'This is not the result of luck': city reports slower growth of COVID, but cases on the rise among elderly and those at work
While Austin residents have successfully slowed the COVID-19 caseload doubling rate, clusters are growing at long-term care facilities and among those who have returned to work. Testing also remains inadequate, Dr. Mark Escott told Austin City Council at a Tuesday morning work session.
The local doubling rate—or the time it takes for the COVID-19 caseload to double—is more than 19 days, nearly twice what it was a month ago, said Dr. Escott, Austin-Travis County interim health authority. "This is not the result of luck," he added, attributing the slowdown to community efforts to flatten the curve and urging residents to continue to stay home and practice social distancing.
But the number of confirmed cases continues to grow—if more slowly.
Austin Public Health is tracking clusters of COVID-19 cases at 15 long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes and homeless shelters, where 335 cases have been confirmed and 30 people have died. One nursing home, which remains unnamed, has 95 confirmed cases—23 staff and 72 residents—of which 16 have resulted in death.
City staff are also focused on containing the spread of COVID-19 among the city's homeless population. The city leased three hotels to serve as isolation and protective lodging facilities as part of its surge plan, and APH Director Stephanie Hayden told council this morning they are being used to isolate people without housing. All three are at capacity. The Salvation Army's downtown shelter closed last month due to an outbreak of the coronavirus, but reopens today.
New cases are also emerging among workers who cannot stay home, such as those in the healthcare, construction and grocery industries. "The people who are getting sick right now are generally the people who are working right now," Dr. Escott told council members.
Testing remains limited, although the city's new public enrollment system has helped connect hundreds of residents to testing. Since it launched in late April, 4,500 residents have signed up for testing and around 1,900 have been scheduled. Of those, 735 have already been tested, with 16 receiving positive results—a rate of 2.18%, which is much lower than previously recorded, Dr. Escott said.
Additionally, Dr. Escott said the city is working to increase access, with a goal of 2,000 tests a day. He could not provide a timeline for when this may be achieved but mentioned the city is working with the University of Texas to offer more widespread antibody testing and with testing companies to increase capacity, such as by using 3-D printers to manufacture swabs.
"We hope that the situation will continue to improve," Dr. Escott said. "But again we're not where we need to be."
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Austin police have charged Kaitlin Marie Armstrong, a local cyclist, for the murder of Moriah "Mo" Wilson.
Wilson, a rising star in the gravel and mountain bike community, was found dead with gunshot wounds inside an East Austin home on the night of May 11 when she was in town for the weekend Gravel Locos race in Hico, Texas.
Police believe Wilson was having a relationship with a man Armstrong was also in a relationship with. The man, another gravel cyclist, Colin Strickland, has since issued a statement on the murder.
In his statement, he said he had a brief romantic relationship with Wilson in October 2021 before he resumed his relationship with Armstrong, but that he remained friends with Wilson. "There is no way to adequately express the regret and torture I feel about my proximity to this horrible crime. I am sorry, and I simply cannot make sense of this unfathomable tragedy.
NEW: Austin professional cyclist Colin Strickland has just released a statement about the murder of cyclist Moriah Wilson, clarifying his relationship with her and expressing “torture about my proximity to this horrible crime.” pic.twitter.com/KnIna3mWrE
— Tony Plohetski (@tplohetski) May 20, 2022
Wilson, a 25-year-old Vermont native living in Colorado, had won a slew of races becoming a fan favorite. She had just become a full-time racer this year.
Anyone with information on this crime can contact Austin police at 512-974-TIPS or contact Crime Stoppers anonymously at 512-472-8477.
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Austin has added 24-hour security to the city-owned Pecan Gardens property, which will be converted into supportive housing for people exiting homelessness, after the former hotel was found with months of damage and vandalism May 5.
The building, which was broken into and stripped of copper and had people illegally sleeping inside of it, has been secured, Kelly said in a Friday press conference. Kelly said the city confirmed a measure to implement 24-hour security, including updates every 60 days until the property opens up as supportive housing.
"We cannot let this happen to any vacant city-owned property ever again," Kelly said. "This blatant act of disregard and criminal behavior will not be tolerated in our community."
The city bought the former hotel in August 2021 for $9.5 million with plans to renovate the property into a 78-unit supportive housing property. Those 55 or older that are experiencing chronic homelessness can qualify to live at the site once it is completed in late 2022-early 2023.
While the council was set to discuss a $4 million deal with Family Eldercare to begin converting the property Thursday, Kelly pulled the item for a later executive session due to security concerns. But the council did approve an item to authorize city leaders to begin negotiating other renovation contracts.
"I want to thank my colleagues for pumping the brakes on this contract and realizing that we owe the community not only an apology, but reassurance that the protection of the assets the city owns is vital to the success of achieving our intended goals," Kelly said.
When the building was found vandalized May 5, Kelly, who presides over the district containing the property, said damage included:
- Damage spanning all three floors of the building and is in nearly every room.
- The entire hotel was stripped of copper.
- Destroyed washers, dryers, air conditioners and electrical wiring.
- People sleeping at the hotel without permission.
On Tuesday, Austin’s Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Gray apologized and said there was no security due to a delay in processing the request.
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