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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After two years of no in-person events, Austin festival South by Southwest has agreed to give 50% of ownership to P-MRC, a Los Angeles company that controls publishing operations for Rolling Stone and Billboard.
The media venture was founded in 2020 and is part-owned by Jay Penske, racer Roger Penske's son and head of Penske Racing and Penske Media.
The move comes after the COVID-19 pandemic left the festival with two years worth of hemorrhaging funds. SXSW organizers were left scrambling for solutions in March 2020 when the city of Austin canceled the festival at the onset of the pandemic. One-third of the festival's 175 year-round employees were laid off, and the festival ran a shortened virtual event in 2021.
SXSW CEO and co-founder Roland Swenson said in a statement that the company is grateful to get aid when they need it most and that they are now looking to the future.
"It has been an incredibly tough period for small businesses, SXSW included," Swenson said. "When Jay Penske approached us with an interest in becoming a partner, it was a true lifeline for us. Both of our companies share a passion for producing high-quality content that helps shape modern culture, so this feels like a natural alliance."
Both of Austin's big-name festivals are now in the hands of out-of-town buyers. In 2014, homegrown festival Austin City Limits was bought in part by LiveNation, who took 51% ownership in Austin live promoter C3 Presents.
.@MLS Commissioner @thesoccerdon and @AustinFC's Minister of Culture and part-owner Matthew @McConaughey will discuss how the League is deepening fan engagement, and how Clubs are becoming cultural mainstays at 10am on Channel 3. ⚽ #SXSW pic.twitter.com/2XFj4XEdwL
— SXSW (@sxsw) March 18, 2021
The fest has captured the essence of Austin arts and culture for 34 years, and it doesn't plan on stopping now. With P-MRC by its side, SXSW said it plans on keeping its unique identity but expanding operations as it prepares for an in-person celebration next spring.
"Since 1987, SXSW has been the world's premier festival centered at the convergence of tech, media, film, and music," Penske said. "Today SXSW continues to be one of the most recognized brands for empowering creative talent and bringing together the brightest creators of our time. As part of this significant investment, we plan to build upon SXSW's incredible foundation while extending the platform further digitally and assisting Roland and his incredible team to bring their vision to even greater heights."
With their future restored, SXSW's newest slogan rings truer than ever: "See you next year at SXSW!"
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Update: Former Travis County deputy suspected of killing 3 in northwest Austin now in police custody
Stephen Broderick is now in police custody for a suspected domestic violence incident that killed three in northwest Austin on Sunday.
After initially being called an active shooting incident, joint local law enforcement and more than 75 FBI agents proceeded with an almost day-long manhunt with three helicopters and on-ground teams for former Travis County deputy Broderick. Police captured him after a 911 caller reported a suspicious man walking along U.S. 290, where he was taken into custody.
Police believe the victims, who have been identified as two Hispanic women and one Black man, knew their assailant. A child was involved but is now safely in police custody. Two of the victims have been identified as former and current Elgin ISD students: Alyssa Broderick and Willie Simmons III.
The school district released a statement offering its condolences to the families. Alyssa was enrolled until October 2020 and played on the basketball team. Simmons was a senior at Elgin High School where he was captain of the football team and had been recruited to play football at the University of North Texas.
Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez released the following statement on the incident: "I'm truly heartbroken that a former Travis County Sheriff's Office Deputy is the suspect in such a horrific incident. TCSO is standing by to provide any, and all assistance we can to the families of the victims in their time of need. I'm proud of the integrity and professionalism shown by the men and women of TCSO, APD and other law enforcement agencies, who worked tirelessly throughout the night to locate Stephen Broderick. I'm especially grateful to the vigilant citizen who called 911 after seeing Broderick, and to the Manor PD officers and TCSO deputies who took him into custody this morning."
APD @Chief_Chacon provides updated media briefing in relation to Great Hills Trail incident. - PIO8 https://t.co/47siNWhARI
— Austin Police Department (@Austin_Police) April 18, 2021
During a press briefing at 4:45 p.m. on Sunday, Interim Police Chief Joe Chacon said law enforcement was on the scene for several hours investigating the incident with 41-year-old Broderick.
"We're very sorry that obviously this has happened and we continue to try and locate this individual, we are transitioning from a search in this area to a fugitive search and those efforts will continue until this person is located," Chacon said. "I don't want anyone to think that we're packing up and going home. We're going to continue to look for this individual because he continues to pose a threat to this community."
#texasshooting #masshooting Arboretum shooting Austin. pic.twitter.com/SkIsgDoYHt
— Jamie Hammonds (@jamie_hammonds5) April 18, 2021
This story has been updated at 8 a.m. Monday to include the latest information.
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Formula 1 is returning to Florida for the first time since 1959, announcing that the brand-new Miami Grand Prix will join the calendar in 2022 and Austin will no longer be the only F1 race in the U.S.
Held at the Hard Rock Stadium complex in Miami Gardens, this will be the first race in the Sunshine State in 62 years. With a new track setup, F1 will loop the stadium, home of the NFL's Miami Dolphins.
Excited for @F1 @f1miami @HardRockStadium - a Global Entertainment Destination. This event will bring opportunities for so many and will be world-class. Thank you to @gregmaffei #chasecarey #stefanodomenicali @MayorRHarris @Ogilbert @CommishDiaz @MayorDaniella pic.twitter.com/n6dDDD1cPX
— Tom Garfinkel (@TomGarfinkel) April 18, 2021
The new 3.36 mile circuit has 19 corners, three straights and potential for three DRS zones, with expected top speeds of 198 mph.
Now with two races in the U.S., F1 President Stefano Domenicali said they will avoid having back-to-back events by keeping the Miami Grand Prix separate from the U.S. Grand Prix, which is held at Austin's Circuit of the Americas.
The date of the race has yet to be confirmed, though Domenicali said he expects the first race in a 10-year deal to take place in the second quarter of 2022. Austin's race will take place on Oct. 24 this year.
"The USA is a key growth market for us, and we are greatly encouraged by our growing reach in the U.S. which will be further supported by this exciting second race," Domenicali said.
Miami will mark the 11th race location in the U.S. since the Championship began in 1950: Circuit of The Americas in Austin; Dallas, Texas; Indianapolis, Indiana; Sebring, Florida; Riverside, California; Watkins Glen, New York; Long Beach, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Detroit, Michigan and Phoenix, Arizona. COTA was first opened in 2012.
Domenicali said F1 will be working with the FIA and the Hard Rock Stadium to leave a lasting impact on the community: discounted tickets for residents, a program to support local businesses and a STEM education program through F1 in schools.
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