'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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The 40-hour workweek has reigned since around the time of the Great Depression. But a new schedule gaining steam could lead some companies to throw out the practice of having employees clock in five days a week.
Promising results are coming out halfway into a six-month trial of four-day workweeks in the U.K. with 35 out of 41 companies responding to a recent survey saying they were “likely” or “very likely” to continue the reduced week after the pilot ends.
The trial, which began in June, is run by nonprofit 4 Day Week Global, think tank Autonomy, the 4 Day Week UK campaign and researchers at Cambridge University, Boston College and Oxford University. It involves 3,300 workers across 72 companies who are trying out one paid day off per week between Monday and Friday.
During the four-day week, 34% of companies reported that productivity “improved slightly” and 15% say it “improved significantly.”
With the survey indicating that a four-day workweek could have some perks for companies and employees alike, will Austin join in on the trend?
On job searching tools like LinkedIn and Indeed, some jobs based in Central Texas are boasting a four-day work week. And Coltech Global, a recruiting firm based in London with a growing presence in Austin, began the four-day work week about a year ago.
Jessica Sutcliffe, a staffing consultant at Coltech, joined the company to help grow the U.S. market. She says due to the time difference between the U.S. team and the UK one, the company implemented a four-day week.
"I’ve found it very beneficial as it allows time to rest and complete life admin, whilst also enjoying life, travel and be able to come back to work rested/fulfilled outside of work, which ultimately helps focus inside of those core work hours," Sutcliffe said via email.
In an Instagram post, Coltech said that not only are employees feeling the benefits of being more refreshed in the mornings, having reduced illness and a less stressed atmosphere, but it’s also improving their carbon footprint since there’s less time spent traveling to the office and using energy.
Niki Jorgensen, director of service operations at human resources service provider Insperity, noted similar factors driving companies to make the change to a reduced work week.
“The most significant benefit for a company to adopt the four-day workweek is the improvement of employee morale,” Jorgensen told Austonia via email. “Over the past two years, numerous studies have shown employees think a four-day workweek reduces stress and burnout. With reduced stress and burnout comes improved employee engagement.”
And while Austin is already drawing in plenty of workers who are in their early careers, a four-day week may help companies stand out to that bracket’s top talent even more.
“Companies can leverage this to make their company more appealing, especially to younger generations who strongly consider factors outside of compensation when choosing employment,” Jorgensen said.
She went on to offer a few tips for making a smooth transition to a four-day week like setting expectations and staggering coverage so that it’s still possible to see clients five days a week. Also, employers should be flexible. She says some employees may not be able to get 40 hours of work done in a shorter week due to responsibilities like childcare, so employers should consider how they can still accomplish their duties.
Before ditching the 40-hour workweek though, it can help to take a temperature check to see if an extra day off is the right fit for the workplace.
“Do not implement a flexible schedule such as the four-day workweek if business owners and managers cannot commit to the level of trust and flexibility needed to ensure the schedule’s success,” Jorgensen said.
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Camp Fimfo Waco, a brand new camping resort, is kicking off football and fall camping season in style! With top-notch amenities, premium accommodations, and 10 weekends of fall fun, there’s no better place to have a fall camping getaway, especially if you’re a Baylor football fan!
Fall promises to be a one-of-a-kind camping experience. From Sept. 16 to Nov. 24, weekends will be packed with fall-themed activities, including special Halloween weekends in October. Campers can enjoy activities like fall crafts, campground trick-or-treating, costume contests, site decorating, outdoor movie nights, and more!
Packages and Ways to Stay
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Located just 5 miles from McLane Stadium, Camp Fimfo Waco is the perfect place to stay during home game weekends. Skip the stuffy hotel room and embrace the great outdoors before cheering on the Baylor Bears! Campers can purchase a Baylor Tailgating Package that includes a pre-game meal from Executive Chef Sean Kelley and transportation to and from the game! Chef Kelley will also be cooking up delicious, elevated tailgating meals near the stadium so make sure to check out The Plaid Plate food truck before the game.
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Amenities and Activities
Camp Fimfo Waco
Camp Fimfo Waco features lots of amenities to fill your days with fun, whether you’re a kid or kid at heart. After challenging your friends to a game of pickleball, basketball, or mini golf, go for a dip in the resort-style, heated pool - open daily through October! Stay on the weekends through October to enjoy the interactive splash playground. With plenty of ways to burn off energy, like the jumping pillow or playground, you can be sure to end the day with a peaceful night around the campfire!
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