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The reopening of the University of Texas at Austin could amplify community transmission of COVID-19 in the Austin area, according to a new report published by the COVID-19 Modeling Consortium.
"The projections suggest that transmission among UT students could spill over into the Austin community, leading to increasing numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations," the researchers wrote.
The consortium, which is based at UT Austin and led by Dr. Lauren Ancel Meyers, projected transmission rates for the period between Aug. 26, when the fall semester began, and Dec. 20.
Under the mildest scenario, which assumes that transmission rates among UT students and Austin residents are lower than current estimates, the researchers estimate that 638 students will be infected and approximately 527 individuals will be hospitalized with COVID in the Austin area during the four-month period.
The university has already exceeded these projections, according to its public dashboard. Since Aug. 26, 743 students have tested positive for the disease. A spokesperson said the university does not share hospitalization data.
The University of Texas at Austin has fallen short of its stated goal of testing 5,000 asymptomatic community members each week. (UT Austin COVID-19 Dashboard)
In this scenario, the consortium expects hospitalizations to peak at around 157.
For context, there are currently 84 people hospitalized with COVID in the five-county Austin metro. The peak number of hospitalizations occurred in mid-July, during the surge, when 492 people in the metro were hospitalized due to the disease.
Nearly 500 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in the Austin metro in mid-July, during the surge. (Rational Anarchy/Reddit)
Under a more severe scenario, which assumes a higher transmission rate among students and a moderate transmission rate community-wide, the researchers expect 19,675 students to be infected and approximately 8,188 individuals will be hospitalized over the same period.
In this case, the consortium expects hospitalizations to peak at around 942, or nearly double the number seen at the peak of the surge.
"Austin has an estimated COVID-19 hospital capacity of 1,500 beds, not accounting for potentially reduced capacity during influenza season," according to the report. "[S]tudent-to-student transmission can amplify the strain on Austin healthcare systems and increase the risk that COVID-19 cases will exceed local resources."
UT Austin can slow the spread of the virus among students—"and minimize spillover into the surrounding community"—by prohibiting large gatherings and providing rapid testing and contact tracing resources, the researchers wrote.
While the university has said it will test 5,000 asymptomatic community members a week, it has fallen short of this goal. Since classes began in late August, it has tested an average of 1,758 a week.
In an update provided on Monday, the university said it has not been able to meet this threshold because of federal and state health information laws that prevent it from mandating testing.
Why doesn't @UTAustin make testing mandatory? Why isn't UT performing the advertised >5,000 tests per week? A UT F… https://t.co/u2ovklHfS3— Andrew Zhang (@Andrew Zhang)1601308593.0
"The answer, in part, is that we have fewer than 5,000 people a week who have been willing to take the tests," according to the university's faculty council.
While UT has prohibited parties on and off campus, it has not prohibited large gatherings. Earlier this month, more than 15,000 people attended the Texas Longhorns' first home game of the season. The university required student attendees to be tested prior to admission into the stadium; of the 1,198 students who were tested, nearly 8%—or 95—received positive results.
The next home game is on Oct. 3, when the Longhorns will face off against Texas Christian University. The 100,000-person Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium will be limited at 25% capacity, although local health officials have repeatedly cautioned against attendance even with the capacity limits.
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Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced a record-setting second quarter during an earnings call broadcasted from the Giga Texas construction site in Southeast Travis County on Monday.
The electric carmaker reported more than $1 billion in quarterly net income and the production of more than 200,000 vehicles for the first time despite challenges such as a global semiconductor shortage.
"It … seems that public sentiment towards electric vehicles is at an inflection point, and at this point, I think, almost everyone agrees electric vehicles are the only way forward," Musk said.
Exterior shots taken just a while ago of Giga Texas (while @elonmusk is reportedly at the Gigafactory!) during today's earnings call!
