Whispers

Wednesday, September 22, 2021 by Elizabeth Pagano

Overcrowded hospitals urge everyone to get vaccinated

Though Covid cases are down and 80 percent of eligible Travis County residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, public health officials filled in the rest of picture on Monday. In a statement to the media, Austin Public Health and area hospitals warned that the surge isn’t over yet. “Since July, our hospitals in the greater Austin area have had more than 3,500 Covid inpatients, and more than 1,000 of those required care in the Intensive Care Unit. Unlike previous Covid surges, all of the acute care hospitals were very full with non-Covid care when this surge started. ICUs across the Austin area are now completely full, and many hospitals are surging beyond their licensed ICU space to provide ICU-level care to Covid patients in need,” officials wrote. “The vast majority of these Covid patients are on ventilators, and approximately 90 percent of them are unvaccinated. Generally, patients who have been hospitalized during this surge are sicker and staying in the hospital longer.” In addition, the mortality rate for hospitalized Covid patients is higher and approaching 10 percent. Due to the overcrowding, patients from area hospitals who would normally be transferred to receive complex care have not been helped. To ensure that care can be available for all who need it, officials urged everyone 12 years or older to get vaccinated, wear a mask and practice social distancing.


Wednesday, September 22, 2021 by Tai Moses

City gets $1 million grant for mobility hub

A $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Civic Innovation Challenge will help a UT Austin professor, the city’s Transportation Department and local nonprofit Jail to Jobs create a solar-powered mobility hub in North Austin’s Georgian Acres neighborhood. According to the announcement, “Mobility hubs are places in a community that bring together public transit, bike share, car share, and other ways for people to get to where they want to go without a private vehicle …. The hub will provide access to a neighborhood bike system, a bike-share station, e-scooter stations and more while offering free Wi-Fi and other community services such as a mobile health clinic and food pantry.” Gina Fiandaca, Austin’s assistant city manager overseeing mobility, explained that Georgian Acres “is bound on all sides by highways and high-speed roadways, making it difficult for community members to travel in or out of the neighborhood. It’s also a traditionally low- to moderate-income community, which means that affordability is a significant barrier to transportation for these residents. Our hope is that this community hub project will provide a variety of affordable transportation options, empowering community members to select the modes that best meet their needs.”


Wednesday, September 22, 2021 by Tai Moses

County issues burn ban

Beginning this Friday, outdoor burning will be prohibited in the unincorporated areas of the county, per a ban issued by the Travis County Commissioners Court. As Travis County Chief Fire Marshal Tony Callaway explained, “We have thoroughly evaluated current conditions throughout the county and determined a burn ban is necessary to ensure the public’s safety. Above-normal temperatures and minimal rain chances are expected to create drier, more dangerous conditions over the next seven to 10 days. Additionally, as growing season ends, vegetation will dry out, which increases the risk of fire.” The ban does not affect prescribed burns or outdoor welding, cutting or grinding operations. The burn ban will expire on Wednesday, Oct. 27, “unless further action is taken by the county judge or county fire marshal prior to that date.”

 

 


Tuesday, September 21, 2021 by Tai Moses

AUS the world turns

People are on the move, pandemic or no pandemic – at least, that’s what the numbers from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport suggest. Passenger traffic for July was up 279.6 percent compared to July 2020 with 1,541,305 passengers flying during the month. According to a news release from AUS, “This makes July 2021 the fifth busiest month in AUS history, following May, June, July and October of 2019.” The release didn’t say whether those 1.5 million-plus people were coming or going, but either way, it spells good news for Austin.


Monday, September 20, 2021 by Elizabeth Pagano

Council can continue allowing remote speakers, with restrictions

After much back and forth, Mayor Steve Adler says audio testimony may continue at city meetings, per the city legal department. In a post on the City Council Message Board, Adler said audio testimony can resume at Council’s Sept. 30 meeting, but will necessitate “batching” of speakers. Throughout the pandemic, Council has heard public testimony on its own, divorced from agenda items. Adler said that would continue if audio testimony continues, as “(t)aking up the speakers during the discussion of a pulled item is challenging when we have remote speakers.” In addition, if remote speakers are allowed, speaker signup will continue to close the day before the meeting both for in-person and remote speakers, instead of allowing the public to sign up on meeting days.


