COVID-19 March 25 Updates: Hays Issues Stay-At-Home Order, EMS Medic Tests Positive
This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Wednesday, March 25. Read Thursday's live updates here. If you'd like to go through a roundup of COVID-19 news from Tuesday, read it here. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.
- Confirmed cases in Austin-Travis County: 119
- Do you think you have the coronavirus? Here's how to get tested.
- Q&A: Your coronavirus questions answered by a panel of experts
- How to get help (and help) in Austin
- Sign up for daily coronavirus email alerts
Update at 6:34 p.m. — Hays County issues stay-at-home order
Hays County is joining Travis and Williamson counties in issuing a stay-at-home order. It goes into effect Thursday at 11 p.m. and lasts until April 10.
County Judge Ruben Becerra made the announcement Wednesday, calling it a necessary next step. It came on the same day that Hays County announced its 10th and 11th confirmed cases of COVID-19, an adult in Buda and another adult in Dripping Springs.
The order tells residents to stay in their homes unless they need to leave for essential activities, like getting food or going to the doctor. Essential businesses, like grocery stores and transportation services, can continue operating, but other businesses must close or work from home.
Public or private gatherings of any number of people are not allowed, though the order doesn’t prevent people who live in the same household from being together. The stay-at-home order also includes a curfew between the hours of 11 p.m. and 4 a.m.
Hays County announced earlier in the day that it was immediately closing all of its county parks, including Five Mile Dam Parks, Jacob’s Well Natural Area and the Gay Ruby Dahlstrom Nature Preserve.
Update at 4:20 p.m. — Austin waives extra-trash fees
With people spending more time at home these days, they’re filling up their trash carts more quickly. The City of Austin is waiving extra-trash fees until further notice.
Austin Resource Recovery asks customers to put their trash in tied bags to protect the health and safety of its collections staff and to use a BPI-certified compostable bag or a paper bag for compost. There’s no need to bag recycling.
Update at 4:09 p.m. — Capital Metro is hopeful for a federal aid package
The federal emergency aid package in response to COVID-19 will likely contain billions of dollars for transit agencies across the country. Here in Austin, Capitol Metro isn't exactly sure how much money it will get. During a Facebook Live event Wednesday, Deputy Chief of Staff Sam Sargent said any funding received would likely go toward operations and maintenance.
“As many of us have experienced, and certainly many of our local businesses have experienced, this has been a really big hit economically and in other ways,” Sargent said. “And Capital Metro, being principally funded through sales tax, has felt some of that impact."
The agency is asking people to only use transit for essential trips, and encourages those who do ride to utilize social distancing techniques. That includes boarding from the rear of the bus. The agency has not gone fare-free, as transit in San Marcos has done, so those paying cash can step to the front to pay.
Sargent also said while the Project Connect expansion plan is still critical, the agency's only focus right now is responding to COVID-19.
Sargent confirmed one employee, who is not in a public-facing role, self-reported that they tested positive for the virus. But Sargent said Cap Metro had not received official confirmation of the diagnosis and the employee is recovering at home.
Update at 12:21 p.m. — Hays County to announce shelter-at-home order
Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra said he will issue a shelter-at-home order and a curfew later today.
"The number of COVID-19 cases continues to grow, with a total of 10 cases now reported this morning," Becerra said in a tweet. "The order will be similar to those in Central TX. This is a necessary next step to stop the spread."
Visit HaysInformed.com for emergency information from the county.
Update at 8:54 a.m. — Georgetown closes amenities, playgrounds at city parks
The City of Georgetown is closing amenities and playgrounds at its parks that don’t allow for social distancing in response to Williamson County's stay-at-home order. City staff will begin marking the closed-off areas today.
Along with playgrounds, the city’s courts, exercise equipment, restrooms, drinking fountains, pavilions and skate park are now closed.
Garey Park, Bark Park, park trails and open spaces remain open. The gatehouse and play ranch at Garey Park is closed, the city said. The park’s open hours will be 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. until further notice.
