Austonia staff

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Reports that indicate the new coronavirus may be mild or asymptomatic in up to 80% of cases have driven demand— in Austin and around the world—for antibody tests, which claim to be able to determine whether or not a person has had COVID-19.


People are seeking out these tests in the hope that, as is the case for many viruses, having COVID-19 will make people immune to it in the future—at least for a while. The problem is that even if the tests work—and some may not—is that no one really knows how the virus affects the immune system of survivors.

COVID-19 prompts the formation of antibodies in patients who have been exposed to it. "[T]his is what is referred to as an immunologic response," Dell Medical School Chief of Pathology Dr. Edward Weir wrote in an email. But he added that the effectiveness of these antibodies and the duration of any immunity they may confer remains to be seen.

Until these questions are answered, health officials have advised caution.

"I think a baseline expectation should be that this concept of social distancing, personal hygiene, the public masking … is going to have to continue until we reach herd immunity by one method or another," Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said during an April 22 press conference.

Herd immunity is achieved when a majority of a population is immune to a disease, either because they've been vaccinated against it or have survived it themselves.

But the latter route, at least in the case of COVID-19, would come at great cost, according to experts.

Dr. Lauren Ancel Meyers, who leads the University of Texas at Austin COVID-19 Modeling Consortium, told Austin City Council members Tuesday that herd immunity might be attainable, but as the result of "a catastrophic second wave," if this disease proves to be immunizing.

Last week, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said 750,000 people in the region would need to be affected to achieve herd immunity. At the current mortality rate of 2.2%—and with a functional healthcare system not yet overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases—that would lead to 16,500 deaths.

"We don't want full-on herd immunity because our hospital capacity cannot absorb that," Eckhart said during an April 22 Commissioners Court meeting. "It would mean lots of death, literally."

So far, Travis County reports 1,756 confirmed COVID-19 cases. Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott has said the caseload is likely seven or eight times as high as the confirmed number due to inadequate testing.

If the total caseload is seven times the number of confirmations—12,292—it would still amount to less than 1% of the population in Travis County.

In contrast, around 70% of the population would likely need to be immune—either by recovering from COVID-19 or receiving a vaccine—to achieve herd immunity, said Dr. Gypsyamber D'Souza, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

"We're very far from achieving herd immunity," Dr. D'Souza said in a phone interview. "We won't get there in 2020."

There's also a chance, she added, that repeated surges could lead to hundreds of thousands of deaths nationwide, overwhelmed hospitals, and still not reach the exposure threshold needed to protect the herd.

In the meantime, health authorities have stressed the importance of long-term containment efforts to avoid a surge in cases and allow time for researchers to develop a vaccine that can enable herd immunity and minimize the loss of life.

(Pexels)

Austin ISD will return to in-person learning on Monday, Oct. 5.

As Austin ISD prepares to join other area school districts in reopening for in-person learning, local health authorities said data shows transmission in school settings is mostly limited to extracurricular activities, such as football, cheerleading and band.

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(Charlie Harper III)

The Nov. 3 election promises high turnout.

The upcoming Nov. 3 election is set to be a historic one—in Austin and around the country.

The Travis County Clerk's office expects as many as 100,000 voters will apply for a mail-in ballot by the Oct. 23 deadline, and it has already received nearly double the number of applications it did for the 2016 general election.

"It is most definitely COVID," County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir told Austonia earlier this month. "People are afraid to come inside."

Ahead of Election Day, we've rounded up key dates to remember, a guide to voting by mail and some background on the major races at the local, state and federal levels.

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(Facebook)

Threadgill's owner Eddie Wilson announced in April that he was selling the restaurant, beer joint and music venue, closing the curtain on one of Austin's most iconic businesses.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the United States, many esteemed local businesses have been forced to shut their doors permanently. Austin is no exception, and over the last six months, some of the city's most beloved local establishments have had to say goodbye. This non-comprehensive list includes some of Austin's most iconic businesses that have closed for good due to COVID-19. May they live in the hearts and minds of Austinites forever.

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(Williamson County)

Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody was indicted and arrested on a felony charge for destroying video evidence related to the Javier Ambler case.

This story has been updated to include information from two press conferences on Monday afternoon.

Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody has been indicted and arrested on a felony charge for destroying video evidence related to the death of Javier Ambler, a Black man who died in custody last year, according to local reports.

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(Joe Lanane)

Kevin Russell of Austin band Shinyribs speaks Monday morning outside of Austin City Hall in a rally to support Austin music industry workers. City Council will consider COVID-19 relief measures this week.

Editor's Note 1:45 p.m.: This story has been updated from the previously published preview to the rally to tell what happened at the rally.

Austin music industry members and supporters rallied Monday morning in front of City Hall to remind elected officials of their essential role in the "Live Music Capital of the World."

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(Matt Smith/Shutterstock)

Austinite and former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles returns the field for another win with the Chicago Bears.

Quarterback Nick Foles, an Austin native who attended Westlake High School, is making waves again in a relief role for an NFL team.

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A new report by the COVID-19 Modeling Consortium at the University of Texas at Austin projects how transmission among students could amplify spread in the Austin metro.

The reopening of the University of Texas at Austin could amplify community transmission of COVID-19 in the Austin area, according to a new report published by the COVID-19 Modeling Consortium.

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