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The average number of daily new COVID-19 hospital admissions in the Austin metro area has been in steady decline over the last week. It is now at 44.3, down from a peak of 75.1 in early July, moving closer to the threshold for a lower risk level—Stage 3—and the loosening restrictions associated with it.
"Whether we actually go into that next stage is up to [Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority] Dr. [Mark] Escott," Mayor Steve Adler said on Facebook Live Tuesday evening. "But we should all feel really good about what we've done in terms of changing that trajectory."
The current threshold for Stage 3 is 40 or fewer average daily hospital admissions, but health officials also consider other factors.
"We are currently evaluating the impact of the threshold as well as updated modeling and secondary indicators, to determine the stage of risk for the City of Austin and Travis County," an Austin Public Health spokesperson wrote in an email to Austonia. "When, or if, something changes, we will definitely let you know."
Austin has been in Stage 4, according to the city's risk-based guidelines, since June 15, when the moving average of new hospital admissions tipped past 20. Local health officials attributed the increase, and the surge that followed, to the state's reopening plan and Memorial Day festivities.
Austin Public Health updated its guidelines late last month, raising its thresholds for Stages 2, 3 and 4. Where Stage 4 used to range from a daily average of 20 and 70 new hospital admissions, for example, it now ranges from 40 to 123.
While new confirmed COVID cases, hospital admissions and the positivity rate among those being tested are now in steady decline, other metrics are less promising.
"The ICUs are still stressed," Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said Tuesday. "The personnel are stressed."
Austin's three hospital systems—Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White and St. David's HealthCare—reported an ICU occupancy rate of 83% on Tuesday, only slightly down from a high of 89% in mid-July.
The local COVID-19 transmission rate also needs to decline further, Adler said, before it is safe to reopen businesses and schools. This will require continued adherence to the state's masking mandate and local social distancing recommendations.
"There will be calls for us to return to where we were in May and June real quickly and have it happen fast, and then we can do this up-and-down and up-and-down again, ultimately putting people's health and lives in danger and really ending up in a disruptive economic cycle," Adler said in the video update. "None of those things we want to do."
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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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