New COVID-19 cases and hospital admissions continue to rise in Austin, but local health officials provided two reasons to be optimistic.
ICU occupancy across the Austin metro is down significantly compared to the surge that occurred in June and July, which they attributed to improved treatment options. Travis County is also doing better than any other large county in Texas when it comes to mitigating disease spread.
"There is not something magical about Travis County," Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said on Tuesday. "We don't have a force field around us."
Instead, he said Austinites' commitment to protective measures—masking, social distancing and hand-washing—has helped inoculate our region from the catastrophic surge seen in El Paso and other Texas jurisdictions.
A positive sign
Travis County is reporting, on average, 301 new confirmed COVID cases each day, up from 232 a week ago. Similarly, the five-county Austin metro is seeing 35 new COVID-related hospital admissions each day, on average, compared to 32 last week.
It will likely take another week to ascertain the full impact of Thanksgiving gatherings, Escott said, and to determine whether the current trend lines will flatten out or continue to rise.
In comparing the current surge to the one that occurred in June and July—which was about twice as severe at its peak—there is a key difference. Although hospitalizations are on the rise, ICU capacity is about 50% greater than it was at this stage during the summer surge.
This change is due to improved clinical outcomes, Escott said.
Doctors are better able to manage COVID patients outside of the ICU setting and have more treatment options—including convalescent plasma, monoclonal antibodies and antiviral drugs such as remdesivir—in their arsenal.
"That's great," Escott said, adding that ICU capacity is the "weight-limiting step" because of limited personnel at area hospitals.
The Austin metro's three hospital systems—Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White Health and St. David's HealthCare—reported a combined ICU occupancy rate of 87% on Friday.
Escott said this shouldn't give rise to alarm as hospital ICUs typically operate with an occupancy rate between 80% and 95%. Additionally, the hospital systems' leadership have said they are not concerned about capacity at this time.
"That doesn't mean that we shouldn't be careful," Escott said. "But our hospitals are in good shape locally."
Compared to other large Texas counties, Travis County has reported the fewest active cases and cumulative deaths per capita over the course of the pandemic.
El Paso County is reporting more than 103 confirmed cases per 1,000 people, Dallas County nearly 50 confirmed cases and Harris County nearly 40, according to data compiled by the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Travis County is reporting just over 31 confirmed cases per 1,000 people.
Escott estimated that, by avoiding the surge seen in El Paso and Lubbock counties, the Austin area has prevented more than 1,500 deaths.
To maintain this, he and other local health officials stressed the importance of adhering to local pandemic recommendations.
The Austin area is currently at Stage 4, according to Austin Public Health's risk-based guidelines. At this stage, local health officials recommend that individuals at high risk or who live in households with people who are avoid gatherings as well as non-essential activities, such as dining out and shopping.
For everyone else, Escott emphasized that the real risk lies in gathering with people outside of your household without masks. Activities that allow for masking or limit interaction to those in one's pod are considered less dangerous at this stage.
"It is safe for people to go to a restaurant and have a meal with their family members and take their masks off while they're eating," he said.
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The 40-hour workweek has reigned since around the time of the Great Depression. But a new schedule gaining steam could lead some companies to throw out the practice of having employees clock in five days a week.
Promising results are coming out halfway into a six-month trial of four-day workweeks in the U.K. with 35 out of 41 companies responding to a recent survey saying they were “likely” or “very likely” to continue the reduced week after the pilot ends.
The trial, which began in June, is run by nonprofit 4 Day Week Global, think tank Autonomy, the 4 Day Week UK campaign and researchers at Cambridge University, Boston College and Oxford University. It involves 3,300 workers across 72 companies who are trying out one paid day off per week between Monday and Friday.
During the four-day week, 34% of companies reported that productivity “improved slightly” and 15% say it “improved significantly.”
With the survey indicating that a four-day workweek could have some perks for companies and employees alike, will Austin join in on the trend?
On job searching tools like LinkedIn and Indeed, some jobs based in Central Texas are boasting a four-day work week. And Coltech Global, a recruiting firm based in London with a growing presence in Austin, began the four-day work week about a year ago.
