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City mandates temperature checks, official notification to fight clusters of COVID-19 cases in nursing homes
Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott has issued new control measures in an attempt to contain the spread of COVID-19 at nursing homes, assisting living and other long-term care facilities.
The city is tracking clusters at eight such facilities, across which 96 residents and 67 staff have tested positive for the disease. Fifteen residents and at least one staff member have died, Dr. Escott said during a press conference earlier today. These clusters account for nearly 60% of the county's overall deaths, and one facility has more than 35 residents who have tested positive for COVID-19.
"This is very concerning for us," Dr. Escott said at a press conference earlier today. "We have to do better."
The control measures, issued yesterday, require facilities to check all employees, patients, visitors and volunteers for symptoms and high temperatures prior to entry and check patients at least once a shift. Any unexplained fever must be reported to Austin Public Health, and in the case of a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19, the facility must notify all patients, staff and next of kin.
If a facility develops a cluster—two or more cases among staff and patients—the city is working with the state to deploy a strike team of additional personnel and equipment to help contain the outbreak.
Dr. Escott said that there has been "a constant struggle with staffing" at long-term care facilities, an issue that is exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
"That imbalance"—between sick residents in need of more care and staff shortages—"is only contributing to the furthering of the spread of this disease in these facilities," Dr. Escott said, adding that the city's priority is to respond quickly after the first cases are reported by a facility and, ideally, to help facilities without cases maintain that status.
On April 9, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced an emergency rule to temporarily allow more nurse aides to work at long-term care facilities temporarily, even if they haven't completed the full certification program.
Dr. Escott said he doesn't know if this rule has had an impact on staffing at area facilities but that he expects it to moving forward.
The city has not released the names of long-term care facilities that are seeing clusters, but it has identified clusters in other settings, including at the Salvation Army's downtown shelter and among a group of University of Texas-Austin students who traveled to Cabo San Lucas during their spring break.
"Privacy considerations are important," Dr. Escott said.
At an Austin City Council work session yesterday, Dr. Escott said residents will need to observe social distancing and wear masks when in public for at least a year. At today's press conference, he added that these measures will be necessary until herd immunity is achieved, such as by the introduction of a vaccine, and will be especially important for populations at higher risk of complications, such as those over 65 and with other medical conditions.
"If we can effectively cocoon people and prevent those who have a higher risk of being hospitalized or of needing a ventilator or dying then we can have more transmission in the community without as much effect on the health care system," he said, introducing a new term into our pandemic glossary.
These control measures follow the city's announcement last month that it had convened a nursing home task force that has set up isolation facilities to house nursing home residents who have tested positive for COVID-19, but do not require hospitalization, or have been discharged from hospitals.
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Summertime sure does fly by, doesn't it? It's time to jam-pack as many summer activities as you can while there is still about a month left before school starts up again and the grind gets going. Luckily, Austin is full of places to visit that will fill your season full of memories.
To get you started, check out some of these seasonably-fit museums, galleries and snacks.
Beyond Van Gogh, 9201 Circuit of the Americas Blvd.
Like the name suggests, Beyond Van Gogh Austin takes visitors deeper into the Dutch painter's work by surrounding them in his post-impressionist world. Aptly taking place at the Starry Night Pavilion at the Circuit of the Americas, this immersive exhibit allows Vincent Van Gogh's masterpieces to be "freed from frames" as they are projected onto the walls and floors for guests to explore. Van Gogh's thoughts, dreams and words are set to a symphonic score to drive the narrative as you walk through the rooms, giving visitors insight into the tortured artist's swirly world. Adult tickets start at $46.99, children at $28.99 and it offers student and military discounts while the museum runs through Sept. 5.
