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The highly anticipated vaccine for a deadly virus stalking rabbits across the Lone Star State arrives this week in Central Texas from France, touching off a collective sigh of relief in an increasingly anxious local bunny-owner community.
"It's awesome. We're super excited," said Lindsay Rader, shelter manager at the House Rabbit Resource Network in Pflugerville, one of the biggest and oldest rabbit rescues in the state.
The shelter, which typically houses 150-200 bunnies, is a potential hot spot for the highly contagious Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus strain, known as RHDV2.
Baby Shark and Quebec
(House Rabbit Resource Network)
The shelter is, therefore, first in line to vaccinate its current population when the hard-won vaccine—secured through a months-long slashing of state-level red tape by locals—gets here at the end of May.
Until then, bunnies that come in are quarantined for two weeks before they are allowed into the general population, Rader said. The volunteer staff leave their shoes at the shelter or cover them with booties to keep from bringing home RHDV2.
"We've already been doing more of that because of COVID-19, so it hasn't been such a big jump for everybody to take on added security," Rader said.
(House Rabbit Resource Network)
At least one pet bunny has died of the illness in Lampasas, the closest report to Austin so far.
"We think the virus is moving rapidly towards this area," said veterinarian and rabbit specialist Todd Riggan, owner of White Rock Veterinary Hospital in Pflugerville, who spearheaded the effort to get a vaccine to local domestic bunnies.
Austin-area bunny owners are being warned: Keep pet bunnies indoors, separate them from other pets in the home, leave shoes at the door when they come inside, and don't gather food for them outside.
Austin bunny owner Angela Southern, whose lionhead rabbit Winston is 10 years old, is married to a nurse who already takes his shoes off when he comes home from work—so as not to expose his family to COVID-19.
The dual virus precautions feel "overwhelming," she said.
"Everybody is at risk of something," she said. "But we're on the list for the vaccine so hopefully in the next couple of weeks, he'll get that. And then I won't be so paranoid."
Although the two are not connected, parallels to the simultaneous battle being waged by the human race against the coronavirus pandemic are not hard to find.
Except with death rate upwards of 70% and "sudden death" listed as a symptom, the bunnies are doing worse.
"It's like Ebola for rabbits," Riggan said.
RHDV2 can jump from wild rabbits to domestics, but not to other species.
It is easily transmitted through contact, surfaces, mice, mosquitoes, flies and bird droppings. It can live in an environment for three months and resists typical disinfectants. Symptoms are rare but can include jaundice, bleeding and seizures.
The vaccination arriving in Texas on May 30 is only allowed for domestic rabbits.
The current strain appeared in Washington State a year ago. It showed up again in Arizona and New Mexico in March, hitting West Texas in May, according to the House Rabbit Society information network.
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Austin and the Cybertruck: Tesla eyes Texas, home of the pickup, for Elon Musk's latest unique creation
Cybertruck<p>The vehicle features "a nearly impenetrable exoskeleton" made of stainless steel, "vault-like storage" and an "ability to pull near infinite mass," according to the company's website.<br></p><p>Now available for preorder, production of the Cybertruck is expected to begin in late 2022. The price ranges from $39,900 to $69,900, depending on the motor type, with a self-driving add-on available for $8,000.</p><p>When Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveiled the Cybertruck on Nov. 21 at an event in Los Angeles, it prompted much feedback on its design.</p>
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Austin's COVID-19 fatality drops as treatment improves, testing expands, cases among young people rise
The mortality rate for COVID-19 patients—defined as reported deaths per confirmed cases—in Austin has dropped from 3.6% at the end of April to 1.8% on June 22, a decrease that the city attributes both to better treatments and to a rising number of cases among young people, who are more likely to recover.
