Here we go again.
Local elected officials and public health leaders are concerned about a spike in new COVID cases and related hospitalizations as four cases of the more contagious Delta variant were confirmed in Travis County on Wednesday and amid continued vaccine hesitancy.
"I hate that we are here together again at a press conference talking about the virus," Austin Mayor Steve Alder said Thursday. "I had thought and hoped that we would not be in front of you again talking about a rise in COVID cases."
With rising new COVID cases and related hospitalizations, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes announced a return to Stage 3, according to Austin Public Health's risk-based guidelines.
At Stage 3, APH recommends high-risk unvaccinated individuals wear masks and take other precautions to mitigate risk. "This is due in part to the confirmed presence of the Delta variant in our community and the associated dramatic increase in new cases and hospitalizations that we've seen in the last few days," Walkes said.
The seven-day moving average for new COVID-related hospital admissions in the five-county Austin metro was 20 as of Wednesday, after 29 people were admitted, according to Austin Public Health data. The average has jumped from 14 a week ago.
Not the direction we wanna go in. The best way to flatten the curve and bend it back down again is to get as many eligible residents as possible fully vaccinated. It's safe, effective, and free! Anyone who's still on the fence needs to check out https://t.co/stZMeGXU5F now. https://t.co/463Jw4kP0A
— Natasha Harper-Madison (@NatashaD1atx) July 15, 2021
Almost everyone hospitalized with COVID is unvaccinated, officials said, although they declined to provide more specific numbers. Walkes told KXAN last week that more than 90% of hospitalized patients were unvaccinated.
Of the 107 people hospitalized overall on Wednesday, 41 patients were in the ICU, where capacity is currently strained, Walkes said at the same press conference.
In addition to increased demand as Austinites shed their masks in favor of summer social outings and travel, there are also staffing shortages at area hospitals. "It's been a hard year," Adler said, adding that it's harder to hire nurses and other healthcare professionals at this stage of the pandemic.
Even before the four Delta variant cases were confirmed on Wednesday, public health leaders said it was very likely it was spreading through the community given confirmed cases in surrounding counties. Testing limitations—with the sequencing required to detect the variant only be used in limited cases—means that detection is also limited.
Unfortunately, with Covid infections rising in Austin, even some of the fully vaccinated getting infected, the uncertainty of the delta variant, and with Austin now in stage 3 on a collision course with stage 4 restrictions, we are going back to requiring masks at all times.
— Waterloo Records (@WaterlooRecords) July 15, 2021
To reverse these trends, officials implored residents to get vaccinated, if they aren't already, and encourage others to do the same. "This has to stop, and we know how to make that happen," Walkes said, adding that all three vaccines—Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson—are effective at protecting recipients from severe COVID disease and death.
As of Wednesday, around 70% of Travis County residents 12 and older have received one dose of the COVID vaccine and 62% are fully vaccinated. Although the county is approaching the threshold for herd immunity, which experts estimate is around 70%, the uptake rate varies across communities and ZIP codes.
Although demand for vaccine appointments has dropped off in recent months, there are still 14 providers in Travis County offering shots. Austin Public Health has also partnered with community organizations and will arrange for in-home appointments or to visit businesses. "Whatever you need to make this choice, we are prepared," Interim APH Director Adrienne Sturrup said.
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Elon Musk has placed an order for a new, top-of-the-line private jet: a Gulfstream G700, Austonia has learned. Delivery is expected in early 2023.
Billed as offering “the most spacious cabin in history,” the aircraft seats 19 and soars above the rest of us at up to 51,000 feet. Base price: $78 million.
The Gulfstream G700 was awarded the 2022 International Yacht & Aviation Award for excellence in cabin design this year. (Gulfstream)
According to the Gulfstream website, the G700 can fly up to 7,500 nautical miles without refueling, enough range to fly nonstop from Austin to Hong Kong. Powered by two Rolls-Royce engines, it has its own Wi-Fi system, 20 oval windows measuring 28” x 21”, and two lavatories.
The sweet new ride will replace his current top-of-line private jet: a 2015 Gulfstream G650, the aircraft that has been made somewhat famous by the automated @elonjet Twitter account, which tracks and reports his personal aircraft’s movements using public data.
Landed in Austin, Texas, US. Apx. flt. time 44 Mins. pic.twitter.com/jZ7HI0i4iV
— ElonJet (@ElonJet) June 24, 2022
Musk has repeatedly championed “free speech” as a guiding ethic in his planned purchase of Twitter. Last December, Musk offered the teenager who built the @elonjet tracker $50,000 to shut it down, citing security concerns. It’s still up.
According to the @elonjet account, Musk’s jet last traveled to Austin, where it’s been since June 23. The associated data says that his flight to Austin burned $2,573 worth of aviation fuel and discharged 4 tons of carbon dioxide.
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