Jessica Sutcliffe, a staffing consultant at Coltech, joined the company to help grow the U.S. market. She says due to the time difference between the U.S. team and the UK one, the company implemented a four-day week.
"I’ve found it very beneficial as it allows time to rest and complete life admin, whilst also enjoying life, travel and be able to come back to work rested/fulfilled outside of work, which ultimately helps focus inside of those core work hours," Sutcliffe said via email.
In an Instagram post, Coltech said that not only are employees feeling the benefits of being more refreshed in the mornings, having reduced illness and a less stressed atmosphere, but it’s also improving their carbon footprint since there’s less time spent traveling to the office and using energy.
Niki Jorgensen, director of service operations at human resources service provider Insperity, noted similar factors driving companies to make the change to a reduced work week.
“The most significant benefit for a company to adopt the four-day workweek is the improvement of employee morale,” Jorgensen told Austonia via email. “Over the past two years, numerous studies have shown employees think a four-day workweek reduces stress and burnout. With reduced stress and burnout comes improved employee engagement.”
And while Austin is already drawing in plenty of workers who are in their early careers, a four-day week may help companies stand out to that bracket’s top talent even more.
“Companies can leverage this to make their company more appealing, especially to younger generations who strongly consider factors outside of compensation when choosing employment,” Jorgensen said.
She went on to offer a few tips for making a smooth transition to a four-day week like setting expectations and staggering coverage so that it’s still possible to see clients five days a week. Also, employers should be flexible. She says some employees may not be able to get 40 hours of work done in a shorter week due to responsibilities like childcare, so employers should consider how they can still accomplish their duties.
Before ditching the 40-hour workweek though, it can help to take a temperature check to see if an extra day off is the right fit for the workplace.
“Do not implement a flexible schedule such as the four-day workweek if business owners and managers cannot commit to the level of trust and flexibility needed to ensure the schedule’s success,” Jorgensen said.
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Camp Fimfo Waco, a brand new camping resort, is kicking off football and fall camping season in style! With top-notch amenities, premium accommodations, and 10 weekends of fall fun, there’s no better place to have a fall camping getaway, especially if you’re a Baylor football fan!
Fall promises to be a one-of-a-kind camping experience. From Sept. 16 to Nov. 24, weekends will be packed with fall-themed activities, including special Halloween weekends in October. Campers can enjoy activities like fall crafts, campground trick-or-treating, costume contests, site decorating, outdoor movie nights, and more!
Packages and Ways to Stay
Camp Fimfo Waco
Located just 5 miles from McLane Stadium, Camp Fimfo Waco is the perfect place to stay during home game weekends. Skip the stuffy hotel room and embrace the great outdoors before cheering on the Baylor Bears! Campers can purchase a Baylor Tailgating Package that includes a pre-game meal from Executive Chef Sean Kelley and transportation to and from the game! Chef Kelley will also be cooking up delicious, elevated tailgating meals near the stadium so make sure to check out The Plaid Plate food truck before the game.
Stay in style and comfort, no matter your camping preference! At Camp Fimfo Waco, there are multiple ways to stay. Red Carpet RV sites come with a concrete pad and patio, full hook-ups, cable hook-up, a charcoal grill, fire ring and fire pit. Back-in or pull-thru options are available, as well as coveted spots tucked along the Bosque River!
Don’t have an RV? Not a problem, Camp Fimfo Waco has cabins too! Book a Riverview Firewheel Cabin if you’re looking for an air-conditioned oasis for the whole family. Complete with a kitchen and private bathroom, this cabin can fit up to 10 people. Elevate your stay by adding on a golf cart or snag a private cabana by the pool for guaranteed shade. With wifi available throughout the park, you can stay connected during your stay!
Amenities and Activities
Camp Fimfo Waco
Camp Fimfo Waco features lots of amenities to fill your days with fun, whether you’re a kid or kid at heart. After challenging your friends to a game of pickleball, basketball, or mini golf, go for a dip in the resort-style, heated pool - open daily through October! Stay on the weekends through October to enjoy the interactive splash playground. With plenty of ways to burn off energy, like the jumping pillow or playground, you can be sure to end the day with a peaceful night around the campfire!
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