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In the one year since the first person tested positive for COVID-19 in Texas, 754 Travis County residents have died from the virus. Older residents—those 60 and older—have been disproportionately affected, representing 12% of the county's confirmed cases but 82% of deaths. So, too, are Latino residents, who make up 33.6% of the county population and account for 46% of COVID deaths.
Although testing and vaccine access have both improved, coinciding with a declining case-fatality rate, the pandemic remains threatening to many—COVID is the third-leading cause of death in Travis County, second only to cancer and heart diseases—and continues to devastate families around Austin.
In a trying year that has included not only the coronavirus but also mass protests against police violence, economic hardship, a divisive election and a series of devastating winter storms, Austonia recognizes those who have died from COVID. Here are the names of 36, or just shy of 5%, of them and—where available through obituaries, fundraising pages and local reports—a brief glimpse at their lives.
Feb. 13, 2021: A. Robert Fischer, 63, loved the company of dear friends, good wine and food, attending the University of Texas football and basketball games and, most of all, his family, according to his obituary.
Jan. 20, 2021: James Ernst, 98, was preceded by the 411,534 Americans who had died from the virus at the time of his death, according to his obituary. He joined the army in 1942 and supported the D-Day invasion by parachuting into LaHavre, France in October 1945. In 2019, he was honored with France's highest award for his role in the country's liberation.
Jan. 16, 2021: Dwight Eugene Cassell, 89, received a recommendation from one of his geology professors at the University of Texas at Austin to "call on a certain young lady" who later became his beloved wife of 64 years, according to his obituary.
Jan. 12, 2021: Joe Alvarado Jr., 76, was an Austin Police Department training instructor, who had earned a 10th degree black belt in Soryu karate and had a passion for embroidery. "Joe truly loved our officers and they loved him the same," the Austin Police Association wrote in a Facebook post following his death.
Jan. 10, 2021: Chencho Flores, 91, a veteran accordionist, began playing music in Austin in the 1940s and remained a renowned member of the local conjunto—a Tejano-style ensemble—scene through the 2010s.
Jan. 8, 2021: James Robert "Jim Bob" Moffett, 82, was born on the same day as Elvis Presley's death and died on Presley's birthday. The oil magnate and University of Texas donor often impersonated the singer at parties or his children's events.
Jan. 8, 2021: Kenneth "Beaver" Ray Bray, 82, was a 50-year member of the Balcones Country Club, where he spent some of his best times with his best friends, and enjoyed his work with House of Friends, an Alzheimer's respite program, according to his obituary.
Dec. 15, 2020: Patricia Dean Dodgen, 84, was "an Austinite through and through," according to her obituary. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, taught at multiple elementary schools around town and traveled the world with the Flying Longhorns.
Dec. 2, 2020: Patricia Perez, 70, was a dedicated Travis County poll worker who had a passion for politics. Her family believes she contracted the virus while working during the early voting period last October.
Sept. 5, 2020: Guadalupe "Shorty" Ortiz, 78, recorded the hit song "Un Ratito," which was nominated for a Tejano Music Award, when he was 19 and founded two bands: Shorty and the Corvettes, a popular '60s group, and Mariachi Corbetas, which included his son and grandson. A charismatic performer, he would often choose a woman in the crowd to sing his songs too. "Let's say eight times out of 10, they would start crying," his son told the Austin American-Statesman.
We have had the Ortiz Family in our hearts and minds and will dearly miss our friend, Guadalupe "Shorty" Ortiz. Ortiz was an Austin music icon with his groups Shorty & the Corvettes and Mariachi Corbetas. pic.twitter.com/ttPsszCoY3
— Texas Folklife (@texasfolklife) September 18, 2020
Aug. 21, 2020: René van Zanten, 76, was born in Jakarta, Indonesia and later moved with his family to the Netherlands before immigrating to the U.S. He spent the last 13 years of his life in Austin and will be "remembered by many for his vast intellect, engaging personality and love of life," according to his obituary.