Museum of Ice Cream, 11506 Century Oaks Terrace
The runaway hit from New York City has made its way to Austin, complete with a rainbow sprinkle pool, banana forest and bright-pink-everything exterior. The Museum of Ice Cream is a favorite of major celebrities—Beyoncé, Ryan Reynolds and the Kardashian Krew have all been spotted at the New York Location. The whimsical museum promises an undisclosed "Texas twist" at its new Austin location, which also has an on-brand café that serves Museum of Ice Cream original treats. You didn't think you'd leave without ice cream, did you? Tickets run $39 per person.
The Selfie Galleries, 3220 Amy Donovan Plaza
Looking for a place to get that perfect summer selfie? Look no further, because the newly-opened Selfie Galleries has 20 wildly decorated different rooms to roam through, capturing an unforgettable photo of yourself and your faves in each one. The backdrops were made so you can flex your creative muscle and make some documented memories at the same time. The gallery also hosts mixers for all age groups so you can meet local Austinites in a safe setting. Tickets start at $20 for an hour, $40 for two, depending on how many people you bring along.
Wonderspaces, 1205 Sheldon Cove
The self-proclaimed "new home for extraordinary art," Wonderspaces is an interactive art gallery like you've never experienced before. With rotating exhibits that you can touch, Instagram and ogle, the artwork is designed for everyone to create their own unique experience when visiting. Virtual reality, a house of mirrors, anonymous conversations and a dragon made of teabags are just a few of the wild installations that make this museum what it is—plus, you can enjoy some local brews at the Wonderspaces Bar. Adults can visit for $24, kids for $15 or you can get an annual pass for $99 and visit each new piece.
Milk Bar Bakery, delivery only
Maybe you want an experience without the outing. Thanks to ghost kitchens, the brainchild of Christina Tosi came all the way from The Big Apple to the Lone Star State. The well-celebrated Milk Bar Bakery is now available in Austin through third-party delivery only, meaning you can get the full line of milk bar cookies, bar pie, truffle crumb cakes and its famous layered birthday cakes through UberEats, GrubHub, DoorDash and Postmates only. If you haven't had these rich cookies yet, it's time to fire up that delivery app and get to ordering!
Soak up the rest of summer while you can!
- 1 1/12 oz sweet pepper-infused Tito's Handmade Vodka
- 3 oz soda water
- 1 oz grapefruit juice
- 1/2 oz lime juice
- 1/4 oz simple syrup
The Biden administration is asking cities and states to use pandemic relief funds to pay residents $100 to get vaccinated. Meanwhile, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott reaffirmed prohibitions on pandemic protocols in a new executive order issued on Thursday.
The order emphasizes that "the path forward relies on personal responsibility rather than government mandates," according to a press release. It outlaws government entities from requiring employees to be vaccinated or individuals to provide proof of vaccination and upholds previous orders restricting government entities' ability to impose pandemic protocols.
Local public health and elected officials have asked all Austinites to wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status, and unvaccinated individuals to avoid nonessential trips last week given the rising number of local confirmed cases and related hospitalizations in recent weeks. But it is not enforceable under Abbott's order.
The seven-day moving average of new hospital admissions in the five-county Austin metro has more than quintupled since the beginning of July and is now 47.4. The threshold for Stage 5 is 50, according to Austin Public Health's risk-based guidelines.
Despite these trends, Abbott stands firm in his commitment to avoid new statewide mandates and to prohibit local government entities from issuing any of their own.
"Texans have mastered the safe practices that help to prevent and avoid the spread of COVID-19," he said in a statement. "They have the individual right and responsibility to decide for themselves and their children whether they will wear masks, open their businesses and engage in leisure activities."
Public health officials have attributed the current spike to the more contagious Delta variant and unmitigated spread among unvaccinated individuals. Abbott encouraged Texans to get vaccinated if they haven't already but affirmed that it would never be required by the state in his statement.
An increasing number of Austin-area employers—including Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White Health, Facebook and the Department of Veterans Affairs—have announced new vaccine requirements in recent days. Austin Mayor Steve Adler asked the city manager to enact a similar requirement on Wednesday, but the city is unable to do so due to an executive order issued by Abbott in April.
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