After a steep incline of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the Austin metro for over a month, the curve could finally begin to flatten.
At a special joint session between the Austin City Council and the Travis County Commissioners, local health officials gave an update on the COVID situation in the area; here are five takeaways.
It's back-to-school season. How will that affect COVID in the area?
The Austin area is seeing early signs of the curve flattening that Austin's Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes is attributing to a change in COVID precautions taken. Since hitting Stage 5 last month, health authorities have emphasized the need to mask to stop the spread of the Delta variant and have ramped up vaccination efforts.
With Austin ISD and other area school districts employing that students and staff wear a mask, despite ongoing court battles in other Texas cities, Walkes said she hopes to see the curve continue to flatten.
"To curb the spread, we must encourage the kids and staff at our schools to wear a mask."
How many ICU beds are available?
Across the state, ICU beds have been extremely limited. "There's not a lot of transfer that's occurring between major metropolitan areas at this point," Walkes said.
The number of ICU beds in the 11-county Austin metro has fluctuated in the single digits for over a week now; on Sunday, only one ICU bed was available. As of Monday, there are 665 currently hospitalized and only nine ICU beds available.
The age group seeing the most hospitalizations is 50-69 year-olds.
A majority of ICU patients have been unvaccinated, according to Walkes.
Will an alternate care site open?
An alternate care site, like the one that opened at the Austin Convention Center in December, could open sometime soon to support the need of the community, according to Walkes. "We have plans ready to go for that," Walkes said.
The need comes as ICU capacity is projected to be limited across the state. More details, such as location and when it could be set up, were not revealed.
What's else is new?
A new regional infusion center for monoclonal antibody therapy opened on Monday. This facility will treat those at risk for severe illness, hospitalizations and death. The treatment is also used for post-exposure prophylaxis, when an immunocompromised person is been exposed to COVID.
To get this treatment, a local provider will need to refer patients. It is meant to keep these patients out of hospitals by treating them ahead of severe symptoms.
Who is eligible for a booster shot?
As of Monday, the CDC and FDA began recommending immunocompromised people get a third shot of the Pfizer or Moderna, known as a booster shot. Austin Public Health is following the guidance and recommending immunocompromised Austinites seek out a booster shot. Booster shots were approved by the FDA for Pfizer and Moderna only.
Boosters are recommended for those:
- Receiving treatment for solid tumors or blood cancers
- Taking immunosuppression medications after a solid organ transplant
- Within two year of receiving CAR-T therapy or stem cell therapy
- Who have primary immunodeficiencies
- With advanced or untreated HIV
- Taking high-dose corticosteroids, alkylating agents, antimetabolites, chemotherapy, TNF blockers
- With certain chronic medical conditions
- Receiving dialysis
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Designs for stations along Project Connect’s Blue Line were presented this week, giving a detailed look at what part of the rail system extending from downtown to the airport could look like.
The planned stations that have gotten the latest focus include Waterfront, Travis Heights and Lakeshore stations past Lady Bird Lake.
At the Waterfront station, the preliminary design aims to prevent visual obstructions and save on costs. This is accomplished by a transit guideway that will lower from the bridge to a level station.
Heading onto East Riverside Drive, the light rail faces a curve requiring a slow down to about 10 miles per hour.
The Travis Heights station could involve relocating a pedestrian crosswalk zone at Alameda Drive to Blunn Creek. Since light rails can't effectively operate on a steep grade, this allows the transit guideway to avoid that.
From there, the rail will extend to the Norwood Park area, and though it will reach along the right-of-way zone, the park will be able to remain open.
A view of the Blue Line by Lady Bird Lake. (Project Connect)
The line involves some coordination with the Texas Department of Transportation. That's because the department is working on an intersection that will have to be built before the phasing of the section of the Blue Line involving an I-35 crossing.
When it comes to the safety of cyclists and walkers, design ideas include a pedestrian hybrid beacon by East Bouldin Creek that would provide a protected signal to cross. And for the intersection TxDOT is carrying out, Project Connect is working with them on pedestrian access across the intersection. It could involve shared use paths along the street and crossings beneath it.
This summer, the public can expect 30% of design and cost estimates to be released. Though the project was $7.1 billion when voters approved it in November 2020, the latest estimates factoring in inflation and supply chain constraints show it could ultimately be upwards of $10 billion.
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Plans for an Amazon warehouse in Round Rock—a $250 million project slated to be a large distribution center—are on hold.
This comes just after the tech giant had its worst financial quarter in seven years.
- Late last year, it announced an expansion at the Domain adding 2,000 more corporate and tech jobs.
- Amazon still owns the site in Round Rock. Plans for it are unclear.
- Early this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Amazon is aiming to scrap warehouse space as it faces a slowdown in its e-commerce operations.
Part of that effort involves exploring the possibility of ending or renegotiating leases with outside warehouse owners. Another aspect is a plan to sublease warehouse space.
“It allows us to relieve the financial obligations associated with an existing building that no longer meets our needs,” an Amazon spokeswoman told the Wall Street Journal. “Subleasing is something many established corporations do to help manage their real estate portfolio.”
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