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Current Events

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.

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Current Events

COVID in Austin Update (July 6)

News

I haven’t seen that much come across my desk today.

The Texas High School Coaches Association’s conference slated for later in July, bringing together 5,000 high school coaches to San Antonio, decided to do a virtual conference. Meanwhile, the State GOP convention next week in Houston is still a go, with Houston’s mayor reminding the State GOP’s executive committee that health inspectors will be on-site with authority to shut down the conference if protocols are not followed.

While The University of Texas at Austin currently will offer in-person classes with the option for a fully-online course load, ICE announced that if those in the country on student visas are taking fully online course loads, they have to leave the United States. Harvard announced today they are going to be fully online next academic year.

Meanwhile, the Texas chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Texas Pediatric Society, released a statement today supporting re-opening of K-12 schools in the Fall. Basically, the mental health concerns of continued isolation and lack of the informal education that takes place in school points towards returning kids to a “normal” environment. Our family is really torn on this as I know many families are wrestling with this too.

Stats

State of Texas

The big one: Texas has officially confirmed over 200,000 cases.

We “only” had 5,318 new cases today, but we’ll see how things shake out post-holiday.

We did hit, yet again, a new record high for hospitalizations with 8,698.

I hadn’t reported on this, but we have a record number of ICU patients as well, with 2,517 throughout the state.

Harris County continues to see a higher percentage of their ICU census coming from COVID patients.

Looking at a breakdown of the state’s Trauma Service Areas, here’s how we looked on June 1st, June 15th, July 1, and July 6 for total hospitalizations:

TSAJune 1June 15July 1July 6
Amarillo47162531
Lubbock14157286
Wichita Falls001121
Abilene201033
DFW58070114111607
Paris14283851
Longview/Tyler495579121
Lufkin16283546
El Paso10994177218
Midland/Odessa18235990
San Angelo021528
Belton/Kileen23295452
Waco253131
Bryan/College Station23295452
Austin89141404485
San Antonio10516510911313
Houston48273021392656
Galveston111154318364
Victoria171162108
Laredo14118293
Corpus Christi615163249
Lower Rio Grande Valley3787588954
Statewide Total1756232669048698

Amarillo and El Paso were known hotspots early—Amarillo because of the meatpacking plants. Both areas were part of the delayed group of counties that reopened about a week later than the rest of the state.

From hospitalizations, it does appear there are areas of the state hit harder than others, which is probably part of the hesitancy from some on the state level to act. I guess that’s fine (it isn’t), but not giving local officials any ability to act either doesn’t jive with me.

Of course, areas like Brewster County, TX has a population of ~9800 and now has 140 cases. That per capita… Anyhow.

Williamson County (Round Rock/Georgetown)

I wanted to highlight Williamson County since they didn’t report numbers over the weekend.

A good jump there.

Travis County (Austin)

Since yesterday’s report, we had a record seven deaths reported, putting us at 144 total. My hope has been that we wouldn’t see this number rise. Even if the ratios look better, as our counts continue to increase, it only makes sense that deaths will too, sadly.

Seven deaths today increases our 7-day rolling average to 3.29 deaths/day, which obviously is an increase from the previous highs.

With cases, “only” 247 reported. Testing is back to regular schedule, so let’s see what happens.

Hospitalizations topped a new high again at 466. ICU census still under the high from last week—140 vs 156 on the 4th of July. Our ventilator use jumped a bit to 83. Up 11 from yesterday and 250% what it was two weeks ago.

New hospitalizations were 69, which isn’t itself a record, but does push our 7-day average to a new high of 64.6 admits/day.

So yup, we’re still on the upswing.

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Current Events

COVID in Austin Update (July 5)

I hope everyone has had a nice holiday weekend.

A few news items that caught my eye:

Data

State of Texas

As expected, with the holiday, the testing data is going to be weird.

On the state-level, the bottom fell out as we dropped to 3,449 new cases, the lowest in two weeks. Austin saw a similar drop yesterday, but given today’s local numbers, I’d bet the state’s numbers will spring back up tomorrow.

Hospitalizations set another new record at 8,181.

Travis County (Austin)

Yesterday’s 122 new cases was definitely related to the holiday as today we saw 548 new cases (5th highest).

New hospitalizations has not returned to Thursday’s record, but still very high: 59 new hospitalizations.

We’ve set new records with 446 in-patients with 72 of them on ventilators. Our ICUs were able to send a few people home, so that dipped down to 137.

I’m curious to see how the holiday weekend will impact that (people waiting longer to go into the ER and are going to be sicker when they get there? Maybe the holidays won’t have any obvious effect. 🤷‍♂️)

Categories
Current Events

COVID in Austin Update (July 4)

Happy 4th of July! 🇺🇸

I’m taking the day off so holding off on most of my news reading. I’m assuming not much is going to break on the holiday. (I’m writing this part on the 3rd)

I did want to cover what exactly I do. I’m not a journalist nor an expect in public health or anything related to this. I like having clear information and data and I like having it as close to the source as possible.

