Sure, a new Taylor Swift album debuted Friday, but another music icon also has some new music coming out. Austin's own Willie Nelson is releasing a Frank Sinatra cover album, his second such effort.
We've compiled the latest Austin news and information to help you keep up with interesting stories and breaking news around the city. Here is what we have shared so far this week:
Dec. 11: South Lamar Boulevard is getting a makeover and 4 more headlines you might've missed
This rendering shows what the planned transformation of South Lamar Boulevard from Riverside Drive to Barton Springs Road.
(City of Austin)
South Lamar changes: Money from the voter-approved 2016 Mobility Bond is being put on South Lamar Boulevard pedestrian and bikeway improvements, TOWERS reports. This map shows the extent of the changes between Riverside Drive and Barton Springs Road, all part of broader plans for the entire South Lamar corridor.
Two legends, one album: Willie Nelson offered an exciting announcement to wrap the week: a new album of Frank Sinatra covers. This is the second time that Nelson has paid homage to Sinatra, with the latest album slated for a late February release, per Pitchfork. One song from the album, "Cottage For Sale," is already available online to stream.
Unfortunate COVID-19 milestone: The COVID-19 death tally in Travis County reached and exceeded 500 people Thursday, a grim marker as deaths climb nationally to nearly 300,000 total. City health officials warn Austinites not to relent on pandemic safety measures or risk moving to Stage 5 safety restrictions.
Local election, outside influences: Early voting ends Friday for the Austin City Council Districts 6 and 10 runoff elections, and Election Day is Tuesday. The Austin Independent found a Facebook page that invites outside groups into town before Tuesday's Election Day. It's all an effort by Austin-area Republican groups to help two challengers unseat incumbent Council Members Alison Alter and Jimmy Flannigan.
That didn't take long: Two days after Austin American-Statesman employees announced plans to unionize, the newspaper's management has already rejected the Austin NewsGuild's request to be recognized. The guild's formation was just announced Wednesday, with a "vast majority" of journalists asking parent company Gannett for a seat at the negotiating table.
Dec. 10: Costs of 'Live PD' reality show still adding up and 4 more headlines you might've missedWilliamson County sheriff indicted, arrested on evidence tampering charge in Javier Ambler case (Williamson County)
'Live PD' still lingers: Despite losing his re-election bid amid indictment, outgoing Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody will cost taxpayers long after he leaves Jan. 1. "Live PD" was canceled after revelations that Javier Ambler died in police custody while the reality show filmed the whole thing—and lawsuits are piling up for Chody's defiance to keep the show running, Community Impact reports.
NYE21 during COVID-19: The city of Austin typically holds a family-friendly New Year's Eve celebration on Auditorium Shores, but that's not going to happen during the pandemic. Instead, KXAN reports that live music performances from six bands across three venues, including Saxon Pub, have already been filmed for a virtual event this year. More details are expected to be released soon.
Company-CEO relocation package: A real estate investment firm from the United Kingdom is relocating to Austin, and—in seemingly familiar fashion—its CEO is moving here, too. Etienne Cadestin, CEO/founder of Longevity Partners, leased space in downtown Austin instead of Portland, Salt Lake City and Miami because we're cheaper and more focused on sustainability, Austin Business Journal reports.
AISD waits for pandemic relief: After spending $51.2 million on pandemic emergency needs this year, Austin ISD is yet to recoup most of those costs from the state, which controls CARES Act federal funding received earlier this year. KXAN learned that, at best, only 75% of those emergency expenses can be recovered, and it's unlikely AISD will even get that much back.
Transgender representation on task force: Public Safety Commission agreed with LGBTQ leaders that a transgender representative is needed on the city's task force for reimagining public safety. The commission voted unanimously for the recommendation, which City Council must ultimately approve, according to the Austin Monitor. The move comes as anti-transgender violence is up nationwide.
Dec. 9: Lady Bird Lake is safe for your four-legged friends again and 4 more headlines you might've missed
Lady Bird Lake is now free of toxic algae that threatens the safety of dogs swimming in the water.
Your pup can swim again: If there is any benefit to the increasingly cool weather, it's that Lady Bird Lake is safe again for your dog to swim. Since a deadly algae outbreak in 2019, the city has been testing the lake for toxins that likely killed dogs last year. For the first time since mid-July, those toxins are no longer active in Lady Bird Lake, KXAN reports.
Latina media moguls in training: Become a certified "Media Chica" as part of a new program from Latinitas, an online magazine in Austin since 2002. Austin Woman Magazine covered the creative program, which offers young Latina women media training and field experience—with their work published by Latinitas. The program has already graduated three cohorts.
Kendra Scott anniversary: The Women's Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute at The University of Texas has nearly hit its one-year anniversary. Famed Austin jeweler Kendra Scott started the program and doubles as a teacher. She reflected on the institution's first year with the Austin Business Journal this week, with hopes a decade from now that Scott can say "we changed Austin."