Aug. 19, 2020: Sebastian "Sebe" Cardenas, 53, grew up in East Austin the youngest of six children and later became a father—and father figure—to many, according to his obituary. He loved grilling, the Dallas Cowboys and jamming out to classic rock.
Aug. 14, 2020: Jesse "Chuy" Ramirez Morales, 77, was one of nine members of his family to contract the virus. His son, Roger, was released from the hospital in December after a five-month stay, according to Spectrum News; his other son, George, is a Travis County constable and hopes to encourage his community to get vaccinated to help avoid a similar loss.
Aug. 14, 2020: Virginia Ann Hranitzky Hirsch, 92, was known as the Flounder Lady in Port O'Connor, Texas, where she fished with her son until she could no longer get in and out of a boat, due to her prowess for the sport.
Aug. 2, 2020: Willie Showels Sr., 81, opened Willie's Bar-B-Q on East Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard with his wife, Pearlie Mae, in 1991 and served as its pitmaster until early last year. He is survived by 10 of his 11 children, 42 grandchildren and 72 great-grandchildren, according to Austin 360.
Late July 2020: Claudia Bertaud, 48, loved dancing to norteñas, a genre of music from Northern Mexico, according to KXAN. She worked as a Spanish immersion preschool teacher in South Austin and stopped going to work after developing a cough.
July 28, 2020: Lois P. Villaseñor, 87, was a dedicated and pioneering funeral home director for over 40 years, tirelessly serving East Austin families as one of the state's first female funeral home directors. The day after her death, her son, Charles Villaseñor II hosted a funeral service for another family. "They said, 'Your mother just died, you're here doing a funeral?'" he told the Austin Business Journal. "I just told them my mom would have expected me to do my job and treat them right."
July 25, 2020: James Nagy, 71, was known for his personal style and good eye for antique furniture and art. He also took great pride in raising his daughters "to be as empowered and adventurous as he was," according to his obituary. "Whether it was a road trip through the Blue Ridge Mountains or an NYC subway ride, he was determined to show them the world."
July 19, 2020: Billy "Logan" Pausewang, 94, married his wife, Imola, at Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin, where his funeral was held after his death from COVID. "God needed the 'best machinist' in heaven so He called Logan home," according to his obituary.
July 16, 2020: Raymond Guillory, 78, loved woodworking and "dancing as often as he could" to country music bands, according to his obituary.
July 15, 2020: Edmund Gerald "Jerry" Wermund, 94, spent his career focused on the geology of the Gulf Coast region. In his retirement, he volunteered as a docent for the Austin Children's Museum, now the Thinkery, and published four scholastic children's books about geology and earth resources.
July 13, 2020: Manuel Alvarado was a "much-loved" custodian at Crockett Early College High School, according to a GoFundMe organized by Principal Kori Crawford, and spent much of his free time renovating his home in Cedar Creek.
July 12, 2020: Jordan Herrera, 38, died four days after walking himself out to the ambulance that took him to the hospital, where he died of COVID after saying goodbye to his fiancée and their two daughters over Zoom.
July 9, 2020: Mary Margaret "Sug" Blackwell, 83, earned a bronze medal in diving at the Junior Olympics, served as a duchess during Fiesta in San Antonio and was famous for her recipes, including for crab rolls, rum cake and gumbo, according to her obituary.
July 3, 2020: Vincent Paul Segura, 64, earned an offer to try out with the Houston Astros as a teenager and spent his later years spending time with his family and friends, who remember him as a one-of-a-kind South Austin legend.
June 13, 2020: Dale LaPlant, 81, celebrated his 35th birthday 47 times. His ashes will be placed in the Neptune Memorial Reef off the coast of Key Biscayne, Florida.
June 11, 2020: Michael Hickson, 46, was a Black father of five with quadriplegia and COVID-19 whose death raised concerns among disability rights activists and community leaders. "ADAPT of Texas has long been concerned about the devaluation and resulting lack of care for people with disabilities, especially in this pandemic," the local disability rights organization wrote on its website in the wake of Hickson's death.
