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When the COVID-19 pandemic began prompting shutdowns in March, Austin resident Jonathan Osborne and his childhood friend, Brandon Camp, were about halfway through writing a scripted podcast for kids.
The pair were inspired to create a production company, Austin-based HodgePodge Media, after observing the explosion of podcasts among adults. With kids of their own, they separately arrived at the same conclusion. "We both had this individual light bulb pop up over our collective heads in which we realized that, although the space was really blossoming, the kids podcasting space was not," said Camp, who is based in Los Angeles and wrote and directed the 2018 family movie Benji.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened.
Rather than continue with their script, Osborne and Camp scrapped their draft and began work on a new one—Quaranteen'd—about a ragtag crew of kids who believe they have found a cure to the pandemic. Its first four episodes are available now, with a new one debuting each week.
Producing the quarantine-themed show while sheltering in place required some ingenuity.
The cast and crew of Quaranteen'd held long Zoom calls.
With the help of Cindy McCreery, an associate screenwriting professor at the University of Texas at Austin, they hired a team of young writers, who fleshed out the story over long Zoom calls. "We treated it like any traditional Hollywood writers' room," Camp said.
In search of a cast, they created an Instagram account and put out a call. Close to 2,000 submissions filtered in. "We completely underestimated how much time people had on their hands," Osborne said.
Mayla Montgomery plays the lead role in Quaranteen'd
Mayla Montgomery, a rising seventh grader at Round Rock ISD, plays lead character Zoe Cross, a teenager who believes she's discovered the cure—but it is being hidden by the Bridge Corp., which stands to profit from the pandemic. "She's always fired up and passionate about something," Montgomery says of her character.
After hearing about Quaranteen'd from her neighbor, an executive producer of the show, Montgomery decided to try out. She put together a resume with her experience with improv at the local comedy club ColdTowne Theatre and musical theater. After submitting her audition, she was "shocked" to receive a callback. Her surprise doubled when she was offered the role.
Soon, Montgomery received a recording kit from Osborne and Camp. "We've been shipping equipment all over the country," Osborne said, adding that they soon learned how to conduct mic tests over Zoom and instruct the actors to wrap themselves in blankets for the best sound quality.
Sometimes kids' productions are shoddily made and don't take their audience very seriously, Camp said, but he wanted Quaranteen'd to be a true cinematic experience—on par with films by Steven Spielberg and moves such as The Goonies and Star Wars.
Montgomery said she has listened to the first few episodes with her younger brother, who is usually a little too distracted to sit through things. But Quaranteen'd has him hooked.
"We're not surprised because this is what we always felt like we were capable of bringing to the space, but it certainly has been pleasant," Camp said of the reaction so far.
Once this season is over, Osborne and Camp plan to tackle an even more ambitious project: remotely producing a musical podcast.
"The irony is that this is the time of isolation and yet I feel like we have brought together this family for this family podcast," Camp said. "Amid the 2 a.m. sessions with the sound engineering and pulling out hair and wondering why the heck we're doing this—those are the moments that have certainly inspired me and kept me going."
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After Austin voters passed Proposition B, reinstating a ban on public camping, City Council directed staff to look into possible sanctioned campsites where homeless residents could live legally. Now two members are asking to shelve discussion on the controversial topic.
Staff presented dozens of possible sanctioned campsites across each fo the 10 council districts in late May, following the election. But members mostly pushed back on the proposed locations, citing cost, wildfire risk and lack of transparency as concerns.
With updated criteria, staff recommended two sites—one in District 1 and the other in District 8—for further review last week. After being briefed on the options during Tuesday's work session, Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison, who represents District 1, and Council Member Paige Ellis, who represents District 8, issued a joint statement proposing "a pause" on further discussion of temporary sanctioned encampments.
"We are not convinced that these sites would be a cost-effective solution, but rather a band-aid tactic when we need to be supporting the long-term strategy to get folks off the street permanent," they said. "It is our responsibility to look at the situation holistically and objectively, and to spend out city's limited resources on solutions we know can work."
Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Grey noted that the two locations were imperfect and would require a lot of time and money to outfit as sanctioned campsites during the briefing.
