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COVID-19 April 15 Updates: More UT Students Test Positive, Applications Open For Relief Fund

Hundreds of cars line up to receive a box of free food from the Central Texas Food Bank, at LBJ High School on Wednesday.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
/
KUT
Hundreds of cars line up to receive a box of free food from the Central Texas Food Bank, at LBJ High School on Wednesday.

This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Wednesday, April 15. 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.

If you find this reporting valuable, please consider making a donation to support it. Your gift pays for everything you find on KUT.org. Thanks for donating today.

Update at 5:24 p.m. — Central Health to reopen some clinics, expand COVID-19 testing to Eastern Travis County 

Central Health says it’s reopening some of the health centers it closed last month and expanding drive-thru testing in East Travis County to ensure people of color aren’t disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

CommUnityCare’s Hornsby Bend Health Center reopened Wednesday with its regular clinic hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Its Del Valle Health Center will open Monday with modified hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday and Tuesday. The health centers in Manor and Community First! Village have plans to reopen next.

Central Health is expanding drive-up COVID-19 testing to different communities in Eastern Travis County like Manor, Colony Park, Austin’s Colony/Hornsby Bend, Del Valle and Dove Springs on a rotating basis.

CommUnityCare announced in a press release Wednesday that it plans to begin the rotation Thursday in Del Valle. Drive-up testing will take place at Southeast Metropolitan Park from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. On Friday, the testing will be at Barbara Jordan Elementary School in Colony Park from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. A more complete schedule of drive-up testing sites will be made available once more locations are secured, CommUnityCare said.

Read more here from Marisa Charpentier

Update at 5:04 p.m. – District judge to expand eligibility for mail-in ballots

A Travis County district court judge said Wednesday he will clarify that voters fearful of contracting COVID-19 will be allowed to use mail-in ballots during elections in July and November.

Under Texas law, only people over 65, people who are in jail and not convicted, people who will be out of the county, and people who are sick or disabled can get a mail-in ballot.

The Texas Democratic Party argued that because people could be exposed to the coronavirus while voting in person, they should be allowed to apply for a mail-in ballot under the “disability” category.

Judge Tim Sulak said he was “inclined” to side with plaintiffs in the case because voters were being put in a situation where they had two bad options.

Attorneys representing state officials said they planned to appeal Sulak’s order once it’s submitted.

Read more here from Ashley Lopez.

Update at 4:07 p.m. – UT confirms more COVID-19 cases related to Cabo trip

UT Austin officials confirmed Wednesday that 53 students who traveled to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, for spring break now have tested positive for the coronavirus. That number is up from 49 two weeks ago – and 28 when the university first announced the cases late last month.

UT says 211 students traveled to the town on the Baja Peninsula between March 14 and March 19.

Officials say a total of 83 students at the university have tested positive or have been presumed positive for COVID-19. Eight employees have also tested positive for the disease.

– Andrew Weber

Update at 3:24 p.m. – Applications open for Austin's $15 million relief fund

Austin Public Health started accepting applications Wednesday for a $15 million relief fund set up to provide immediate direct services and assistance to vulnerable residents affected by the coronavirus crisis.

Austin City Council approved the Relief in a State of Emergency funding April 9. Organizations that distribute emergency assistance to people can apply.

APH said it anticipates it will award multiple requests for a minimum of $250,000 and a maximum of $2 million. 

Applications can be found here.

Update at 2:57 p.m. – Williamson County declines to extend stay-at-home order, for now

Unlike Travis County, Williamson County has not extended its stay-at-home order yet. It’s set to expire April 30. County Judge Bill Gravell says he doesn’t want to get ahead of Gov. Greg Abbott’s order, which also expires at the end of the month. 

“My intent as County Judge is if they put it back on the counties to make that decision, I think we’re going to have that discussion right here at Commissioners Court,” Gravell told commissioners Tuesday. 

Travis County and the City of Austin extended their orders until May 8, and also required that people wear masks or face coverings in certain public settings. It’s currently recommended in Williamson County, but not mandatory. 

Commissioner Terry Cook cautioned that “people make bad decisions” and the court should reconsider, but other commissioners disagreed. 

"Their numbers, their circumstances, their type of housing, their demographics are different than Williamson County,” Commissioner Russ Boles said. “So what is good for Travis County may not be good for Williamson County."

Commissioners also voted to take more control over spending related to COVID-19 from Gravell. The judge agreed, saying there’s no longer a need to make spending decisions as quickly. He had approved the leasing of refrigerated trucks to serve as temporary morgues. 

Four people have died from COVID-19 in Williamson County, and 25 people have been hospitalized during the pandemic. There are 128 confirmed cases in the county, as of noon Wednesday.

– Samuel King

Update at 7:55 a.m. — SAFE Alliance sees a significant increase in calls to its help hotline

The City of Austin has enacted a stay-at-home order to slow the spread of COVID-19 — but home isn’t a safe space for everyone.

The SAFE Alliance, which aids survivors of domestic violence or abuse, has seen a significant increase in calls to its help hotline amid the coronavirus pandemic, said SAFE’s co-CEO Kelly White in a conversation with Austin Mayor Steve Adler streamed on Facebook on Tuesday night.

SAFE operates a children’s shelter and a family shelter, both of which are remaining open during the pandemic. 

The organization has a 24/7 SAFEline where people can call, text or chat online with a trained advocate. It also offers parenting support, which has moved to a virtual format during the pandemic.

Read more from KUT's Marisa Charpentier.

Update at 5:45 a.m. — Central Texas Food Bank is hosting a drive-thru Wednesday morning

Central Texas Food Bank is distributing food via a drive-thru at LBJ High School on Wednesday to help people facing food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

From 9 a.m. to noon, people can stop by to receive an emergency food box that has about 28 pounds of food. It includes shelf-stable items like peanut butter, rice and canned tuna. Recipients also receive a box of hygiene items such as shampoo, baby wipes and deodorant. 

The food bank asks that only one person per household attends the event for health and safety reasons. Pickup will only be available to people in cars. 

“We also ask that you attend this event only if you are facing true food insecurity since our resources are stretched to the limit,” the food bank said in a press release.

LBJ High School is located at 7309 Lazy Creek Dr., Austin.

Catch up on what happened yesterday

Austin could see spike in cases from Easter weekend socializing, Judge Eckhardt says

Austin-Travis County will probably see a spike in COVID-19 cases two weeks after the Easter weekend, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said during a news conference Tuesday.

The spike would come from increased socializing during the weekend, she said, referencing data from cellphone GPS tracking company Unacast that showed a spike in activity and a lower social distancing score for Travis County.

"Where we had an A- before, we have a C now," Eckhardt said, "but I know we're going to get back to that A grade with regard to that social distancing."

Other local coronavirus news from Tuesday:

  • UT Austin announced it’s limiting new hires, freezing salary raises and lowering tuition for summer classes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • County Commissioners OK'd a hiring freeze in Travis County to offset projected losses of anywhere between $25 and $32 million this fiscal year because of COVID-19's economic impact.
  • The Texas Juvenile Justice Department is halting new admissions to its facilities starting Tuesday until April 27. 
  • Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is eligible to receive $58.7 million in grants under the CARES Act. 
  • Capital Metro says two more bus drivers have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the agency’s total number of employee cases to seven. 

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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