New University of Texas models recommend immediate restrictions in Austin to prevent overwhelmed hospitals
Without significant behavior and policy changes, Austin-area hospitals will reach capacity in mid-July, according to updated projections by the COVID-19 Modeling Consortium at the University of Texas at Austin.
"Right now it seems like we should be doing everything we can—short of a stay-home order—to stop transmission," Dr. Lauren Ancel Meyers told Austin City Council members on Monday. "We're at that point."
An evolving guide
Austin Public Health issued a color-coded, five-stage guide to policy recommendations in mid-May. The thresholds between stages are based on the rolling average of new daily hospital admissions for COVID patients. The recommendations ranged from limiting social gatherings to returning to "Stay Home-Work Safe" conditions.
(Austin Public Health)
This week, APH updated its thresholds to account for adjusted hospital capacity and average hospital stay, which is currently about nine days. "By changing the threshold triggers, the community is able to remain in Stage 4 for a longer period of time before crossing into Stage 5," APH said in a statement.
The new stage thresholds are as follows:
The updated guidelines increase the threshold for Stage 2 from a rolling average of 5 new daily COVID-related hospital admissions to 10, Stage 3 from 19 to 39 and Stage 4 from 20 to 40.
While local officials are unable to implement policies that interfere with state orders, Dr. Meyers presented a series of scenarios that project how different policy interventions might play out.
"It's very hard to project what COVID is going to do beyond a couple weeks because we cannot predict behavior, and we cannot predict policy," she said.
The scenarios project with 95% certainty that area hospitals will not exceed capacity—a total of 1,500 COVID-19 patients—if certain measures are taken. While the interventions vary, each scenario is expected to result in 2,100 total deaths between now and the end of 2021. The difference between them is the duration, timing and extent of the shutdown.
1. In the first scenario, Austin officials would implement the policy changes recommended at Stage 4 of APH's risk-based guide, which Dr. Meyers helped develop.
Dr. Meyers presented this scenario, which presumes partial measures are taken now to contain the current surge.(COVID-19 Modeling Consortium at the University of Texas at Austin)
If people comply—wearing masks, limiting social gatherings and minimizing unnecessary trips outside of their homes—the projections suggest that hospitals will not exceed capacity, Stage 5 will never be reached and by December the curve will begin to flatten.
If such precautions are not taken and adhered to, Austin will escalate to Stage 5, at which point partial measures will not be enough and a second stay-home order is recommended.
2. In this second scenario, Austin would likely see a series of stay-home orders issued between now and early next year to avoid exceeding hospital capacity.
In the second scenario, the current surge forces a second shutdown order—and then a series of additional shutdowns—to avoid overwhelming local hospital capacity.(COVID-19 Modeling Consortium at the University of Texas at Austin)
"That's pretty bleak," Dr. Meyers said. "It's several months of periodic stay home."
3. In the third scenario, Dr. Meyers and her team modeled what would happen if local officials don't implement policy changes immediately, but in mid-July issue a five-week stay-home order in an attempt to slow transmission of COVID-19.
The final scenarios projects the outcome if a five-week shutdown is implemented now, which would prompt a three-month period in Stage 4. (COVID-19 Modeling Consortium at the University of Texas at Austin)
Following the five-week period, the projection is that Austin would enter Stage 4 for three months, during which time schools would reopen.
"The only scenario I think that would be really, really impossible to have any schooling would be if we're in [Stage 5]," Dr. Meyers said, adding that at Stage 4 there would still need to be some "pretty extreme" measures in place to ensure transmission isn't escalating.
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A $500 million mixed-use development spanning 1,400 acres is coming to Southeast Austin, near Tesla’s headquarters at Giga Texas.
Plans for the development by Houston-based real estate firm Hines include 2,500 houses along with multi-family and townhomes, and commercial land. Hines is partnering with Trez Capital, Sumitomo Forestry and Texas-based Caravel Ventures.
The development, which is known as Mirador, will be located off the 130 Toll and Highway 71, which the developers say provides easy access to the Circuit of the Americas Formula 1 racetrack and other Austin attractions like restaurants, parks and live music venues.
Hines also boasts amenities like a 60-acre lake, over 600 acres of greenbelt, community parks, trails and a swimming pool.
“As Austin continues to grow into the tech epicenter of Texas, coupled with a supply-constrained market, the demand for new housing is at its highest,” Dustin Davidson, managing director at Hines, said. “Mirador will be critical in providing more options for Austin’s growing population and we are excited to work alongside our partners given they each provide a unique and valued perspective in single-family development.”
The local housing market has been hot in recent years, with home sales accelerating earlier in the pandemic. In July 2021, the Austin metro area hit its pricing peak at $478,000. As Austonia previously reported, the area has been expected to see the Tesla effect, with the new workforce driving up demand for housing and other services.
The single-family houses are expected to be developed over the course of six years, in phases. Construction on the homes is expected to start this year and home sales will begin in 2023.
