With new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations spiking upwards in Austin and across the state, 31 Texas House Democrats are asking Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Education Agency to allow public school districts to offer virtual learning options and mandate masking during the upcoming school year.
"Only weeks ago it may have seemed that we Texans were putting the COVID pandemic behind us," State Rep. Vikki Goodwin, D-Austin, wrote in a letter to Abbott and Mike Morath, education commissioner, on Friday. "But the Delta variant has shown us that this, sadly, not the case."
Parents are anxious about Delta variant. They want schools to take precautions - mask mandates & virtual learning options. These options aren't available due to Gov. Abbott's orders. I sent this letter asking for reconsideration. It was signed by 31 of my colleagues. #txlege pic.twitter.com/vNdFfXYzeZ
— Rep. Vikki Goodwin (@VikkiGoodwinTX) July 24, 2021
As a result of the more contagious Delta variant, COVID cases and hospitalizations are rising rapidly—and overwhelmingly affecting unvaccinated individuals. The number of weekly new cases statewide has increased over fivefold in the last month, according to the Department of State Health Services.
This is of particular concern to school officials and families with school-age children, as most school districts are set to resume in-person learning in less than a month and children under 12 remain ineligible for any COVID vaccine.
"The academic year will be starting soon, and we have heard from school officials and parents in our districts that the path we are on is not acceptable to them," Goodwin wrote. "To meet this challenge, schools must be given options that they currently do not have."
Abbott told a Houston TV news station on Tuesday that he would not impose another mask mandate, saying it would be "inappropriate to require people who already have immunity to wear a mask."
Texas parents, start calling your governor to ask him to lift his ban on mask mandates in schools. There's no reason to put our youth who aren't eligible for COVID vaccines at risk. Child and Adolescent Health folks- prepare yourselves for a rough start to the fall.— Nicolasa Treviño (@ATX7101) July 21, 2021
Just got a robo call from @AusPublicHealth saying that we're in Stage 4 of COVID risk and that partially or un-vaxxed people should stay home.— julie hollek 한여울 (@jkru) July 23, 2021
Everyone under 12 is in that category and there is no concrete plan from AISD to address this and school starts in less than a month. pic.twitter.com/TkAotOErhQ
Goodwin and her co-signers—including State Reps. Eddie Rodriguez, Donna Howard, Celia Israel, Gina Hinojosa and Sheryl Cole of Austin—asked Abbott and Morath to allow schools to implement virtual learning options for students who are at-risk or unvaccinated. State lawmakers failed to pass legislation during the regular session that would have funded such options.
"Families are concerned about matters of life and death: if they feel that pulling their child out of school is the only way to survive, then they will do that," she wrote.
Goodwin also asked state leaders to allow school districts to mandate masking on campus. Abbott issued an executive order in May that prohibits public schools from issuing such mandates.
Austin ISD will "strongly encourage everyone, whether vaccinated or not, to wear a mask when indoors and around others who are not in their immediate household," according to its COVID protocols for the upcoming school year. Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde also told the Austin American-Statesman editorial board this week that the district is considering offering limited virtual learning.
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Six days a week, thousands of onlookers tune in to live streams to watch the pros rake it all in at high-stakes poker tournaments. The big-name poker players aren't in Las Vegas or even Oklahoma's finest casinos—instead, they're where Texas Hold 'Em gets its name.
Gambling may be illegal in Texas, but over a hundred poker houses are using a loophole to open up shop across the state, especially in Austin and Dallas.
The classic poker game is finally getting played for real cash around the Lone Star State thanks to an exception in Texas' gambling ban that allows poker games to be played in private residences. Instead of taking a cut from the pot like traditional gambling ventures, private poker houses don't make money from the results of a game; instead, they get their revenue from membership and hourly fees.
It's a business strategy that's gone (mostly) unchallenged by Texas politicians, especially as the industry begins to heat up.
Austin may now have around 20 poker houses around town, but it wasn't long ago that one stood alone like a small town saloon. The city's premiere poker house, Texas Card House, was founded in 2015 and has since grown to include a YouTube channel with over 30,000 subscribers, a wide range of gameplay and regular visits from big-name poker gurus like Brad Owen and Doug Pope.
David Lagana, a content creator who has worked in college sports and Hollywood, was brought into the scene in May as the house's live streams began to blow up. He said the live streaming battleground is only beginning.
"The space is ever-growing," Lagana said. "It's been interesting to try and find a lane that everybody can succeed. It's all about finding something that people want to watch on a nightly basis."
Can Player BLUFF Andrew Neeme and Brad Owen on LIVE Stream?
Watch now - https://t.co/4Wt4s5Z0V7@TheBradOwen @andrewneeme pic.twitter.com/Yg4R0c0sj2
— Texas Card House (@texascardhouse) August 25, 2021
Carolyn Hapgood, who has worked for Texas Card House for three years, has made a name for herself as a live stream producer, dealer and player herself with the company. She's seen Texas Card House grow from a two-room card house to the most well-known poker venue in Austin with another branch in Dallas.