Council candidate's curious company: Campaign finance reports can be revealing, as Austin Chronicle learned this week. The alt-weekly revealed that District 6 candidate Mackenzie Kelly hired an Infowars videographer to produce her campaign ads despite his history of bigoted social media messages. Kelly's campaign denied any connection between the candidate and the Alex Jones-led "news" site.
Lamar art installation to retire: Did you know those blue panels lining the underpass of downtown Lamar Boulevard is actually a public art display installed in 2003? Most people don't get it, probably why the work is slated for "delisting" on Thursday's City Council agenda. Even the original artist endorses the piece's retirement, KUT learned.
Dec. 8: Live music venues could be rescued soon and 4 more headlines you might've missed
Mohawk music venue on Red River Street
Live music miracle: Multiple short- and long-term efforts to rescue music venues and other "legacy" Austin businesses proceeded last week at City Hall. Emergency grants are available, up to $140,000 for six months, Community Impact reports, and $15 million exclusively for venues could be unlocked by January.
Real tree > fake tree: It's not too late to get a real Christmas tree and embrace the holiday spirit this December. Austin.com compiled this list of tree farms that let you cut down your own Christmas Tree in true Griswold family fashion.
Music legend lost: A fixture of Austin's music scene was laid to rest this weekend. Margaret Wright, 78, was a singer and pianist known for taking over any venue she performed, according to the Austin American-Statesman, whether it be the Driskill Hotel or Skylark Lounge. "She knew every tune ever written," said Harold McMillan, a bass player who has played alongside Wright for three decades.
Dogs from the valley: Austin Humane Society rescued 15 dogs from shelters in Del Rio, Texas, where the city lacks a no-kill status, KXAN reports. The pups arrived in Austin for medical evaluations before being made available for adoption. This is good news for AHS after reports last year that overcrowding and volunteer issues threatened the shelter's no-kill status.
Party down: A new hotel and event space in the Hancock neighborhood caught social media flak this weekend for hosting hundreds at a dance party. Chances are, the event dodged statewide health orders because the outdoor setup was "not subject to an occupancy limit," KVUE reports. Nonetheless, Austin health officials recommended party-goers quarantine up to a week.
Dec. 7: Debate begins over who should get COVID-19 vaccine and 5 more headlines you might've missed
Return of the Mack, kinda: The University of Texas performance on the football field leaves a lot to be desired this season, but a former coach's daughter just delivered a "Jeopardy!" championship performance on the popular game show. KXAN reports that Katherine Ryan, daughter of longtime UT coach Mack Brown, won Friday's show and returns Monday as the defending champion. The episodes were filmed in early November before host Alex Trebek lost his battle with cancer.
Bring your blankets: The recent cold-weather snap takes its toll on individuals experiencing homelessness. That's why Front Steps is accepting blanket donations through the spring for visitors to its downtown ARCH homeless shelter and beyond. KXAN reports there is a special need for larger blankets based on feedback from shelter visitors.
Get in line for a vaccine: The Austin Latino Coalition is pushing the city to distribute the vaccine to low-income minorities as soon as possible, according to KVUE. This tool from the New York Times helps identify how soon until you might gain access.
Vaccine could be required: Just because a vaccine is coming online doesn't mean everyone wants to take it. KVUE reports that employers may be able to require their workforce to take the vaccine once it becomes widely available. Some exceptions will apply, but there's nothing in the books saying companies cannot enforce vaccination, according to one legal expert.
Businesses battle COVID-19: The Westover Hills neighborhood near MoPac and US 183 just lost a business to COVID-19. Hempton's Retro Threads announced it is closing at the end of the year, according to KVUE, after almost 5 years of selling vintage clothing, jewelry and handbags.
Don't break anything: Home appliances such as ovens, dishwashers and laundry machines, are getting used more than ever—and breaking down more than ever. KVUE reports the wait time for repairs are up significantly because of this higher-demand, and a limited supply chain only makes matters worse. Some local residents are waiting weeks for service repairs and replacements as a result.
Austinites love their pets and even more, they love to name them Charlie and Luna, according to the latest report.
The two names topped both top male and female categories for dogs and cats in the annual end-of-year report from Rover, a site for dog care. While the names Charlie and Luna topped the Austin lists, they came in second nationally. Luna goes on another year of reigning, while Charlie climbed up to the top spot this year.
Top dog names of 2021 in Austin
Top cat names of 2021 in Austin
But that's not to say the year's events and other factors didn't have an impact on how people named their furry friends. Here are some notable trends seen this year in Austin pet names.
- Food-inspired names: Hershey is up 1,030% for dogs, while Sushi is up 944% and Bean is up 544% for cats.
- Alcohol-inspired names: Tequila is up 630% and Merlot is up 330% for dogs.
