COVID-19 Latest: Austin Public Health Asks People With Insurance Not To Use Free Testing Sites
This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Tuesday, June 30. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.
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Travis County sees more than 500 new cases
Austin Public Health reported 558 new cases of COVID-19 in Travis County on Tuesday evening, up from 508 cases reported on Monday. It’s the second-highest single-day increase in cases to date. The highest single-day increase was reported Sunday, with 636 new cases. Three more deaths were reported Tuesday, bringing the total number of coronavirus-related deaths in the county to 124.
There were 67 new hospital admissions in the five-county region (Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell), up from 48 the day before. Currently, 369 people are hospitalized with the virus in the area, one more than yesterday.
The seven-day average of daily COVID-19 hospital admissions is now at 55, up from 53.4. 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.
State sees record-high COVID-19 hospitalizations and daily new cases
Texas reported 6,975 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, nearly 1,000 more than the previous high reported on June 25.
A record 6,533 people are hospitalized in the state with the disease, 620 more than on Monday. The positivity rate (the percentage of tests administered that come back positive) is at about 14%. A week ago, the rate was at 10.42%.
Gov. Greg Abbott has said a rate above 10% is a “warning flag.”
Abbott announced Tuesday morning that he’s banning elective surgeries in four Texas counties that are seeing a surge in cases and hospitalizations — Cameron, Hidalgo, Nueces and Webb counties. Last week, he banned those surgeries in Travis, Bexar, Dallas and Harris counties.
Protesters demand release of pretrial detainees in Hays County over COVID-19 concerns
Protesters in San Marcos led a caravan of cars honking their horns around the Hays County Historic Courthouse on Tuesday morning. They demanded the release of pretrial detainees (people held in jail before their trial) from the Hays County Jail during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last week, 38 inmates and eight correctional officers tested positive for the virus. Hays County Sheriff’s Office Spokesperson Dennis Gutierrez said the county is taking every precaution to prevent the disease from spreading.
“Inmates are issued a mask when they first come in,” he said. “It is their choice whether or not to wear it. Some just throw them away because they refuse to wear them. Twice a day, corrections officers enter into the common areas where they are housed, and they wipe down table tops and they wipe down anything within the common area.”
The county is awaiting results from about 70 more tests.
Austin asks people with insurance not to take up space at public testing sites
Local public health officials say the free coronavirus testing sites in Austin are becoming overwhelmed. They’re asking people with health insurance to go to sites other than the public ones as their first option for getting tested. That way, people who have no other option can find out if they’re infected.
The city’s health department says it will produce a map of testing sites by the end of the week. But interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott says if the coronavirus infection rate continues to increase as it has, even all the testing in the city might not be enough to keep up with demand.
He says if you have symptoms and cannot get tested, you should behave as if you have a positive test and self-isolate.
Round Rock and Cedar Park enact mask-wearing requirements
The Round Rock City Council has approved an emergency order mandating people age 10 and older wear face coverings in public places — inside or outside — when social distancing isn’t possible. Businesses must require workers to wear face coverings when social distancing cannot be maintained.
The ordinance includes escalating penalties ranging from a warning to a $1,000 fine for noncompliance. It goes into effect tonight at 11:59.
Cedar Park has issued an emergency order mandating that all businesses and nonprofits — except places of worship — require workers and visitors over the age of 10 to wear a face covering. There’s no penalty for noncompliance, and the order does not apply when outside or when inside a gym. The order goes into effect at 12:01 Wednesday morning.
Mask-wearing requirements for Travis and Hays counties went into effect last Tuesday.
Correction: This previously stated Round Rock businesses must require customers to wear masks. Businesses are only required to mandate their workers wear them.
Voters head to the polls amid a dramatic spike in COVID-19 cases
Early voting for the July 14 election is underway. Voters are heading to the polls in the middle of a dramatic spike in COVID-19 cases in the Austin area, and most voters still have to cast a ballot in person.
While other states have expanded their vote by mail programs, Texas officials have refused. The state limits mail-in voting to people over 65, traveling out of their home county, in jail or disabled.
Caitlin Boehne voted at the Carver Public Library in East Austin because she says she didn’t meet those criteria. Boehne says election officials made the polling location as safe as possible, but she wishes she had the option of voting by mail. "I mean the workers, the voters, like everybody has to risk their health to order to participate in the democratic process," she said. "It’s astounding. So, voting by mail should be universal."
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott extended early voting this election — which ends July 10 — to ensure lines are shorter. Boehne says she hopes the courts force Texas to open its mail-in voting program. She says she doesn’t want to have to risk her health standing in a crowded line this November.
— Ashley Lopez
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