes in the Fall? Doing Zooms are the time isn’t the answer—props to one of my kiddos’ catechist who did that—but that’s a short-term immediate answer, not a sustainable long-term one.

As a counter-example, the Diocese of El Paso never resumed Sunday Masses with daily Masses at 25% capacity, plus weddings and funerals, etc. With the increase of cases they’re seeing there as well, they’re backing up a bit and have again suspended public funeral and wedding Masses. They will continue to have graveside services, but with a limit of 10 individuals.

I truly hate that I haven’t been to church since the 3rd Sunday of Easter—I lectored for our parish’s livestream that weekend—but in good conscience, it doesn’t make sense. I don’t care that bars reopened so “why can’t churches‽‽‽”. Just because we enjoy the legal ability to do doesn’t mean we need to exercise that ability.

Let’s help teach people how to pray at home and how to pray together virtually. Mass is all about presence. The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and us being in that presence. In my opinion, that falls apart trying to “do Mass” virtually. It doesn’t compute. As a Church, we have centuries of liturgical and devotional tradition. Liturgy of the Hours. Stations of the Cross, lecto divina, and so on. Things that we can do together but physically apart without distinction.

Related, if I started a daily midday prayer and reflection thing, would anyone join? I’ve been toying with it, but hadn’t invited anyone to join yet.

Austin is still Stage 4

With yesterday’s data, we have entered the data range to move to Stage 5 mitigation as a City. Much of this mitigation isn’t legally enforceable because of the State, but Austin Public Health is not yet moving us to Stage 5. The idea was between 70 and 123 new admits a day (7-day average), we would move into stage 5, but it depended on how the trajectory and projections look.

Depending on how our ICU bed projections are looking, we may enter Stage 5, but they’re going to look at additional data before suggesting becoming stricter than the data suggests we have to be.

Education

I won’t go into much after yesterday, but teacher groups are pushing back on in-person classes come Fall. NYC, as the sake of an example from the country’s largest school system, will only have kids in the classroom between 1 and 3 days a week in a rotating fashion.

There’s word that El Paso is preparing an order to keep schools closed until after Labor Day. There’s a lot of open questions on what that would impact, so will be interesting to see how that comes down.

Testing Delays

We’re back to a point of seeing nearly two-week delays in getting results back. That’s just ridiculous.

Houston Seeing Increased “Dead on Arrival” Calls

Texas Tribune and ProPublica published an article today reporting on the increase of DOA calls fielded by Houston paramedics. We saw this in New York City where the number of people who died at home jumped during the horrible pandemic phase they faced earlier. This spike is going back toward March, so I don’t want to draw an immediate “this is why we shouldn’t have reopened” conclusions from it—more that this pandemic sucks because it is killing people pretty fast sometimes.

Stats

State of Texas

After breaking 10,000 for the first time yesterday, we saw 9,979 new cases today. The positivity rate, after spending a few days at 13.5-ish% jumped up to 15.03%.

Statewide deaths, after setting the record of 60 new deaths yesterday, we saw 98 new deaths today.

We have set another new hospitalization record at 9,610.

Travis County (Austin)

On the one positive note I have, we have seen a decreased in the number of hospitalized individuals for the first time in over two weeks: 458 after yesterday’s 469.

ICU is still under the record, but up one from yesterday—149. Previous record was 156 on the 4th of July.

We have a record 91 people on ventilators.

Ventilator use, raw daily number.

67 people went into the hospital, increasing our 7-day average to 75.1.

We set a new daily record of 753 new cases reported. Previous record was 636 on Sunday, June 28th.

We set a new daily record of reported deaths at 8. Previous was the last two days at 7 each. That puts us at 4.4 deaths/day on a 7d average.

7 day rolling average deaths per day.

Not really anything more to say. Wear a mask. Stay home, except go vote. Early Voting closes on Friday, then election day is Tuesday, July 14.

