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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If you are a committed, grunge-wearing resident of the Pacific Northwest, it is easy–almost automatic–to look at Texas as an extraordinarily dry, hot and culturally oppressive place that is better to avoid, especially in the summer. Our two granddaughters live with their parents in Portland.
Recently we decided to take the older girl, who is 15, to Dallas. Setting aside the summer heat, a Portlander can adjust to the vibes of Austin without effort. So let’s take Texas with all of its excesses straight up. Dallas, here we come.
Our 15-year-old granddaughter and her sister, 12, have spent summer weeks with us, usually separately so that we could better get to know each individually. In visits focused on Austin and Port Aransas, the girls seemed to be developing an affection for Texas.
Houston and Dallas are two great American cities, the 4th and 9th largest, each loaded with cultural treasures, each standing in glittering and starchy contrast to Austin’s more louche, T-shirts and shorts ways.
Three hours up I-35, Dallas loomed before us as a set of gray skyscrapers in a filmy haze, accessed only through a concrete mixmaster of freeways, ramps and exits. I drove with false confidence. Be calm, I said to myself, it will all end in 10 minutes under the hotel entrance canopy. And it did.
The pool at the Crescent Court Hotel in Dallas. (Crescent Court Hotel)
We stayed three nights at the Crescent Court Hotel ($622 a night for two queens), a high-end hotel in Uptown, patronized by women in white blazers, business people in suits, and tall, lean professional athletes, their shiny Escalades and Corvettes darting in and out, and other celebrities like Bill Barr, the former attorney general who shoe-horned his ample self into a Toyota.
Each morning as I walked to Whole Foods for a cappuccino, a fellow identified by a bellman as Billy the Oilman arrived in his Rolls Royce Phantom. Where does he park? “Wherever he wants to. He likes the Starbucks here.”
We garaged our more modest set of wheels for the visit. We were chauffeured for tips by Matt Cooney and Alfonza “The Rev” Scott in the hotel’s black Audi sedan. They drove us to museums, restaurants and past the enclaves of the rich and famous. In Highland Park, The Rev pointed out the homes of the Dallas Cowboys' Jerry Jones and Troy Aikman along with the family compound of the Hunts, oil and gas tycoons.
The Dallas Museum of Art’s “Cartier and Islam” exhibit (until Sept. 18) attracted an older crowd; the nearby Perot Museum of Nature and Science was a powerful whirlpool of kids’ groups ricocheting from the Tyrannosaurus Rex to the oil fracking exhibit. Watch your shins.
A Geogia O'Keeffe oil painting called "Ranchos Church, New Mexico" at the Amon Carter Museum of Modern Art. (Rich Oppel)
For us, the best museum was the Amon Carter Museum of Modern Art in Fort Worth, a 50-minute, madcap drive away via a 75 mph toll lane along I-30. Don’t try it during rush hour. The Carter has an exquisite collection of Remington paintings and sculptures and an excellent array of 19th and 20th-century paintings as well. Pick one museum? The Amon Carter. Peaceful, beautiful, uncrowded, free admission and small enough to manage in two hours.
The Fort Worth Stockyards, a place of history (with a dab of schmaltz), fun and good shopping, filled one of our mornings. The 98 acres brand the city as Cowboy Town, with a rodeo and a twice-daily (11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.) cattle drive. We shopped for boots, drank coffee and watched the “herd” of 18 longhorns. So languid was their progress that if this were a real market drive the beef would have been very tough and leathery before it hit the steakhouse dinner plate.
The cattle drive at the Fort Worth Stockyards. (Rich Oppel)
But we could identify: the temperature was 97. “I saw a dog chasing a cat today,” said the emcee, deploying a very old joke. “It was so hot that both were walking.”
With limited time, we chose three very different restaurants:
- Nobu, in the Crescent Court Hotel; Jia, a modern Chinese restaurant in Highland Park; and Joe T. Garcia’s in Fort Worth. Nobu’s exotic Japanese menu set us back $480, with tip, for four (we had a guest), but it was worth it.
- Jia was an ordinary suburban strip mall restaurant, but with good food and a reasonable tab of $110 for four.
- Joe T.’s is an 85-year-old Fort Worth institution (think Matt’s El Rancho but larger), a fine Mexican restaurant where a meal with two drinks was $115.
Sushi at high-end restaurant Nobu. (Crescent Hotel)
It was all a splurge for a grandchild’s visit. Now we will get back to our ordinary road trips of Hampton Inns, where a room rate is closer to the Crescent Court’s overnight parking rate of $52. And to corner cafes in small towns.
Did Dallas change our 15-year-old’s view of Texas? “Yes. I think it’s a lot cooler than I did. The fashion, the food.” So, not only Austin is cool. Take Texas as a whole. It’s a big, complex, diverse and wonderful state.
Giga Texas, the massive Tesla factory in southeast Travis County is getting even bigger.
The company filed with the city of Austin this week to expand its headquarters with a new 500,000-square-foot building. The permit application notes “GA 2 and 3 expansion,” which indicates the company will make two general assembly lines in the building.
More details about the plans for the building are unclear. The gigafactory has been focused on Model Y production since it opened in April, but the company is also aiming for Cybertruck production to kick off in mid-2023.
While there is room for expansion on the 3.3 square miles of land Tesla has, this move comes after CEO Elon Musk’s recent comments about the state of the economy and its impact on Tesla.
In a May interview with Tesla Owners Silicon Valley, Musk said the gigafactories in Berlin and Austin are “gigantic money furnaces” and said Giga Texas had manufactured only a small number of cars.
And in June, Musk sent a company wide email saying Tesla will be reducing salaried headcount by 10%, then later tweeted salaried headcount should be fairly flat.
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