- Olympics: Manny, after Puerto Rican skateboarder Manny Santiago, is up 730% for dogs. Amber, inspired by U.S. Women’s Skeet Shooting Gold Medalist Amber English, is up 730%.
- Pop-culture: Dogs named Greta are trending up 930%, which could be inspired by rock band, Greta Van Fleet.
- COVID: For the first time in Austin, the dog names Rona and Zoom made the list.
- Austin weather: Storm is the most popular new-to-the-list name for cats. Snow was also new to the list.
- 9 dog-friendly Austin eateries that will give you a new leash on life ›
- Austin pets alive dogs to be honarary Austin FC mascots - austonia ›
- 75 dogs die in Georgetown Ponderosa Pet Resort fire - austonia ›
- Meet the dogs of Austin's celebrities and famous - austonia ›
- Dog-killing algae confirmed in Lake Austin and Lady Bird Lake ... ›
Looks like Austin FC is cleaning house—and they're taking a few Verde faves out ahead of the 2022 season.
Following the retirement of defender Matt Besler, the club's original 33-man roster was trimmed to 22 in roster changes announced Tuesday.
(From top left) Players Emmanuel Perez, Jared Stroud, Ben Sweat, Aaron Schoenfield, Brady Scott, Aedan Stanley, Kekuta Manneh and Sebastian Berhalter will not be with Austin FC for the 2022 season. (mlssoccer.com)
Austin FC declined its contract options for six players, including:
- Kekuta Manneh
- Aaron Schoenfeld
- Brady Scott
- Aedan Stanley
- Jared Stroud
- Ben Sweat
Stroud became an early fan favorite for the team after helping teammate Diego Fagundez to the team's first goal in April, racking up a second assist just one match later with another Fagundez goal. After a few months of limited appearances, Stroud started once again in November and attempted his first MLS goal, but no dice.
Manneh, a forward, showed promise as Austin FC's first Austinite: a Gambia native, Manneh played soccer in the Texas capital while in high school and early in his professional career. Manneh showed energy on the pitch but never saw his efforts translate to the stat board.
By the start of the season, Sweat had secured a starting spot as left back for Austin FC but tore his ACL in the Colorado Rapids match on April 17, putting him off the pitch for the remainder of the season.
Both under 23, Stanley and Scott saw few appearances to the Verde pitch. In May, Scott went on loan to play as goalkeeper for USL Championship side Memphis 901. Schoenfield, a 31-year-old forward, has played briefly for various MLS and USL teams as well as professional teams in Israel.
Austin FC also announced that they would not exercise the transfer options for Sebastian Berhalter and Emmanuel Perez, both of whom spent the 2021 season in Verde on loan.
Berhalter, the son of U.S. Men's National Team Head Coach Gregg Berhalter, filled some big shoes in key moments of the season as central midfielder. At just 20, Berhalter started five times in the key position for Captain Alex Ring. Perez made four starts as forward for Austin FC.
(From left) Captain Alex Ring, Will Pulisic and Freddy Kleemann all had their contracts renewed with Austin FC for the 2022 season.
It wasn't all doom and gloom. The club held on to the following for the 2022 season:
- Captain Ring
- Freddy Kleemann
- Will Pulisic
Ring, known as one of the top defensive midfielders in the league, had a rocky but rewarding road as Austin FC's captain in their inaugural season. Despite two red cards that rendered him out of two key matches, Ring tallied four goals and three assists as he led the team throughout the season, earning MLS Team of the Week honors multiple times.
At 22, Kleemann made just three appearances in central midfield for Austin FC but showed potential toward the end of the season. Pulisic wasn't able to start due to fellow goalkeeper Brad Stuver's standout success, but the cousin of Chelsea standout Christian Pulisic has plenty of years left in the tank.
Austin FC now has three goalkeepers, six defenders, seven midfielders and six forwards as the team's brief offseason continues. After the retirement of legendary central midfielder Matt Besler, the team will need to make strong signing options in the back and midfield positions in the MLS SuperDraft and transfer seasons before their first match against FC Cincinnati on Saturday, February 26.
But don't worry about fan favorites Fagundez, Sebastian Driussi or Stuver: all 22 other players are still firmly rooted in place for the upcoming season.
- Austin FC sees disappointing season finale in 3-0 Timbers loss ... ›
- Season recap: Austin FC's first season leaves fans wanting more ... ›
- Austin FC to open second season against last-place FC Cincinnati ... ›
- Austin FC spends less than most first-year expansion teams - austonia ›
- Sebastian Driussi and Moussa Djitte bring new hope to Austin FC ... ›
- Austin FC acquires four new players in MLS Expansion Draft ... ›
- Austin FC's players are from four different continents - austonia ›
Just as the world takes a breath from the Delta variant-induced third COVID surge that pushed hospitals past capacity this summer, a new variant—the omicron—is forcing countries around the world to once again consider shutting their doors.
