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Halloween isn't canceled, but COVID-19 health risks should keep the holiday celebration at a minimum this year in Austin.
At least that is what Austin public health officials are asking as COVID-19 cases likely increase, based on recent modeling predictions. The city is averaging about 100 cases per day, down significantly from the summer spike, but the rolling 14-day averages show an overall increase in COVID-19 cases, hospital admissions and ventilator usage, according to Dr. Mark Escott, interim Austin-Travis County health authority.
"Cases are on the rise, and Halloween is just around the corner," Escott said. "If we do not want to have Thanksgiving in a period of crisis, we've got to really tamp down our activity for Halloween."
This comes after several weeks of being "in a plateau," he said, potentially giving fatigued Austin residents false hope that it is now safe to resume normal activities. On the contrary, Escott warns that actions taken in the coming days and weeks will influence health conditions by late November during the holiday season.
"That's just the new way of life for us, at least at this stage," he said.
Austin health officials, including Austin Public Health Director Stephanie Hayden, acknowledged that months of quarantine measures have exhausted Austinites, but the same safety measures still apply: social distance, wear masks, wash your hands, stay home if you're not feeling well and quarantine and get tested if you've been exposed to COVID-19.
Concerns are exacerbated as the influenza season kicks off. Austin already has documented flu cases, APH Chief Epidemiologist Janet Pichette said, making it all the more important that residents get their flu vaccination. Seasonal flu patients took up most of the hospital ICU capacity last year, according to health officials.
- Oct. 24: Southeast Library, 5803 Nuckols Crossing Road (8 a.m. to noon)
- Walk-up flu shots on a first-come, first-served basis
- Nov. 7: Travis County Expo Center, 7311 Decker Lane (9 a.m. to 2 p.m.)
- Drive-thru flu shots, with appointments recommended
- Call APH Immunizations at 512-972-5520 to schedule an appointment
Despite concerns about rising COVID-19 and flu cases, Escott and the rest of the public health team insisted that in-person voting is still safe. In fact, Escott voted earlier in the day and considered the experience safe at every step.
"The risk of transmission is extremely low for in-person voting," Escott said. "(Voters) should feel confident in those safety procedures at their polling place."
Similarly, normal school activities also pose a low health risk. Most cases recorded in school settings have been isolated to social events outside of school or during extracurricular activities.
"Football programs, in particular, is where we have seen that situation develop over the past couple of weeks," Escott said.
It's important that anyone exposed or sick stay home the entirety of their 14-day quarantine period, health officials urged, or risk more dire circumstances by November. New hospital admissions are just below 20 per day currently, about halfway to stricter Stage 4 restrictions, which haven't been in place since late July.
"My hope is that in November on Thanksgiving that I was wrong about what I said today," Escott said. "I hope we don't see the rise that's predicted. But the only way that's going to happen is if we change our behavior."
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17 years and three medals later, Osterman's last ride with USA softball is over. What's next for Cat?
Nearly two decades after her debut with the University of Texas and 17 years after her first Olympic gold, softball icon Cat Osterman stepped off the Olympic pitcher's mound for the last time with a silver medal to take back home.
Osterman, a three-time Olympian who has been called the "Michael Jordan of softball," will officially retire from the international realm at 38 after a decorated career that included Olympic golds, years of retirement and plenty of adversity—from a worldwide pandemic to dashed gold-medal dreams.
Osterman and her crew left Tokyo on a bittersweet note on Tuesday with a silver medal in hand.
Osterman with Team USA in 2008. (Antoni Majewski/Twitter)
Osterman in the final in 2021. (Antoni Majewski/Twitter)
After a year of sparse in-person training and over a decadelong hiatus, Team USA and Osterman flew to the finals. In five games, the team beat Italy (2-0), Canada (1-0), Mexico (2-0), Australia (2-1), and Japan (2-1).
Deja vu struck in the final match. On one side, Osterman and fellow 2008 Olympic teammate Monica Abbott took the mound; on the other was the 39-year-old Yukiko Ueno, a familiar foe who helped the team beat Team USA last go-round.
"Just like 13 years ago," Ueno said in a press conference, "we were facing each other in the final."
Ueno, who had lost hopes at gold to Osterman in '04, outpitched her longtime opponent with six scoreless innings as Team USA was held to just three hits. The same team that squandered their gold-medal hopes 13 years before had done it once again.
