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Early this month, Stephen Buckle, 38, visited New York with his wife and two others.
When the group returned to Austin, two of them developed flu-like symptoms. But Buckle, a musician who lives in the Rosedale neighborhood, only had a minor cough, which he attributed to an oak allergy that "obliterates" his health each spring.
Nearly three weeks later, Buckle learned that Baylor Scott & White was offering drive-thru testing for COVID-19. He completed the online screening—which included listing his one symptom and noting that he had recently traveled to New York—and was approved for a test on March 20. "There was literally no one there," he said.
Two days later, Buckle learned that his test was a presumptive positive—the next week, a state lab confirmed the results. When his wife and the others in his group tried to get tested themselves, however, they were denied. "In a matter of days, it just completely changed," he said. "Which is frustrating."
Since March 22, the number of COVID-19 tests conducted in the state of Texas has more than tripled, according to the Department of State Health Services. Yet many people continue to be denied testing, even when exhibiting symptoms.
"We know that we're challenged by testing," Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said at a March 24 press conference. "We know that we're challenged by getting folks through and getting results in a timely fashion."
Neither the city of Austin nor specific hospital systems—including Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White or St. David's HealthCare—are providing local testing numbers or explanations for the shortage.
Nationally, lack of testing is due to a number of reasons, leading back to early January: faulty test kits distributed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, initial restriction on which labs could make the test and who would qualify to take them, and required FDA approval to perform testing up until March, according to the Washington Post.
City and state health officials recommend doctors follow the CDC guidelines for determining which patients qualify for testing, with top priority going to those who are exhibiting symptoms and require hospitalization, are a healthcare worker or have recently traveled to certain affected countries. Individuals without symptoms, such as Buckle, are "non-priority," according to the CDC.
Lack of testing makes it difficult to understand the scope of the pandemic in Austin. As of Monday evening, Travis County confirmed 206 COVID-19 cases. But Dr. Escott said at the March 24 press conference that the number of local cases is likely seven times that of those confirmed.
Claus Wilke, chair of the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of Texas at Austin, said, "If you're testing at the levels at which we're currently testing, the only thing that you know is that the disease is here."
As of Monday evening, DSHS reported 35,880 tests conducted across the state. This amounts to around one in every 800 Texans being tested, using 2018 population data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
This ratio pales in comparison to some other countries, such as South Korea, which have tested at a much higher rate. According to the Korea Centers for Disease and Prevention, the county has tested 395,194 people, or around 1 in every 130 people.
In the absence of proof otherwise, Wilke said we have to behave as if everyone has the disease.
"There's a tradeoff: The less you test, the more strict you have to be with social distancing," he said.
Although Buckle self-isolated after he returned from New York, he said his positive test result led him to stop going to the grocery store—and even to his mailbox.
"I think I would be lying if I said [the test] doesn't change things," he said. "It makes you take it more seriously."
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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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