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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Republic Square Park has turned into a Ford-themed fiesta for its Built to Connect pop-up experience, complete with test drives, off-roading and an inside look at the Tesla-rivaling electric vehicles that the motor vehicle company is planning to integrate over the next decade.
The outdoor driving event is free, open to the public and will stay in the park from now until Oct. 24, offering rides on Bronco Mountain, a 0-40 mph zip in the 2022 all-electric Ford F-150 Lightning and a chance to win an original Ford Bronco.
The event kicked off with a panel of speakers, including Austin Director of Transportation Rob Spillar, Ford General Manager Darren Palmer and engineering specialists discussing Ford's goals to make it so that 50% of the vehicles on the road are electric by 2030.
As an eco-conscious city, Spillar said that around 4,000 vehicles, or 22% of the Texas electric vehicle market, as well as over 15,000 plugins lie in Austin, meaning driving electric just got accessible.
"Austin, as you know, is a fast-growing modern city that is committed to protecting the long term health and viability of our communities and strategies that reduce greenhouse gases, mitigate the effects of climate change and improve the drone quality of life here in Central Texas for all of our residents," Spillar said.
And Ford's electric vehicles are putting up some steep competition for newly-Austin-based company Tesla. The new electric Mustang Mach-E and F-150 Lighting offer amenities that used to be exclusive to Musk's brand, such as the BlueCruise self-driving network. The cars also boast a 300-mile range on a single charge, assisted reverse technology and access to the biggest charging network outside of the home.
Plus, Ford's got affordability on its side. The F-150 Lightning starts at $39,974 and the Mustang Mach-E starts at $42,895, while the cheapest Tesla model, the Model 3, starts at $41,990 and averages 262 miles on a single charge.
Speaking of price, the numbers on the electric vehicles may look like a little more than you'd like to pay for your transport, but Palmer promises it will pay off. In addition to a $7,500 tax credit you can earn for your sustainability, you'll never have to buy a pricey tank of gas again.
"Personally, I have not found one customer ever, who would go back to gas so that says something," Palmer said. "I realized, at $51,000, that car outruns every childhood hero car I ever had."
Texas buyers: take note. The Ford Lightning can power your house for three to 10 days, just in case the statewide power grid fails. You can take it glamping with you, so you don't have to leave the comfort of modern life behind, and in a pinch, Palmer said he's even seen a wedding party powered by the truck.
Ford is investing $30 billion into the U.S. market to meet demand by 2025 and the new electric truck already has over 150,000 reservations.
"I think they're going to take off much faster than you expect—they're going to be extremely, extremely popular next year," Palmer said. "With the incentives that are available today, this is starting to become more mainstream and viable for more and more families. We couldn't have done that before, we didn't have the technology, or the technology at that price."
The event is ongoing through next weekend from 12-9 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m.- 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
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The Austin Police Department is searching for a man who is believed to be behind a series of robberies that is "sexual in nature and is escalating."
Three robbery cases that took place in North Austin within a 30-day period are being investigated by police, who report the victims all had similar descriptions for suspects in the case. The suspect is described as a 20-25-year-old Spanish-speaking Hispanic man, approximately 5'3, thin build, recently shaved with black hair. Police say he is known to typically wear athletic clothing and used a knife on each of the victims.
Here's a breakdown of the cases:
1. At 7:56 a.m. on Sept. 22 at the 1600 block of Rutland Drive, a woman was walking alone and returning from her child's school when a suspect walking by inappropriately touched her. The suspect then grabbed her by the arm, threatened her with a knife and demanded "her property."
2. At 8:10 a.m. on Oct. 11 at 1700 block of Colony Creek Drive, a woman was walking to her child's school when a man approached her with a knife and then demanded her personal items. The suspect then said he would return the items in return for sex.
3. At 11:03 a.m. on Oct. 13 at the 9300 block of Northgate Boulevard, a woman was with her child in the laundry room of an apartment complex when a man walked in performing a sexual act. The suspect demanded personal items from the victim, threatening to hurt the victim and take her child.
Police cautioned the public to walk without earbuds, stay alert and report suspicious activity to the police.
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