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Austin COVID hospitalizations reach highest point in months as four Delta variant cases are confirmed
COVID-19 hospitalizations are on the rise in Austin, likely fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant and overwhelmingly affecting unvaccinated individuals.
There have been four confirmed Delta variant cases in Travis County, Austin Public Health announced Wednesday.
Meanwhile, there were 24 new admissions in the five-county Austin metro on Tuesday, bringing the seven-day moving average to 19—its highest point since April 29, according to Austin Public Health's risk-based guidelines.
This puts the metro squarely in stage three, where APH recommends that high-risk unvaccinated individuals—namely those 65 years or older—avoid any non-essential activities to mitigate risk.
Overall, 100 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in the metro as of Tuesday, with 39 in the ICU and 19 on ventilators.
More than 90% of the hospitalized patients are unvaccinated, Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes told KXAN last week, mirroring trends around the country.
The Austin metro is now in stage three of APH's risk-based guidelines based on new hospital admissions. (Austin Public Health)
New reported cases are also trending upwards. More than 200 cases were reported Tuesday, bringing the seven-day moving average to 85, up from 33 a week ago, according to APH.
Walkes told Travis County commissioners on Tuesday that the likely culprit behind these trends is the more contagious and deadly Delta variant, which now accounts for about 58% of all COVID cases in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control. In late May, Delta was estimated to account for approximately only 3% of new cases in the U.S.
Although Travis County is approaching the threshold for herd immunity—which experts have estimated is around 70%—it has not yet reached it, meaning that the disease is still circulating and evolving to become more contagious, pushing the threshold further up. There are also still subsets of the population that are not yet eligible for the vaccine, including young children.
More than 70% of Travis County residents 12 and older are partially vaccinated, and more than 61% are fully vaccinated, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Local health officials continue to implore residents to get vaccinated if they haven't already. "Existing vaccinations are still more than 90% effective in keeping individuals safe," Interim APH Director Adrienne Sturrup said in a July 2 press release. "It is more important than ever to have these discussions around vaccinations and why they are so important for families and our community in helping prevent the spread of COVID-19."
Information about where to find a free COVID vaccine can be found here.
This story was updated at 4:30 p.m. to include how many cases of the Delta variant have been confirmed in the metro.
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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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