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."
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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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