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COVID-19 April 13 Updates: Austin Sets Up Rental Help Program, Hotline For Restaurants Established

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Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
/
KUT

This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Monday, April 13. Read Tuesday's live updates here. If you'd like to go through a roundup of COVID-19 news from Friday, read it here. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.

Update at 6:30 p.m. – Survey gathering input on teleworking during the coronavirus pandemic

With many businesses moving to teleworking, Movability and Texas State University are partnering on a survey to see how it’s going so far. It seeks to reach a wide range of employees across Central Texas to learn their experiences, as many have been working from home for a month or longer. Some have run into technical glitches, such as not enough broadband and other challenges.

“Maybe we’re sharing our home office space with a partner who’s also trying to work and we’re juggling our meetings ... or we have kids at home that we’re trying to guide through home school,” Kate Harrington, Movibility's outreach and engagement manager, said. “But we’ve also heard from a lot of people thrilled that they don’t have to commute, feeling like they are more productive.”

Harrington said the survey also intends to help employers figure out their long-term plans once stay-at-home orders are eased. She said some businesses may make teleworking a permanent feature of their operations, potentially saving on real estate and parking costs.

“We understand that the future of work in Central Texas is going to look a little bit different,” Harrington said. “And we think that mobility options like teleworking could be a big part of that.”

A recent survey from the National Bureau of Economic Research found the Austin-Round Rock Metropolitan Area ranked fourth in the country in the number of jobs that could be done from home. 

– Samuel King

Update at 6 p.m. – Austin and Travis County extend stay-at-home orders

Austin and Travis County are extending their stay-at-home orders until May 8, officials announced Monday. The original orders had been set to expire at 11:59 p.m. 

Under the extended orders, people are also now required to wear fabric face coverings when conducting essential work or activities.

Read more from Marisa Charpentier here.

Update at 5:52 p.m. – Planned Parenthood centers cut hours, limit appointments

Planned Parenthood health centers in Austin have been scaling back during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Officials with Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, which operates four clinics in Austin, have cut back hours and staff as they limit the number of patients they see.

Clinics are now open fewer hours throughout the week and staff are seeing only patients with time sensitive medical needs – including HIV prevention, some cancer screenings and treatment for sexually transmitted infections.

Sarah Wheat, the chief external affairs officer for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas in Austin, said some services are now conducted by telehealth. Overall, she said, clinics have been forced to take some serious cost-cutting measures.

“That includes voluntary pay reduction for CEO and senior staff, reduced hours, and unfortunately it has also included having to eliminate some staff positions – not just here in Austin – but throughout the region that we serve,” she said.

Planned Parenthood centers have also been forced by state officials to stop providing abortions, which providers say are time-sensitive and essential services.

“It’s been incredibly challenging,” Wheat said. “It’s incredibly difficult as patients are really scrambling to put together any options that they have.”

– Ashley Lopez 

Update at 4:54 p.m. – Hays County reports first fatality

Hays County has reported its first death related to COVID-19: a woman in her 80s who was living with a relative in Buda.

The county has reported 93 confirmed cases. Of those, there are 50 active cases, while 42 people have recovered.

Update at 4:12 p.m. – ACC receiving federal funds to help students

Austin Community College was awarded $13.9 million in aid as part of the  Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, which was set up under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. 

Schools must use half of that money to help students cover expenses “related to the disruption of campus operations due to coronavirus.” Those include “food, housing, course materials, technology, health care, and child-care expenses.”

In total, the CARES Act authorized $13.9 billion to institutions of higher education. Those ranged from beauty schools to large universities. UT Austin, for example, was awarded $31 million. Allocation was based on two factors – the percentage of Pell Grant recipients and the percentage of full-time students who had to switch to distance learning. 

Schools can create their own process to decide how they distribute the money among their students. ACC's Vice President of Student Affairs Shasta Buchanan said the college is working on that process now.

“[Students] would be able to inform us of what is that hardship? What [do] they need that money for?” she said. Based on that input ACC will provide grants directly to the students.

Buchanan said the Department of Education has not specified how the other half of the money must be used or when the funds will be available. 

– Sangita Menon

Update at 2:45 p.m. — City of Austin looking into giving tenants cash to help pay rent

The City of Austin’s Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department is setting up several pots of money for people seeking help in paying their rent.

Right now, low-income families can apply for rental assistance from the city from a fund of $250,000; but in a meeting with city council members Monday, city staff did not say how much money each household was eligible for. 

The city is also freeing up an additional $300,000 in rental assistance money later this month, which would be handed out as $1,500 one-time payments. This money is available to more middle-income families — a family of four, for example, making up to $115,00 a year would be eligible.

The city said it’s trying to get a $750,000 contract it was working on before the pandemic approved earlier now to help people in need. This money would be available for rental assistance, eviction legal help and cash for tenants forced to move out of an apartment with little notice.

The city is encouraging people to call 2-1-1 to find out which programs they qualify for.