The city is reminding park-goers to stay a minimum of six feet away from anyone you pass on a trail.
Update at 7:49 a.m. — Austin-Travis County EMS medic tests positive for the coronavirus
An Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services medic has tested positive for the coronavirus, the agency’s chief said in a memo to staff on Tuesday.
“Our medic has been given a location to stay during care and recovery and will have access to food, medical care and mental health services,” Chief Ernesto M. Rodriguez said.
All ATCEMS personnel who worked with the medic have been contacted, Rodriguez said. The medic’s EMS station and vehicle have been disinfected and are back in service.
“You make huge sacrifices every day and it is unfortunate that becoming infected with COVID-19 is a potential danger of performing your duties,” the chief said to EMS staff.
A donation page has been set up to help medics affected by the coronavirus.
Update at 7:25 a.m. — Austin Independent School District extends school closures to April 13
AISD Superintendent Paul Cruz says he will extend school closures through at least April 13 in response to the City of Austin and Travis County's shelter-in-place order issued Tuesday. In an email, Cruz said families and staff should also be ready for schools to be closed beyond April 13.
"I know you are concerned, and so am I," Cruz said. "Austin ISD is committed to providing ongoing communication regarding district measures taken to assist public health officials in their prevention of COVID-19."
AISD will continue to provide learning opportunities for its students, which includes a website with class lessons to practice at home. AISD is also distributing meals Monday through Friday during school cancellations.
Update at 6:45 a.m. — Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt to continue helping county’s COVID-19 response, despite impending resignation
Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt has been set to resign from office to run for the state Senate District 14 seat being vacated by Kirk Watson — but due to the coronavirus pandemic, she’ll be staying in her role a little while longer.
The incoming interim judge, Sam Biscoe, won’t be taking his oath of office until May 13, he said, so Eckhardt can help maintain continuity with emergency response efforts to the pandemic. Biscoe will then appoint Eckhardt as his emergency management assistant once he takes office. In that role, she will continue coordinating all COVID-19 pandemic response efforts for Travis County, the county says.
“After serving with Judge Eckhardt for over six years, I have the highest confidence in her leadership as we continue our efforts to keep our community and workforce safe during these challenging times,” Biscoe said in a press release.
Eckhardt, who signed a stay-at-home order for the county on Tuesday, said the community needs “all hands on deck” to protect its health and safety.
“I am honored and willing to continue my public service in any capacity and look forward to once again work with incoming Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe as we all do our parts to combat the spread of COVID-19,” Eckhardt said in the release.
Catch up on what happened yesterday
Shelter-in-place orders issued in the region
Austin, Travis County and Williamson County have issued stay-at-home orders that went into effect at midnight and last until April 13.
The orders ask residents to leave their homes only for essential reasons, like getting groceries or going to the pharmacy. Nonessential businesses are required to close or have employees work from home.
Dr. Mark Escott, the interim health authority for Austin-Travis County, said during a press conference that Austin and Travis County have enough hospital beds, ICU beds and ventilators to get through the next three to four weeks.
“If we don’t take action today, we are going to run out, and we are going to run out soon,” he said.
Escott also said during a meeting of the Travis County Commissioners Court Tuesday he doesn’t see schools opening up soon.
“I will say quite clearly that in my viewpoint, in the consensus viewpoint of the expert panel, we don’t see any way that schools will be able to return to session this semester,” he said.
Other local coronavirus news from Tuesday:
- The Trail Foundation recommends people exercise as close to home as possible and stay off the Butler Hike and Bike Trail around Lady Bird Lake to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
- A COVID-19 testing site opened in Bastrop County.
- Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an order requiring hospitals to submit daily reports on hospital bed capacity and COVID-19 tests to the state health department.
- Fort Hood is asking nonessential personnel to follow shelter-in-place orders issued by local officials, and the base is moving to a “mission essential” manning.