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Austin's remote workers find their home offices plagued by water damage, internet outages after winter storms
After two days without power and four days without water, Joshua Torrey and his family were finally back home with service. But when he and a neighborhood acquaintance went to turn on his water main on Sunday, they discovered a leak. "The water was flooding the kitchen and leaking out to the external portion of the house," he told Austonia.
Torrey, his wife and their five children live in the 78749 ZIP code in a suburban neighborhood in Southwest Austin. After turning off their water service, the couple spent three to four hours on Sunday and Monday trying to contact contractors and insurance claims offices to no avail. Contractors' voicemail boxes were full, and their bank's website crashed due to high demand. "We haven't been able to get a hold of anybody yet," he said.
Torrey and his wife plan to spend a few more hours on Monday afternoon trying to troubleshoot. This has impacted their ability to work from home, which he has done since the start of the pandemic and where she homeschools their children. "Our house contains everything that we need for our homeschool, and it was inhabitable," he said. "The dynamics for the kids were completely tossed up into the air."
Torrey, a computer engineer, wasn't able to work at all last week. "I tried," he said. "There were multiple days where I got up and logged into my work, but the demands of feeding kids, keeping them warm, trying to keep water boiling for either dishwashing or (melting snow for) toilet flushing was a full-time job."
Even though they now have power and water service restored, things are still tough. "Today was the first day I think I actually put in a couple hours of work, and even today it has been a real struggle to accomplish anything because there's still a lot to do and a lot of decisions to be made."
It's 40 degrees and they're jumping on the trampoline without shoes. Can you tell they've been stuck inside? pic.twitter.com/27OAPtzf4m
— Joshua Torrey (@JoshuaTorrey) February 19, 2021
The Torreys are hardly the only Austinites trying to navigate working from home, water damage, home repairs and insurance claims this week. Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros estimated that there were "tens of thousands" of private water main breaks at residents and businesses during a press conference Monday afternoon. The city's development services department began accepting emergency home repair permit applications on Monday morning. Although it had only received five as of Monday afternoon, Director Denise Lucas expects more as homeowners assess damage and determine the repairs needed.
"We do believe that it's early and that the demand will come later," she said at the same event. Other residents are also facing lapses in childcare, with schools closed, and lingering service outages, which make performing one's job difficult, if not impossible.
Phillip Schmandt, a partner at the law firm McGinnis Lochridge, was planning on returning to the office on Monday despite working from home over the course of the pandemic. The reason? A weeklong internet outage that left him with one bar of cell service. "Until Friday afternoon, because of the conditions of the roads, we couldn't leave the house," he said. "We were paralyzed."
Schmandt's internet, which is provided by Spectrum, returned late Sunday night. But the West Lake Hills resident remains frustrated by the lack of communication from his provider, as do some of his fellow Austinites.
@Ask_Spectrum is today finally the day we will have internet after a week?🤔
— AJ (@ATX__AJ) February 20, 2021
Spectrum declined to say how many Austin-area customers are currently experiencing outages, but a company spokesperson attributed the service interruptions to commercial power issues caused by the recent winter storms.
Although Austin Energy has restored power to nearly all of its customers—57 were still experiencing outages as of 3:09 p.m., compared to around 220,000 at the peak of the power crisis—and Austin Water has lifted its boil water notice for four of its nine service zones, home repairs and ongoing internet service issues will continue to plague the local workforce, whose members have already faced a seismic shift due to the pandemic, and their dependents.
"One of our kids joked on the way back from picking up lunch today," Torrey said. "She was like, 'So is everything back to COVID normal now?'"
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17 years and three medals later, Osterman's last ride with USA softball is over. What's next for Cat?
Nearly two decades after her debut with the University of Texas and 17 years after her first Olympic gold, softball icon Cat Osterman stepped off the Olympic pitcher's mound for the last time with a silver medal to take back home.
Osterman, a three-time Olympian who has been called the "Michael Jordan of softball," will officially retire from the international realm at 38 after a decorated career that included Olympic golds, years of retirement and plenty of adversity—from a worldwide pandemic to dashed gold-medal dreams.
Osterman and her crew left Tokyo on a bittersweet note on Tuesday with a silver medal in hand.
Osterman with Team USA in 2008. (Antoni Majewski/Twitter)
Osterman in the final in 2021. (Antoni Majewski/Twitter)
After a year of sparse in-person training and over a decadelong hiatus, Team USA and Osterman flew to the finals. In five games, the team beat Italy (2-0), Canada (1-0), Mexico (2-0), Australia (2-1), and Japan (2-1).
Deja vu struck in the final match. On one side, Osterman and fellow 2008 Olympic teammate Monica Abbott took the mound; on the other was the 39-year-old Yukiko Ueno, a familiar foe who helped the team beat Team USA last go-round.
"Just like 13 years ago," Ueno said in a press conference, "we were facing each other in the final."