Travis County COVID-19 mortality by age<div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/2950699" data-url="https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/2950699/embed"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div><p>Austin Public Health began offering its free service to residents regardless of symptoms on June 5, following mass protests against police brutality, and many residents have taken advantage of the opportunity.</p><p>Between June 15-21, more than 3,000 people were tested by APH, up from 2,400 the week prior.</p><p>More testing means the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases is closer to the actual number—and the death toll is proportionally smaller.</p><p>Dr. DeVry Anderson, chief medical officer of St. David's South Austin Medical Center, said the falling mortality rate is also due to <a href="https://austonia.com/Coronavirus/austin-coronavirus-hospitals/higher-exposure-for-health-care-workers" target="_self"><u>better treatment options</u></a> for COVID-19 patients who are hospitalized.</p><p><span></span>These treatments include:</p><ul><li>convalescent plasma therapy</li><li>the antiviral drug remdesivir</li><li>improved ventilator management</li></ul><p>Another development is that doctors are more familiar with how to treat COVID-19 patients than they were in early March.</p><p>"Having physicians and staff that have gotten, not comfortable, but now understand how to treat and care for these patients, I think it's seamless in the way we transition those [patients] to higher levels of care," Dr. Anderson said.</p>
Travis County COVID-19 mortality by race<div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/2950719" data-url="https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/2950719/embed"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div><p>Deaths also vary by race and ethnicity, with a larger proportion of Black and Hispanic residents who contract COVID-19 dying from it.</p>
Travis County COVID-19 mortality by ethnicity<div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/2950729" data-url="https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/2950729/embed"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div>
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Austin Mayor Steve Adler issued a "Stay Home, Mask, and Otherwise Be Safe" order, effective from noon today until Aug. 15, requiring all individuals to wear masks and social distance. The order prohibits outdoor gatherings of more than 10 people.
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The surge in Austin's COVID-19 cases is overwhelming the public health system trying to fight community spread.
"We can't get people tested right now," said Dr. James Marroquin, an internal medicine doctor practicing in Austin. "To me, that's a scandal."
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With an endless number of podcasts out there, how does anyone decide what to listen to? Start with the homegrown. We've put together this list of 12 local—or nearly local—podcasts you won't want to miss.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order Thursday requiring all Texans to wear masks "over the nose and mouth" in public spaces. It applies to counties with at least 20 confirmed COVID-19 cases and reverses the governor's previous policies.
Exceptions<p>The governor's order provides some exceptions to the mask mandate, including:</p><ul><li>People who are under 10 years old or have a medical condition or disability that prevents them from wearing a mask.</li><li>While eating, exercising outside, swimming, voting or driving alone or with a member of the same household.</li></ul><div>See a full list of the exceptions <a href="https://open.texas.gov/uploads/files/organization/opentexas/EO-GA-29-use-of-face-coverings-during-COVID-19-IMAGE-07-02-2020.pdf" target="_blank">here</a>.</div>
A reversal<p>This order represents a reversal for Abbott, who previously refused local jurisdictions the right to mandate masks and limit gatherings despite repeated pleas that he do so.</p><p>Earlier this week, Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe <a href="https://austonia.com/Coronavirus/austin-surge-" target="_self">sent Abbott a letter</a> asking the state to enforce mandatory masking, prohibit social gatherings of more than 10 people, roll back business occupancy and allow local officials to issue stay-home orders as needed.</p><p>"In summary, the rapid increase in cases has outstripped our ability to track, measure and mitigate the spread of disease," he wrote.</p><p>Austin Mayor Steve Adler, along with the mayors of eight other large Texas cities, also sent Abbott a letter, <a href="https://austonia.com/Coronavirus/texas-face-masks" target="_self">on June 16</a>, asking for the authority to impose a mask requirement.</p><p>The next day, Abbott allowed local jurisdictions to require businesses to mandate masks among employees and customers.</p><p><em>This story is developing and has been updated.</em></p>
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The coronavirus pandemic has altered or canceled summer plans for many. We asked you earlier this week, "What are your travel plans this summer?" The majority voted "staying home."