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While sitting in the dark under layers of blankets on Monday evening, trying to stay warm amid a power outage, Emma Israel noticed lights turn on outside her bedroom window.
Israel, a masters student at the University of Texas at Austin, lives two blocks away from the university's intramural fields in the North Loop neighborhood. Every night, their lights shine through her window.
Israel had noticed they went on Sunday evening despite requests from Austin Energy to conserve energy. She and her housemates had responded, unplugging things around the house and turning the heat down to 68 degrees. "We took that warning seriously because I didn't want to end up here, where we are 30 hours later, without power," she told Austonia.
When the field lights flashed again on Monday night, Israel was "even more mad." She tweeted about it, hundreds of people liked it, and within the hour the lights had turned off. "Now we're begging the downtown skyscrapers to turn off their lights," she wrote in an update.
Hey @UTAustin @UTRecSports I'm staring out my window from my cold, dark home at the bright lights on the IM fields. The call to reduce usage applied fo all of us. Turn. Them. Off. Cc: @austinenergy @statesman
— Emma Israel (@em_israel1) February 16, 2021
Israel wasn't the only one who had noticed the downtown lights. Skyline photos began popping up on social media as night fell, showing office towers ablaze while entire swatches of the city remained in the dark.
Terri Gruca, an anchor and reporter of KVUE, posted a stark photo taken at the Fairmont Austin. "A tale of two cities," she tweeted, pointing out the difference between downtown and nearby East Austin. Austin Energy's outage map shows blackouts all over the city.
A tale of two cities - on the right is downtown Austin - to the left East Austin. Look who has power. @KVUE pic.twitter.com/nxhgU2efak
— Terri Gruca (@TerriG_KVUE) February 16, 2021
Council Member Greg Casar, who represents Northeast Austin's District 4, weighed in.
If @austinenergy cannot cut power from empty office buildings for technical reasons, then those building managers should be formally asked by @austintexasgov. For the good of everyone across the state.
I've submitted this request. https://t.co/2W73qCrHXV
— Gregorio Casar (@GregCasar) February 16, 2021
By Tuesday morning, Austin Energy had issued a response. "The downtown network is excluded for now from load shedding (power outages) during controlled outages mandated by ERCOT," the utility said in a statement. "This is a complicated, inter-connected network which includes critical buildings like the Dell Seton Medical Center, warming centers, the COVID-19 Alternate Care Site, Capitol Complex and Austin City Hall, as well as other critical infrastructure and government buildings."
Austin Energy made "an urgent plea to customers" to conserve power and announced it is working with the Building Owners & Management Association and the Downtown Austin Alliance to ensure their members are heeding it.
Like many Austinites without power, Israel is frustrated by the lack of action on the part of major energy consumers. "Those big power users are the ones that can help get us out of this," she said. "It's not really a question of whether my neighbors turn their porch lights off."
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In a match marred by injuries and key player absences, Austin FC lost 2-0 in Los Angeles for the second time on Saturday to West Division titan LA Galaxy.
Austin FC goalkeeper Brad Stuver was tasked with the near-insurmountable task of holding back the LA Galaxy's Chicharito, who is now the league's top scorer this season, and he nearly succeeded.
The club saw its first major threat from the formidable Chicharito when a penalty was drawn on Jhohan Romana. In his usual game-saving fashion, Stuver leapt to the right to kept the scoreboard empty and block what many thought would be the league leader's first goal of the match.
With a Hector Jimenez injury midway through play, a Jon Gallagher absence due to injury and a man down as Captain Alex Ring sat the bench, however, the team was unable to get a win in their second trip to Los Angeles.
Austin FC was slated to play against the odds after Ring was benched due to a second yellow card last week. To cover the wound, the club put standout rookie Daniel Pereira in his stead and placed Danny Hoesen back at the crown of the lineup after fellow striker Gallagher stayed home.
Hector Jimenez got his first start with the club at right back in the stead of Nick Lima, but the run was short-lived. The 32-year-old suffered an injury after attempting to save the first LA Galaxy goal, but Galaxy midfielder Sebastian Lletget still scored the match opener after popping a shot over Stuver to make the match 1-0.
Austin FC plateaued through much of the first half, and the forces of the universe were in the Galaxy's favor as they encroached on Austin's defense.
The club found new stamina, as they usually do, when a set of subs were brought in to up the club's tempo, and ten minutes of the match were entirely Kekuta Manneh's. Manneh, the club's only player with Austin ties, subbed in the 60th minute of play and immediately made an attempt on goal. The winger would make three more attempts, one of which just missed the top right corner of goal, before LA made its next advances on Austin's defense.
Head coach Josh Wolff said he hoped for a goal for Manneh, who doesn't often get to hit the pitch.
"His contributions were obvious, and I would have liked to see him get a goal there," Wolff said.
It looked like Austin might tie it up during the "Kekuta Era," but Chicharito played true to his stats. Stuver went head-to-head with Chicharrito once again and lost as he scored his seventh goal in five matches in the 77th minute of play.
⚽️ x 7️⃣@CH14_ scores his league-leading seventh of the season! #LAvATX pic.twitter.com/28zLnOmKWb
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) May 15, 2021
Matt Besler said he was up for a challenge as the club's central defender and he's unsurprised at Chicharito's success. Besler also said and he respects Chicharito on and off the pitch becuase of his openness about mental illness.
"I was looking forward to the challenge," Besler said. "His recognition of where the space is world class, and it's no surprise that he's scored goals everywhere that he's gone. I respect him as a player and I also respect him off the field."
Another attempt on goal was made by the Galaxy's Kevin Cabral, who sunk one in past Stuver just minutes later, but the goal was called offsides. Still, the match came to an anticlimactic end as Austin FC was unable to get one in goal and lost 2-0.
Besler, who has seen the ebbs and flows of his Sporting Kansas City, his club of 12 years, said that it takes patience to be a successful team. Still, he's impressed that Austin FC has made as much ground as they have in their expansion year.
"I understand that it's going to be a process, and we are in our fifth game of our existence, but the fact that we're at where we are at isa good sign," Besler said. "Towards the last third of the season, that's when hopefully we can peak and look a lot like our final product."
Austin FC will have a chance to snap their two-match losing streak as they head to Nashville SC for their sixth-straight road match at 8 p.m.on Sunday.
Nearly half of Travis County residents 16 and older are fully vaccinated, as of Friday afternoon, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. And an even greater portion likely have immunity.
Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott estimates that around 70% of local residents have some form of immunity to COVID-19, either because they have recovered from the disease or are vaccinated. This is approaching the threshold for herd immunity.
"We're starting to approach that 70% mark of combined disease and vaccination, so we may start to see some significant changes when it comes to disease trends," he told council members and county commissioners on Tuesday.
Escott arrived at this percentage by assuming that there is no overlap between those who have had COVID and those who have been vaccinated. "While there's certainly some overlap … there does not seem to be a lot of overlap between those two," he said.
Herd immunity occurs when enough people are immune to a disease that it is unlikely for someone who contracts the disease to spread it. With no one to infect, the disease dies out.
Public health experts have said herd immunity for COVID will require around 80% of the population to be immune based on its relative infectiousness.
Although natural immunity contributes to herd immunity and is partially responsible for the sharp downturn in the number of new COVID infections in recent months, vaccination is the gold standard among experts because of the increased security it offers.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler celebrated the new CDC guidance as proof of vaccines' efficacy. "Since more people will not be wearing masks, it makes it even more important to get vaccinated," he said in a statement Friday.
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