It's too early to tell whether the variant will have the devastating effects of the Delta variant, the Mu variant—which accounted for 3% of U.S. cases before dropping off almost entirely by October—or somewhere in between. But as omicron continues to rise sharply in all provinces of South Africa, the Biden administration is reintroducing some travel restrictions that went into effect Monday.
As the variant spreads to countries around the world, including Canada, the Netherlands and Hong Kong, the World Health Organization declared omicron a "variant of concern"—though some are calling the move premature.
What is omicron?
The omicron variant, B.1.1.529, is now under strict watch from the WHO after quickly spreading throughout Southern Africa.
It's genetically different from the Alpha and Delta variants and has up to 30 mutations in its genetic code, leading some to worry that the risk of retransmission from those who have already had COVID could be high. The strain's mutations could also aid omicron in beating out other strains and spreading more quickly to hosts.
Omicron is the latest version of the coronavirus to cause concern. Here’s what we know about where it’s spread so far and what makes it different than other variants that came before. https://t.co/ncciXnIuw9
— The New York Times (@nytimes) November 29, 2021
It appears to be doing the trick. While an Associated Press report found that case numbers in South Africa are still well below other pandemic peaks—3,220 new cases were reported in South Africa on Saturday— up to 90% of new cases in the South African province of Gauteng are omicron.
The strain's effects seem to be mild so far, and hospitals haven't been overburdened yet, though hospitalizations are rising.
And doctors worry that the full extent of the variant hasn't been realized. Vaccine hesitancy is strong among South Africa's youngest population—22% of those aged 18 to 34 are vaccinated—and most of those infected with COVID have been in those younger age groups. Doctors worry that older age groups will be more adversely affected.
And while experts in the country expected a fourth surge and possible variant, the omicron still came as a "shock" as it quickly spread to all nine South African provinces and other continents. It's now the first strain labeled as a "variant of concern" since the Delta variant.
It's unclear if the variant is more immune to vaccines, although some signs indicate that it's a possibility.
Where has it been detected?
Cases of the Covid omicron variant have appeared in more than a dozen countries as of Monday. https://t.co/2bPapBIYK2 pic.twitter.com/idnQ6LjIfH
— NBC News Graphics (@NBCNewsGraphics) November 29, 2021
The omicron strain still hasn't been detected in dozens of countries, and it's far from the first strain to make a mark since Delta. But it's coincided with a quick uptick in cases in South Africa, where it was originally found, and became the dominant strain in Pretoria, a city of around 750,000, in just a few weeks.
Omicron is now present in nearby Botswana and has jumped on board flights to Europe, Asia, Australia and North America. Hong Kong has detected three cases, while 10 European nations including the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Portugal and Germany have found a total of 45 cases. Canada has detected three cases, and none have yet been found in the United States.
What has been done?
Against the wishes of both South Africa and the WHO, several countries have decided to once again shut their doors.
After detecting an omicron case, Israel decided to bar entry to foreigners, while Morocco suspended incoming international air travel for two weeks. Dozens of countries are restricting travel from Southern Africa to South Africa's chagrin—the government said travel restrictions are “akin to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quicker.”
The WHO also called for borders to remain open as closing borders appears to have a limited effect on the spread of variants, and many countries are hesitant to clamp down on restrictions that have limited its citizens for so long.
The United States said in a statement Friday that it would restrict travel from eight southern African countries except for citizens and permanent U.S. residents who test negative for the virus.
White House Chief Medical Adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday that it's "too early to say" whether tightened COVID restrictions will be needed to combat omicron but that citizens must be ready to do “anything and everything” to prevent its spread.
When will we know more?
The WHO said it will take around two weeks to gauge the full effects of omicron, from its ability to evade vaccines to its contagiousness.
For now, countries have once again urged their citizens to get vaccinated. Some vaccine companies have already spoken about the strain, including Moderna, which said Sunday that a new vaccine that protects against the variant could be released in early 2022 if needed.
For now, Fauci said that the country must "prepare for the worst" just in case omicron becomes the culprit of yet another surge.
“Inevitably, it will be here. The question is will we be prepared for it? If and when, and it’s going to be when, it comes here hopefully we will be ready for it,” Fauci said.
- Joe Rogan incorrectly says vaccinated people cause mutant strains ... ›
- The Delta variant is spreading—Here's what you need to know ... ›
- Unvaccinated Austinites at risk of Delta variant with hospitals seeing ... ›
- Emerging Delta COVID-19 variant found in Williamson County ... ›
- UT identifies third COVID variant on campus - austonia ›
- Delta variant, unvaccinated fuel rise of Austin COVID cases - austonia ›
- New COVID variant, Mu, detected in Texas, next threat to Austin ... ›