"It was a teeny tiny little house with five tables, and that was the first legal card house in the state," Hapgood said. "And since then it's blown up."
Texas Card House dealer Carolyn Hapgood has been working with Austin's premier poker house since 2018. (Texas Poker House Austin/Facebook)
From $100 pots to buy-ins of $15,000 or more, Texas Card House has it all, especially as in-state players learn more about the game. Hapgood said there isn't really a typical poker player at the house—instead, the poker table forms an "interesting little ecosystem" that includes college students, a 93-year old Vietnam War veteran, online gamblers, old-school players and everyone in between. The diversity at the table has been enhanced even further by COVID as people clamor to return to in-person events.
But Texas Card House no longer holds a "royal flush" in Austin's poker culture. The Lodge, based in Round Rock, is now expanding to over 60 tables, the largest in Texas, while Palms Social Club, owned by Texas Card Houses' original owner Sam Von Kennel, brought service staff and a refined atmosphere to the Austin scene.
Hapgood said the base of poker players is very large and continues to grow, forming a community as players form friendships on and off the table.
"My favorite part of the poker community is how much fun we have," Hapgood said. "You sit at a table with eight of your friends, everyone's kind of just having a good time. There's a lot of players who will, you know, call or text each other after they're done playing, and they end up inviting each other barbecues, and going out to dinner with their families and stuff like that... those are my favorite people to hang out with."
Getting involved in the poker scene is as easy as tuning into a live stream, and Lagana hopes to see more outsiders like himself get inspired by poker in the future.
"It's kind of like life," Lagana said. "Life isn't just one hand to play... you're only in control of sort of what's in your hand (and) you can't play the card that you weren't dealt with. So it's really been a fascinating life lesson for me."
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From four-time Grammy-nominee turned big-screen actor, Black Pumas frontman Eric Burton will debut in the sci-fi short film "Devexity," which is written, directed by and stars Austinites.
The film, brought to life by Austin-based filmmaker Luke Lidell, will premiere on Oct. 7 at the Native Hostel while Burton is in town for Austin City Limits Fest. Then, "Devexity" will head off to film festival screenings, according to a report by The Austin Chronicle.
Following Burton as the film's protagonist, named Jean, "Devexity" takes place across several different settings and surfaces an existential response from the watcher. Burton stars alongside fellow Austinites Ali Pentecost, Dominique Pitts and New Yorker Madison Murrah in the partially black-and-white film.
The film was shot over the course of four days in October 2020, which Lidell said was a challenge of "focus" and "trust" to create. With a variety of scenes and intertwining narratives, the film dives into the topic of virtual reality.
A musician in addition to a filmmaker, Lidell previously directed the film "Telekinetic" in 2018. The script for "Devexity" was written by Lidell with Burton in mind for the lead after meeting him during a music video project in 2017—Lidell said Burton helped him shape the characters along the way.
Now that the door has been opened for work between Burton and Lidell, you're likely to see the pair collaborate again—a Black Pumas documentary is being rumored.
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The University of Texas at Austin welcomed more incoming freshmen than ever before, with 9,060 new Longhorns, thanks to the rise of on-time graduations allowing the university to admit more undergraduates.
The count was taken on the 12th day of class, Sept. 10, beating out the previous high of 8,960 from 2018. The new class is also setting records for its diversity, citing a rise of Black, Hispanic and Asian undergrads.
@UTAustin is serving more first-generation and historically underrepresented groups than ever, while raising grad rates for all, including our growing population of Pell-eligible students pic.twitter.com/qYQPEfUXG4
— Jay Hartzell (@JCHartzell) September 20, 2021
"People all across the UT community have been working hard to recruit, attract, retain and support even more talented and diverse students, staff members and faculty members who can change the world," UT President Jay Hartzell said. "I'm proud that our combined enrollment of historically underrepresented groups has reached record levels for the second year in a row."
A 3% enrollment rise can be attributed to UT's all-time high graduation rates: the four-year graduation rate rose from 72.2% to 72.7%, while the six-year student rate rose from 87.6% to 87.7%.
Of the 51,992 students on UT's campus, 13,366, or 29.6%, come from historically underrepresented groups—including Black, Hispanic, American Indian or Alaska Native, or Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander—one of the highest totals out of the Association of American Universities and a record-breaking percentage.
With this new class, the university is also serving more first-generation students and Hispanic students than ever before, making up 22.9% and 27.1% of the undergrad student body, respectively. Last year, UT hit a quota of 25% Hispanic students to qualify as a Hispanic-Serving Institution and received the Seal of Excelencia for its commitment to the success of Latin students.
Black students fell just a bit, from 5.3% to 5.2% university-wide, though the actual enrollment amount is up, from 2,193 to 2,219.
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