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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East Austin restaurant la Barbecue has been robbed a third time in less than three months, according to a post on the restaurant's Instagram.
In the post, the restaurant included photos of what appeared to be a man exiting a minivan from surveillance footage.
"This guy pulled up in a car full of stuff… he ripped our gate open and stole a couple empty kegs," the post said. "The ring system scared him off so he did not venture back into the area. PLEASE EVERYONE ON THE EAST SIDE BE CAREFUL!!! This guy goes back into his car to grab something before he goes in. I am hoping he won’t be back!!"
The robbery comes as many restaurant and food truck owners have been on guard from recent break-ins. East Austin cheesesteak truck R&B's Steak and Fries has also been robbed three times in around three months, according to owner Kris Elliott. Elliot said the truck was last robbed around a month and a half ago.
"When the weather gets cold, it seems like these things start to happen more often," Elliott said. "We're just happy no one got hurt."
Additionally, he said all 5 of the food trucks in their lot have experienced burglaries. The landlord of the space is taking action by investing in alarm and camera systems. "Been very tough dealing with this problem as us small business owners are just trying to survive during the pandemic," Elliott said.
And it's not just in East Austin. North Austin restaurants Eldorado Cafe and Chez Zee Bistro were both broken into and robbed on the weekend of Jan. 8, while over a dozen food truck robberies and break-ins were reported in the latter half of 2021.
Some, like Chez Zee's Deborah Velasco, wonder if the understaffed Austin Police Department's decision to no longer respond to non-emergency calls is part of the problem. Xose Velasco, owner of East Austin's Discada, said owners are keeping their guard up in the wake of the robberies as he was robbed twice within a month of reopening in November 2021.
"We try to keep the lights on," Velasco said. "We're a little bit more careful."
After 12 months, the long-anticipated massive Tesla factory in Southeast Travis County is up and operating and everyone wants a look inside.
Phase 1 of Giga Texas appears to be tied up as production of the Model Y Tesla is underway, the electric car company revealed on Wednesday in its fourth-quarter earnings call. The factory, located on the former Harold Green-turned Tesla Road, sits on more than 2,000 acres of land in southeast Travis County.
Here's a glimpse inside the factory.
Model Ys will be the first Teslas to come out of Giga Texas with an estimated delivery of August. The wait estimate comes after Tesla noted supply chain issues have affected their factories, which have been running below capacity for several quarters. A deep blue metallic like this goes for $1,000 more than a white or silver Model Y, totaling $61,990.
Model Ys began being produced at Giga Texas at the end of 2020. In general assembly at the factory, the Teslas get their major interior components to finish the vehicle.
Workers at Austin's Gigafactory are attaching seats to a structural battery pack. It's been described by some as the biggest difference between Texas-made Model Y's and the current version at the Fremont, California factory. It shouldn't have a major impact on the owner's experience, but Tesla has updated instructions for the jacking procedure, as the lift points are different.
With a sleek, open office setup, workers can take in a view of the factory from their seats. It's a component CEO Elon Musk wanted for what is now the headquarters of Tesla.
On the Austin, Texas public location Snapchat, a photo of inside Giga Texas has appeared. On the left you can see a sneak peek of a Model Y body.pic.twitter.com/N7zliZ5vkL— Sawyer Merritt (@Sawyer Merritt) 1643081462
With Snapchat's maps, anyone can look at everyday activity happening at the factory. To view these geographically-linked stories, click the bottom left "map" icon and search "Tesla Giga Texas." Once you've found it, you can view the Snapchat story of those in and around the facility. While most stories stay up for only 24 hours, Giga Texas is a designated place on Snapchat, allowing users to view a collection of photos and videos from the inside.
Following Model Ys, Texas-made Teslas will include the Cybertruck, Semi and Model 3. But it might be a while before those other models arrive. EV makers have been hit hard by the chip shortage, and it's thought that changing features are contributing to Cybertruck delays as Tesla works to compete in the electric pickup market.
Joe Rogan paid a visit to buddy Elon Musk this week. The two have been seen around town since both moving to Texas. Naturally, Rogan was impressed with the prototype.
If you're dying to get a closer look at this factory, you just might get to. In December, Musk said the factory would have tours available to the community early this year.
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