With this virus, following along with the news, then reviewing information myself, I’ve found often there are disconnects between the reporting and the actual information. Sometimes, these seem more extreme (“masks are pointless!” as seen on some cable news shows) and sometimes, it is subtle things.

Sometimes, the news media deserves it: when CBS aired B-roll from hospitals in Italy where were completely overwhelmed at the time while talking about New York City hospitals or when Fox News photoshopped a man with a long gun into various pictures of Seattle.

As a Catholic, whenever the press writes about the Church, they usually get some little things wrong. I can tell someone who was an outsider wrote it

Plenty of time, the media is correct, but there’s enough mess like the above out there that I follow the idea of “trust, but verify”—the Russian proverb that was made famous in the states by Ronald Reagan.

I have my national news outlets that I usually read for general information, such as the New York Times or the Washington Post. I would read the Wall Street Journal to help provide some different angles, but even their all digital subscription was too expensive the last I looked. I follow Austin’s public media station, KUT, closely and the Texas Tribute for Texas political issues. I skim the Statesman and local TV media sites.

Generally, if they have some piece of news that is interesting to me regarding a topic that I care about—like the coronavirus—I try to find an original source. For example, yesterday’s story about the July Bar Exams being cancelled, I looked up the Texas Supreme Court’s site and found the press release. Same thing when someone reports TABC closed something down.

Remember the movie, Men In Black, when Tommy Lee Jones picks up the tabloids from the news stand as his “hot sheets”?

That’s me with the real media. 😀 Find a tip, then dig into more primary sources when I can with relative ease. Yay the Internet! The New York Times has a really in-depth county-by-county dataset for cases and deaths, but you better believe I spot-checked a few counties to make sure the NYT data matched the official data before I used it as a data source. Trust, but verify.

In addition, I have a few experts I follow that when they give opinions, they link the data behind it, whom I trust their opinions and I verify their data makes sense to me—not that I’m an expert, but I have a little statistics training, so trying to spot obvious-to-me flaws.

Lastly, I follow various primary sources directly.

The only thing I have on the news front is to ask for prayers for my family. No one locally, but members of both sides of our family in the last 24 hours have either been tested due to showing symptoms or received a positive result back. My little branch of the family tree is very physically far removed from those branches, but the first family cases we’ve had that I know about.

Data

In the State of Texas, we had a record-setting 8,258 new cases with a still high 13.15% 7-day positivity rate. Hospitalizations set another record today with 7,890.

For the Travis County/Austin, as expected, we’re seeing new cases go waaay down. CommUnity Care, the clinic handling free testing for Austin Public Health, closed their drive-up testing locations yesterday and today, resuming operations on Monday. I appreciate their staff has been worked to the bone and I get it is a holiday. Personally, I’d liked to have seen some way to keep it going (National Guard? Medical volunteers that have offered through the State system?), but not so.

They last took a testing day off on Memorial Day.

Anyhow, new cases are down to 122, which would have been record-setting three weeks ago.

Now, the numbers that won’t change because of the testing closure.

We saw two deaths in the last 24 hours (136 total), putting our 7-day average at 2.71/day, which is the highest we’ve seen at any point in the pandemic. The daily death count for the last 7 days: 0, 4, 3, 4, 5, 1, 2.

New hospitalizations remain high at 64, pushing our 7-day average to a new high of 61.7.

Total hospitalizations is at 434 with ICU census at 156 and ventilator use at 70. All three are records (ventilators tied with the count a few days back).

To give you a sense of growth, last Sunday, we were at 351, 114, and 60 respectively.

That’s it for me today. Going to watch some fireworks on TV.

Categories
Current Events

COVID in Austin Update (July 3)

New Orders

As expected, yesterday’s executive order allows local authorities to now limit outdoor gatherings of 10 or more people. The executive order gives the authority to counties for unincorporated areas and mayors for incorporated areas.

Travis County and the City of Austin has prohibited outdoor gatherings of 10 or more. With a quick skim of the previous executive orders, I think this is the first one that states that county judges and mayors have equal authority with outdoor gatherings and other cities in Travis County (Lakeway, West Lake Hills, etc) announced the 100-person prohibition as “per County order”.

From a technical standpoint, I think each little city needs to issue their own declaration for their own incorporated boundaries. From a practical standpoint, just assume outdoor gatherings of 10 or more are prohibited everywhere. (Let’s also ignore places like Collin County north of Dallas that specifically issued a proclamation allowing all outdoor gatherings of 10 or more.)

News

On the baseball front, unrelated to Texas, there was a video on Twitter of how the Red Sox are keeping their players spaced out. They have converted their box suites into mini-locker rooms for a couple of players each.

If you’ve been watching MLB news, they did change a few playing rules this season. Some are more gameplay related (extra innings start with a runner on 2nd to help games not extend into too many innings), but others are very obviously virus-related. Get within six feet of an umpire to argue a call? You’re out of the game.