Ueno, who had lost hopes at gold to Osterman in '04, outpitched her longtime opponent with six scoreless innings as Team USA was held to just three hits. The same team that squandered their gold-medal hopes 13 years before had done it once again.
Your Tokyo 2020 Olympic Silver Medalists 🇺🇸#TokyoOlympics | @TeamUSA pic.twitter.com/MOMNOedHUd
— USA Softball Women's National Team 🇺🇸 (@USASoftballWNT) July 27, 2021
"There's a little bit of disappointment in not bringing home the gold since that's the eye on the prize when you go over there and you know you have a shot at it," Osterman told Austonia. "But more than anything, I'm very proud of the way our team handled everything that was part of this journey and not just the six games."
It's that very loss at the 2008 Olympics that partially motivated Osterman to get back on the mound. She officially put down the glove in 2015 after six seasons with the USSSA Pride, took time with family and began coaching at Texas State University.
Osterman helped ace Randi Rupp to greatness while a coach at Texas State University. (Active Voice Health/Twitter)
She thought her Olympic endeavors were well over—until talks of reinstating softball into the Games reentered the conversation.
"It wasn't until 2016 or 2017, that it ever crossed my mind to possibly put the USA uniform on again," Osterman said. "After the World Championships in 2010, I walked away, and I thought that my career on the international stage was done. So this was a pleasant kind of new opportunity."
Three years after facing any competition, Osterman was on the field once more with world-class athletes. Some, like Osterman and Abbott, had been playing together long enough to form a formidable "Fire and Ice" duo on the mound. Others had just graduated college.
Osterman said playing with a younger generation of athletes was one of the most rewarding aspects of this year's Games.
"It can be very different when you have 24- and 38-year-olds on the same field," Osterman said. "The adversity put us in some challenging positions and we came through with flying colors. And this group will forever be special just because what we had to go through is so different."
While on the mound, Osterman's job was to give the team a calm start. Off of the field, she felt her role had much of the same effect: she knew that new Olympic feeling, and she served as a deep breath to her first-time teammates.
"There's no words to explain how nervous and excited you get knowing that the whole world can be watching," Osterman. "I think using those emotions and figuring out how to get all our butterflies lined up and going in the right direction, so that way we were all moving together, was kind of my role outside of pitching."
We've heard her retire once before, but this time Osterman said she's gone for good—even from coaching. After her final time with Team USA on Sept. 27, she plans on returning to Austin, where she'll look to work for a nonprofit.
A gold and two silvers will have to do for one of the most decorated athletes in U.S. softball history.
"To be able to say you're a three-time Olympic medalist is a pretty special deal, right?" Osterman. "I played for a long time. But those are the pinnacle, in my mind, and kind of what elicits the dream to keep playing."
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Hospitals are facing a "significant" increase in admissions of pregnant women due to COVID-19 complications, Austin-Travis County health officials say, revealing what could be a long-term side effect of the virus.
Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes met with three maternal medicine specialists on Monday morning to warn of yet another COVID-19 Delta variant concern: severe cases of the disease affecting unvaccinated mothers-to-be.
The doctors said unvaccinated pregnant women face an increased risk of preterm births, long-term effects, preeclampsia, ICU stays, stillbirths, being put on life support and even death if they are unvaccinated.
"We are really concerned that we are not getting that population of folks to hear this message of the safety of vaccines, so today we're assembled, one and all to say, wear a mask and please get vaccinated," Walkes said. "Vaccinations are the way to prevent severe disease and hospitalizations and death."
Medical Director of Maternal Fetal Medicine at St. David's Women's Center of Texas Dr. Kimberly DeStefano said 95% of pregnant women admitted with COVID-19 are unvaccinated, stressing that all pregnant and lactating women should get the vaccine not only to protect themselves but to protect their babies from infection, which can be passed through breastmilk or birth.
"We know that the earlier in pregnancy you are vaccinated, the more antibodies are present at the time of birth for the infant," DeStefano said. "This is something that's very important, both during the pregnancy and postpartum."
Catching COVID-19 while pregnant can cause adverse effects on the baby, particularly because it increases the risk of preterm births. Baylor Scott & White Maternal Obstetrics Chief of Maternal Medicine Dr. Jessica Ehrig, said that preterm births are one of the "biggest impacts" on childhood development.
"We know that (preterm births) can have long-term effects depending on how early a baby's born," Ehrig said. "It increases the risk for long term respiratory issues, for blindness sometimes (and) for neurologic development delays."
Since mid-July, COVID-19 hospitalizations have been on a steep rise that sent the city back to recommending Stage 4 guidelines. As the seven-day rolling average of hospitalizations surpassed 50 admissions, Stage 5 guidelines could be on the horizon. The city reported 54 new admissions and 546 total new cases on Friday.
Delta is more contagious than chickenpox, Walkes said, and even vaccinated individuals can catch and spread the virus without symptoms. The group of doctors asked everyone, especially pregnant women, to mask while in public as local hospitals pass the Stage 5 threshold.
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