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As Austin ISD prepares to join other area school districts in reopening for in-person learning, local health authorities said data shows transmission in school settings is mostly limited to extracurricular activities, such as football, cheerleading and band.
"We don't have any evidence right now of transmission between students and staff," Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott told the Austin City Council during his weekly update on Tuesday.
The Austin school districts that have reopened for in-person learning have done a good job so far, Escott said, and capacity limits have allowed faculty time to make modifications as needed.
"Our goal is to avoid substantial, sustained outbreaks in school," he said.
In total, local primary and secondary schools have reported 24 COVID cases among students and 21 among staff since mid-August. An additional 116 people have been identified as "close contacts" of impacted students and staff, according to Austin Public Health data.
As more schools prepare to reopen to students, Escott urged Austinites to continue taking precautions, such as wearing masks, social distancing and screening themselves for symptoms on a regular basis.
"Ultimately success depends on people being engaged and doing that self-screening before leaving their house every day," he said.
AISD plans to return to in-person learning next week, later than other area school districts, including Eanes ISD, Lake Travis ISD and Round Rock ISD. It will start at 25% capacity and increase the number of students on campus as it is safe to do so.
Escott expressed support for AISD's reopening plan during a school board meeting on Monday.
Escott says he has confidence in the AISD reopen plan. "Yes I support the reopen plan." "The situation in the sprin… https://t.co/oJ7wAwEjMQ— Austin ISD (@Austin ISD)1601334479.0
But Education Austin, a union representing AISD employees, has pushed back against the plan. The organization hosted a caravan protest on Saturday and has called on the district to reopen only when certain metrics are met.
"The district should be focused on data and common sense, not artificial dates," Education Austin posted on its Facebook page on Monday. "Safety first, and reopening second."
The Austin area is currently "solidly in Stage 3," according to APH's risk-based guidelines, Escott said Tuesday. Hospital admission rates have been "relatively flat" for the last 10 days, he added.
At this level, APH recommends schools reopen at no more than 25% and phase in to up to 50% capacity. Escott said he is hopeful that the area can meet the threshold for a Stage 2 level of risk this fall, at which point APH recommends on-campus learning for up to 75% of a school's population.
Austin Public Health issued guidance for a phased-in approach to school reopening in mid-August.(Austin Public Health)
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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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