March Culturati Magazine

At the moment, I really have little capacity to think about anything other than COVID-19. I’ve been focused on the financial implications to our city, on the Entrepreneurs Foundation, Capital Factory, on the cancellation of SXSW and how this is financially devastating to so many Austinites & small businesses whose earnings may be hollowed as a result. Increasingly thinking way beyond financial, but let’s stick with that for a minute.

The Stand With Austin Fund has been established by the Entrepreneurs Foundation and the Austin Community Foundation to support nonprofits assisting individuals and small businesses most negatively impacted by the cancellation of SXSW and least able to recover on their own — more in article accompanying this issue. As of this morning, we’ve raised $275,000 in match pledges, ie., friends & colleagues have agreed to match dollar for dollar every contribution up to $275,000. We hope to raise $1,000,000 perhaps more.

Nevertheless, while I want to be cognizant of and address the financial challenges facing our neighbors, our community must prioritize public safety.

I’m proud of Mayor Adler, the City of Austin and Travis County for coming together and making the hard decision to cancel SXSW. I’m an advocate for even greater social distancing. Wish we’d ban public gatherings of more than 250 persons. Personally, I am curtailing my personal exposure even more. Our testing and healthcare capacity are poor and this virus has a relatively long asymptomatic incubation period. We should be learning and quickly adapting public policy from the lessons out of China, Italy, S Korea, Taiwan and other countries. Italy is on lockdown, Denmark is on lockdown . . . all entering Israel from anywhere overseas must enter a 14-day home quarantine.

Something feels rotten in the state of Texas — a la our testing capabilities.

We are at least a month behind in our response to the pandemic. While it’s too late to prevent its spread in every corner of this country, it isn’t too late to contain the outbreaks in our communities. We should seriously consider imposing more stringent requirements for social distancing. I know the City’s chief medical officer is reviewing the latest data constantly. We should have no-questions-asked drive thru testing facilities. Something feels rotten in the state of Texas — a la our testing capacity.

Boston College Professor Heather Cox Richardson wrote Wednesday morning, “The comparison people are making these days is between Philadelphia and St. Louis during the 1918 flu epidemic. In Philadelphia, the city’s public health commissioner, a political appointee, did not want to hurt public morale by cancelling public events. On September 28, the city held a big parade to raise money for the Liberty Bonds that were funding WWI, and 200,000 people attended. Two days later, people started to die. On October 3, city leaders closed down the city, but it was too late to stop the spread of the influenza. By the end of the season, 12,000 Philadelphians had died. In St. Louis, in contrast, the public health commissioner shut down the city. Drawing the wrath of local businessmen, he shut down schools, sporting events, bars, and movie theaters. People in St. Louis still got sick, but the infection rate was slow enough that the sick got treatment; the infections did not spike. At the end of the season 1,700 people died of the flu in St. Louis, half the rate in Philadelphia.”

The time to act is now, before we’re even able to see the mass spread of COVID-19 in Austin, because it is happening as we speak.

We must contain the virus or we will easily overwhelm our unprepared healthcare system. In Central Texas, I believe I’ve heard we only have about 2,000 hospital beds. If 20% of our 2mm population became sick, that’s 400,000 people. Many won’t require hospitalization, but certainly more than 1/2 of 1 percent will — not to mention respirators which will be in even shorter supply. The mortality rates are changing rapidly but as of yesterday morning, I was told the mortality rates for over 70yo was 15%, was 50% for over 70yo and immune compromised [I shouldn’t be citing these numbers as I don’t have command of the science nor have I confirmed these reports, alas I offer them as relative figures only]. And, just to get a test . . . in Texas we’re hoping to grow capacity to analyze 200 tests per day. If 20% of Texans require testing, that’d require 62,222 tests per day over 90 days — and we’re hoping for a capacity of 200? Former CDC director Tom Frieden in modeling infection rates includes a scenario he deems a worst-case scenario, but plausible, where half the U.S. population becomes infected and more than 1 million people die.

I’m sorry to be so grim but my head works in constant scenario planning. I rarely become pessimistic. I’m not even sure I am now. However, the worst-case scenarios are so devastating, they require serious consideration and serious preparation.

Ergo cites epidemiological models suggesting “the number infected during the initial surge (meaning before more quarantine steps) will double every six days.” “The US would have to magically provide massively more testing for US deaths to not rise parabolically.” We have the benefit of data and experience, especially from China and Italy. The data seems to suggest we could need testing and radical social distancing now.

I’ve recommended working from home for the EF team but have not mandated this. We are all taking our temperatures every morning. I realize most people are asymptomatic for up to 14 days but two of three symptoms: a cough, a temperature and/or shortness of breath means you should be tested. And, the ritual of taking one’s temperature every morning — 1) gives you a baseline and 2) perhaps makes us more mindful of healthy practices during the day.

In addition to the Stand With Austin Fund (you can contribute here),
Entrepreneurs Foundation staff is evaluating and compiling safe volunteer opportunities for those wanting to do more. We will report on these in the near future.

Please read more about this pandemic and how to keep yourselves, your families and your teams safe.


Eugene Sepulveda

Eugene Sepulveda is the co-founder of Culturati® as well as the CEO of the Entrepreneurs Foundation, a director & partner in Capital Factory, and the Treasurer & a Sr. Advisor to Austin Mayor Steve Adler. Eugene’s long played at the intersection of business, politics and community in Austin and nationally. He can be reached at



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