— Audrey McGlinchy

Update at 1:30 p.m. – Salvation Army closes downtown homeless shelter

Salvation Army has temporarily closed its downtown shelter after 12 clients tested positive for COVID-19. The nonprofit moved its 187 clients to a city-leased hotel providing emergency housing until at least next week.

It plans to reopen after it deep-cleans the facility and reorganizes beds to more effectively space out people staying in its dormitories.

This is the second client staying in the shelter to test positive for COVID-19.

Read more from Andrew Weber.

Update at 12:21 p.m. – City decreases parking access at parks

Parking for downtown parks, district parks and neighborhood parks will be reduced starting today to discourage crowding, the city's Parks and Recreation Department said in a press release.

Residents can use the PARD parkviewer app to see which parks are affected.

The department said it is also converting the Hike and Bike Trail at Lady Bird Lake to "one way" to increase physical distancing.

Update at 12 p.m. – CAMPO holding online open houses on transportation plans

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) will host four online open houses beginning today to allow the public to ask questions about its 2045 plan and 2021-2024 Transportation Improvement Program. The amended TIP includes the reallocation of $600 million to help close a funding gap for the I-35 Capital Express Project. That means some other projects would be placed on the backburner. 

Also, in a change of policy, CAMPO will take phone comments about the plans as a way to address equity and access concerns across its six-county region.

“There are parts of our region that do not have high-speed internet access,” Doise Miers, community outreach manager for CAMPO, said. “And we know with schools and libraries being closed that there may be some who do not have access to a laptop or a computer or a smartphone. So we wanted to kind of level that playing field and have call-in as another option for people.”

The CAMPO Transportation Policy Board is also meeting virtually next week. Members are expected to decide whether to adopt the $600 million proposal. Information on public comment should come later this week. 

– Samuel King

Update at 10:48 a.m. — New hotline set up for Austin and Travis County restaurants with questions about COVID-19

Austin Public Health has launched a hotline — called “Helping Austin Restaurants Today” or  HART — to answer questions from restaurants in Austin and Travis County about coronavirus issues.

The hotline is staffed from 7:45 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Monday through Friday. The hotline number is: 512-978-HART (4278).

You can read more about the hotline on the city's website.

Update at 10:33 a.m. — Contemporary Austin offers live, online art classes for children and adults

The Contemporary Austin is offering online classes in drawing, painting, ceramics and more. Once a person registers, the Contemporary will set up a time to either pick up supplies or have them delivered. 

Find out more at TheContemporaryAustin.org/artschool.

Update at 7:29 a.m. — The governor will announce a new small business initiative this morning

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott will be unveiling the initiative at 11:30 a.m. at the State Capitol, the governor's office said.

Abbott will be joined by Janie Barrera, president and CEO of LiftFund, and John Waldron, president and COO of Goldman Sachs, through a Zoom video call.

Watch video of the announcement here.

Catch up on what happened over the weekend

Gov. Abbott Extends Texas Coronavirus Disaster Declaration

Gov. Greg Abbott extended his disaster declaration for all Texas counties on Sunday in response to COVID-19.

He originally issued the declaration on March 13. The declaration enables the state to secure resources to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. 

“By extending my Disaster Declaration, we are ensuring the state of Texas continues to have adequate resources and capabilities to support our communities and protect public health,” Abbott said in a written statement. 

The proclamation authorizes “the use of all available resources of state government and political subdivisions that are reasonably necessary to cope with the disaster.” It also allows the governor to suspend state agency orders or rules that “prevent, hinder, or delay necessary action in coping with this disaster.”

Austin Public Health establishes child care task force

Austin Public Health created a child care task force to help make sure essential workers get the support they need during the coronavirus pandemic, APH announced Saturday.

The group is spreading the word about Frontline Child Care, a state effort to help families employed by essential businesses find child care.

“It serves as crucial support for essential workers needing child care during this crisis,” Cathy McHorse, who leads for the task force’s Advocacy and Child Care Capacity Workgroup, said in a press release. “The tool is also a critical support for our fragile local childcare ecosystem, as childcare centers and childcare homes are struggling to stay afloat during and after this crisis, while also supporting their teachers and staff.”

The task force includes individuals Texas Health and Human Services Commission, Travis County, Workforce Solutions Capital Area, Austin ISD and more. 

Essential workers in Travis County who need child care can complete an eligibility form for child care subsidies here. The income threshold for child care subsidies has been expanded for people working on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic to about 150% of the state’s median income.

Other coronavirus news from the weekend:

  • The Texas Supreme Court revived Gov. Greg Abbott’s order restricting the release of some jail inmates during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Abortion providers asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take emergency action to restore “essential, time-sensitive medication abortion services.”

What's happening statewide? Check out special coverage from KERA for North Texas, Houston Public MediaTexas Public Radio in San Antonio and Marfa Public Radio.

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