COVID in Austin Update (July 7)

News

Today was a pretty solid news day, so let’s jump to it.

Returning to School

“Returning justly or just returning”. I saw that on something unrelated earlier and stuck with me. The Texas Education Agency released their guidelines for reopening schools in the Fall.

Masks will be required in counties more than 20 cases (per the Governor’s order) and PPE will be provided to schools.

Parents can opt for in-classroom instruction or virtual learning. Parents can opt to change their decision too, with a suggested two-week notice period before the change. Schools can ask that parents commit to it for a period (e.g. the six-week grading period, etc).

From a Facebook friend who is working with Austin ISD’s health and safety group, relatively late in the draft period, TEA decided that they would not fund that. In reading the funding section of the Remote Learning document📄, I don’t see reference to funding hybrid, but there are mentions of it later in the document. 🤷‍♂️

There’s a lot of different small bits coming out of TEA at any given moment that I don’t have the bandwidth to really follow and understand, to be honest.

Note: These notes below are based on the State’s guidence that local schools will convert into actual policy. Just because it is stated below doesn’t mean your particular school will offer anything in particular.

Looking at virtual education 📄, they will fund either a synchronous or asynchronous method. The synchronous method is basically like in-person school, just held online. You have to be logged in at a specific time to be counted as present, you need a certain number of instructional minutes per day for it to be a school day, etc. This will be an option for 3rd grade and up.

Asynchronous is more like what my kids experienced at the end of last school year—using software like Blend/Canvas—and is more self-guided. Students do need to be “engaged” every school day—you have to do something each day.

There is a third option for high school students, the existing TXVSN system of online high school course or completely full-time online high school. I believe this is used often in schools where they may not be able to offer a course for a particular students, so can lean on the remote offering. Funding in this case only will be given if a student passes. No pass, no play money.

In either case, while schools are required to offer an in-person option, they are not required to offer a virtual option. BUT, if they need to close because of the virus, they will not be given a waiver for missed instructional time unless they have a virtual program in place (in which case, they would be credited for the number of minutes—because, yes, Texas counts school time by minutes—their on-campus schedule would have been if they weren’t closed forcing everyone onto the virtual track.

For reference, the existing AISD documentation is still online, but I would imagine something new would be coming once the powers that be digest this a bit📄. TEA issued a Planning Guidebook 📄 to help districts prepare.

New Testing Sites in Austin

Austin Public Health is standing up some new testing sites in neighborhoods harder hit.

The testing sites — run by Austin Public Health — are at Southeast Branch Library, 5803 Nuckols Crossing Road, and Little Walnut Creek Branch Library, 835 W. Rundberg Lane.

The third site is scheduled to open Monday at Givens Parks, 3811 E. 12th St.

Austin Convention Center Field Hospital to be ready July 20

Former County Judge and now the County Covid Czar Sarah Eckhardt told the Statesman that—if needed—the field hospital will be able to open on July 20th. The local hospitals currently report about 75% of the general beds and 85% of ICU beds occupied.

The County is preparing based on exceeding 1,500 general patients and 250 ICU patients across the area hospitals. Area hospitals, though, say they will be able to squeeze more people in after that.

Politics

A few political things today.

State GOP Convention

Will continue in-person still, but local officials will give their speeches virtually instead of in-person. Okay.

Speaker Bonnen

Just a couple of politically-minded things on the state side, I wanted to note. Speaker of the Texas House Dennis Bonnen tweeted out remarks he made a couple weeks ago regarding how he’s infuriated with people who aren’t wearing masks.

I’m glad he’s mad about it. It gives me pause that he is mad about people not wearing masks because it could kill the economy. Not about not wearing masks infecting other people, killing some.

Governor Abbott

I’ve tried to not get too political on these updates. I really don’t think majority of the COVID-19 issues need to be political. But, remember, I can break my own rules and, speaking of being infuriated, Governor Abbott made me so after his interview last night with KFDM, the CBS station out of Beaumont.

