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Instead of door-to-door trick-or-treating this Halloween, local health leaders are recommending that Austin residents start new traditions. For example, coronavirus-themed piñatas are proving very popular in 2020.
"What new traditions can you create this weekend?" Austin Public Health Director Stephanie Hayden asked Wednesday morning while showing off her new piñata.
Interim Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said he also intends to substitute trick-or-treating this year with a Halloween-themed piñata.
"I'm a little jealous of your COVID-19 piñata," Escott told Hayden.
But many Austin residents are experiencing pandemic fatigue, APH Chief Epidemiologist Janet Pichette acknowledged. For those people determined to party this Halloween, Pichette recommended social distancing—and, indirectly, a mask-themed costume.
"While I don't have a piñata, I do have a mask, so do wear your mask while you're out and about," Pichette said.
Despite COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations remaining relatively steady at the local level, Austin Public Health officials worry that exposure during Halloween celebrations could put the city on a dangerous trajectory. Statewide spread has already prompted health experts to predict that COVID-19 cases are likely to grow in Austin.
"This is a call to action for Austin and Travis County," Hayden said. "This can be avoided. We can come together as a community."
Health officials reiterated their same concerns as last week that case spread from Halloween activity could make for a bleak holiday season the rest of the year. Fortunately, local hospitals aren't overwhelmed right now, and there is backup support, if needed.
"We are lucky that our hospital systems have affiliated hospitals throughout Texas and, in some cases across the country, so they do have the ability to surge personnel from other jurisdictions," Escott said. "But we can't all surge at the same time across our major metropolitan cities in Texas."
More on COVID and the holidays:
- 6 activities that'll remind you it's fall in Austin all month long - austonia ›
- Haunted bars, former brothels, in Austin, Texas - austonia ›
- Hope to enjoy Thanksgiving? Then skip Halloween in Austin ... ›
- Austin parents are reimagining Halloween safely amid COVID-19 - austonia ›
- How risky are your holiday plans this year? - austonia ›
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday that Texas will opt out of further federal unemployment benefits related to the pandemic effective June 26, citing the number of current job openings and concern about potentially fraudulent unemployment claims. The benefits include a $300 weekly supplement.
"The Texas economy is booming and employers are hiring communities across the state," Abbott said in a statement. "According to the Texas Workforce Commission, the number of job openings in Texas is almost identical to the number of Texans who are receiving unemployment jobs."
TWC listed 837,273 job openings as of Monday afternoon compared to 226,849 unemployment insurance claims filed statewide between March 31 and May 1. An estimated 1 million Texans were unemployed as of March, according to latest estimates released by the state agency.
Some local business owners, including Doc's Backyard Grill owner Charles Milligan, suspect unemployment benefits are deterring Austinites from returning to work. But others agree with economists who say multiple factors are at play, including health concerns and child care availability.
We're seeing lots of posts about how nobody wants to work right now. Just wanted to share our experience.
We received over 60 resumes for a taproom bartender position we posted last week. Every applicant we've set up an interview with has shown up.
People want 𝘨𝘰𝘰𝘥 work.
— Austin Beerworks (@AustinBeerworks) May 11, 2021
Abbott also cited fraudulent unemployment claims. Between March 2020 and April 2021, TWC received 4.48 million unemployment benefit applications, 611,000 or around 14% of which were tagged as suspicious. Most of those tagged were blocked before any benefits were paid out, according to an April 29 press release.
Federal law requires the effective date of such benefits change to be at least 30 days after the U.S. Department of Labor is notified.
- Reopening Austin offices plan for one-way foot traffic, sanitizing ... ›
- Buc-ee's avoids national workers shortage with benefits - austonia ›
- Austin restaurants struggle to hire workers after pandemic year ... ›
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