With most Central Texas schools resuming school this week amid the latest surge in COVID-19 cases, many parents have found themselves with questions about how to best protect their children.
Austonia checked in with Dr. Stanley Spinner, vice president and chief medical officer at Texas Children's Pediatrics & Texas Children's Urgent Care, to get some advice for families as the school year begins.
What do we currently know about how the Delta variant is impacting children?
"It's certainly impacting them in increasing numbers of infection," Spinner said.
There have been more pediatric COVID cases this year than all of last year so far. Austin Public Health reports 6,468 cases this year, with the most in the 10-18 age range.
Spinner said approximately 10% of total positive pediatric cases result in hospitalizations at Texas Children's Hospital. Texas Children's Hospital has between 35-50 children who have been admitted due to COVID-19 on any given day and one-third of those cases are admitted to the ICU, he said. "We're definitely seeing more kids and sicker kids than in the previous parts of the pandemic," he said.
What should parents do to try to safeguard their children?
Spinner said protecting children requires a multipronged approach. The first thing parents should do, he said, is getting themselves and all children 12 and over in their family vaccinated. "With Delta, it's highly contagious. It's very likely they can get infected and infect their children. That's something they have total control over," he said.
He also said wearing masks is critical. "Mask wearing has become such a political issue, but it's clear that wearing a mask protects others from you but also helps protect you from others," he said. He added that families should be careful who they're spending time with. "If you know certain families are vaccinated, having your kids play with those kids and those families is going to be less of a risk." He also recommended following all CDC guidelines such as avoiding large gatherings or visiting high-traffic public areas.
Local school districts are requiring masks this year, despite Gov. Greg Abbott's order against mask mandates. (Bob Daemmrich)
What are your thoughts on sending children back to school?
"It depends on someone's level of risk," he said. "We really, really want kids back in school this year, and we want to try to make it as safe as possible for the kids. We don't want to lock them up at home and keep them from going places, because socializing is so important. I would say that as a general rule of thumb kids are better off being at school. We learned last year that there were so many problems that kids experience, not just with learning but psychosocial. For the vast majority, yes, kids should be in school. The problem is, if you're the parent of a child, you can teach your child to keep his or her mask on, maintain distance from others and keep hands washed, but you can't control what other children do." He added, too, that if a child is immunocompromised or has immunocompromised family members, that changes the equation.
How does the fall look?
In addition to preparing for an increase of COVID cases, Spinner said that hospitals are also expecting to see an increase of RSV (respiratory syncytial virus). "If a school district does not mandate masking, for these kids under 12 that can't be vaccinated, I think we're in for a pretty rough next few weeks," he said.
Local school districts like Austin ISD and Eanes ISD are currently implementing masking. However, court battles in other Texas cities could stop the practice if ruled in favor of the governor's ban against mask mandates.
Spinner added that he is hopeful a vaccine will be released for elementary-age students in the next three months or so.
Pediatric research trials are underway for both the Pfizer and Moderna shot with the first doses for six-year-olds and older expected to be available by the end of the year or possibly by the beginning of this year since the FDA will need to approve it, drug reps told NPR.
What final advice do you have for parents, given Austin's COVID surge?
"I think people just need to know this is still a real threat. They need to take it seriously. Kids are not immune to this disease. They can get it, they can get really sick, and they can transmit it. This is not the time to ignore it. Everyone needs to hunker down and get serious about it before we see it get even worse."
The most up-to-date information from the CDC can be found at www.cdc.gov.
After months of speculation, a new report says political personality Beto O'Rourke is mulling a run for Texas governor that he will announce later this year.
Sources tell Axios the former congressman is preparing his campaign for the 2022 election, where he will likely vie for the position against incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott. The only other candidate that has announced he will take on Abbott for governor is former Texas GOP Chairman Allen West—no Democrats have announced they are running as of yet.
"No decision has been made," Axios reports David Wysong, O'Rourke's former House chief of staff and a longtime adviser, said. "He has been making and receiving calls with people from all over the state."
A new poll from The Dallas Morning News and University of Texas at Tyler shows O'Rourke is narrowing the gap between himself and Abbott's prospects for governor. In the poll, 37% said they'd vote for O'Rourke over Abbott, while 42% said they'd vote for Abbott.
Abbott has been in the hot seat due to his handling of COVID-19 and the signing of landmark legislation into law, including new abortion and voting rights laws; 54% of poll respondents voted they think the state is headed in the "wrong direction." Still, Texas hasn't had a Democrat as governor since the 90s.
O'Rourke's people-focused approach to the 2018 Senator race, which he lost to Sen. Ted Cruz, gave him a widespread following and many hoped he'd throw his hat into the ring since he said he was considering it earlier this year.
"We hope that he's going to run," Gilberto Hinojosa, the state chair of the Democratic Party, told Axios. "We think he'll be our strongest candidate. We think he can beat Abbott because he's vulnerable."
Austin rapper Jordi Esparza may not have won the 2021 Red Bull Batalla, the world's largest Spanish freestyle rap competition, but for a spirited two rounds, the 22-year old Mexican native looked like he had every right to.
On Saturday evening in Los Angeles, the event itself looked like Cobra Kai meets Star Search with graphics adding a very Batman Beyond aesthetic. Over a dozen rappers hoping to represent the U.S. in the international round of the competition took to the stage with in-your-face jabs at accents, sexual orientation and odors, among other things.
This was Esparza's second rodeo; he had placed third at the 2020 National Finals, automatically securing him a spot this year.
However, things were different this year. He was not nervous about the contest. Unlike in 2020, when he made his Red Bull Batalla debut, the anxiety of the event led him to "feeling so bad."
Affecting a casual calm, the locally-based landscaper said he just felt "so relaxed, so happy" and primarily wanted to "enjoy everything."
Choosing his first-round opponent, Esparza, whose stage name is Jordi, elected to go against LA-based Boss.
Esparza freestyled an attack on his opponent's weight and cholo style of dress.
Boss—bracketing his Latin freestyle with English appeals to the crowd—mocked Jordi's lack of education, made fun of how clean Jordi's shoes looked and suggested that Jordi just came back from a Footlocker.
That first round went to Jordi.
But his next opponent Eckonn would prove to be his undoing.
Eckonn compared Jordi to Hannah Montana, while Jordi soulfully explained that he had learned from the best.
Esparza's verbal dexterity is matched by a rattling rhythm and a game face that is as mawkish as it is mockish. The overall effect is that of an underdog with bite.
Eckonn beat Esparza in that round with the overall championship going to Palm Beach-based rapper Reverse.
However, Esparza was just happy to be there. He recently told Austonia going to the finals again was a dream come true—a pinnacle that he said he won't know how to top.
With his nimble jabs and sneaky prowess, honed from pop culture and the swagger of a young working man hungry to be more, Jordi Esparza is just getting started.