Last month was the happiest Americans had been pretty much ever, according to a new report from Gallup researchers—and all it took was a one-in-a-lifetime pandemic.
Over 59% of Americans were "thriving" in June, according to the report's Life Evaluation Index, up from a previous record high of 57.3% in September 2017. Record lows were recorded during both the COVID-19 pandemic and the Great Recession. The poll has been conducted for the last 13 years.
The peak occurred just as Austin approached the low-end threshold for herd immunity, with 70% of its population 12 and older receiving at least the first dose of the COVID vaccine. President Joe Biden hoped to see America reach that rate by July 4, but the country fell just short with a 67% vaccination rate.
"Shot Girl Summer" (the cultural phenomenon that encourages everyone to just live their best life) has also injected newfound enthusiasm for social events, outdoor fun and travel. Austin-Bergstrom International Airport announced last month that it had reached pre-pandemic summer travel levels. Austin FC, the city's first major league sports team, has played in front of a sold out crowd for each of its three home matches, and beloved Austin events and festivals like Austin City Limits have sold out in minutes.
In April 2020, as many Americans begrudgingly accepted that the pandemic was more than just a long spring break, "thriving" percentage points plummeted ten points to just 46.4%, tying for a record low.
The plunge was the most drastic change on record, trumping both when Dow Jones reached its lowest level during the 2008 financial crisis and the 2013 government shutdown.
The results are from a six-day period from June 14-20 and derive from a survey of just under 5,000 U.S. adults. The poll considers the quality of respondents' current and future lives, with three options: "thriving," "struggling" and "suffering." In order to be thriving, those surveyed must rate their current life at least a 7 and their life in five years at least an 8 on a 10-point scale.
Even in the heat of the pandemic, those who identified as "suffering" made up a minority, accounting for just 3.4% of respondents.
Boredom, the silent mood killer, was much to blame for the drop in "thriving" rates mid-COVID: while almost half of respondents reported boredom in April 2020, 26% were grappling with that emotion by June 2021.
Unhappiness can be tied to unemployment, as it was in both 2008 and April 2020, when the U.S. faced over 30 million unemployment claims. But even with the Great Resignation, which has seen millions of workers quit, "thriving" levels are at an all-time high.
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Austin's Delta 8 industry has been turned on its head after Texas health officials clarified that the cannabinoid is on the state list of illegal substances, though it was previously believed to be legal by most retailers, consumers and manufacturers.
House Bill 1325, which was signed in June 2019 by Gov. Greg Abbott, and the Farm Bill, signed into law by former President Donald Trump in 2018, legalized any hemp product containing less than .3% THC. The same bills were thought to have made Delta 8 legal, though the Texas Department of State Health Services added a notice on its website saying it was still a controlled substance as of Friday, Oct. 15.
Both the federal and state governments keep separate lists on what is considered a controlled substance. Marijuana is considered Schedule I, a category reserved for substances with "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," both statewide and federally.
Austin-based CBD retailer Grassroots Harvest CEO Kemal Whyte, like many CBD shop retailers, was blindsided by the announcement. Many small businesses rely on Delta 8 for their sales—Green Herbal Care CBD said about 90% of its sales come from Delta 8—and Whyte said he is frustrated by the inconsistencies in the drug scheduling system.
Since 87% of Texans support the legalization of marijuana, at least for medical use, per a recent poll, Whyte said he wonders who this legislation is for.
"It's gonna have a massive impact on small businesses—there's just no way around it," Whyte said. "The reality is, we don't want to push out anything bad for our customers, we want this to benefit our customers and to help them. If we can make money while doing it, that's the American dream. What are we doing, whose benefit is this for?"
Delta 8 surged in popularity after the perceived legalization—consumers enjoyed its lower psychotropic potency, decreased anxiety while using it and the peace of mind as a legal way to get high. So in order to protect their products and livelihoods, both Grassroots Harvest and Austin-based manufacturer Hometown Heroes are taking legal action.
Whyte said Grassroots Harvest is suing DSHS, saying their action is creating negative effects in the market. Meanwhile, a Hometown Heroes spokesperson said the company is in the process of filing a temporary restraining order that would pause the ban on Delta-8 in the state of Texas.
Threats against Delta 8 are not new—DSHS lost a lawsuit trying to make "smokable hemp products" illegal last year and Texas lawmakers had been considering a bill that would make Delta 8 illegal, though it was dropped after the clarification was made.
Hometown Heroes released a formal statement in response to the DSHS rule.
"I need to be clear—we love Texas, we're just choosing to fight for the will of the people in regards to cannabis in Texas," Hometown Hero CEO Lukas Gilkey said in a statement. "(Texas DSHS) are using backhanded ways to create legislation and go against the will of the people."
Whyte laments the fact that it would be easier legally to "open up a strip club that also sells guns," and said he can't post customer testimonials that mention the benefits of Delta 8 without getting hit with a cease and desist from the Food and Drug Administration. Whyte said he isn't opposed to regulation—far from it—he just wants to see it go through the correct channels.
"The fact that they're stunting our ability to communicate with our clients that want to learn about this, you're preventing us from communicating with them and teaching them, or spreading information that we know," Whyte said. "I think that that in and of itself opens up a lot of questions."
Grassroots Harvest still has Delta 8 products on its shelves for the time being but for how long, Whyte doesn't know.
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Austin Public Health and other clinics around Austin are now providing booster shots for all three vaccines, including Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, to fully vaccinated individuals after both Pfizer and J & J were approved by the CDC on Wednesday.
APH and Austin clinics, which were already administering the approved Pfizer booster, will begin distributing shots as soon as Friday.
Those who received the second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine more than six months ago are elligble to receive a booster if they are over 65 or if they are over 18 and:
- Live in a long-term care environment
- Have underlying medical conditions
- Work or live in high-risk settings, such as schools, hospitals or correctional facilities
Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said in a media Q&A Friday that APH is encouraging boosters just as much as they have urged residents to get their first and second doses.
"Boosters are incredibly important to keeping our community protected and hospitalizations low," Walkes said. "If we can stay on top of our vaccinations, we provide protections for our most vulnerable and make it that much harder for COVID to spread in our community."
Eligible residents are free to choose the same booster as their first doses or "mix and match," per the CDC announcement.
Those looking for another dose can simply bring their vaccination card to APH centers or the dozens of Walgreens and CVS locations in the metro, which began administering doses Friday.
Additional updated guidance from the CDC allows for all eligible individuals to choose which vaccine they receive as a "mix-and-match" booster dose. It is advised to remember to bring your CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Card showing the original doses with you when going for booster shots.
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