Local officials are pleading with residents to continue COVID-19 safety precautions as businesses reopen and more people return to work.
"We sense that the frog is being boiled slowly and folks are starting to lose the narrative of how serious the pandemic is," Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said at a Commissioners Court meeting Tuesday morning.
Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott continued to urge residents to make "good decisions"—such as social distancing, maintaining personal hygiene and wearing masks while in public—to avoid a second surge of COVID cases and another shutdown.
"To me, the least that we can do when we go out in public at this stage is put a covering on your face," Dr. Escott said at the same meeting. "That doesn't limit people's civil liberties at all. It's not infringing on them at all."
The time it takes for the COVID-19 caseload in Travis County to double has drawn out to 23 days, and Austin Public Health now has the capacity to test 2,000 people weekly at free drive-thru sites, which outpaces demand. In the last two weeks, the department has connected 1,766 people to free testing through its enrollment form. But challenges remain.
"We're not out of the woods," Dr. Escott said, citing clusters at more than a dozen area nursing homes and racial disparities that have emerged in the case data.
As of this week, 392 COVID-19 cases have been reported across 16 long-term care facilities, up 60 from last week. Of those, 38 people have died. "Once COVID-19 takes hold of a facility, it's very, very difficult to stop it," Dr. Escott told commissioners.
Initially, the state provided two strike force teams to Travis County, but it has since redeployed them to other areas of Texas where similar clusters have emerged. As a result, county commissioners have approved five contracts with area staffing agencies to deploy supplemental personnel—including nurses, cooks and certified medication aides—to affected facilities.
Austonia has asked the county to confirm how much it, in conjunction with the city, has spent for strike force staffing.
"We are taking on responsibilities of the state," Eckhardt said, adding that the state regulates such facilities.
In addition to nursing home clusters, another concern is the overrepresentation of Hispanic residents among COVID-19 hospitalizations. Despite making up about a third of the local population, they account for nearly two-thirds of those hospitalized.
Austin Public Health is developing outreach materials to inform residents about how they can minimize their risk and access free testing, with plans to air the messaging on Spanish-language media channels. The department, in conjunction with Dr. Escott, is also developing a color-coded warning system that will communicate the local threat level.
In the meantime, Commissioner Margaret Gomez said she is concerned that residents are letting down their guards and congregating for birthdays and other events.
"The fact that the word got out that we can now go to work has just messed everything up because they think it's safe," she said. "It's not a normal time. Not yet. And it won't be for a long, long time."
It's matchday! Austin FC—Austin's first major league sport team—kicks off its debut season in Los Angeles today after years in the making. We know how much this means to our beloved city and are taking you along with us as we journey to LA!
Austin FC writer Claire Partain and I are excited to bring you game-day coverage straight from the City of Angels. Check back here for updates, and visit our socials: @austonianews for the latest.
5 p.m: Kickoff!
It's finally here! Claire will be updating Austonia's Twitter account live. And we'll post her game recap after the game. Best of luck Verdes!
4:40 p.m: Excitement radiates back home
Watch parties are in plenty supply back home. Austonia's Laura Figi visited Circle Brewing Co. and found a crowd of excited supporters.
4:20 p.m: Austin FC supporters are in the stadium
Although the Banc of California Stadium is hosting the match at limited capacity, we see some green in the stands ahead of kickoff. Just moments away from the Austin FC's debut!
~3:20 p.m: Austin FC's team bus enters the stadium grounds
With a warm welcome from Los Verdes, Austin FC players were welcomed into the Banc of California Stadium.
~1 p.m: Los Verdes in LA
(Rigo Rodriguez/Los Verdes)
Austin FC supporters are making their presence known in LA, including the Los Verdes group.
Los Verdes members started having match-day fun around the area this morning with brunch. We'll be joining them about an hour before the game outside the stadium to share some of their excitement. We'll post immediately to Austonia's Instagram.
11:45 a.m: We landed!
View from hotel room where we're staying; the stadium digital sign can be seen in the right corner. (Sonia Garcia/Austonia)
Switching over to pacific time, we're here and it's almost like no time went by. It's 9:45 a.m. here.
