Travis County is now in Stage 4 according to Austin Public Health's risk-based guidelines, and local officials have asked businesses to limit their capacity to at least 50% in an attempt to avoid the "catastrophic surge" seen in other Texas jurisdictions.
"None of us want to close businesses. None of us want to close schools," Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said during a press conference on Thursday. "That is an absolute last resort for us."
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ruled out "any more lockdowns" last week, according to the Texas Tribune, prompting some pushback from local officials in the most affected areas.
Since Nov. 1, Travis County has reported a 130% increase in the average number of new COVID cases reported each day. Meanwhile, the average number of new COVID-related hospitalizations each day has nearly doubled.
With no change in the current transmission rate, the Austin metro could see demand for ICU beds more than triple its current capacity by March, according to updated projections from the COVID-19 Modeling Consortium at the University of Texas Austin.
Although the Austin area is faring better relative to other Texas metros, including El Paso and Dallas, local health officials are concerned that Thanksgiving gatherings will further accelerate transmission.
"It's effectively Labor Day and Memorial Day and Independence Day combined into one big event," Escott said, noting that Thanksgiving poses "the most significant risk" seen since the pandemic began.
At Stage 4, Austin Public Health recommends residents to avoid any non-essential travel and businesses operate at 25% to 50% capacity. Higher-risk individuals, including those over 65 or who have preexisting conditions, are also encouraged to avoid gatherings of more than two people.
"If we don't take the steps to change now … we could be in Stage 5 territory in just a few weeks," Escott said.
Stage 5 recommendations include avoiding all gatherings outside of one's household and any non-essential trips.
The threshold for Stage 4 has changed since Travis County was last at this risk level in August.
Previously, it was an average of 40 new COVID-related hospital admissions each day. However, given concerns about ICU staffing levels at area hospitals, local health officials have lowered it to 30. The threshold for Stage 5 has also changed, from 70 to 50.
Austin area hospitals have also taken in at least 13 patients from other jurisdictions that have already exceeded their local capacity.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler pointed out that the last time the region was in Stage 4 and approaching Stage 5, residents successfully flattened the curve.
"We have control over our future," he said. "We've done this before, now let's do it again. The vaccine is close. We're almost there."
This time around, however, a major holiday threatens to accelerate the spread of COVID—and pandemic fatigue may be testing people's adherence to protective measures.
This Thanksgiving, Austinites should avoid gathering with people outside of their household, Escott said. For those who choose to do so against expert advice, he stressed the need to wear masks and maintain social distancing.
Escott also cautioned those who are getting tested this week from being lulled into a false sense of security.
"A negative test this week does not provide you any effective protection for next week," he said.
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May's second election is here, in which voters will decide on the candidates to represent their party in the November general election after the winner in some March primary races was unclear.
Just like the March primaries, voters will choose which party they choose to vote in. Then based on location, each ballot will show which races are in a runoff.
In Texas, candidates must win at least 50% of the vote to be elected. In the races where the top candidate only received a plurality of votes, a runoff is being held.
Here's everything you need to know before heading to the polls.
Know before you go
Early voting for the Texas primary runoff election begins Monday and will last through May 20; Election Day is May 24.
The registration period for this election has passed; check if you're registered to vote here.
The polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. As long as you're in line by 7 p.m., you can vote.
You'll need a valid photo ID to present once you're at a polling location.
Here are the early voting locations in Travis County.
View wait times at polling locations here.
Races to watch in Travis County:
- Republican: Incumbent Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick won his primary in March.
- Democratic: Mike Collier and Michelle Beckley are vying to be the Democrat candidate on the ballot.
- Republican: Incumbent AG Ken Paxton is fighting for his seat against George P. Bush.
- Democratic: Rochelle Garza and Joe Jaworski will face off to be the Democratic candidate in this race.
View all the statewide races on the ballot here.
U.S. House of Representatives
View the district you live in here.
- Republican: Incumbent Chip Roy won his primary in March.
- Democratic: Claudia Andreana Zapata and Ricardo Villarreal are hoping to secure this vote.
- Republican: Dan McQueen and Michael Rodriguez are going head to head to be the Republican candidate in this race.
- Democratic: Former Austin council member Greg Casar won this race in March.
- Republican: Ellen Troxclair and Justin Berry are vying to be the Republican candidate in this race.
- Democratic: Pam Baggett won her primary in March.
Texas has been home to some of the country’s biggest celebrities of all time—think Amarillo resident Georgia O'Keeffe, Lubbock’s Buddy Holly and Corpus Christi’s famous singer Selena.
The Pudding’s People Map of the U.S., which shows each city’s “most Wikipedia’ed” resident, placed celebrities from all walks of life on the Texas map. As for Central Texas celebrities, there are some interesting (and not so surprising) names on deck.
Proving that Austin is “alright, alright, alright,” Minister of Culture Matthew McConaughey is both Austin’s and Uvalde’s top Wikipedia’ed resident. McConaughey, who was born in San Antonio adjacent Uvalde, has deeply ingrained himself in Austin by studying Radio-Television-Film at UT Austin, starring in the Austin-filmed movie “Dazed and Confused” and investing in Austin FC.
Heading down just a few miles south, San Marcos claimed former president Lyndon Baines Johnson as Texas State University’s most famous alumni, who graduated in 1930, and was also named in Fredericksburg. LBJ wasn’t the only ex-president on the map—George W. Bush was listed as the top resident in Dallas, Midland, Houston and Crawford.
You’ll see some other names with ties to Austin strewn around the state: Janis Joplin in Beaumont and Port Arthur; Stone Cold Steve Austin in Victoria and Edna; Dan Rather in his hometown of Wharton; and Waylon Jennings in Littlefield.
Venturing outside of the central areas, there are big celebrities who call Texas Home. Actress and artist Selena Gomez dominated search traffic in her hometown of Grand Prairie, musical artist Post Malone was most “Wikipedia’ed” in Grapevine, and Shaquille O’Neal was named in the city where he went to high school, San Antonio.
Plus, Thomas Haden Church, Angela Kinsey, Jessica Simpson, Chuck Norris, Roy Orbison, Ron White, Jessica Alba, Colt McCoy, Jimmy Dean and Johnny Manziel all had at least one city covered on the list.
Where’s Texas’ newest resident, Elon Musk? You’ll find him still in Los Angeles, as his foray into Texas living has just begun.Click here to view the full map.