Austin sees slight decline in COVID numbers—but it's still too early to tell the impact of Thanksgiving gatherings
After weeks of warnings, advisories and even an emergency text alert from local health officials, Austin's COVID-19 caseload appears to be on a post-Thanksgiving decline.
However, as was the case with past holidays, it will likely take two weeks before the full impact of Thanksgiving gatherings is revealed in local data.
The average number of new confirmed cases reported each day in Travis County is 230, down from 300 a week ago, according to Austin Public Health data. The average number of new COVID-related hospital admissions reported each day in the Austin metro is also falling; it is now 32, down from 38 a week ago.
The COVID-19 Modeling Consortium at the University of Texas at Austin projects a declining number of hospital admissions, on average, in the coming weeks and reports a 4% decline in the number of cases reported in the metro over the last two weeks. The consortium's model uses hospitalization data as well as anonymized cell phone mobility data to make its projections.
Although not the same data source used by the consortium, Google publishes regular COVID-19 community mobility reports. The latest one for Travis County, published on Nov. 24, shows a mixed bag when it comes to residents' behavior in the lead-up to the Thanksgiving holiday. Trips to retail and recreation locations, parks, transit stations and workplaces were all down compared to the baseline. But trips to the grocery store, pharmacy and residences were up.
As with past holidays, such as Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, it's still too early to tell whether Thanksgiving gatherings will contribute to a spike in cases—or mark a turning point in Austin's current surge. Experts have said it typically takes two weeks between transmission and the time that cases are confirmed by test results.
Local health officials issued repeated warnings ahead of Thanksgiving, warning Austinites of the growing surge of new COVID cases and pointing to other jurisdictions, where hospital capacity has already been overwhelmed.
"We are not immune from a tragedy like El Paso's," Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said in a statement earlier this month. "And like El Paso, we could be facing a rapidly growing surge between Thanksgiving and Christmas with Stage 5 a few weeks away."
After a months-long hiatus, Austin's three hospital systems—Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White Health and St. David's HealthCare—recently began offering hospital capacity updates on a regular basis. As of the last update, which was provided on Wednesday, the metro's overall hospital occupancy rate is 74% and its ICUs are 82% occupied.
Just dropped my wife Clarissa off at the airport, on her way to El Paso, where they desperately need help from hosp… https://t.co/Kpkt2QIuKf— Clay Johnston (@Clay Johnston)1606704942.0
APH issued post-Thanksgiving guidelines on Friday, recommending that residents continue to avoid higher-risk activities, such as indoor gatherings with people outside of their households and travel.
For those who did gather over Thanksgiving, APH recommends getting tested on Monday or Tuesday and staying home for at least a week as a precaution, even if the test results are negative.
The department also recommended that area school districts temporarily return to remote learning for the week following Thanksgiving. Austin ISD heeded the advice; some campuses in the Del Valle, Manor and Round Rock school districts temporarily closed in recent weeks due to outbreaks. UT Austin students will not return to campus until the spring semester.
The COVID-19 Modeling Consortium estimated last week, in its latest update, that there was a 54% chance that at least one person would arrive with a COVID infection for a school or pod of 100 people in Travis County. The larger the school or pod size, the greater the chance of spread.
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Austin FC couldn't find the stamina to fight off a 2-0 loss against LAFC for their inaugural match on Saturday.
The match, which saw No. 21 Austin FC go head-to-head with No. 2 LAFC in Los Angeles, was broadcast nationally on FOX and FOX Deportes.
Eleven players took the stage as Austin FC players for the first time, with five starters making their MLS debut. "Ringleader" Alex Ring took the captain's armband and wore it well. The defensive midfielder could be seen leading his teammates through their first ever match, but it wasn't enough to stage an Austin takeover in LA.
As Austin FC took the stage for their first-ever match, they appeared more experienced than their track record. The club held LAFC to a scoreless first half, keeping about equal possession of the ball.
In the signature style of Head Coach Josh Wolff, the team played with quickness and intensity, nearly connecting on several fast breaks.
The club was given some generous breaks from No. 2 LAFC, who had one or both of their star DPs out for the half. While forward Diego Rossi is out for the entire match due to a hamstring injury, Carlos Vela was accidentally pulled too soon on what turned out to be a miscommunication.
"He gave us the sign that he needed to come off," LAFC Head Coach Bob Bradley said on broadcast. "I can't say more than maybe it's my fault."
LA pulled some dramatics and slowly gained more possession throughout the half, but ATXFC's defense wasn't initially as shaky as it seemed in preseason. Jhohan Romana has pulled his weight in getting the ball out of goal, and a 34-year old Matt Besler held his own in center back.
As the second half commenced, however, it became clear that LAFC had the advantage over Austin's first major league team.
Goalkeeper Brad Stuver had his work cut out for him, fending off 24 shot attempts, 11 of which were on goal.
LAFC finally connected in the 61st minute of play as Corey Baird shot one in to the bottom right corner. The team capitalized off their momentum and put one past Stuver a second time, drawing roars of approval from the LAFC crowd.
While some last minute attempts from Jon Gallagher and others were made, Austin FC didn't have the endurance to bring a tie. After seven additional minutes of stoppage time, the club lost their first match 2-0.
It's matchday! Austin FC—Austin's first major league sport team—kicks off its debut season in Los Angeles today after years in the making. We know how much this means to our beloved city and are taking you along with us as we journey to LA!
Austin FC writer Claire Partain and I are excited to bring you game-day coverage straight from the City of Angels. Check back here for updates, and visit our socials: @austonianews for the latest.
5 p.m: Kickoff!
It's finally here! Claire will be updating Austonia's Twitter account live. And we'll post her game recap after the game. Best of luck Verdes!
4:40 p.m: Excitement radiates back home
Watch parties are in plenty supply back home. Austonia's Laura Figi visited Circle Brewing Co. and found a crowd of excited supporters.
4:20 p.m: Austin FC supporters are in the stadium
Although the Banc of California Stadium is hosting the match at limited capacity, we see some green in the stands ahead of kickoff. Just moments away from the Austin FC's debut!
~3:20 p.m: Austin FC's team bus enters the stadium grounds
With a warm welcome from Los Verdes, Austin FC players were welcomed into the Banc of California Stadium.
~1 p.m: Los Verdes in LA
(Rigo Rodriguez/Los Verdes)
Austin FC supporters are making their presence known in LA, including the Los Verdes group.
Los Verdes members started having match-day fun around the area this morning with brunch. We'll be joining them about an hour before the game outside the stadium to share some of their excitement. We'll post immediately to Austonia's Instagram.
11:45 a.m: We landed!
View from hotel room where we're staying; the stadium digital sign can be seen in the right corner. (Sonia Garcia/Austonia)
Switching over to pacific time, we're here and it's almost like no time went by. It's 9:45 a.m. here.
We've been in contact with Los Verdes, an Austin FC supporter group, who is also here in LA counting down to kickoff.
8:20 a.m: LA bound
Like many of you, we've been looking forward to this moment for, let's just say, a very long time. Today, we woke up bright and early, headed to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and hopped on a flight to LA.
A gloomy day in Austin with a very quiet airport, we're headed to sunny skies in California.
As we wait for the game to start at 4:30 p.m., check out Claire's preview of the game with a predicted lineup and timeline of the long journey to get here.