While I do strongly feel it is not worth trying to play youth sports right now—my little baseball league simply doesn’t have the financial or human resources or the educational knowledge to pull this off well, in my opinion—maybe, maybe some pro sports can figure out something.

Data

State of Texas

New record for hospitalizations, again. 7,652 are in the hospital statewide. We had two tiny decreases on two separated days, but otherwise, we’ve setting a new record daily since June 8.

Statewide hospitalizations keep going up.

We had 7,555 new cases. The third-highest amount after yesterday’s 2nd highest, and Wednesday’s current record.

We had 50 deaths since yesterday. That’s the 4th highest daily number all-time, so not the obvious upward record-setting trend that we’ve had with cases and hospitalizations, but trending higher slowly.

Travis County (Austin)

While noting it is a holiday, so some testing locations are closed and there will likely be weird results for the next few days, here are today’s counts.

Our new daily count is the lowest all week with 314 new cases, putting us over 11,000 total cases.

We had one more death, pushing our 7-day average to 2.57/day. Not the highest, but still creeping up.

We’ve set a new record for both regular bed and ICU census counts at 418 and 151 respectively. Our new hospitalizations today was 65, which helped pushed up the 7-day average to 59.1 (highest we’ve seen).

Nothing terribly new to say about this. Keep wearing a mask. Enjoy the 4th at home with a couple of beers and some hamburgers on the grill with your family.

Categories
Current Events

COVID in Austin Update (July 2)

New Orders

Masks! Masks! Masks!

Governor Abbott has issued a statewide mask mandate. GA-29 requires masks in all public areas—inside or outside—with some exceptions:

  • Under 10 years old.
  • Medically unable to wear a mask.
  • While eating, drinking, exercising (while keeping distance), driving alone or only with your family, swimming, giving a speech, etc.
  • Religious services, though still encouraged.
  • Voting, though still encouraged.
  • When security requires you to show your face (e.g. a bank, TSA checkpoint at an airport, etc).
  • Personal care to the facial area (e.g. dentist appointment).
  • Or a county with less than 20 active cases. Which aren’t any around here. Counties have to opt-out of it with a form to the state, it isn’t automatic.

Penalties include a fine, but no jail. Though, if a business asks you to leave for not wearing a mask, normal trespass laws still apply, so if you’re a punk about it, be aware. But don’t be a punk about it.

Separately, he also issued a proclamation to amend a previous executive order allowing local authorities to limit outdoor gatherings of 10 or more. Currently, Travis County (following the previous allowed amount) has prohibited gatherings of 100+, so a new order from the locals will probably come later today or tomorrow I’d reckon.

City of Austin to close parks for July

After already closing down park features for the holiday weekend, the City announced that they will close park features and city-run summer camps for the month of July.

As part of a memo to the mayor and council, the city manager reports a few changes. There are more, but the notable ones to me:

  • Parks and Rec to, basically, close for the month of July. After the holiday weekend, trails are open with distancing required. Playground, pools, etc will be closed.
  • Austin Resource Recovery (sanitation) will again suspend curbside bulk pickup. Regular trash, recycling, and compost service continues without change. If you got a notice that your curbside service is coming up, they will still honor those notices. If you didn’t get a postcard yet, you won’t for the time being.

Other News

Data

State

On the state level, we set another new record of hospitalizations at 7,382 (+478). Thankfully, the state’s daily new cases slightly declined to 7,915 (-161), which is still the 2nd highest daily count by a thousand. Positivity is still high—over 13%.

Hays County (San Marcos)

After the initial shocking spike, things seem to be quieting down, though still very high. I’m glad they aren’t increasing and setting new case records right now, but let’s hope that downward trend goes way down.

Williamson County (Georgetown/Round Rock)

Similarly, new cases aren’t rising, but they aren’t really going down all that much yet either. Today was the lowest number in awhile. I don’t know if there’s an underlying reason (e.g. testing access?) or what. We’ll see how it trends over the next week or so.

The county reported a record-high hospitalization level. I don’t pay close attention to Williamson County since Austin/Travis County includes the five-county MSA, including Williamson.

Travis County (Austin)

So. I wrote the above about Hays and Williamson County before Travis released their daily numbers. I was feeling a little good seeing a little tiny bit downward motion.

Then, I saw today’s Travis County dashboard.

We added 571 new cases, making it five days above 500.

We saw 5 new deaths, putting us to 133 total. Seeing daily numbers of deaths at 4, 3, 4, 5 is worrisome, like I mentioned yesterday. We did have one time hitting six in a single day earlier in the pandemic, so it isn’t a record. But, I’m nervous. I really really am hoping that our deaths won’t begin to increase and that our care of the elderly will be the difference.

We had a record 71 new hospitalizations, putting today’s census count at 415, jumping up from yesterday’s 376.

We’re also at a record 145 in the ICU and 70 on vents.

We’re probably going to see a bit more of this trend until the more recent changes (bars closing and now masks) make an impact, so hold on tight.

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