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COVID-19 April 1 Update: Travis County Parks Closing Easter Weekend, Cap Metro Begins Free Rides

The downtown Austin skyline during the coronavirus pandemic.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
The downtown Austin skyline during the coronavirus pandemic.

This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Wednesday, April 1. 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.

Update at 6:14 p.m. – Austin Community College students can opt for pass/no pass grade 

Austin Community College says students can opt for a pass/no pass grade instead of a standard letter grade for any of their current spring semester classes. The college says the goal is to “ease concerns around the transition to online classes.”

That transition began Monday, as 27,000 students who were registered for in-person classes started online classes. Many students who do not have the technology to connect to classes from home are waiting for loaner iPads from ACC. 

ACC says a pass/no pass grade will not count toward or against a student’s grade point average, but will count toward earned semester hours. Students can choose their grading option after they receive grades at the end of the semester.

Although “pass” grades on student transcripts will say the grading style was allowed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, ACC is asking students to check with their advisers before making a choice since it could affect their ability to receive financial aid or transfer courses to another college or university.

– Sangita Menon

Update at 4:36 p.m. – Summer classes move online for UT Austin students

UT Austin’s summer classes will be held online this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Students are currently finishing their spring semester remotely. Many hoped to return to in-person classes by the summer session, President Greg Fenves wrote Wednesday in an email to the UT community.

“But given the uncertainty of the spread of COVID-19 as shown in epidemiological models, that won’t be possible to do safely,” he said. 

Update at 2:31 p.m. – Sendero Health Plans votes to cover costs of COVID-19 treatment

The board of directors for Sendero Health Plans, a local nonprofit health insurance program, voted Wednesday to waive all costs to treat members who have COVID-19.

"The move makes Sendero the first area affordable care act health plan to waive cost-sharing for treatment," it said in a statement, "and comes as the company also recently waived copayments for in-network doctor visits and lab costs to screen for the disease.”

Central Health, Austin’s hospital taxing district, created Sendero in 2012. It was an effort to help people who could not afford existing plans in the health insurance market buy a plan that provided decent coverage at an affordable rate.

Due to financial constraints, the number of people with Sendero plans has been shrinking through the years. In 2018, there were 24,000 people with the health plans. Now, about 14,000 have them.

According to officials at Sendero, the nonprofit has taken other steps to assist its members through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among those steps are: “providing free prescription delivery through larger pharmacies, allowing early refills for maintenance medications, extending provider claims submission deadlines, and working with providers to expand telemedicine and help ensure capacity for care,” Sendero officials said in a press release.

– Ashley Lopez

Update at 9:58 a.m. — All Travis County parks will close for Easter weekend

All parks managed by Travis County will close from Thursday, April 9, at 8 p.m. through the Easter weekend, the county said Tuesday, in response to concerrns of the spread of the coronavirus.

The county says some parks may reopen Monday, April 13, at 8 a.m. for "limited activities," including walking, hiking and biking.

Many county parks, including Hamilton Pool Preserve, are already closed until further notice. The parks that remain open have reduced activities. Visit Travis County's website for a map of the parks run by the county.

Update at 9:45 a.m. — Austin ISD plans for possibility of campus closures for the rest of the school year

The Austin Independent School District will stay closed until at least May 4 after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a statewide order Tuesday extending school closures until then.

Austin ISD says it's also planning for the possibility that all campuses will stay closed for the rest of the school year. At-home instruction and free meal deliveries will continue during the closures.

"While today’s announcement means the educational setting will continue to look different for several more weeks, we want our students, families and staff to know learning will continue," AISD said on its website. "Having all students learn from home is a newer concept for our organization, however, we are committed to providing environments where our students thrive, read and excel."

Round Rock ISD, Leander ISD, Pflugerville ISD and other Central Texas school districts have also extended closures until May 4 after the governor's announcement. Other districts, such as Hays CISD, have said they'll stay closed until it's considered safe and will notify families a week ahead of reopening. 

Update at 9:41 a.m. — Leander ISD changes its grading policy

The Leander Independent School District's Board of Trustees approved a resolution yesterday to temporarily change the district's grading policy in response to extended school closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

All grades will be recorded as either a pass or incomplete for students in all grade levels during the spring semester of this school year.

Students' grade-point averages will not be calculated this semester. Instead, a student's GPA will be based on last semester's average – making it the final GPA for all seniors. Leander ISD says the new GPA calculations will affect the classes of 2021, 2022 and 2023, as well as any student transferring into the district.

This means any high school freshman completing four years of school will have a GPA average based on seven semesters instead of eight.

Update at 6 a.m. — Capital Metro begins fare-free rides

Capital Metro has eliminated fares for the month of April starting Wednesday. The goal is to reduce crowding at fareboxes as people enter the vehicles.

The agency says it will revisit the change at the end of the month to evaluate whether it needs to keep rides fare-free.

Passengers must now board through the rear door and keep a safe distance between themselves and others.

The agency says people should use CapMetro only if necessary, like going to essential jobs or picking up groceries or medication. Ridership has dropped 68.5%, according to figures from Monday. The agency has also reduced service during this time.

Update at 5:15 a.m. — Another APD employee tests positive for COVID-19

A second Austin Police Department employee has tested positive for COVID-19. The department said of the two, one is a sworn-in employee and the other is not. 

Both are quarantining at their homes, APD says, and other employees who may have been in contact with them have been notified.

“The health and safety of our employees and the community is of the utmost importance and we are continuing to exercise all precautions to stop the spread of COVID-19,” APD said in a statement. “We would like to remind the public to stay home and work safe.”

Catch up on what happened yesterday

Abbott orders statewide limits on nonessential activity, keeps schools closed until May

Gov. Greg Abbott issued an order Tuesday requiring Texans to limit personal interactions that could lead to the spread of COVID-19. The order states schools will remain closed until at least May 4.

Abbott said people can still leave their homes to access essentials, like groceries or medicine, and go outside for exercise. Essential services will keep running, he said, and people who work for nonessential businesses can work from home. The order lasts until April 30.

Abbott refused to call the mandate a shelter-in-place or stay-at-home order, saying he doesn’t think those terms accurately reflect what this strategy really means.

Any law enforcement officer can enforce the order; violations are punishable by a fine or jail time of up to 180 days, he said.

Other coronavirus news from Tuesday:

  • City and county officials have set aside hotel rooms and the Austin Sobering Center to quarantine or isolate homeless Austinites who have or present symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
  • Seventy young adults are being investigated for COVID-19 exposure after taking a chartered plane to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, for spring break roughly 10 days ago, Austin Public Health says. Of those 70, 28 have tested positive for COVID-19.
  • The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has temporarily halted a lower court ruling that stopped a ban on abortions in Texas during the coronavirus outbreak.

Correction: A previous version of this story said Travis County parks will close Thursday, April 10. It’s April 9.

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