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COVID-19 April 21 Updates: Report Warns Of Mental Health Impacts, New Rules Issued For Nursing Homes

A face mask hangs in the rearview mirror of a car.
Gabriel C. Pérez
A face mask hangs in the rearview mirror of a car.

We'll be updating this story throughout the day Tuesday with the latest local news on the coronavirus pandemic. If you'd like to go through a roundup of COVID-19 news from Monday, read it here. If you have a news tip or question, email us at

Update at 5:45 p.m. – Escott warns of unapproved COVID-19 tests

The top doctor at Austin Public Health is advising caution about antibody testing that is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Dr. Mark Escott told Travis County commissioners Tuesday he recognizes that limited availability of legitimate COVID-19 testing may tempt people to turn to questionable sources for reassurance they’re not at risk. However, he said, many of these so-called antibody tests are of no value.

“I think there’s a great deal of fraud going on right now. I think the community should be very wary regarding the antibody testing that’s currently being successfully marketed across the state of Texas," he said. "These antibody tests are not FDA approved and they are not accurate.”

As more testing becomes available, Escott said, he expects the number of positive results will increase in the area. He said a better measure of the impact of the virus will be the number of people hospitalized.

"The hospitalized numbers are less prone to variability related to testing," he said, "and we’ve seen some plateau of that over a number of days."

Escott said those figures are better for predicting when the area is going to hit its peak.

He also warned there were issues last fall and winter with ICU and ventilator capacity before the new coronavirus arrived. 

Update at 3:30 p.m. – Report warns pandemic could lead to increase in suicides and drug overdoses

The economic recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic could increase the number of mental health and addiction disorders, a new report from the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute in Texas finds.

The findings are part of a series of reports the institute plans to release on the mental health impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. The first report found COVID-19 and mitigation efforts to control the virus – resulting in job losses – could lead to deaths from suicide and overdose. 

"We need to prepare and make sure that we're ready with the health resources and care options that people need in order to have a different outcome," Andy Keller, the institute's president and CEO, said, "to be able to get their depression treated successfully and to not develop suicidal thoughts, to not end up dying from suicide."

More than 1 million Texans filed for unemployment relief since mid-March. The institute predicts for every 5% annual increase in the state's unemployment rate, 725 Texans could die from suicide or drug overdose each year. Researchers encourage individuals to reach out for help or practice self-care by exercising, maintaining a healthy diet and connecting with friends and family.

The report lists the following resources for individuals in crisis or in need of support: 

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Crisis Text Line: Text “HELP” to 741741
  • Texas Health and Human Services Statewide COVID-19 Mental Health Support Line available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week toll-free: 833-986-1919
  • Disaster Distress Helpline 1-800-985-5990 or Text “TalkWithUs” to 66746

– Dani Matias 

Update at 11:57 a.m. – Doggett among Democrats asking congressional leaders not to let states scale back Medicaid programs

Democratic Congressman Lloyd Doggett of Austin – along with more than 100 other congressional Democrats – is raising concerns about provisions in the upcoming relief bill that would allow states to cut their Medicaid programs.

In a letter to leadership in the House and Senate on Tuesday, they asked to keep “maintenance of effort” laws in the bill currently moving through Congress. Maintenance of effort, or MOE, laws basically restrict states from making their Medicaid programs worse.

Often states will scale back their Medicaid programs by limiting who qualifies or by cutting services.

“Modifying or repealing the MOE requirements would be an invitation for our states to provide even less assistance to our most vulnerable neighbors, especially in states that already have restrictive Medicaid programs,” Democrats wrote in their letter. “It would be extremely harmful to millions of children, seniors, pregnant women, individuals with disabilities and others who rely on Medicaid across the country.”

Doggett said some Republicans have made repealing these laws a top priority in the next relief package. He said that could become a problem in Texas, which already has a restrictive program and the highest uninsured rate in the country.

“We know that there are many states are financial pressure and often Medicaid – being a major state expenditure – becomes a target,” he said.

Doggett said cuts to Medicaid also disproportionately affect communities of color, which are already the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It would certainly worsen that trend of losing our neighbors who are people of color, if they are denied health care,” Doggett said. “Medicaid is often a vital resource to access health care for people of color.”

– Ashley Lopez

Update at 9:33 a.m. — Gov. Greg Abbott will hold a news conference at 2 p.m.

The governor of Texas will hold a news conference to give an update on the state's response to the coronavirus at 2 p.m. today in the auditorium of the state Capitol.

Last Friday, Abbott unveiled his plans for the gradual reopening of the Texas economy. He issued an executive order that allows businesses not previously considered essential to offer "retail-to-go" services starting this week.

While he reopened state parks, the governor said it would be unsafe to reopen school buildings, announcing they would be closed for the remainder of the school year. 

Watch the news conference on at 2 p.m.

Update at 9:22 a.m. — The Texas National Guard will mobilize more than 1,200 personnel for mobile COVID-19 testing sites

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced 45-member National Guard teams will be sent across the state to help with testing for the coronavirus. The first two of the 25 mobile-testing teams will be deployed to Fredericksburg and Floresville.