City staff and homeless experts have previously raised concerns about sanctioned encampments, saying they are expensive to maintain, challenging to manage and hard to close, even when intended to to be temporary.
In 2019, staff declined to make recommendations for such sites despite being directed by council to do so, citing 2018 guidance from the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. "Neither authorized encampments nor parking areas provide housing for people experiencing homelessness," staff wrote in a memo. "Rather, each option detracts from the staff resources assigned to addressing this moral imperative."
But with Prop B being enforced and too few shelter beds and affordable units for the estimate unsheltered homeless population in Austin, the city is facing the same predicament that prompted District 9 Council Member Kathie Tovo to pursue possible sanctioned campsites in the first place: "When individuals in encampments ask where they should go, we need to have places to suggest," she said at a May 6 council meeting.
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Don't lose your mask just yet—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced it is now recommending masks in areas that are surging as cases rise nationwide and the Delta variant looms.
The CDC announced Tuesday that even fully vaccinated individuals should mask up indoors if their community is experiencing substantial transmission—defined as areas with more than 50 cases per 100,000 people. Travis County is sitting at an average of 94.59 cases per 100,000 over the past seven days, falling into the highest risk category, according to the CDC.
#DeltaVariant surging in U.S. New data show Delta much more contagious than previous versions of #COVID19. Unvaccinated people: get vaccinated & mask until you do. Everyone in areas of substantial/high transmission should wear a mask, even if vaccinated. https://t.co/tt49zOEC8N
— CDC (@CDCgov) July 27, 2021
After two COVID-19 recommendation stage jumps in the last two weeks, from Stage 2 to Stage 4, Austin-area cases are the highest they have been since February. The seven-day average for cases is on an upward trend, reaching 226 on Tuesday.
The CDC is also recommending that all students K-12 wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status. A May executive order by Gov. Greg Abbott prohibits schools from requiring masks, regardless of vaccination status. Austin ISD is "strongly" encouraging students to wear masks.
Although vaccinated individuals are still protected against the most severe symptoms of the variant, infections are spreading rapidly and now make up 83% of confirmed cases in the U.S. At least a dozen cases of the delta variant have been confirmed in the Austin area, though there are likely more since testing for it is limited.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said that hospital admissions are "almost exclusively" coming from people who are unvaccinated but those who are vaccinated can still catch and spread the virus.
"Unlike the alpha variant that we had back in May, where we didn't believe that if you were vaccinated you could transmit further, this is different now with the Delta variant," Walensky said. "That leads us to believe that the breakthrough infections, rare that they are, have the potential to pool and transmit at the same with the same capacity as an unvaccinated person."
Research suggests those who become infected carry 1,000 times more of the virus than other variants and could stay contagious for longer.The announcement comes on the heels of the Biden administration ramping up cautionary measures in the face of the Delta variant. Just last week, the CDC said it had no plans to change its May guidance of vaccinated not having to wear masks unless there was a significant change in the data. Officials met on Sunday night to review new evidence, according to reports.
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The Moody Center, a $338 million, 530,000-square-foot multipurpose arena at the University of Texas at Austin, celebrated its topping out on Tuesday.
With the final beam placed, the arena's steel-frame structural phase—which involved more than 5.3 million pounds of steel—is complete.
"This past year has been full of unprecedented events, not to mention weather challenges, and yet the women and men working on this project continue to deliver," Moody Center General Manager and Senior Vice President Jeff Nickler said in a press release.
To celebrate the topping out Oak View Group, the development and investment firm behind the Moody Center will affix a tree to the final beam in keeping with the time-honored tradition.
The practice dates back to ancient Scandinavian religious rites, which involved placing a tree atop new buildings to appease tree-dwelling spirits displaced during the construction process, according to the International Association of Bridge, Structural and Ornamental Ironworkers in Washington D.C.
After the steel-frame structure phase, the development will move on to enclosing and finishing the interior of the Moody Center.
The arena is set to open next April and already has some major acts scheduled for its inaugural year, including The Weeknd, Justin Bieber, John Mayer and The Killers. It will replace the 43-year-old Frank C. Erwin Jr. Center and serve as the home of UT's men's and women's basketball games, among other sports and community events.
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