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COVID-19 April 28 Updates: Alamo Drafthouse Won't Open Theaters, Austin ISD Opens Outdoor Spaces

Murals adorn closed businesses in downtown Austin during the coronavirus pandemic.
Michael Minasi
/
KUT
Murals adorn closed businesses in downtown Austin during the coronavirus pandemic.

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 news@KUT.org.

Update at 5:54 p.m. – Freight traffic has dropped significantly in Texas, report finds

There are fewer vehicles on the roads right now, and that includes trucks carrying freight. Texas has seen one of the largest drops of freight traffic in the nation, according to a new report from the analytics firm INRIX. 

INRIX found freight traffic had dropped by 20% in Texas and Kentucky. The only state with a bigger drop was Michigan, which was down 37%.

The drop was likely caused by declines in manufacturing and energy production, INRIX found. 

Nationwide, personal traffic had dropped by 46%, but truck traffic is down only 13%. That indicates a continued demand for consumer products, according to INRIX.

– Samuel King

Update at 5:21 p.m. – Local advocacy groups seek "slow streets" during pandemic

An ongoing tension from stay-at-home orders has been how to let people get outside for exercise without them crowding parks and trails. A coalition of more than 30 organizations is asking the City of Austin to open more space on neighborhood streets for walking and cycling. 

The “slow streets” proposal would allow the streets to still be open for local traffic and deliveries. 

It’s similar to what’s been done in Oakland, Calif., where 74 miles of streets have been closed to traffic. 

“Until now, the street has been predominantly the domain of one type of person: someone driving a car,” Adam Greenfield, board president of Walk Austin, said. “And now that we're all being put under more strain, we are seeing that we need streets to function for a broader array of people.”

The Austin Transportation Department has already closed Riverside Drive near Vic Mathias Shores, as well as one southbound lane of the Longhorn Dam bridge. 

The coalition wants ATD to expand that idea to other streets near trails and parks and add bike lanes to Congress Avenue between Riverside Drive and the state Capitol. It also wants ATD to change the timing of more signals in an effort to slow drivers down.

The department started that process earlier this month after data determined speeding was leading to dangerous crashes.

– Samuel King

Update at 5:08 p.m. – Cap Metro awards bonuses to recognize staff

Capital Metro is giving bonuses to employees who’ve continued to come into work during the coronavirus pandemic.

The agency announced Tuesday it is giving a weekly $150 bonus to full-time employees whose duties could not be performed from home for the period between March 24 and Thursday.

Cap Metro has reported 11 cases of COVID-19 among staff. Four bus drivers who tested positive have recovered and returned to work. One maintenance worker died.

Update at 4:51 p.m. – Hays County to offer free testing to uninsured residents and those who can't afford it

Hays County is partnering with two area medical facilities to provide free testing for residents showing COVID-19 symptoms who are uninsured or under-insured, and those who can't afford to get a test on their own.

Starting Wednesday, people can be screened by calling the county’s COVID-19 hotline, 512-393-5525, from 8 a.m. to noon, and 1 to 3 p.m. Those who meet criteria to be tested can then schedule an appointment in either San Marcos or Wimberley.

Update at 2:33 p.m. – Venues raise more than $50,000 for unemployed industry workers

The Red River Cultural District says it has distributed more than $40,000 in H-E-B gift cards to roughly 500 out-of-work event and venue staffers.

Back when SXSW was canceled, the collective of venues established a fundraiser, Banding Together, to supplant workers' financial losses. So far, it has raised more than $50,000 through an online donation platform – the lion's share of which has gone toward gift cards for bartenders, production staff, servers and other staffers and part-timers.

"Need will continue to be ongoing, in spite of indications that some small businesses in Texas will be allowed to reopen during this ongoing pandemic," the collective said Tuesday on Instagram. "Our community has already been facing housing, health and food insecurity."

– Andrew Weber

Update at 12:44 p.m. – Episcopal Health Foundation to award grants for nonprofits helping vulnerable people during the pandemic

The Episcopal Health Foundation plans to spend $10 million on addressing the long-term financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in Texas. Part of its strategy will be focused on helping nonprofits that are struggling.

Elena Marks, the group’s president and CEO, said just like small businesses, nonprofits are going through a hard time right now.

“Nonprofits are small businesses,” she said. "The only difference between them and the for-profit businesses is that they are not returning income to an investor or owner.”

Marks said the foundation plans to focus on nonprofits it already partners with that are on the frontlines of helping vulnerable people deal with the repercussions of the pandemic.

It will award a first round of grants in May and plans to announce another round later this year.

According to a press release, the Episcopal Health Foundation is also working to establish an emergency loan fund for nonprofits.

“Those [nonprofits] that are in demand for help right now, don’t necessarily have enhanced resources,” Marks said.

– Ashley Lopez

Update at 11:34 a.m. — Austin ISD temporarily cancels meal delivery on some bus routes as a staff member awaits COVID-19 results

The Austin Independent School District has canceled meal delivery on three bus routes — 2161, 2162 and 2165 — until Monday.

AISD says an employee who works in the kitchen that services the three routes was not feeling well, but did not have COVID-19 symptoms. The district says the employee was tested Monday and is awaiting results. Other employees who were in contact with the staff member are in quarantine until the results are released, AISD said.

For more on the affected bus routes, visit AISD's website.

Update at 5:45 a.m. — Alamo Drafthouse says it won’t open this weekend; Broken Spoke will

Alamo Drafthouse tweeted Monday evening that it won’t be opening its theaters in Texas this weekend, despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s announcement that movie theaters, restaurants and certain other businesses can reopen starting Friday if they keep occupancy to no more than 25%.

“Opening safely is a very complex project that involves countless new procedures and equipment, all of which require extensive training,” the company wrote. “This is something we cannot and will not do casually or quickly.”

Broken Spoke, a restaurant and dance hall on South Lamar in Austin, announced on its Facebook page that it will be opening Friday, following Abbott’s capacity guidelines. Patrons must wear masks, according to the post, and there won’t be bands or dancing for the time being.

Update at 5:45 a.m. — Austin ISD reopens certain outdoor spaces

The Austin Independent School District has reopened its tracks, fields and courts. Tennis courts, football fields, basketball courts and play fields are now accessible, but playgrounds will stay closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

People must still social distance in these spaces, meaning people will need to stay 6 feet away from others, according to AISD.

Catch up on what happened yesterday

Gov. Abbott announces phased-in approach to reopening Texas economy

Retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters and malls can reopen Friday provided they limit occupancy to no more than 25%, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday.

Abbott said it was not yet safe for salons, barbershops, bars and gyms to open, but that if the community continues safe-distancing practices to tamp down new COVID-19 cases, those kinds of establishments could be allowed to open in mid-May.

A second phase, that would allow more businesses to open and expand occupancy to 50%, could come as early as May 18. Abbott said the state would first need to see two weeks of data showing there are no flare-ups.

The governor's order supersedes local orders.

Other local coronavirus news from Monday:

  • In just under two hours Monday morning, Catholic Charities of Central Texas received 400 phone calls from people looking for financial assistance because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The nonprofit is one of a handful to get a portion of a $15 million relief fund the Austin City Council approved earlier this month.
  • More than 500 of the 1,800 people who’ve signed up for Austin Public Health’s testing enrollment form met the criteria needed to warrant a COVID-19 test.
  • Capital Metro rides will continue to be free in May.
  • Williamson County launched its online COVID-19 assessment tool.

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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