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Restrictions on nonessential medical procedures were rolled back today per an executive order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott.
Some surgeries will be allowed to resume, as long as health care facilities certify that they will not deplete hospital capacity or the personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ban on nonessential procedures dates back to last month, when the governor issued an executive order to contain the spread of the coronavirus and free up medical resources.
The original order did not specify which procedures were allowed, instead leaving it up to physicians to decide if a procedure was "immediately medically necessary" to prevent serious adverse consequences or death. Failure to comply ran the risk of a fine or jail time.
"There was no clear-cut distinction as to how we were to interpret the rule," said Dr. Shaun McKenzie, a surgical oncologist who works at Texas Oncology's North and South Austin locations. The original order significantly impacted some of his patients, whose cancer surgeries were not considered essential.
"You just have to imagine a patient who has a life-threatening illness [and] who has a potentially curative surgery scheduled being told, 'Well, it's not going to happen,'" he said.
As a result of the initial order, many private practices and hospitals saw their revenue drop precipitously, and groups—including the Texas Medical Association and all 31 state senators—called on the governor to reconsider.
"Many doctors and nurses have been sidelined because of the need to postpone nonessential medical procedures," Abbott said during a press conference on Friday announcing the restrictions would be loosened. "It is time to allow those doctors and nurses to return to work."
Specifically, under the order issued Friday—which is in effect until May 8—nonessential surgeries and procedures may be performed at licensed health care facilities that have certified in writing that they will reserve at least 25% of capacity for COVID-19 patients and they will not request any PPE from public entities for the duration of the pandemic.
TMA President Dr. David Fleeger commended the governor's decision last week to allow for nonessential surgeries but expressed concern about the continued shortage of PPE and testing.
According to a TMA survey conducted earlier this month, nearly two-thirds of physicians practicing in non-hospital settings reported they had less than one week's supply of the most critical PPE supplies.
Tom Banning, CEO of the Texas Academy of Family Physicians, echoed this concern, saying the conditions could prove problematic. But he added that until state regulatory agencies issue their guidance the true impact is unknown.
"Having the ability to allow doctors to use their clinical discretion or professional judgment to determine whether a service is needed or not is really what's most important," Banning said. "And it would appear that the governor's executive order would allow for that professional discretion, assuming that other key components, like sufficiency of PPE … and bed capacity is met."
Dr. McKenzie is optimistic about the regulatory change. Texas Oncology has assembled a COVID task force, which has ensured adequate PPE supply across its 210 locations. "The reality is I think that we positioned ourselves very well," he said.
For hospitals treating COVID patients, PPE might be a bigger issue, and the decision to resume elective surgeries may be more fraught.
"The concern … is that if we have a surge and we start requiring more inpatient care for our COVID population that the hospitals are positioned to meet that demand," Dr. McKenzie said. "And so the hospitals have to take ownership of saying they have the resources to do these elective surgeries."
Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced a record-setting second quarter during an earnings call broadcasted from the Giga Texas construction site in Southeast Travis County on Monday.
The electric carmaker reported more than $1 billion in quarterly net income and the production of more than 200,000 vehicles for the first time despite challenges such as a global semiconductor shortage.
"It … seems that public sentiment towards electric vehicles is at an inflection point, and at this point, I think, almost everyone agrees electric vehicles are the only way forward," Musk said.
Exterior shots taken just a while ago of Giga Texas (while @elonmusk is reportedly at the Gigafactory!) during today's earnings call!
Hope @peterdog15 got to catch the technoking in his video! #fastestinhistory #Tesla pic.twitter.com/WqeDlb5wU3
— Austin Tesla Club (@AustinTeslaClub) July 26, 2021
Despite rising consumer demand and adequate factory capacity, Tesla faces what Musk described as a "quite serious" global semiconductor shortage, which will determine the company's growth rate for the rest of the year.
With increased revenue and production, Tesla is investing in new factories, Chief Financial Officer Zachary Kirkhorn said. These include Giga Texas, the $1.1 billion manufacturing plant that broke ground last summer and is slated to open later this year.
The Giga Texas factory in Southeast Travis County has rapidly increased in size since ground broke last August. (Tesla)
Musk commended the construction team for "incredible progress," transforming what was basically a vacant site into "a mostly complete large factory a year later."
I was at Giga Texas yesterday. Team is making excellent progress. Building will be almost a mile long when complete.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 25, 2021
Giga Texas will produce the highly anticipated Cybertruck, along with other models, but Musk said scaling its production will be difficult, especially given the supply chain delays caused by the pandemic. "It's going to move as fast as the slowest of its up to 10,000 unique parts," he said.
In other news, Musk said Monday's earnings call would likely be his last regular appearance, only jumping on future quarterly calls when big announcements warrant it.
Tesla Solar recently made news when it announced plans to build the nation's most sustainable residential community in Southeast Austin earlier this month. The newly built homes will feature Tesla solar roof tiles and Powerwall battery storage as well as electric vehicle charging stations.
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The city of Austin released a shortlist of seven candidates for the police chief position left vacant when Brian Manley retired in March.
City Manager Spencer Cronk hopes to announce an appointment by the end of August, which will require City Council approval.
The finalists, chosen from a field of 46 applicants, include:
- APD Interim Chief Joseph Chacon, who previously served as an assistant chief in the department for almost five years
- Anne Kirkpatrick, former police chief in Oakland, California, who was fired last year after a federal monitor criticized her handling of a fatal 2018 police shooting of a homeless man
- Dallas Police Department Assistant Chief Avery L. Moore, who is a 30-year veteran of the department
- Atlanta Police Department Deputy Chief Celeste Murphy, who manages the department's community services division
- Dekalb County Police Chief Mirtha V. Ramos, who previously served as division chief in the Miami-Dade Police Department
- Wichita Police Department Chief Gordon Ramsay, who is a former president of the Minnesota Police Chief's Association as well as one of the first police chiefs of a major U.S. City to call George Floyd's death a murder, as reported by the Wichita Eagle
- Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Emada E. Tingirides, who is also commanding officer of the department's newly formed Community Safety Partnership Bureau, which serves L.A.'s underserved communities
City staff will interview the finalists in the coming weeks, with several community input opportunities to come, according to a Monday press release.
The city conducted a public survey in March and hosted community input meetings in April to learn more about what residents are looking for in their next police chief, which helped shape the selection criteria for the position.
"They want to see the Chief be reform-minded and transparent and have a track record of fostering community involvement and accountability," Cronk said in the release. "The candidates selected show these characteristics in various ways."
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Days after Austin began once again recommending masks in public spaces, Austin ISD announced Monday that kindergarten through sixth-grade classes will have virtual options this fall.
The district will discuss the move in a special board meeting Monday evening starting at 5 p.m., while full details will be released Friday.
Teachers will not have to fret about the new option—no educators will have to juggle both virtual and in-person learning. Instead, certain teachers will specialize in virtual education, according to a press release.
The news comes after a recent spike in COVID cases in Travis County and across the nation. Children typically suffer fewer symptoms of COVID when contracted, but they are now catching the virus more often than their older counterparts without a vaccine available to them and as the more contagious Delta variant is quickly being spread.
While local health officials are recommending everyone wear masks, public school districts are unable to mandate masks due to an executive order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott in May.
Parents have expressed concern about classrooms with masks unenforceable and children under the age of 12 ineligible for a vaccine. Some have even said they would look for alternative schooling if AISD did not offer a virtual option for students.
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