Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott reported that the local COVID-19 caseload, related hospital admissions and positivity rate continue to climb reaching the Stage 5 threshold. With "the one-two punch" of Christmas and New Year's Eve on the horizon, and the lingering "Thanksgiving effect," he implored Austinites to help reduce spread—but held off on recommending a move to Stage 5.
"We do need people to wear their masks, to socially distance, to wash their hands and not go out if they're sick," he said Tuesday. "If people do that, then we don't need to make a recommendation to close things down."
The key indicator for Stage 5, according to Austin Public Health's risk-based guidelines, is a moving daily average of 50 or more COVID-related hospital admissions. Travis County crossed this threshold on Monday.
At Stage 5, APH guidelines recommend Austinites avoid all gatherings outside of the home and avoid any nonessential trips.
However, Escott said he and his public health colleagues plan to monitor the situation for several days before making a recommendation on the current risk level and other restrictions, such as another shutdown.
Escott would like to avoid such a scenario and said that the next steps would be to ask state officials to close a loophole that allows certain bars to remain open and to curtail extracurricular activities at area schools, both of which have been traced to recent cases.
The overall positivity rate in Travis County is now 9.9%, which is nearly double what it was last month. It is especially high—nearly 25%—among the 20-29 age group, according to APH data, which Escott attributed to bars that allow for crowded, face-to-face interactions sans masks.
"We have many bars that are not behaving well," he said, listing 25 establishments that have recently been cited—some multiple times—for violating local and state pandemic rules. They include Unbarlievable on Rainey Street, Yellow Jacket Social Club on East Fifth Street and Rose Room at the Domain.
In the last week, more than 1,400 students and staff at Travis County school districts have quarantined due to possible exposure to the coronavirus. Escott cited basketball as well as social gatherings among students and parents—a soccer team photo shoot, a parents' trip to Fredericksburg—as a major cause of these new cases.
A vaccine update
As the caseload continues to grow in Austin and around the state, healthcare providers are working to administer COVID vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, which promise the best line of defense against future spread.
Travis County hospital facilities received 13,650 doses of the Pfizer vaccine last week. Area pharmacies and private practices were added to the mix this week, when an additional 18,325 doses—mostly from Moderna—will be distributed.
In addition to frontline healthcare workers, EMS first responders—including Escott, who also serves the EMS System Medical Director—are first in line to receive the current vaccine supply. Next week, long-term care facilities such as nursing homes will begin to administer vaccines to residents on-site through a state partnership with Walgreens and CVS.
Thanks to @DellMedSchool, Paramedics + EMTs with Austin Travis Co. EMS @ATCEMS, @AustinFireDept, + various… https://t.co/RyktLuLyVF— Austin Public Health (@Austin Public Health) 1608419669.0
These populations have been prioritized because they will help bolster our healthcare system in case of a worsening surge and protect those at highest risk of hospitalization and death. People 50 years of age and older have accounted for 94% of Travis County's 522 COVID deaths.
There are approximately 80,000 healthcare workers and 205,000 residents 50 years of age and older or with underlying conditions in Travis County.
"By focusing on a relatively small number of people and getting them vaccinated effectively, we can decrease the threat of overwhelming our healthcare system relatively quickly," Escott said.
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Despite a 2-0 deficit, there was a pot of gold for Austin FC after all as it celebrated its annual Pride Night with rainbows and a 2-2 comeback draw to FC Dallas Saturday night.
After three FC Dallas losses last season, the Dallas derby draw marks the first time Austin FC has tied against its Copa Texas rival. Austin continues to edge over FC Dallas as it sits at 3rd in the MLS West.
Here are the biggest takeaways from the match:
A somber start
Decked out in colorful hues for LBGTQ+ Pride, Verde fans started the match on a somber note as they held up banners to take a stand against gun violence before the match.
As the national anthem began, fans held up banners with the names of each child that was killed in the Uvalde school shooting and a plea to "end gun violence."
The supporters' section was also dotted with Pride flags and a "Bans off Our Bodies" banner in protest of the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
FC Dallas earns a 2-0 lead
That sober tone continued onto the pitch. With midfielder Daniel Pereira's absence due to a red card, the Verde and Black lost two goals to FC Dallas by the 70th minute of play.
FC Dallas played it sneaky for the first half of the match, giving Austin FC plenty of room to hold possession as it waited to strike on a Verde error. That mentality proved dangerous for Austin as Dallas' Paul Arriola took advantage of Brad Stuver's deflection to score the first goal of the night in the 57th minute of play.
Dallas struck once more as Brandon Servant pushed past the Verde line to score the second goal of the match.
Austin FC strikes back
But energy quickly returned to Austin's favor thanks to Designated Player Sebastian Driussi, who scooted past several FC Dallas defenders alongside Moussa Djitte to snag an unlikely first goal for Austin.
A full Verde comeback
Austin's subs proved deadly as momentum returned to the home team toward the end of the match. A well-placed cross from Nick Lima—and a diving header from a fresh-legged Danny Hoesen—helped the team secure the draw with a second Verde goal in the 84th minute of play.
Hoesen, who was Austin's first starting striker last season, has now scored two goals with the team after a yearlong injury stuck him on the bench.
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Hours following the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that guaranteed a constitutional right to an abortion, on Friday, about 1,000 people gathered in Republic Square with signs calling for change.
The rally, organized by the group Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights Texas, started at the federal courthouse on Republic Square on Friday at 5 p.m. before the crowd marched to the Texas Capitol. More protests are expected to ensue over the weekend.
People showed up with all types of signs like Mindy Moffa holding up, "Keep your filthy laws off my silky drawers."
Austin joined cities across the country that saw protests for a women's right to an abortion after the ruling.
According to a recent UT poll, 78% of Texas voters support abortion access in most cases.
Sabrina Talghade and Sofia Pellegrini held up signs directed at Texas laws. A Texas trigger law will ban all abortions from the moment of fertilization, starting 30 days after the ruling. When state legislators passed the trigger law last summer, it also passed laws for more protection of firearms, including the right to open carry without a permit.
Lili Enthal of Austin yells as around 1,000 Texans marched to the Texas Capitol.
From the Texas Capitol, Zoe Webb lets her voice be heard against the Supreme Court ruling.
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