As local ICUs exceed capacity in a third surge, Austin COVID deaths have surged past numbers from this time last year.
At 19 deaths for the past week, this is the first time this summer that deaths were higher than last summer, according to the latest data from the City of Austin.
There were three weekly COVID deaths in Austin for all but two weeks starting in mid-June, with four deaths in the week ending July 16 and six the week ending July 30. By Aug. 13, the number had tripled to nine deaths, followed by 12 deaths in the week of Aug. 20 before hitting 19 this past week.
Last summer's surge swelled to 38 deaths in the week of July 23, but by the week ending Aug. 26 had fallen below this year's weekly toll with nine deaths this time last year.
The weekly death toll is also the highest it's been since the winter surge, when deaths peaked at 59 for the week ending Jan. 30. By March 6, the number had fallen to 12 deaths.
The numbers released by the City of Austin come as hospitalizations due to COVID surpassed the rate from the first summer surge in Texas. Available ICU beds reached a pandemic low in the state on Friday afternoon with just 303 available beds, with just seven available in the 11-county Central Texas region that includes Austin.
Austin Public Health said on Friday that ICU resources are being "stretched to the max," with 239 patients in the ICU for the 200-bed capacity.
A number of factors have contributed to the surge affecting hospitals. The more contagious Delta variant has led to more spread of the virus in the community, especially affecting the unvaccinated population. ICU patients with COVID complications have mostly been unvaccinated people, according to APH. Additionally, a nurses staffing shortage has kept the city and hospitals from offering more beds for ICU patients.
Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Department of State Health Services announced the deployment of additional medical personnel and equipment to assist hospitals Thursday, while APH once again urged Austinites to get vaccinated to help prevent hospitalization and alleviate the strain on the city's health resources.
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After months of speculation, a new report says political personality Beto O'Rourke is mulling a run for Texas governor that he will announce later this year.
Sources tell Axios the former congressman is preparing his campaign for the 2022 election, where he will likely vie for the position against incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott. The only other candidate that has announced he will take on Abbott for governor is former Texas GOP Chairman Allen West—no Democrats have announced they are running as of yet.
"No decision has been made," Axios reports David Wysong, O'Rourke's former House chief of staff and a longtime adviser, said. "He has been making and receiving calls with people from all over the state."
A new poll from The Dallas Morning News and University of Texas at Tyler shows O'Rourke is narrowing the gap between himself and Abbott's prospects for governor. In the poll, 37% said they'd vote for O'Rourke over Abbott, while 42% said they'd vote for Abbott.
Abbott has been in the hot seat due to his handling of COVID-19 and the signing of landmark legislation into law, including new abortion and voting rights laws; 54% of poll respondents voted they think the state is headed in the "wrong direction." Still, Texas hasn't had a Democrat as governor since the 90s.
O'Rourke's people-focused approach to the 2018 Senator race, which he lost to Sen. Ted Cruz, gave him a widespread following and many hoped he'd throw his hat into the ring since he said he was considering it earlier this year.
"We hope that he's going to run," Gilberto Hinojosa, the state chair of the Democratic Party, told Axios. "We think he'll be our strongest candidate. We think he can beat Abbott because he's vulnerable."
Austin rapper Jordi Esparza may not have won the 2021 Red Bull Batalla, the world's largest Spanish freestyle rap competition, but for a spirited two rounds, the 22-year old Mexican native looked like he had every right to.
On Saturday evening in Los Angeles, the event itself looked like Cobra Kai meets Star Search with graphics adding a very Batman Beyond aesthetic. Over a dozen rappers hoping to represent the U.S. in the international round of the competition took to the stage with in-your-face jabs at accents, sexual orientation and odors, among other things.
This was Esparza's second rodeo; he had placed third at the 2020 National Finals, automatically securing him a spot this year.
However, things were different this year. He was not nervous about the contest. Unlike in 2020, when he made his Red Bull Batalla debut, the anxiety of the event led him to "feeling so bad."
Affecting a casual calm, the locally-based landscaper said he just felt "so relaxed, so happy" and primarily wanted to "enjoy everything."
Choosing his first-round opponent, Esparza, whose stage name is Jordi, elected to go against LA-based Boss.
Esparza freestyled an attack on his opponent's weight and cholo style of dress.
Boss—bracketing his Latin freestyle with English appeals to the crowd—mocked Jordi's lack of education, made fun of how clean Jordi's shoes looked and suggested that Jordi just came back from a Footlocker.
That first round went to Jordi.
But his next opponent Eckonn would prove to be his undoing.
Eckonn compared Jordi to Hannah Montana, while Jordi soulfully explained that he had learned from the best.
Esparza's verbal dexterity is matched by a rattling rhythm and a game face that is as mawkish as it is mockish. The overall effect is that of an underdog with bite.
Eckonn beat Esparza in that round with the overall championship going to Palm Beach-based rapper Reverse.
However, Esparza was just happy to be there. He recently told Austonia going to the finals again was a dream come true—a pinnacle that he said he won't know how to top.
With his nimble jabs and sneaky prowess, honed from pop culture and the swagger of a young working man hungry to be more, Jordi Esparza is just getting started.