Your Tokyo 2020 Olympic Silver Medalists 🇺🇸#TokyoOlympics | @TeamUSA pic.twitter.com/MOMNOedHUd
— USA Softball Women's National Team 🇺🇸 (@USASoftballWNT) July 27, 2021
"There's a little bit of disappointment in not bringing home the gold since that's the eye on the prize when you go over there and you know you have a shot at it," Osterman told Austonia. "But more than anything, I'm very proud of the way our team handled everything that was part of this journey and not just the six games."
It's that very loss at the 2008 Olympics that partially motivated Osterman to get back on the mound. She officially put down the glove in 2015 after six seasons with the USSSA Pride, took time with family and began coaching at Texas State University.
Osterman helped ace Randi Rupp to greatness while a coach at Texas State University. (Active Voice Health/Twitter)
She thought her Olympic endeavors were well over—until talks of reinstating softball into the Games reentered the conversation.
"It wasn't until 2016 or 2017, that it ever crossed my mind to possibly put the USA uniform on again," Osterman said. "After the World Championships in 2010, I walked away, and I thought that my career on the international stage was done. So this was a pleasant kind of new opportunity."
Three years after facing any competition, Osterman was on the field once more with world-class athletes. Some, like Osterman and Abbott, had been playing together long enough to form a formidable "Fire and Ice" duo on the mound. Others had just graduated college.
Osterman said playing with a younger generation of athletes was one of the most rewarding aspects of this year's Games.
"It can be very different when you have 24- and 38-year-olds on the same field," Osterman said. "The adversity put us in some challenging positions and we came through with flying colors. And this group will forever be special just because what we had to go through is so different."
While on the mound, Osterman's job was to give the team a calm start. Off of the field, she felt her role had much of the same effect: she knew that new Olympic feeling, and she served as a deep breath to her first-time teammates.
"There's no words to explain how nervous and excited you get knowing that the whole world can be watching," Osterman. "I think using those emotions and figuring out how to get all our butterflies lined up and going in the right direction, so that way we were all moving together, was kind of my role outside of pitching."
We've heard her retire once before, but this time Osterman said she's gone for good—even from coaching. After her final time with Team USA on Sept. 27, she plans on returning to Austin, where she'll look to work for a nonprofit.
A gold and two silvers will have to do for one of the most decorated athletes in U.S. softball history.
"To be able to say you're a three-time Olympic medalist is a pretty special deal, right?" Osterman. "I played for a long time. But those are the pinnacle, in my mind, and kind of what elicits the dream to keep playing."
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Hospitals are facing a "significant" increase in admissions of pregnant women due to COVID-19 complications, Austin-Travis County health officials say, revealing what could be a long-term side effect of the virus.
Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes met with three maternal medicine specialists on Monday morning to warn of yet another COVID-19 Delta variant concern: severe cases of the disease affecting unvaccinated mothers-to-be.
The doctors said unvaccinated pregnant women face an increased risk of preterm births, long-term effects, preeclampsia, ICU stays, stillbirths, being put on life support and even death if they are unvaccinated.
"We are really concerned that we are not getting that population of folks to hear this message of the safety of vaccines, so today we're assembled, one and all to say, wear a mask and please get vaccinated," Walkes said. "Vaccinations are the way to prevent severe disease and hospitalizations and death."
Medical Director of Maternal Fetal Medicine at St. David's Women's Center of Texas Dr. Kimberly DeStefano said 95% of pregnant women admitted with COVID-19 are unvaccinated, stressing that all pregnant and lactating women should get the vaccine not only to protect themselves but to protect their babies from infection, which can be passed through breastmilk or birth.
"We know that the earlier in pregnancy you are vaccinated, the more antibodies are present at the time of birth for the infant," DeStefano said. "This is something that's very important, both during the pregnancy and postpartum."
Catching COVID-19 while pregnant can cause adverse effects on the baby, particularly because it increases the risk of preterm births. Baylor Scott & White Maternal Obstetrics Chief of Maternal Medicine Dr. Jessica Ehrig, said that preterm births are one of the "biggest impacts" on childhood development.
"We know that (preterm births) can have long-term effects depending on how early a baby's born," Ehrig said. "It increases the risk for long term respiratory issues, for blindness sometimes (and) for neurologic development delays."
Since mid-July, COVID-19 hospitalizations have been on a steep rise that sent the city back to recommending Stage 4 guidelines. As the seven-day rolling average of hospitalizations surpassed 50 admissions, Stage 5 guidelines could be on the horizon. The city reported 54 new admissions and 546 total new cases on Friday.
Delta is more contagious than chickenpox, Walkes said, and even vaccinated individuals can catch and spread the virus without symptoms. The group of doctors asked everyone, especially pregnant women, to mask while in public as local hospitals pass the Stage 5 threshold.
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