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The coronavirus pandemic has radically changed the way people perform everyday tasks, from buying groceries to getting a haircut. But perhaps no activity looks more different—and in some cases, more challenging—than dating.
Looking for love has always come with obstacles, and they've become even greater in an era of mask-wearing, social distancing and quarantining. Nevertheless, many Austinites continue to navigate these uncharted waters. Their stories make one thing clear: Dating during COVID-19 is no walk in the park—except for when it is.
Making it to the next round
Mary Añez is not a big fan of text-based communication. If she matches with somebody on the dating app Hinge, she's quick to invite them to talk via Zoom. The video chatting tool isn't seamless, but it's a good way to gauge chemistry before committing to an in-person date.
"I don't want to use the word interview, but it's kind of like that," Añez says with a laugh.
Añez has maintained a fairly strict quarantine, and she admits the path forward for dating during a pandemic is often unclear. She's gone on a few socially distanced walks and has the option to hang out with dates on her spacious balcony, but even then, she has to trust the other person has been respecting quarantine as well.
"I'm not about to be like, 'You have to only see me,' but there is a virus," she says. "So it's like, kind of, you do only have to see me, although that's not really the emotional terms of engagement that we have."
While COVID-19 presents a unique set of obstacles for dating, the principles are familiar. For Añez, maintaining a strict quarantine or opting to meet up at a spot where both people feel comfortable ultimately boils down to respecting boundaries.
"All I ask is that you respect my time, and you respect me as a person, which makes it sound like the bar's on the floor," Añez says. "But that, I think, is the highest bar that a lot of people never really reach."
"That escalated quickly"
Jett Anderson and Sean Moore couldn't have predicted how momentous their first date would be. Not because sparks flew, but because it took place one week before Austin partially shut down in March.
"That was the last time I went downtown," Moore says. "I was driving down there thinking, 'Why am I going to see a guy in a pandemic? Why am I doing this?' But it worked out, I guess."
Moore and Anderson have been dating for nearly four months now. From their second date onward, they've had to spend virtually all their time together at each other's homes.
"Literally on our second date, I'm inviting a strange man into my home," Moore jokes. "I remember just getting weirdly like, 'OK, I trust you with my family's life. I hope that you're serious.'"
Since then, they've enjoyed many blissful nights watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and What We Do in the Shadows and playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons. (They're keeping an eye on their in-game avatars as they talk to me via Zoom.) They're looking forward to the day they can safely go kayaking or play disc golf again, but they're grateful for the firm foundation they've established during the pandemic.
"I would like to do other things, yeah, but because of how close we've gotten and how hyper-focused we've been, I really enjoy that," Anderson says. "If it ever opens up again—"
"Please don't talk like that!" Moore interrupts.
Anderson tries again: "When it does, eventually, that foundation's there."
Pandemic pro tips
Britny Eubank was arguably better-equipped for pandemic dating than most people. She's been practicing extreme social distancing—about 1,600 miles—for the past eight months with her boyfriend, who lives just outside Philadelphia.
The two last saw each other in February; the pandemic derailed Eubank's plans to fly to Philly in June, and they're not sure when they'll see each other next.
"We have another attempt planned for the fall, but at this point, everything is 'wait and see,'" Eubank says.
In the meantime, they've stuck faithfully to phone and video dates every Thursday night for the last eight months; they boosted it to twice a week after Eubank's June trip got canceled. In that time, Eubank has picked up a few long-distance tips that could make pandemic dating more bearable.
"Do your small talk via text, that way you can find out what you have in common and talk about those more interesting things on actual 'dates,'" she says. "Try to be as patient as possible with technical difficulties. And if your relationship seems like it's going in the long-term direction, definitely be intentional about the time you spend together."
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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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