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COVID-19 April 2 Updates: Texas Education Agency Won't Rate Schools, Amazon To Stream SXSW Films

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Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT

This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Thursday, April 2. Read live updates from Friday here. If you'd like to go through a roundup of COVID-19 news from Wednesday, read it here. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.

Update at 8:22 p.m. — St. David's staff celebrate patient as she leaves the hospital

A 44-year-old woman who was diagnosed with COVID-19 was discharged from St. David’s South Austin Medical Center on Thursday.

She spent 16 days in the hospital, 10 of which were spent on a ventilator, according to a spokesperson from the hospital. She was able to sit up and feed herself Jello and ice chips a day after doctors removed her breathing tube. 

The hospital staff threw her a celebration when she left. 

Update at 6:58 p.m. – Texas Education Agency pauses public school ratings this year

Texas public schools won’t receive a rating this year, the Texas Education Agency announced Thursday. Instead, they’ll receive the label “Not Rated: Declared State of Disaster.”

COVID-19, which has led to extended school closures, has had “massively disruptive effects” on the states’ more than 5.5 million public school students, the agency says. 

Gov. Greg Abbott has ordered the closing of schools through at least May 4 to slow the spread of the disease. TEA says closures have made it impossible for the agency to measure school performance as it normally does.

“While we continuously work to ensure our “A-F” Accountability System paints an accurate picture of school performance, these unprecedented circumstances have forced all of us to change and adapt,” Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said in a press release.

Still, under the “not rated” designation, districts and campuses should keep implementing previously ordered interventions, TEA says. That means those carried out in the 2019-20 school year will carry over for the 2020-2021 school year.

Update at 6:20 p.m. – Pflugerville bond election gets pushed back

The Pflugerville City Council decided Thursday to postpone its upcoming bond election until November. 

Originally set for May 2, it will now be held Nov. 3. The election covers transportation projects across the city. If approved, the $96.7 million bond would go toward projects such as widening Kelly Lane and Immanuel Road and connecting SH 45 frontage roads.

In response to COVID-19, Gov. Greg Abbott has allowed local governments to move May elections to November, though he has not postponed all elections statewide.

Update at 1:55 p.m. — Amazon to screen SXSW films 

Movies that would have been shown as part of the South by Southwest Film Festival are getting another shot at screenings on Amazon Prime Video. And viewing will be free of charge. You won’t need an Amazon Prime membership to watch them, just a free Amazon account. 

The SXSW 2020 Film Festival Collection will be available for 10 days, with a start date still to be announced. Organizers are aiming for late April, according to a press release. Amazon says filmmakers can opt in starting Thursday. 

The City of Austin announced in early March the cancellation of this year’s SXSW in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. It was the event’s first cancellation in its 34-year history.

Update at 11:30 a.m. — 3 Capital Metro bus drivers and a mechanic test positive for COVID-19

Four Capital Metro staff members — three drivers and one mechanic — have tested positive for the coronavirus, Austin’s public transit provider said this morning.

Cap Metro says its mechanic does not interact with the public and was last at work on March 16. The first bus operator with a positive test last worked on March 25, driving Route 300 on March 19, 23, 24 and 25.

The second bus driver’s last day on the job, Cap Metro says, was March 26. The operator drove Route 383 on March 21 and Route 937 from March 23-26.

The third bus operator’s last day was March 26. They drove Route 985 on March 19, Route 383 on March 22 and 23, Route 325 on March 24 and 25 and route 335 on March 26.

“Anyone who has ridden the routes driven by these operators in the last 14 days should monitor themselves and contact their health care provider if they develop any symptoms,” Cap Metro said in a statement. The buses driven by these operators have been removed from service temporarily while they get additional cleaning.

Cap Metro fares have been suspended for the entire month of April to keep customers and operators safe, the agency said.

Update at 11:11 a.m. — More UT Austin spring-breakers test positive for the coronavirus

UT Austin says now a total of 44 students have tested positive for COVID-19 after chartering a flight to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico over spring break.

The university and Austin Public Health initially said 28 students had tested positive for the disease caused by the new coronavirus on Tuesday.

According to KVUE, the travelers chartered the flight through JusCollege, leaving March 14 and returning March 19. The company reportedly refused to give refunds on the prepaid trip – and suggested it was safe to travel to Mexico amid COVID-19 concerns in the lead-up to March 14.

Read more from Andrew Weber.

Update at 9:15 a.m. — Texas unemployment claims are way up — again

More than 275,000 Texans filed first-time claims for unemployment benefits last week, according to new numbers from the U.S. Department of Labor. 

That was up from more than 155,000 the week ending March 21, as the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic began to take hold. It’s likely the numbers will continue to grow as the crisis goes on. 

The state’s unemployment benefits system has been clogged with people trying to apply. There are reports of long delays, endless busy signals and web site errors as laid off and furloughed workers scramble to get through to apply. The Texas Workforce Commission says it's adding more staff and capacity to handle the crush of filers — but so far, the system is still overwhelmed.

Nationwide, 6.6 million people filed initial unemployment claims last week — doubling the record-obliterating number from the previous week. 

Update at 5:19 a.m. — Health officials continue to urge people to stay home after Austin-area patient in 20s is in critical condition 

A person in their 20s is in critical condition at a local hospital due to COVID-19, health officials say. 

Dr. Mark Escott, the interim health authority for Austin-Travis County, said people need to stay home to reduce the risk of spreading the disease.

“It is important to understand that young people are not immune from serious illness,” Escott said in a statement. “We implore the community to stay at home even if you are not feeling ill, and before leaving your house ask yourself ‘Is this trip necessary?’ It is the entire community’s responsibility to stop the spread, including our young adults and teens.”

He said even people with mild symptoms can play a significant role in spreading the disease.

Catch up on what happened yesterday

School districts and higher education adjust amid COVID-19

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.

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. 

Leander ISD’s Board of Trustees approved a resolution Monday night saying all grades will be recorded as either a pass or incomplete for students in all grade levels during this spring semester. Students' grade-point averages will not be calculated this semester. Instead, a student's GPA will be based on last semester's average. 

Austin Community College, too, 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.”

UT Austin said its summer classes will be held online this year due to the pandemic. Students are currently finishing their spring semester remotely. Many hoped to return to in-person classes by the summer session, but President Greg Fenves said Wednesday that won’t be possible to do safely.

Other local coronavirus news from Wednesday:

  • The board of directors for Sendero Health Plans, a local nonprofit health insurance program, voted to waive all costs to treat members who have COVID-19.
  • All parks managed by Travis County will close from Thursday, April 9, at 8 p.m. through the Easter weekend, the county said, in response to concerrns of the spread of the coronavirus.
  • The governor and attorney general released some guidance for how houses of worship should operate during the coronavirus pandemic..

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