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Editor's note: This story summarizes Sports Illustrated's story detailing Michael Center's involvement in the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal, based on interviews with SI's Jon Wertheim. Additionally, Austonia received comments from Michael Center, included in this story.
Confined to his couch, former Longhorns tennis coach Michael Center praised his players via FaceTime after the program he built produced the Longhorns’ first national championship in 2019—a bittersweet moment as Center faced federal charges as part of the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal.
His name dragged through the mud, Center was fired, arrested by the FBI and sentenced to six months in a Central Texas federal prison after pleading guilty to two charges related to mail fraud. And over a year after his release, Center told Sports Illustrated he doubts he was the only one in burnt orange involved.
When the Varsity Blues scandal broke out to the public in 2019, the investigation was a perfect storm for nationwide attention: Hollywood glamour, blue blood conspiracy and faith in the tried-and-true American education system came to a head as 33 movie stars and other elites were found guilty of paying more than $25 million to pave their children’s way into eight colleges, including the University of Texas.
UT was one of eight schools caught in the college admissions scandal. (Laura Figi/Austonia)
The figure behind Varsity Blues, “college consultant” Rick Singer, would plead guilty to four felony counts for faking SAT scores and bribing coaches at prominent universities for his elite clients—but not before throwing Center under the bus.
Singer's client, private equity executive Chris Schaepe, was looking for a way to bend UT's tight admissions policies for his son, who was seeking a position oddly as a manager on UT’s basketball team. Through a middleman, Singer contacted Center, who eventually agreed.
Schaepe's son hadn't played tennis since his freshman year of high school. It was a detail that Center says passed through plenty of hands before he was admitted, including "academic support staff, the compliance office, the sports supervisor and, ultimately, the athletic director," SI's Jon Wertheim writes.
No one in the entire athletic department, including seven "risk management and compliant services department" employees, was named, implicated or punished. After an internal investigation, Center was the only one named in the Varsity Blues "subterfuge" in a September 2019 UT news release signed by the university president.
He told Austonia he was never contacted by the university during the investigation, and when the NCAA interviewed him for its investigation, he says it cleared him of any violations.
“I almost fell out of my chair,” Center said. “I literally couldn’t breathe. There’s no college coach in America—much less at a state school, much less a coach of a nonrevenue sport—who can admit an athlete without consulting other people in the athletic department. What they were asking people to believe, it’s just impossible.” SI said Center's assertion was backed by multiple UT coaches and administrators at other schools.But why would the Forty Acres be complicit?
Center said UT’s then newly named athletic director Steve Patterson made clear that Center suddenly was responsible for more than building a successful tennis program. He was to be a "fundraiser first and coach second" and he would need to find donors to fund a new tennis facility. Patterson admitted to SI that he wanted his coaches to find donors and said the department was "$15 million in the red" when he started in 2013, though he denies any knowledge of the false tennis recruitment.
Center said he knew he would be "considered a team player" if he let in the son of a Silicon Valley magnate. And sure enough, Schaepe immediately began pulling out his wallet, donating $100,000 to UT tennis and a six-figure check to the school's communication program.
"I never entered this as a way to profit. This was a fundraising mission where I made a terrible mistake at the end,"
Months after Schaepe's son was admitted, Center agreed to meet Singer at the Austin airport and found himself accepting a backpack filled with $60,000 in cash meant for him, personally. He said he immediately knew he had made a mistake. He told SI “I put the money in my basement and gave most of it away.”
“Why did I do it?” Center told Sports Illustrated. "I go to bed and wake up each day asking myself the same question. I had to convince myself that I somehow deserved the money."
Once in court, Center showed texts with UT's compliance official and mentioned Chris Plonsky, a department executive involved in "overseeing men’s tennis, compliance, academic support (which generates letters of intent) and the Longhorn Foundation," according to SI.
“I knew I had to answer for my guilt,” Center said. “But I was like, 'Man, schools are going to get hammered.'"'
INMATE 77806-112 but out on Sunday: Actor Felicity Huffman in prison uniform outside low-security Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin to visit actor husband William H. Macy & their daughter. Huffman admitted to paying $15K to have fixer boost daughter’s SAT score. 📸: @TMZ pic.twitter.com/9jALmqnA0U
— Henry K. Lee (@henrykleeKTVU) October 21, 2019
But Center was the only Longhorn to go down for the crimes. “I was no rogue actor,” Center said. “And this wasn’t my word against their word. There were signatures that went along with it. That’s the system... There wasn’t one point in the process where I thought people wanted to learn the whole truth.”
Back at home in Austin, Center watched as actress Felicity Huffman served just eleven days for her part in the scandal. Some served up to five months; others simply paid a fine, and others, like Singer, await sentencing.
And because the prosecution chose to blame individual coaches, framing schools as victims in the case, universities like UT have received less than a slap on the wrist for their possible involvement.
“I was always taught that actions have consequences,” Center said. “What I’ve come to realize is that, yes, for some people actions absolutely do have consequences. Serious, heavy ones. For others, actions can have no consequences at all.”
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