June 3, 2020: Harold Miller, 74, opened a small private practice dedicated to serving low-income and uninsured Austinites, which he called "Texas Country Doctor in the City," according to his obituary.
May 27, 2020: Billie Lee Turner, 95, was a professor emeritus in the integrative biology department at the University of Texas at Austin and one of the nation's foremost plant taxonomists, with a particular expertise in the sunflower family. One of his proudest accomplishments was quintupling the size of the UT herbarium to one million holdings, according to a Texas Leader Magazine profile.
May 19, 2020: David Uhrich, 60, died at Hospital Galveston after being transferred from a Navasota prison, where he was serving a five-year sentence out of Travis County. People in Texas prisons die from COVID at disproportionately high rates: 140% higher than the statewide rate and 35% higher than the national prison population average, according to a November report from the University of Texas at Austin.
April 18, 2020: David Colbert, 47, was among the 256 homeless residents who died on Austin's streets last year. The National Coalition for the Homeless cited his experience in its 2003 list of "Meanest Cities" for poor and homeless people, on which Austin ranked eighth.
April 17, 2020: Maurice Dotson, 51, was a certified nursing assistant at a South Austin nursing home and one of the first health care workers in Austin to die from the virus. A friend told the Austin American-Statesman that he would check in on his residents every single night to make sure they didn't need anything before he headed home.
April 16, 2020: Lois Thomas, 89, was an avid reader and kept a thick notebook throughout her life, where she listed the books she had read.
April 16, 2020: Barbara Jane Gardner, 86, "enjoyed nothing more than a long conversation in the kitchen while cooking and watching her detective shows," according to her obituary. She spent the last four years of her life in a nursing home, where her husband of 63 years visited her every day.
April 14, 2020: Selma Esther Ryan, 96, died of COVID more than 100 years after her sister, Esther, died at age 5 during the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. Because of her husband's military appointments, she and her family lived in Ethiopia during a coup d'etat; she dug out one of the bullets lodged in their home and had it gold-plated for her charm bracelet.
April 2, 2020: Patricia Hernandez, 51, was a "much-loved" community member at Casis Elementary School and longtime employee of Austin ISD. Annelise Tanner, AISD's executive director of food service, told CBS Austin: "Pati would always show me the food she'd prepared for the kids that day and was very proud of the quality of food that she prepared for the kids."
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With more research done on the COVID-19 Delta variant, Austin Public Health is upping its goal of 70% vaccinated to at least 80% due to the extreme virality of the strain.
As more Delta cases are identified—up to 29 cases are confirmed in Travis County—health officials are urging the unvaccinated to get their shots to contain the spread and relieve hospitals from reaching full capacity.
Austin-Travis County surpassed the Stage 5 threshold on Friday and has reached a seven-day average of 61 hospital admissions. However, Austin health leaders have yet to make an official shift as the Delta variant calls for new guidance, APH Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said at a joint Travis County Commissioners Court meeting on Tuesday morning.
The new guidance has yet to be released, but Walkes said it will take into account the viral load of Delta on both unvaccinated and vaccinated people.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed the Delta variant was as contagious as chickenpox, which has a herd immunity threshold of at least 90% vaccinated.
Although 63.42% of those eligible in Travis County are fully vaccinated, breakthrough cases—where vaccinated people are contracting COVID-19—are being identified. APH has identified 1,496 breakthrough cases of the roughly 800,000 vaccinated. Most breakthrough cases are showing less severe symptoms or are asymptomatic, according to APH.
Health officials are still asking residents to wear masks, although the city cannot mandate any masking orders due to an executive order by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
"Our challenge is going to be whether we're going to stand as a community and everyone who can get vaccinated, get vaccinated, and everyone where a mask—that's what it's going to take," Walkes said.