We've been in contact with Los Verdes, an Austin FC supporter group, who is also here in LA counting down to kickoff.
8:20 a.m: LA bound
Like many of you, we've been looking forward to this moment for, let's just say, a very long time. Today, we woke up bright and early, headed to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and hopped on a flight to LA.
A gloomy day in Austin with a very quiet airport, we're headed to sunny skies in California.
As we wait for the game to start at 4:30 p.m., check out Claire's preview of the game with a predicted lineup and timeline of the long journey to get here.
Years before the city of Austin went Verde, thousands of the city's soccer fans formed a supporters' group—MLS in Austin—for a team that didn't even exist yet.
Now, as the team's catchphrase suggests, those same fans are #LISTOS as they prepare to see their team on national television at Austin FC's debut on Saturday.
What to expect
The team will face a significant opponent in LAFC, who is projected at No. 2 in the league's power rankings. Austin FC currently sits at No. 21.
"LAFC has one of the best attacking teams in the league," Head Coach Josh Wolff said. "They will punish you. They've never been shy of putting up goals, and again, I expect them to be one of the best teams in the league this year."
The club has lived up to Wolff's words: in just their second season of existence, LAFC took first in the Western Conference and were Supporters' Shield winners in 2019.
Austin FC will need to hold off LAFC captain Carlos Vela, a versatile winger/attacking midfielder who won the Most Valuable Player title in 2019, as well as high-scoring forward Diego Rossi.
Austin FC starting lineup vs. LAFC
Meanwhile, LAFC will face challenges in DP Cecilio Dominguez and midfielder Alex Ring, the former NYCFC "ringleader" who wears the captain's armband for his new team. We still don't have any updates for starting forward Rodney Redes, who may or not be playing Saturday due to a "ding" on his knee.
If Redes is fine, we think he'll stay at forward, where he's been excelling throughout preseason. If not, a more experienced Kekuta Manneh might take to the pitch in his stead. Midfielder Jared Stroud is also in the running after he went in for an injured Redes against San Antonio FC on April 10.
While Captain Alex Ring and DPs Tomas Pochettino and Dominguez are shoe-ins for the starting lineup, some other positions are up in the air.
Twenty-year-old Daniel Pereira, Austin FC's No. 1 SuperDraft pick, has done even better than expected in preliminary scrimmages. He's still young, however, and Austin FC recruited him more for his depth than immediate starting appeal. If Pereira doesn't start, it's likely to be Diego Fagundez who takes the starting spot.
Another young potential starter comes in 22-year-old Jhohan Romana, a sturdy defender who has shown inconsistency in preseason. The backline is a clear weak spot for the team so far, and while Romana shows promise, Wolff may look for experience in Julio Cascante for their first starting lineup.
Finally, goalies Brad Stuver and Andrew Tarbell are neck-and-neck in the race for a starting spot. We put Stuver on here for his preseason performance, but neither would be a surprise as starting goalkeepers.
How we got here
It's hard to put into words how monumental it is for these supporters to see their own team one day away from its historic opening match, but the excitement can be felt across the city.
To put things in perspective, here's a timeline of events that brought us here, from "MLS in Austin" all the way up to Saturday's opener.
Where to watch
While Austin FC's first season will officially be underway, their inaugural match will be nearly 1,500 miles away from their home city.
That's no problem for some fans, including those in Austin FC fan group Los Verdes. A group of dedicated supporters are going to the West Coast to welcome their team into the stadium. While LAFC isn't officially allowing Austin fans in due to COVID protocol, some are still searching for a way to watch their beloved team take the pitch for the first time.
Meanwhile, thousands of dedicated fans are also staying home to support their club. Austin FC's first official watch party is sold out with over 1,000 RSVPs, and Austin Anthem is holding a 1000 plus-person watch party as well. For a full list of Austin FC watch parties and participating pubs, click here.
For those staying home, the match will be broadcast nationally on FOX and FOX Deportes at 5 p.m. on Saturday.
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