The teams will have 11 medical professionals and support staff, as well as 34 soldiers, with the capacity to test 150 people per day at each location, the governor's office said Monday.

More than 2,500 Texas National Guard personnel are currently serving across the state to help communities with their COVID-19 response. The governor's office said they have helped manufacture more than 4 million pieces of personal protective equipment, conducted over 9,000 COVID-19 tests, and helped distribute food and supplies with local food banks to thousands of Texans each day. 

Update at 7:37 a.m. — Austin ISD families can now drop off school laptops in need of repair and pick up a working device

Starting today, the Austin Independent School District will swap out students’ AISD laptops that need repair with a working computer — from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m on weekdays.

Students should bring their Chromebook and charger, if they have one. They should also bring a piece of paper with their full name, ID number and a description of the problem.

Computers eligible for exchange include those with cracked screens, broken keyboards and laptops that won’t turn on. The swaps will happen at Anderson, Austin and Crockett high schools and the AISD Performing Arts Center.

The school district said the four locations are set up as drive-thrus, noting there will not be a help desk and no repairs will be done as you wait. Students do not have to be there for the exchange to take place.

AISD says students whose devices are working but who need technical support, or students who need a Chromebook issued to them, should call the student help desk at 512-414-4357. You can find more information on Austin ISD's website.

Update at 7:06 a.m. — Texas Democrats launch website aimed at working around the state's strict voter registration laws 

The Texas Democratic Party launched a new website today aimed at making it easier for Texans to register to vote during the COVID-19 pandemic., which launched Tuesday, is designed to make it easier for younger voters, low-income voters and communities of color to register to vote in the coming months.

Because of the coronavirus, in-person registration efforts are on hold.

Texas is also one of only 10 states in the country that doesn’t have online voter registration for people to use instead.

Luke Warford, the voter expansion director for the Texas Democratic Party, said the website is designed to send people who provide their information online a filled out application with a postage-paid envelope that’s pre-addressed to their county voter registrar. 

“We know a lot of folks don’t have access to printers,” Warford said. “They don’t have access to a stamp or an envelope, and a lot of those things are even harder to get in the time of a pandemic.”

All voters will have to do, he said, is sign the form and put the envelope in the mail.

According to a press release, state party officials say is part of their larger effort to register more than 2 million voters in Texas this year.

Warford said it’s also a way to make sure anyone who wants to register can turn in a form as traditional registration efforts are paused.

“ is just us meeting demand that we are seeing across the state,” Warford said. “Folks want to be able to register to vote but they also don’t want to have to sacrifice or risk their health in order to do so.”

— Ashley Lopez

Update at 4:30 a.m. — Local health authority introduces new mandates to protect nursing homes

Updated regulations from Austin Public Health aim to protect nursing homes and long-term care facilities against the spread of COVID-19.

Austin-Travis County’s Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott issued an order that mandates if a facility has a confirmed case, all patients, staff and next of kin must be notified. If two or more patients at the same facility test positive, the facility cannot accept new or returning patients until the facility has been cleared by Austin Public Health, and all staff must be made available for testing if requested. 

Additional personnel and equipment may be sent to the facility to help staff until the outbreak is controlled.

The disease has been found at eight different nursing homes and long-term care facilities in Austin. So far, 67 staff members and 96 residents have been infected, and 15 residents have died related to the disease, according to APH.

“We cannot safely discuss reopening before we have successfully cocooned these vulnerable populations,” Escott said in a press release. “We must continue to look for additional personal protective equipment, more rapid testing, and increased staffing for nursing homes and long-term care facilities.”

Escott’s new order also requires people entering these facilities to wear a surgical face mask or a cloth face covering, if the surgical masks are not available. No one can be admitted to the facility if they have a temperature of 99.6 degrees or higher.

Catch up on what happened yesterday

Capital Metro feels the financial impact of COVID-19

Capital Metro could see its sales tax revenue drop as much as 50% in the coming months as a result of the economic disruptions caused by the coronavirus. Sales taxes account for the bulk of the agency’s revenue. 

The agency is also losing money from fares, which it stopped collecting in April, and saw a steep drop in ridership in March, after schools closed and stay-at-home orders were issued. 

The agency is eligible to receive $102 million in funding from the federal coronavirus relief bill, which should help it avoid dipping into reserves, according to CFO Reinet Marneweck.

Other local coronavirus news from Monday:

  • Austin Public Health has announced that Catholic Charities, Asian Family Support Services, El Buen Samaritano and the Austin Area Urban League will be among the first nonprofits to receive some of the $15 million relief fund council members approved nearly two weeks ago.
  • Concordia University in Austin is offering rooms in its residence halls to first responders and health care workers who are supporting efforts to mitigate COVID-19. 
  • The City of Austin is accepting applications for rental assistance from a pool of $250,000. The city said it had received 138 applications as of Monday morning and will begin awarding money this week. 

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

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