Local health officials repeated their request that Austinites not gather this Thanksgiving and recommended that Travis County schools return to virtual learning in the week after the holiday in an attempt to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
"The safest thing that we can do right now is not gather indoors in groups with people who we don't live with," Austin-Travis County Deputy Medical Director Dr. Jason Pickett said on Tuesday.
Austin Public Health announced it will send an emergency alert to residents who have registered with the Warn Central Texas emergency notification system on Tuesday afternoon, asking them not to gather outside their households on Thursday.
For those who are planning on ignoring this advice, there are certain modifications that will help reduce the risk of COVID-19. Pickett recommended staggering visits to avoid large groups, gathering outdoors instead of indoors and wearing masks.
"We understand … there are people who are going to (gather) no matter what we say," he said. "I want to have those folks consider ways that they can reduce the risk."
In another effort to slow spread, APH recommended area schools delay a return to in-person learning "so that anticipated increase in infection that we will see in association with Thanksgiving has time to declare itself … before we start getting people together in larger groups," Pickett said. Some school districts, such as Austin ISD, have already floated the idea.
Although COVID-19 does not appear to be spreading in the classroom environment, where masking and social distancing are observed, local cases have been traced to extracurricular activities, such as sports, and carpooling.
The number of cases reported at area school districts increased slightly last week, up to 87 from 82 the week before.
(Austin Public Health)
Overall, local trend lines continue to point to a worsening surge.
Travis County is reporting an average of 284 new confirmed cases each day, up from 198—or 43%—a week ago. Hospitalizations are also on the rise, with an average of 35 new COVID-related admissions each day, up from 30 a week ago.
Local health officials are concerned about hospital capacity, despite what they describe as an adequate supply of beds and other equipment, such as ventilators.
"Our weight limiting factor is staff," Pickett said. "As other (jurisdictions) in the state are surging right now, our ability to increase the number of staff available for the intensive care units is not what it was."
As a result, officials announced last week that Travis County is now at Stage 4, according to APH's risk-based guidelines. At this level, the department recommends residents avoid non-essential travel and, for those at high-risk, gatherings of more than two people.
In more positive news, APH data shows that this year's flu season is "tracking well below" that of the last three years, Pickett said, a change he attributed to preventative COVID measures.
Despite a significant increase in demand for COVID testing ahead of the holiday, APH is also reporting relatively fast turnaround times for results—around 24 to 48 hours, Pickett said.
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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.
Salute the support. 👏
It's only the beginning for @AustinFC. pic.twitter.com/TduorqYr2y
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) April 18, 2021
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.
In the signature style of Head Coach Josh Wolff, the team played with quickness and intensity, nearly connecting on several fast breaks. It was harder for them to stay in front, however, something that Wolff credits with quick decision making and a tough LAFC defense.
"We have a quick attacking team, but I think when you make quick attacks and it fizzles it's just about some decision making," Wolff said. "Are we in position to finish attacks? If not, can we reestablish our attack and get stuff better?"
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. He didn't have much time to prepare, either: in the first 30 seconds of play, Stuver had already made a save to keep the match 0-0.
LAFC finally connected in the 61st minute of play as Corey Baird shot one into 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.
While the scoreboard tells one story, Wolff said that the team did well considering the skill of LAFC and the pressure of their club debut.
"We've got to be realistic," Wolff said. "This is the first time this organization has been in front of TV with an opportunity to show itself and I think there were some promising moments. And we're going to maximize those and continue to try to develop those, but there's lots to build on."
The team may have lost, but it still won the support of thousands of Verde fans, dozens of which made it to watch their team's first match. When Stuver and the team made it to bthe stadium, Los Verdes fans were already there to show support, and Stuver said his wife saw the same back in Austin.
"The moment that we pulled into the stadium, we saw Black and Verde fans cheering us on as we got to the stadium," Stuver said. "During warm up, you can just look around and see different groups sitting in different sections of the stadium and it's just truly amazing to see the support in our first game. We know that we want to give the fans everything, because this we play for the city and we play for them."