Hope @peterdog15 got to catch the technoking in his video! #fastestinhistory #Tesla pic.twitter.com/WqeDlb5wU3
— Austin Tesla Club (@AustinTeslaClub) July 26, 2021
Despite rising consumer demand and adequate factory capacity, Tesla faces what Musk described as a "quite serious" global semiconductor shortage, which will determine the company's growth rate for the rest of the year.
With increased revenue and production, Tesla is investing in new factories, Chief Financial Officer Zachary Kirkhorn said. These include Giga Texas, the $1.1 billion manufacturing plant that broke ground last summer and is slated to open later this year.
The Giga Texas factory in Southeast Travis County has rapidly increased in size since ground broke last August. (Tesla)
Musk commended the construction team for "incredible progress," transforming what was basically a vacant site into "a mostly complete large factory a year later."
I was at Giga Texas yesterday. Team is making excellent progress. Building will be almost a mile long when complete.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 25, 2021
Giga Texas will produce the highly anticipated Cybertruck, along with other models, but Musk said scaling its production will be difficult, especially given the supply chain delays caused by the pandemic. "It's going to move as fast as the slowest of its up to 10,000 unique parts," he said.
In other news, Musk said Monday's earnings call would likely be his last regular appearance, only jumping on future quarterly calls when big announcements warrant it.
Tesla Solar recently made news when it announced plans to build the nation's most sustainable residential community in Southeast Austin earlier this month. The newly built homes will feature Tesla solar roof tiles and Powerwall battery storage as well as electric vehicle charging stations.
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The city of Austin released a shortlist of seven candidates for the police chief position left vacant when Brian Manley retired in March.
City Manager Spencer Cronk hopes to announce an appointment by the end of August, which will require City Council approval.
The finalists, chosen from a field of 46 applicants, include:
- APD Interim Chief Joseph Chacon, who previously served as an assistant chief in the department for almost five years
- Anne Kirkpatrick, former police chief in Oakland, California, who was fired last year after a federal monitor criticized her handling of a fatal 2018 police shooting of a homeless man
- Dallas Police Department Assistant Chief Avery L. Moore, who is a 30-year veteran of the department
- Atlanta Police Department Deputy Chief Celeste Murphy, who manages the department's community services division
- Dekalb County Police Chief Mirtha V. Ramos, who previously served as division chief in the Miami-Dade Police Department
- Wichita Police Department Chief Gordon Ramsay, who is a former president of the Minnesota Police Chief's Association as well as one of the first police chiefs of a major U.S. City to call George Floyd's death a murder, as reported by the Wichita Eagle
- Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Emada E. Tingirides, who is also commanding officer of the department's newly formed Community Safety Partnership Bureau, which serves L.A.'s underserved communities
City staff will interview the finalists in the coming weeks, with several community input opportunities to come, according to a Monday press release.
The city conducted a public survey in March and hosted community input meetings in April to learn more about what residents are looking for in their next police chief, which helped shape the selection criteria for the position.
"They want to see the Chief be reform-minded and transparent and have a track record of fostering community involvement and accountability," Cronk said in the release. "The candidates selected show these characteristics in various ways."
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Days after Austin began once again recommending masks in public spaces, Austin ISD announced Monday that kindergarten through sixth-grade classes will have virtual options this fall.
The district will discuss the move in a special board meeting Monday evening starting at 5 p.m., while full details will be released Friday.
Teachers will not have to fret about the new option—no educators will have to juggle both virtual and in-person learning. Instead, certain teachers will specialize in virtual education, according to a press release.
The news comes after a recent spike in COVID cases in Travis County and across the nation. Children typically suffer fewer symptoms of COVID when contracted, but they are now catching the virus more often than their older counterparts without a vaccine available to them and as the more contagious Delta variant is quickly being spread.
While local health officials are recommending everyone wear masks, public school districts are unable to mandate masks due to an executive order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott in May.
Parents have expressed concern about classrooms with masks unenforceable and children under the age of 12 ineligible for a vaccine. Some have even said they would look for alternative schooling if AISD did not offer a virtual option for students.
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