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COVID-19 Latest: Austin-Travis County Ban Gatherings Of More Than 10 People

People walk along South Congress Avenue wearing masks on Wednesday.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
People walk along South Congress Avenue wearing masks on Wednesday.

This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Friday, July 3. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.

Austin Public Health reports 314 new COVID-19 cases in Travis County

Austin Public Health reported 314 new cases of COVID-19 in Travis County on Friday evening, more than 200 fewer cases than reported on Thursday. One more coronavirus-related death was reported.

There were 65 new hospital admissions in the five-county region (Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell), six fewer than were reported the day before. Currently, 418 people are hospitalized with the virus in the area, 42 fewer people than on Thursday.

The seven-day average of daily COVID-19 hospital admissions is now at 59.1, up from 58.3. Local officials worry about patients overwhelming hospitals, so they’re keeping an eye on that number and adjusting restrictions based on it.

The area is in stage 4 of APH’s risk-based guidelines, meaning higher risk individuals (people over 65 and those with underlying conditions) should avoid social gatherings, and any gatherings of more than two people, and stay home unless absolutely necessary. Lower risk individuals should avoid social gatherings and gatherings of more than 10 people.

Stage 5, the highest risk level, could be triggered if the hospitalization average rises above 70. If the average falls below 40, the area will move down to stage 3.

Austin-Travis County bans gatherings of more than 10 people

Austin Mayor Steve Adler has issued an order Friday that bans gatherings of more than 10 people indoors and outdoors. Gov. Greg Abbott's order allowing local governments to enact limitations imposes a number of exceptions, however.

The exceptions include critical infrastructure, religious services, child care centers, government operations, recreational sports programs, and youth and summer camps. Water parks, museums, libraries, rodeos and amusement parks can operate at 50% of their normal capacity.

The limit on gatherings does not apply to members of the same household. The mayor's order says social gatherings of any size should be minimized or avoided.

“This new local order — takes full advantage of new tools in the Governor’s latest orders — making masks mandatory and enforceable while also prohibiting groups over ten,” said Austin Mayor Steve Adler. “It is now on each of us to do our part — for our communities and for our loved ones — especially this holiday weekend.”

Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe said gatherings of more than 10 people are also banned in unincorporated parts of the county.

Dr. Mark Escott, interim Austin-Travis County health authority, applauded the governor's executive order. "This is not a partisan issue, it is a human issue, and Texas is demonstrating we can be stronger together," he said.
 
Traffic times maintain downward trend during pandemic

Congestion continues to be lower than normal on Austin’s streets during the pandemic, and the trend is more pronounced in the afternoon than in the mornings.

Data released by the Austin Transportation Department shows that travel times in the morning are down 8% compared to the same week last year. In the afternoons, they’re down 22%. That’s because traffic times before the pandemic were usually much higher in the afternoons, as drivers typically made more stops. Now, the gap is pretty much gone. 

“What we’re seeing is traffic going toward what we call free-flow conditions where vehicles are basically traveling as fast they can, safety, within the speed limit and given signal timing,” said Jen Duthie, a managing engineer with the Austin Transportation Department. “Since evening was so much worse, we did see a much bigger decline in the travel time.”

Traffic has also started to decline again since the recent surge of coronavirus cases. Duthie says ATD will continue to adjust signal timing if needed, in response to traffic patterns.

She said traffic would normally increase as schools and universities return to classes in August, but that may be different this year. That's because there will likely be more remote classes for students, and remote work for large employers. 

— Samuel King

Texas GOP convention in Houston will go ahead this month

The Texas GOP's Executive Committee voted Thursday to hold its convention in person in Houston this month — despite a surge of coronavirus cases. Orange County GOP Chair David Covey said in-person collaboration is crucial and he's concerned about going virtual.

"It limits participation and dialogue. There's absolutely no way for 5,000 delegates to interact and participate or influence the process," Covey said. "The virtual meeting will always give more weight and influence to those appointed to committees and those chairing the committees." 

The state's GOP convention is scheduled for July 16-18. Read more about the plans to go through with the convention from The Texas Tribune.

CommUnityCare drive-thru testing closed over holiday weekend

CommUnityCare drive-thru testing locations will be closed over the Fourth of July weekend, starting Friday. Testing will resume on Monday.

“Our testing staff has been working outside, often in extreme heat, in full personal protective equipment since March and they’re exhausted – just like many other frontline health care workers,” CommUnityCare Chief Medical Officer Dr. Alan Schalscha said in a press release. “We will take the holiday weekend to recharge, re-energize, and plan how we can continue to serve our community.”

COVID-19 test providers in the Austin area have been grappling with an increased demand for testing in recent weeks. CommUnityCare has had to shut down some of its sites early each day because they’ve reached capacity.

The network of health centers stopped offering drive-thru testing at two of its smaller locations this week (Pflugerville and William Cannon) and is now looking for new locations that can better handle the high turnout.

CommUnityCare also announced Thursday that it had to stop testing asymptomatic people. Now, it is reserving tests for people with symptoms, a known exposure to the virus or underlying conditions.

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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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