Monday, September 20, 2021 by Tai Moses

ACL Fest street closures begin

With ACL Fest right around the corner (weekends of Oct. 1-3 and 8-10), the city has begun implementing street closures in preparation for the mammoth music event and the gazillions of people and cars that come with it. The great lawn at Zilker Park closed to the public today and will remain closed until Sunday, Oct. 17, to allow for a week of fall maintenance after the festival concludes. The city’s interactive map provides a detailed look at exactly which streets are closed. Planning to take your bike? Check out the bicycle access map to find routes to the festival. And this handy calendar tells you exactly when streets are closing and for how long.


Monday, September 20, 2021 by Tai Moses

Turkey Trot, two ways

The hottest event trend in our still-not-post-pandemic era is to hold an in-person event as well as a virtual event, thereby covering all bases and hoping for the best. The 31st Turkey Trot will follow this trend, with organizer ThunderCloud Subs scheduling both live and virtual events for Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 25, “with specific details and safety protocols approved by Austin Public Health to be announced as the date gets closer.” Either way, it’s sure to be a hit: About 7,000 people participated in last year’s entirely virtual event, according to Thundercloud Subs’ website. All proceeds go to the nonprofit Caritas of Austin, “which has received $4.2 million from the Trot since it began in 1991 with just a handful of volunteers and 600 participants.” Register here.


Friday, September 17, 2021 by Tai Moses

AISD needs more picnic tables

Austin Independent School District is looking for a few handy people to help build picnic tables for AISD students. Volunteers should have experience using cordless drills, screwdrivers and measuring tape. Not very handy? The district would be happy to accept donations of assembled picnic tables. The table-building event will take place Saturday, Oct. 2, from 8 a.m.-11 a.m. or 11 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Austin ISD Service Center, 5101 E. 51st St. Any questions? E-mail Darien Clary.


Friday, September 17, 2021 by Tai Moses

Horned lizard hatchlings go forth and (hopefully) multiply

Photo courtesy of Texas Parks & Wildlife

The once-common Texas horned lizard is growing so scarce it’s considered a species of concern in its home range. That means the spiky reptile isn’t endangered yet, but it could be soon, without captive breeding and reintroduction programs and stronger habitat protections. With their flat spiny bodies and prominent horns, the lizards may not look too delectable, but they actually have many predators, including birds, mammals and other, bigger reptiles. But the news isn’t all bad. Yesterday, 204 baby horned lizards – or horny toads, if you prefer – were released into the wild, thanks to the Texas Horned Lizard Coalition, a partnership between the Fort Worth Zoo, Texas Parks and Wildlife and Texas Christian University. The 204 tiny hatchlings were tagged so researchers can track and study them. (Watch a short video of the release of the hatchlings.) Want to help? Congress is considering bipartisan legislation called the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act that would give biologists the resources they need to protect the horny toad and thousands of other imperiled wildlife species. Learn what you can do to help the passage of RAWA.


Thursday, September 16, 2021 by Tai Moses

AISD panel encourages conversation

It’s always a good idea to examine and make peace with the past before moving forward. That’s the theme behind an Austin ISD community conversation exploring historic inequities in the school district and brainstorming ways to rebuild trust among community members. The online panel is moderated by KUT’s Claire McInerny and Alejandro Martínez-Cabrera. Saturday, Sept. 18, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Register here for the Zoom event.


