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With the University of Texas' iconic "Eyes of Texas" song currently stirring up controversy, it might be time for some to find a more wholesome way to celebrate the alma mater. Many have already found a reminder of college life with UT's iconic blonde squirrels.
UT alum Marie Romano found out just how special the squirrels are to campus life when she created an Instagram and Facebook account dedicated to the university's furriest residents. Since its founding in 2018, the Squirrels of UT Instagram has grown to nearly 10,000 followers.
It's no secret that UT squirrels are remarkably unafraid of humans, especially when food is around. Because of their friendliness, Romano got a chance to take up-close-and-personal pictures with the animals back when she was pursuing a philosophy degree at the university in 2016.
A native of Brownsville, Texas, a less likely place to find squirrels, Romano instantly connected with her new furry friends. It wasn't until she revisited her camera roll years later, however, that she realized how closely intertwined the squirrels were to her experience at UT. She decided to spread that feeling of nostalgia with others.
Marie Romano at UT. (Marie Romano)
Soon recent graduates and long-time alumni found her page, and Romano realized that the squirrels may be more of a UT mascot than Bevo himself.
"I think they're kind of like the secret mascot," Romano said. "You'll see Bevo at the football game, but with the squirrels, you see them every day. You can't escape them—they're going to come up to you and ask you for your waffle fries from Chick-Fil-A. And I think that's why a lot of people, when they think back to their time (at UT), they're going to remember this squirrel."
After visiting campus and posting squirrel updates for a year, Romano came up with a new way to connect her audience to each squirrel's individual personality. She used Kickstarter to fund her new project, a Squirrels of UT yearbook. The book was an instant hit.
"It was the most fun project I've ever done," Romano said. "I felt like I was in the yearbook club at high school or something, but it was really fun, especially photoshopping graduation caps on the squirrels."
When the pandemic hit the following spring, Romano decided to follow up her former project with a special commencement video. Thanks to Romano, students who may not have walked the stage themselves could cheer themselves up by watching graduates like "Cashew, B.S. in Nutology" get the recognition they deserve.
While their diplomas may not be real, the squirrels' names certainly are. As the hustle and bustle of campus life goes on, UT squirrels have their own goings-on right underneath our noses. Renowned family dynasties can span generations, including the most famous example, the blonde squirrel clan.
Romano found herself learning about much more than just squirrel clans as her relationships with the creatures grew stronger. By now, she can use a three-step process—location, appearance and personality—to tell each squirrel apart. She's been so successful with telling each squirrel apart that she did a presentation about her process in a human anthropology class. She says it's like "reading human faces;" it takes practice, but soon it becomes natural.
Each post on her Instagram not only gives a close-up shot of a chubby-cheeked creature but also gives a little tidbit into what makes that squirrel so special.
Although she is a fan of all of the squirrels, she's partial to a few: Teacup, who loves humans but doesn't like other squirrels, and Nutter Butter, an older gentleman with chubby cheeks who loves to share.
"The more flamboyant they are, the more I like them," Romano said. "They're individual squirrels with their own individual personalities."
While the pandemic has halted some of her creative processes, Romano won't stop posting UT's nuttiest residents anytime soon.
"At the end of the day, it's pure, light-hearted content that brings a smile to people's faces," she said.
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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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