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When Tom Madison strode into his college Spanish class wearing his firefighter uniform nearly 20 years ago, fellow student Natasha Harper liked what she saw.
"He didn't know he was interested in me—I had to convince him," the Austin City Council member, who is now Natasha Harper-Madison, said as she laughed.
The two married three years later. And now their tightly knit home is divided by what can only be called an act of love.
Harper-Madison, 42, has lupus and is a breast cancer survivor, putting her at high risk of death from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Madison, also 42, is a lieutenant in the Austin Fire Department, and on every shift he runs calls that could expose him to COVID-19.
Nearly two weeks ago, he moved out. "It was too nerve-wracking," Madison said.
Harper-Madison and their two youngest children, ages 9 and 11, continue to stay at home. Madison lives alone nearby.
When he's not working, Madison strolls over to stand on the sidewalk and talks with his family on the porch. Sometimes they'll ride bikes together, maintaining a safe distance.
Their younger child asks every day when he's coming home.
"I wish I could hug my dad," she tells her mother.
Emergency responders across Austin have been making similar decisions to move into family property, friends' homes and campers in order to limit their family's exposure.
In the Harper-Madison house, the conversations about risk started in February, when COVID-related 911 calls at Madison's job began to ramp up.
Weeks of elaborate measures to limit his family's exposure did little to stem their fears. By mid-March, the virus had spread throughout the community. Testing was scarce. Carriers can show no symptoms. Every call was a risk.
One night, Madison's crew responded to a nursing home where patients were later diagnosed with the disease, his wife said. Another shift's crew was exposed elsewhere and had to be quarantined.
The next morning, in a phone call from the firehouse, the couple decided it was time to separate entirely.
Harper-Madison and the kids packed up Dad's suitcases and left them in the garage. They waved an emotional goodbye from the front door.
"We both decided we would feel like fools if I got her sick and it killed her," Madison said.
Natasha Harper-Madison, busy with City Council, now also finds herself, for the first time, the full-time solo caretaker of two kids.
Madison, for his part, is used to cooking and kid-wrangling. This week, his wife left homemade meatloaf and mashed potatoes for him on the porch, a welcome break from cooking for one. He's learning Tik Tok. They're watching movies together with Zoom.
But they feel lucky because, unlike many other families, he had a place to go when he needed to distance. And in addition to knowing that their actions are helping contain the virus' spread, the couple said, one other thing is keeping them going.
"There's got to be an end to it," Madison said. "This can't last forever."
Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced a record-setting second quarter during an earnings call broadcasted from the Giga Texas construction site in Southeast Travis County on Monday.
The electric carmaker reported more than $1 billion in quarterly net income and the production of more than 200,000 vehicles for the first time despite challenges such as a global semiconductor shortage.
"It … seems that public sentiment towards electric vehicles is at an inflection point, and at this point, I think, almost everyone agrees electric vehicles are the only way forward," Musk said.
Exterior shots taken just a while ago of Giga Texas (while @elonmusk is reportedly at the Gigafactory!) during today's earnings call!
Hope @peterdog15 got to catch the technoking in his video! #fastestinhistory #Tesla pic.twitter.com/WqeDlb5wU3
— Austin Tesla Club (@AustinTeslaClub) July 26, 2021
Despite rising consumer demand and adequate factory capacity, Tesla faces what Musk described as a "quite serious" global semiconductor shortage, which will determine the company's growth rate for the rest of the year.
With increased revenue and production, Tesla is investing in new factories, Chief Financial Officer Zachary Kirkhorn said. These include Giga Texas, the $1.1 billion manufacturing plant that broke ground last summer and is slated to open later this year.
The Giga Texas factory in Southeast Travis County has rapidly increased in size since ground broke last August. (Tesla)
Musk commended the construction team for "incredible progress," transforming what was basically a vacant site into "a mostly complete large factory a year later."
I was at Giga Texas yesterday. Team is making excellent progress. Building will be almost a mile long when complete.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 25, 2021
Giga Texas will produce the highly anticipated Cybertruck, along with other models, but Musk said scaling its production will be difficult, especially given the supply chain delays caused by the pandemic. "It's going to move as fast as the slowest of its up to 10,000 unique parts," he said.
In other news, Musk said Monday's earnings call would likely be his last regular appearance, only jumping on future quarterly calls when big announcements warrant it.
Tesla Solar recently made news when it announced plans to build the nation's most sustainable residential community in Southeast Austin earlier this month. The newly built homes will feature Tesla solar roof tiles and Powerwall battery storage as well as electric vehicle charging stations.
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The city of Austin released a shortlist of seven candidates for the police chief position left vacant when Brian Manley retired in March.
City Manager Spencer Cronk hopes to announce an appointment by the end of August, which will require City Council approval.
The finalists, chosen from a field of 46 applicants, include:
- APD Interim Chief Joseph Chacon, who previously served as an assistant chief in the department for almost five years
- Anne Kirkpatrick, former police chief in Oakland, California, who was fired last year after a federal monitor criticized her handling of a fatal 2018 police shooting of a homeless man
- Dallas Police Department Assistant Chief Avery L. Moore, who is a 30-year veteran of the department
- Atlanta Police Department Deputy Chief Celeste Murphy, who manages the department's community services division
- Dekalb County Police Chief Mirtha V. Ramos, who previously served as division chief in the Miami-Dade Police Department
- Wichita Police Department Chief Gordon Ramsay, who is a former president of the Minnesota Police Chief's Association as well as one of the first police chiefs of a major U.S. City to call George Floyd's death a murder, as reported by the Wichita Eagle
- Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Emada E. Tingirides, who is also commanding officer of the department's newly formed Community Safety Partnership Bureau, which serves L.A.'s underserved communities
City staff will interview the finalists in the coming weeks, with several community input opportunities to come, according to a Monday press release.
The city conducted a public survey in March and hosted community input meetings in April to learn more about what residents are looking for in their next police chief, which helped shape the selection criteria for the position.
"They want to see the Chief be reform-minded and transparent and have a track record of fostering community involvement and accountability," Cronk said in the release. "The candidates selected show these characteristics in various ways."
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Days after Austin began once again recommending masks in public spaces, Austin ISD announced Monday that kindergarten through sixth-grade classes will have virtual options this fall.
The district will discuss the move in a special board meeting Monday evening starting at 5 p.m., while full details will be released Friday.
Teachers will not have to fret about the new option—no educators will have to juggle both virtual and in-person learning. Instead, certain teachers will specialize in virtual education, according to a press release.
The news comes after a recent spike in COVID cases in Travis County and across the nation. Children typically suffer fewer symptoms of COVID when contracted, but they are now catching the virus more often than their older counterparts without a vaccine available to them and as the more contagious Delta variant is quickly being spread.
While local health officials are recommending everyone wear masks, public school districts are unable to mandate masks due to an executive order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott in May.
Parents have expressed concern about classrooms with masks unenforceable and children under the age of 12 ineligible for a vaccine. Some have even said they would look for alternative schooling if AISD did not offer a virtual option for students.
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