Thursday, September 16, 2021 by Tai Moses

North Central Austin intersection gets makeover

Motorists, pedestrians and cyclists alike will appreciate the improvements recently completed at the North Central Austin intersection of North Lamar Boulevard and West St. Johns Avenue. The work, courtesy of the Austin Transportation Department, “eliminated dangerous left turns in and out of driveways by adding new raised medians on both approaches of North Lamar that include a connection to the existing median at the intersection of North Lamar and Airport Boulevard.” The crosswalks are newly visible after restriping, and a new shared-use path on the east side of St. Johns, a bicycle lane northbound on North Lamar and ADA-accessible curb ramps improve mobility all around. View photos of the improvements here.


Wednesday, September 15, 2021 by Tai Moses

Making it cool to grow veggies

A new mini-grant program launched by the Office of Sustainability targets “people in our community most negatively impacted by food-related injustice.” Twenty grants of up to $3,000 are going to groups like Black Lives Veggies, which “teaches sustainable and organic gardening skills to people of all incomes.” Larry Franklin, who founded the group, explained that his goal is to “put a spin on gardening like it’s basketball – we make it cool to grow vegetables.” Lucia Athens, the city’s chief sustainability officer, emphasized, “Food injustice in our community is real. No one in a city as wealthy as Austin should be going hungry. We are thrilled to offer support to these groups that are improving access to food in our community.” See the complete list of grant recipients here.


Wednesday, September 15, 2021 by Tai Moses

Need the Covid vaccine? You’re in luck!

With the Delta variant raging, Austin-Travis County remains in stage 5 – the most severe stage – of the Covid-19 risk-based guidelines, and health officials are urging unvaccinated people to get the vaccine without further delay. To make it easy, Austin Public Health, Travis County and their community partners are hosting dozens of opportunities this week. If you need the vaccine, visit the Travis County Covid-19 page and click on the button that says “Get Vaccinated.” The handy online calendar displays multiple vaccine events around the county and is frequently updated with new events, dates and times. No appointments are required and the whole thing takes less time than it does to drink a cup of coffee. Below the calendar, the “Find a Covid-19 Vaccine Near You” button takes you to the vaccine locations map. Kids aged 12-17 must have a parent or guardian present, and the Pfizer vaccine is the only one authorized for that age group.


Tuesday, September 14, 2021 by Jo Clifton

Tahuahua takes new post

The Associated Builders and Contractors of Texas has chosen Geoffrey Tahuahua as its new president. In a press release, the group noted that Tahuahua is succeeding Will McAdams, who was tapped to serve on the Texas Public Utility Commission in April. For the past 10 years, Tahuahua has worked in politics and government affairs both inside and outside the Texas Capitol. Most recently he served as vice president of policy and government affairs for the Real Estate Council of Austin. Before that, he worked for the Home Builders Association of Greater Austin. “In Geoffrey Tahuahua we have chosen a proven leader with a deep understanding of the commercial and industrial construction industry here in Texas,” said GPaul Holliman, board chair of ABC of Texas. “Geoffrey will continue to elevate ABC of Texas’ presence at the Texas Capitol and build upon the success we’ve had the last several sessions.”


Tuesday, September 14, 2021 by Tai Moses

Ride the Ferris wheel, get vaccinated

Vaccination doesn’t have to be a dour, disagreeable occasion; in fact, getting the lifesaving Covid-19 vaccine should be a celebration. That’s the thinking behind this festive Del Valle community vaccination day. Austin Public Health will be providing free vaccinations – first and second doses, and thirds for the immunocompromised – to all those who are 12 and older. There will be free hot dogs as well as a Ferris wheel, carousel and kiddie rides, and the first 250 people who get a vaccine will receive a free funnel cake. There’s even live music from Javier Jara, Sonya Jevette and Jenn D’Spain. Sunday, Sept. 19, 4 to 7 p.m., Circuit of the Americas.


Tuesday, September 14, 2021 by Tai Moses

Compete to drive more safely

What if you could get paid not to look at your cellphone while driving? The app Safe 2 Save and the city of Austin are hosting a monthlong competition offering motorists up to $10,000 in cash prizes – just to stay off their phones while driving. With the help of the free app, participants compete to see who can reach the highest score. At the end of a month, drivers who score 98 and above will be entered into a drawing to win cash prizes. The point of this exercise, of course, is to drive home the dangers of distracted driving. But it doesn’t hurt to win a prize either. Find more details and enter the competition here.