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Save Austin Now police petition will reach November ballot after county clerk certifies 25,000 signatures
Save Austin Now is now 2-0 over Austin City Council after its petition to add more staffed police officers to the Austin Police Department was certified, garnering over the 20,000 votes needed to make it on an election ballot.
The petition calls for more police staffing per city resident, quicker response times and more training for city police officers in the wake of increasing violent crime rates nationwide and a year of limited APD staffing. The City Council will now decide whether to implement the ordinance outright or add it to the November election ballot; it will likely do the latter.
Over 25,000 of the 27,778 signatures racked up by the public safety petition were certified as valid, well over the 20,000-vote threshold required to be certified with the City Clerk. City Clerk Jannette Goodall placed the city's seal of approval on the petition on Tuesday morning.
The petition, by the same political group that got the camping ban reinstated through a petition in May, seeks to:
- Require minimum staffing of two officers per 1,000 residents
- Require a minimum standard of 35% community response time
- Add 40 hours of training
- Require city council members, Mayor Steve Adler and other city staff to enroll in the Citizens Police Academy
- Facilitate minority officer hiring through foreign language proficiency metrics
Austin's 160 patrol vacancies have dropped its staffing rate to 1.2 officers per 1,000 residents, according to the department. APD's response time has increased by about one minute and 50 seconds in a year.
The petition comes nearly a year after APD's budgets were slashed by city council following the summer's Black Lives Matter protests, which saw several demonstrators severely injured as millions called for justice in the police-related deaths of George Floyd and locally Mike Ramos, an unarmed Black man killed by APD officer Christopher Taylor, in April 2020.
Austin and the U.S. have experienced a widespread uptick in violent crime rates in 2021. The city has reached 49 homicides in 2021, higher than the total number of murders in all of 2020 and the 38 homicides in the city in 2019. Austin police officers have seen response times rise as the department suffers increased vacancies and fewer newcomers while cadet classes are being readjusted.
Opponents argue the ordinance would ramp up a policing budget while taking away from other departments including Fire, EMS, violence prevention, and mental health care. City Council Member Greg Casar, the Travis County Democratic Party and the Austin Justice Coalition have spoken out against the organization's latest public safety move, calling out the campaign as a "right-wing petition" that misleads those who sign.
🔥 PANTS ON FIRE: Republican-front group Save Austin Now is lying about their petition!
They say their measure is about police reform, when it's really about devastating our city budget - all for the benefit of the police union. Watch the video here ⬇️ #ATX pic.twitter.com/Z6QQSfhHfH
— Gregorio Casar (@GregCasar) August 2, 2021
The latest battle between city council and Save Austin Now will be decided by Austin residents in the Nov. 2 election.
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Austin City Limits fest and iHeartRadio Fest are the latest festivals to announce the removal of rapper DaBaby, who has come under fire for homophobic comments made during a recent festival.
The 29-year-old rapper, whose real name is Jonathan Lyndale Kirk, was dropped by Lollapalooza just hours before his set on Sunday, followed by the Governor's Ball in New York and Nevada's Day N Vegas after making unsolicited comments about men with HIV/AIDS at the Rolling Loud Festival in Miami. Rolling Stone Magazine confirmed with iHeartRadio organizers that DaBaby will no longer perform.
DaBaby will no longer be performing at Austin City Limits Music Festival — lineup update coming soon. pic.twitter.com/jAYfdJFxJf
— ACL Festival (@aclfestival) August 3, 2021
There is no word on who he will be replaced with yet, though rumors on ACL's subreddit, r/aclfestival, are saying they expect Tyler, The Creator, who performed at Lollapalooza. Kirk will be replaced at Day N Vegas by rapper Roddy Ricch.
Kirk later backtracked his offensive statements on his Instagram story, but again faced criticism for not exactly apologizing.
After facing a second round of backlash for his Instagram statements, the rapper posted on Instagram, saying:
In addition to being dropped from the festivals, DaBaby has been denounced by fellow celebrities like Dua Lipa, Madonna and Elton John.
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