The opening question, which the Governor seems very prepared for, asked about those county judges and mayors who are asking for additional authority—like they had earlier in the pandemic before the State responded at all. His response floored. It’s the first question, his answer starts around the 45 second mark on the video linked above.

He blasts local officials saying that if only they enforced his existing orders first, everything would be fine. He accused them of “absenteeism”! I’m shocked!

Whether you agree or not with putting someone in jail (I don’t think jail is advisable), remember, he’s the one who threw down because a judge in Dallas ordered the salon owner—who openly refused to comply with shut down orders—to jail on contempt. Jail time was specifically authorized by the Executive Orders in force at that time!

When local areas started mandating masks, his response was to ban those local authorities from being able to issue any penalties to individuals for lack of compliance.

Governor Abbott failed to lead on the mask issue. He berated local officials for not being able to divine how to weasel around his lack of granting enforcement power, then acted like that was in plan all along. (Narrator: it wasn’t in the plan). That plan? Local business regulation. From the governor who has taken every possible chance to strike down any business regulations coming from the City of Austin.

So, Kraft, you’re amped up about this. Let’s just take it at face value. Local officials should enforce the orders that in place now before getting more. Ha!

Per KFDX, the local NBC station in Wichita Falls—the hometown that both Abbott and I share—spoke to the Wichita County Judge, Woody Gossom. Before linking or quoting, Wichita Falls is red. 72.9% voted for Trump in the 2016 election. Woody Gossom has been on the county court or the county judge since 1989. He’s solidly Republican. I’m not quoting from someone who is politically on the opposite side of Gov. Abbott.

KFDX shared that Judge Gossom isn’t really sure how enforceable the mask mandate will actually be. ““The clarity, it’s gonna be an interesting day in the courtroom to determine did that person get a warning before that,”

The mask order mandates that a first offense is a warning with second or following offenses result in a fine.

So, unless they visit the same person at the same place a second time, they’re not going to fine a person.

The goal isn’t fining people, no. The goal is voluntary compliance. There aren’t enough law enforcement officers to really enforce it, but in either case, Governor Abbott’s response to local authorities is absolutely nuts.

Gov. Abbott’s polling on how Texans think he is handling this is trending like our viral data — the direction Abbott doesn’t want. (April vs June polls).

Anyhow.

Data and Numbers

I hope this is the “going to get worse before it gets better” phase and not the “going to get worse before it gets more worse” phase.

State of Texas

Texas set a new single-day new cases record hitting five digits: 10,028. I hope this is just post-holiday lag after having low numbers the last two days. Our positivity rate has been pretty stable the last few days at 13.5% (way too high).

We also set a record on daily fatalities. This is new. May 14th was our previous record-setting day. Today, we had 60 new deaths reported (possibly including the first death in The University of Texas at Austin community).

It almost goes without saying that we hit a new hospitalization record too at 9,286 in the hospital.

Travis County (Austin)

We saw 482 new cases. We had 7 new deaths—tying the record set yesterday. I don’t like this trend.

New record hospitalization census at 469 with 148 in the ICU and a record 89 people on ventilators right now. By my quick look, this is the 16th day in a row we’ve set a hospitalization record for the Austin MSA.

We had a record-high 73 new hospitalizations today.

Austin Public Health announced a change. “Previous data sets did not retroactively adjust new hospital admissions for patients who were admitted to the hospital but did not receive a positive COVID-19 test result until after their initial admission date.

I’d like to have more explanation on this and see the updated data, but with their revisions, our 7-day rolling average admission average is 74.8, solidly putting us in the Stage 5 potential. Stage 5 is, basically, a shutdown, but the City/County lacks the authority to do that now.

The public data sets have the previously announced admissions numbers—not the revised—so we’re at a 7-day average higher than any single value. Heh.

How high are we going to go?

Wear a mask. Love Hamilton? Not sure about wearing a mask? Watch and wear.