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To go or not to go? Austin high schoolers weigh threat of COVID against more isolation as school year nears
(Kate Volti)

Kate Volti and stepdaughter Cassidy Miller have a lot to consider before deciding whether she should go to high school in person.

Back when being a freshman in high school meant noisy hallways teeming with teenagers and weekends overflowing with dances and games and first dates, Cassidy Miller, 14, had things to look forward to in ninth grade.


But now, as Travis County schools delay opening and attempt to keep the coronavirus from spreading, Cassidy imagines high school to be a warped version of the all-American experience she excitedly anticipated.

Masks on everyone, isolated lunches, Plexiglass dividers, fear of the virus. No pep rallies, no fun.

Cassidy wants to go anyway.

"It's hard not knowing what you're missing out on and feeling like you're not a part of something," she said. "I miss all my friends, a lot."

Weighing isolation against risk

Teenagers and young adults are believed to spread the illness more easily than their younger counterparts, but there are also compelling arguments suggesting the emotional and academic costs of online-only classes could be disproportionately high for older kids.

And so for their parents, the decision on whether to let them go to high school in person or keep them home for online classes is fraught with contradictions.

Pitting academic success and their own mental health against the risk of exposing themselves and their families, older students are in a lose-lose scenario.

"It's such an unnatural and unfair situation to put young people in," said Kate Volti, Cassidy's stepmom, who wants to see a better pandemic situation before she feels comfortable with Cassidy returning in person.

Outside the social aspect, Cassidy also says she needs a collaborative classroom and plenty of structure in order to do well in her classes, which she said was lacking in the spring when classes were online.

Ariela Choiniere, a 16-year-old Austin junior in the marching band, is willing to go online because she believes school isn't safe enough yet—but she's also hoping to find a way to get around it a little bit.

"If there's one day where band says I have to be there, I'm pretty sure [the administration] won't mind if I'm there in school for that day," said Ariela, who faced challenges with the online technology last semester, in part because of her dyslexia.

Considering other kids

Some households also have the complicating factor of younger siblings.

Volti and her husband, Mike, plan to avoid day care and in-person school for their younger son and daughter, ages 8 and 3.

But their learning "pods"—in which a handful of families come to a quarantine agreement and agree to only socialize and learn with each other—would only remain an option if Cassidy doesn't attend school in person, because the other families say they worry about her being exposed and then putting them at risk, Volti said.

"I totally get it. Nobody's doing anything that's wrong or illogical," Volti said. "But it's a really tough situation where it feels like the best interests of one kid is sort of at odds with the best interests of another kid."

Then there's the disconcerting notion of a high school experience—Cassidy calls it "scary"—that will look very different from what students are hoping to recapture by going back in person right now.

"High school and the social dynamics of high school are ingrained in the fabric of our society. We're fascinated, we cling to it. And that's just been turned on its head," Volti said. "Since we can't achieve normal, is the benefit of what is left of that experience really worth the risk?"

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‘Like speed dating of cats’ at Purr-fecto Cat Lounge
Purr-fecto Cat Lounge

Lina Martinez with her newly adopted cat, Emmanuel, who she renamed Sullivan.

Timmy and Tommy are ready to play.

As the 2-month-old white-and-tabby brothers swat feather wands, chase toys and generally hold court inside Purr-fecto Cat Lounge, a half-dozen potential adoptive parents look on lovingly, trying to get their attention.

“This is kind of like the speed dating of cats,” said Lupita Foster, owner of Purr-fecto Cat Lounge. “I intentionally didn’t put in any tables. That’s why we call it a lounge instead of a cat café because we have these lounge areas where you can sit and relax and cuddle.”

Foster, who has owned a cleaning company, Enviromaids, for 18 years, was inspired to open Purr-fecto Cat Lounge after adopting her own cat, Romeo, from a local shelter.

“When you want to adopt a cat, you have to spend a lot of time with them to get their personality,” Foster said. “I wanted to do something to help the community and something that makes me feel good, that warms my heart. A business with a purpose. This was a perfect idea.”

Actually, a purr-fect idea.

Inspired in part by a cat lounge she visited in Los Angeles, Foster began laying the groundwork for the business in late 2021 and officially opened the doors of Purr-fecto Cat Lounge, located at 2300 S. Lamar Blvd., in July 2022. Since then, she’s worked with rescue organizations such as Fuzzy Texan Animal Rescue and Sunshine Fund Cat Rescue to facilitate nearly 100 cat adoptions.

At any given time, there are 10-15 cats living in the space, which features an ideal blend of calm, cool corners and adorably Instagrammable backdrops with phrases such as “I want to spend all my 9 lives with you.”

Lina Martinez, 32, learned about Purr-fecto Cat Lounge from a friend’s Instagram post and made an appointment to visit two days later.

“My first impression was, ‘AWW!’” Martinez said. “The kittens were to die for. I felt happy and at peace – just what I needed.”

Visitors to the cat lounge pay $15 for a 30-minute CATXperience session or $30 for a 70-minute session that is spent getting to know the personalities of each cat. Foster said the first thing she typically sees from visitors to the lounge is a smile.

“Everybody that enters the door is smiling,” she said. “And we’ve seen people who have cried because they can’t have kids and they decide to go and adopt a cat instead.”

Foster said she loves bringing in cats who might not have a chance to be adopted at traditional shelters. She told the story of one cat named Izzy, who was partially blind, who was adopted by a family that had a deaf cat at home.

“Izzy was not going to get adopted anywhere else, but she’s extremely beautiful,” she said. “If she was in a cage in a rescue and you tell people she’s blind, she was probably going to be overlooked. But visiting our space, she doesn’t seem like she’s blind. She knows her way around. She moves around perfectly.”

Although Martinez, who had been casually looking for a pet to adopt since moving to Austin nearly four years ago, was interested in a cat named Ruby that she had seen on Purr-fecto’s social media, at the lounge she instead found herself drawn to 5-month-old mixed breed Tuxedo cat.

“I thought he was a star,” she said. “He worked the room and introduced himself to everyone. When I laid down to pet Ruby, he ran from the other side of the room and cuddled with me. It was game over. He got me.”

And she, of course, got him, complete with a commemorative photo that read “My Furrever Family” the day she took him home. Although his original name was Emmanuel, she renamed him Sullivan after her favorite DJ.

“Purr-fecto is special because of the amount of effort and love they put into taking care of the cats,” Martinez said, “and finding them good homes and making possible adopters feel at home.”

Foster, who spent a recent Thursday hosting a group of teenagers in foster care at the lounge, several of whom expressed interest in working there, said the best part about her new endeavor is that her heart is always full.

“I just feel complete,” she said. “I always felt as an entrepreneur that I was missing something. I knew I accomplished a lot, but in my heart I was missing a little connection with the community. Now I’m creating connections between humans and pets and that’s amazing. I’m creating family bonds. It’s just about love, you know. And we need that.”

Austin's 7 Best Indian Restaurants

We all have those cravings for an amazing butter chicken or some authentic dosas with coconut chutney, but when I was thinking about where I wanted to go to satisfy my taste buds I realized that my list of great Indian food around Austin was surprisingly short. After doing some research and asking around, here is your list of the best Indian restaurants around town.

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