Austin-Travis County city officials have had enough with holding back from issuing local masking orders in the wake of a third COVID-19 surge. The city of Austin and Travis County announced a new masking order that went into effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday.
The new order, that defies Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order barring local mask mandates, requires everyone on Austin's public school grounds or city and county property to wear a mask. "These are necessary yet difficult decisions, but those guided by the data and doctors will remain our North Star," Mayor Steve Adler said.
At the highest level of risk in Austin Public Health's risk-based guidelines, the seven-day average for hospitalization is 84 with only six ICU beds available as of Wednesday evening. At Stage 5, the county was already recommending everyone wear a mask and that those unvaccinated avoid nonessential trips. The area stepped into the Stage 5 zone last week, but due to Abbott's order, couldn't enforce any of its recommendations.
The governor is standing his ground on his decision to ban local mandates. When Dallas and Bexar counties secured a temporary restraining order against Abbott's ban and issued an emergency order to mask in schools and commercial entities, Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton announced the filing of a petition to "strike down" the mask mandates.
Any school district, public university, or local government official that decides to defy GA-38—which prohibits gov't entities from mandating masks—will be taken to court.
The path forward relies on personal responsibility—not government mandates.https://t.co/Qn9SmIOO8g pic.twitter.com/GBi0HiH0Sc
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) August 11, 2021
While Austin could face the same fate, Adler told KXAN, "We've already been in court twice with the governor. The district court the last two times has upheld our ability to issue these kinds of orders locally."
The city's order backs up Austin ISD's mask mandate, announced on Monday, for when school officially starts next week.
Even without a city-wide mandate, some businesses have heeded the guidance from APH by requiring masks and in some cases proof of vaccination.
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Austin parents and grocery store shelves are feeling the effects of a nationwide baby formula shortage.
Caused mostly by a February recall due to contamination issues, followed by the Abbott Nutrition factory closure in Michigan, the shortage has left Austin shelves barren. However, earlier this week, U.S. officials announced a plan with the facility to restart production.
In the meantime, local parents in crisis have turned toward the Mother’s Milk Bank to keep their babies fed.
HEB on East 7th has been picked clean of formula and is limiting purchases. (Laura Figi/Austonia)
The milk bank—which takes donations from lactating mothers and dispenses milk to babies in the NICU—has been helping feed upwards of 30 families in need as the formula supply tightens.
According to the bank’s executive director Kim Updegrove, Mother’s Milk Bank has seen an uptick in calls from parents with healthy babies in need of help since the shortage began.
“We aren't used to hearing from families with healthy infants,” Updegrove said. “They're typically very upset, angry, frustrated, sobbing—it's scary to not be able to feed your infants. So in the past few weeks, those calls have been significantly increasing.”
Mothers are only able to donate if they are within a year postpartum, so Updegrove said they are constantly bringing on and retiring donors. While donors had been on a 30% decline leftover from 2021 when the shortage began, Updegrove said the shortage has led to mass community interest and more than 90 prospective donors in just the past few days.
“We and other milk banks are experiencing significant interest from the community—becoming milk donors and helping to turn around this crisis,” Updegrove said. “Every infant needs to be fed, every one of us can relate to that need, and we need to make sure as a community that it happens.”
Whole Foods downtown was also cleaned out of typical formula. (Laura Figi/Austonia)
While you may still be able to find formula at places like Whole Foods—which currently has goat milk, soy and plant-based formula in stock—Updegrove said it might not be what a baby needs.
Updegrove said it is best to buy types that say “infant formula,” as they are FDA approved and will provide the nutrients, vitamins and minerals a baby needs. Plant-based, homemade, non-cow's milk or diluting formula may not provide the same nutritional value.
As the community navigates the shortage, Updegrove said the most important way to help out is to not panic buy or stockpile.
“This is a crisis for families,” Updegrove said. “This is the time for the community to gather together and figure out what everyone can do to help families with young infants.”
Next time you’re sitting at a red light in Austin, you may look over and see a car without a person at the driver’s wheel.
Autonomous vehicle tech company Argo AI has brought driverless operations to Austin and Miami, starting out with only company employees using the service. Later on, tests with Lyft and Walmart will carry out ride-sharing and grocery delivery services, with the help of a human safety operator. The company has already made moves on this front in Miami Beach where some Lyft passengers have used its autonomous vehicles with a human operator.
While its platform is designed for integration with multiple vehicle types, the test fleet uses the Ford Escape Hybrid and VW's all-electric ID.Buzz.
The Pittsburgh-based company says this progress on its autonomy platform has been more than five years in the making and boasted about reaching this milestone before others.
"Argo is first to go driverless in two major American cities, safely operating amongst heavy traffic, pedestrians and bicyclists in the busiest of neighborhoods," said Bryan Salesky, Founder and CEO of Argo AI.
Expect to see the autonomous cars on the road during daytime business hours as the tech aims to learn from a diversity of road infrastructure and driving behaviors.
The company, which is testing in eight cities in the U.S. and Europe, has brought its tech to Austin as the company looks to expand in densely-populated cities. In particular, Argo is looking at ridesharing, delivery and logistics companies for integrating its autonomous vehicles into their digital services.
Argo anticipates its service availability to someday cover more than 15 million people in Austin, Miami and Washington D.C.
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