Monday, September 13, 2021 by Tai Moses

Grants for a greener future

The Bright Green Future grant program is accepting applications for the 2021-22 school year. Sponsored by the city’s Office of Sustainability, the educational program “was designed to recognize and support innovative projects that will inspire students to become lifelong environmental stewards.” Past Bright Green Future grants of up to $3,000 have funded wildlife and pollinator habitats, composting systems, rainwater harvesting and rain gardens, organic veggie and native plant gardens, and bicycle academies. The most successful projects “actively engage students and members of the community with hands-on involvement and learning.” Schools may also use the funds to partner with a local nonprofit on a sustainability curriculum. Apply by Oct. 1.


Friday, September 10, 2021 by Jo Clifton

Sales tax collections up, comptroller reports

Austin and numerous other Texas cities got good news Thursday from Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar. According to data released by the comptroller’s office, Austin’s sales tax collections for the month of July were up nearly 28 percent over last year. Austin will collect more than $24 million in sales tax for the month, compared to less than $19 million a year ago. Overall, Austin’s sales tax revenue has gone up nearly 13 percent this year, from about $178 million to nearly $201 million. News was also good for the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which saw an increase of about 28 percent for the month of July and more than 13 percent for the year so far. Overall payments this year stand at nearly $222 million as compared to about $196 million last year, the comptroller’s office reported. Local shopping mecca Sunset Valley saw an increase of more than 31 percent over July 2020, bringing in more than $579,000 as compared to last July’s sales tax collections of $440,000. Things are also looking good for Round Rock, which saw its sales tax collection jump more than 26 percent for the month, bringing in more than $9.6 million as compared to $7.6 million last year. San Marcos, on the other hand, saw its sales tax collections drop from $37 million to about $31 million year to date. Hegar reported that July sales tax collections statewide, as reported in September, were $925 million, up 20.9 percent over last year.


Friday, September 10, 2021 by Tai Moses

Austin surpasses 1,000 Covid deaths

Public health leaders have confirmed that August was the pandemic’s “most lethal month” in Austin since vaccines became available earlier this year. The announcement released Wednesday said, “Following the fastest surge Austin-Travis County has seen, the community surpassed another grim milestone of 1,000 deaths.” Interim Austin Public Health Director Adrienne Sturrup confirmed that almost all of the recent deaths were among unvaccinated people. While most of the people who died were over 60, some were as young as 20. The highly contagious Delta variant has “produced a troubling increase in hospitalizations and life support among children and young adults.” Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin-Travis County Health Authority, pleaded again with the community to get vaccinated and to wear masks. “With more cases comes more deaths and while symptoms may be insignificant to you, not wearing a mask, not social distancing and not staying home when sick are contributing to the spread that will eventually reach a loved one who dies. We need to work together as individuals to survive as a community.” Texas Department of State Health Services statistics show that 31.7 percent of eligible Travis County residents are still not fully vaccinated.

 


Thursday, September 9, 2021 by Tai Moses

Lumbreras retiring from San Marcos

Bert Lumbreras is a familiar name around Austin City Hall. He spent more than a decade with the city, starting as assistant city manager in August 2006. In 2017 he left Austin for a job as city manager of San Marcos. But his career appears to be headed for an ending as Lumbreras announced his intent to retire yesterday, effective Jan. 31, 2022. The surprise announcement may partly be the consequence of the city of San Marcos’ bungled response to a traffic collision back in June 2020, which was caused by an off-duty police officer and resulted in the death of a woman named Jennifer Miller. San Marcos police Sgt. Ryan Hartman had an open can of beer in his vehicle at the time of the fatal crash, in which he was not injured. Miller died at the scene while her partner was airlifted to a hospital. In his announcement, Lumbreras said he’d been planning his retirement for almost two years and the decision was “strictly driven by when I was able to take this important step in my life.”


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