Hospitalizations declining, Mu variant, vaccine hesitancy: 5 things to know about COVID-19 in Austin
Waning off a summer surge, Austin is seeing declining hospital admissions in the wake of a high number of deaths and as the new Mu variant is in town.
Here's what you need to know to be caught up with the COVID-19 situation in Austin.
In the past several weeks, hospital admissions for COVID have been on a week-on-week decline for all age groups, Austin Health Authority Desmar Walkes said at a Tuesday special joint meeting between the Travis County Commissioners Court and Austin City Council.
Since the onset of the pandemic, the most hospitalized age group has been those in the 50-69 age group.
Pediatric cases continue to be a concern to health officials as there are 133 kids hospitalized with 15 admissions on just Monday. None of the hospitalized children were vaccinated, although only those 12 and older are eligible.
Deaths peaked this month with a record 23 COVID-related fatalities on Sept. 8. Since the start of the year until Sept. 10, there has been a total of 447 deaths.
The rise in deaths is being attributed to those unvaccinated and the Delta variant, according to Walkes; 7.3% of vaccinated people have died of COVID between Jan. 1 to Sept. 10.
Of the deaths, 50% have been Hispanic and 58% have been male.
Mu vs. Delta
The Delta variant continues to be the predominant variant in the community at 99% of cases.
The Mu variant, discovered in Colombia back in January, has spread across the U.S. Research suggests it is more transmissible and vaccine-resistant than the Delta variant. However, it currently makes up .1% of lab-confirmed cases in Travis County.
Austin health officials continue to encourage the community to get vaccinated to have protection against variants. Research shared by Austin Public Health shows those vaccinated were 5 times less to contract the Delta variant, 10 times less likely to be hospitalized and more than 10 times less likely to die from it.
Of the 750,000-plus that are fully-vaccinated in the county, 5,964 have had breakthrough cases. APH's disease surveillance team interviewed 1,378 of those with breakthrough cases and found only 59 were hospitalized, or 1%. Thirty two of those cases resulted in death from ages 17-98.Those hospitiziiled as a breakthrough cases ranged from ages 19-96. Here's the breakdown of what vaccine they had:
- 13 Johnson & Johnson
- 18 Moderna
- 28 Pfizer
Why some are vaccine hesitant
APH conducted a survey in Austin-Travis County among those unvaccinated and found that 68% of survey respondents were vaccine-hesitant.
Of that number, the top reason for hesitancy was not sure if safe (55%), followed by not sure if effective (49%).
APH is continuing with outreach efforts to reach the herd immunity threshold.
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An Austin-based program manager for Apple Maps and one of two leaders for the #AppleToo activist movement said she has been fired after a suspension.
According to the New York Times, Janneke Parrish said she was put on suspension for several days while the company investigated her activities before she was fired by a human resources employee via phone call on Thursday.
Parrish was under investigation for allegedly leaking a recording of an Apple staff meeting to the media, which she said she didn't do.
The report said the company told Parrish, who is 30, that she was being fired for having deleted files off her company-issued phone and computer before handing them in for examination. Parrish said the files she deleted contained her personal and financial information.
Among the files she deleted were the Robinhood app, which she said was to keep Apple from seeing "how much money I lost investing in GameStop," the Pokemon Go app and screenshots of programming bugs she was fixing.
Parrish said she believes Apple was retaliating against her efforts in organizing #AppleToo, a group of employees working to expose the company's "culture of secrecy" that has been "faced disproportionately by our Black, Indigenous, and other colleagues from minoritized racial, gender and historically marginalized groups of people."
Parrish had been publishing weekly accounts of workplace problems that had been shared anonymously with her from other employees, though she did not verify employment on all of them. The accounts she received were in the hundreds, so Parrish said she was hopeful her termination would lead to some justice within the company.
Employees at tech giants have been more outspoken than usual in recent months—with former Facebook data scientist Frances Haugen speaking out against her former employer—and Parrish said the company's desire to keep under wraps has eroded trust by discouraging employees to come forward with issues like harassment or wage disparity.
Apple spokesman Josh Rosenstock commented on the matter: "We are and have always been deeply committed to creating and maintaining a positive and inclusive workplace. We take all concerns seriously and we thoroughly investigate whenever a concern is raised and, out of respect for the privacy of any individuals involved, we do not discuss specific employee matters."
Additionally, the email detailing her termination, which was obtained by the New York Times, said Apple had determined that Parrish "engaged in conduct in violation of Apple policies including, but not limited to, interfering with an investigation by deleting files on your company provided equipment after being specifically instructed not to do so."
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Republic Square Park has turned into a Ford-themed fiesta for its Built to Connect pop-up experience, complete with test drives, off-roading and an inside look at the Tesla-rivaling electric vehicles that the motor vehicle company is planning to integrate over the next decade.
The outdoor driving event is free, open to the public and will stay in the park from now until Oct. 24, offering rides on Bronco Mountain, a 0-40 mph zip in the 2022 all-electric Ford F-150 Lightning and a chance to win an original Ford Bronco.
The event kicked off with a panel of speakers, including Austin Director of Transportation Rob Spillar, Ford General Manager Darren Palmer and engineering specialists discussing Ford's goals to make it so that 50% of the vehicles on the road are electric by 2030.
As an eco-conscious city, Spillar said that around 4,000 vehicles, or 22% of the Texas electric vehicle market, as well as over 15,000 plugins lie in Austin, meaning driving electric just got accessible.
"Austin, as you know, is a fast-growing modern city that is committed to protecting the long term health and viability of our communities and strategies that reduce greenhouse gases, mitigate the effects of climate change and improve the drone quality of life here in Central Texas for all of our residents," Spillar said.
And Ford's electric vehicles are putting up some steep competition for newly-Austin-based company Tesla. The new electric Mustang Mach-E and F-150 Lighting offer amenities that used to be exclusive to Musk's brand, such as the BlueCruise self-driving network. The cars also boast a 300-mile range on a single charge, assisted reverse technology and access to the biggest charging network outside of the home.
Plus, Ford's got affordability on its side. The F-150 Lightning starts at $39,974 and the Mustang Mach-E starts at $42,895, while the cheapest Tesla model, the Model 3, starts at $41,990 and averages 262 miles on a single charge.
Speaking of price, the numbers on the electric vehicles may look like a little more than you'd like to pay for your transport, but Palmer promises it will pay off. In addition to a $7,500 tax credit you can earn for your sustainability, you'll never have to buy a pricey tank of gas again.
"Personally, I have not found one customer ever, who would go back to gas so that says something," Palmer said. "I realized, at $51,000, that car outruns every childhood hero car I ever had."
Texas buyers: take note. The Ford Lightning can power your house for three to 10 days, just in case the statewide power grid fails. You can take it glamping with you, so you don't have to leave the comfort of modern life behind, and in a pinch, Palmer said he's even seen a wedding party powered by the truck.
Ford is investing $30 billion into the U.S. market to meet demand by 2025 and the new electric truck already has over 150,000 reservations.
"I think they're going to take off much faster than you expect—they're going to be extremely, extremely popular next year," Palmer said. "With the incentives that are available today, this is starting to become more mainstream and viable for more and more families. We couldn't have done that before, we didn't have the technology, or the technology at that price."
The event is ongoing through next weekend from 12-9 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m.- 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
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