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COVID-19 Latest: Health Care Jobs At Risk In Texas As Uninsured Rate Soars

Austin Public Health has set up an alternate care Site at the Austin Convention Center to take in COVID-19 patients, if needed.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
Austin Public Health has set up an alternate care site at the Austin Convention Center to take in COVID-19 patients, if needed.

This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Wednedsay, Aug. 5. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.

Travis County sees 202 new cases, no new deaths

Austin Public Health reported 202 new cases of COVID-19 in Travis County on Wednesday, down from 273 yesterday. The seven-day average of daily new cases is now 262.

No new deaths were reported.

There are now reportedly 308 people hospitalized with the virus in the five-county region (Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell), one fewer than yesterday. Despite that net decrease, APH reported 44 new COVID-19 hospital admissions in the region on Wednesday. The seven-day average of hospital admissions is now at 38, up from 37.

Local officials worry about the coronavirus overwhelming hospitals, so they’re keeping an eye on that number and adjusting restrictions based on it. An average below 40 could push the region down to stage 3 of APH’s risk-based guidelines, but that move also depends on other factors, like ICU and ventilator capacity. Officials are recommending the area stay in stage 4, the second-highest level, for now. 

Health care jobs are at risk in Texas as uninsured rate soars

Texas is at risk of losing hundreds of thousands of health care-related jobs if unemployment remains high and the state’s uninsured rate continues to climb. According to a new study from the nonpartisan group Families USA, Texas is slated to lose more health jobs than any other state in the country.

The group recently estimated about 659,000 Texas adults under 65 became uninsured this past spring after losing jobs because of the pandemic and the insurance that came with those jobs.

Texas is one of the few states that have not expanded Medicaid to more low-income adults, which means many of those Texans don’t have options to get health care coverage elsewhere.

The growing uninsured rate means massive losses of revenue for hospitals, doctor’s offices, and other health care-related employers, according to this latest report. If unaddressed, the study found Texas could lose up to 362,000 health care jobs.

Health care advocacy groups are urging state officials to expand health care coverage in Texas.

Katie Mitten, a health policy associate at Texans Care for Children, said in a statement that tackling the state’s uninsured is key to the state’s economic recovery.

“Texas already had the worst uninsured rate in the nation before the pandemic hit, and now it’s getting even worse,” she said. “To make sure Texas is supporting infants and toddlers during the critical early years of brain development, state leaders should particularly focus on making sure that moms and kids have access to health insurance.”

— Ashley Lopez

Austin Public Health to start testing asymptomatic people again

Austin Public Health is lowering the threshold for who can get tested for COVID-19 through its public testing program, Dr. Mark Escott, its interim medical authority, said during a news conference Wednesday. This will allow some people without symptoms to get tested, he said.

APH limited testing in late June to only those showing symptoms of the disease, because the demand for testing was so high. Escott said the agency is seeing a decrease in the number of people signing up to be tested. Results are coming in more quickly now, sometimes within one or two days, he said.

People can use the city’s online enrollment form to see if they qualify for aCOVID-19 test.

“Even if you’ve been there before, you can take it again and make a determination if you’re eligible for a test,” Escott said.

Marble Falls ISD releases in-person instruction guidelines

Students at Marble Falls ISD have the option of choosing in-person learning or remote instruction for the fall semester as the coronavirus pandemic continues. 

Students learning in person will return Aug. 19, the school district said. Those students are expected to be screened for COVID-19 symptoms at home before arriving to school each day. All students and staff are required to wear face coverings on school buses and in school buildings, and teachers will give students an hourly "mask break."

Marble Falls ISD says all classrooms will be disinfected daily, including frequently touched areas like restrooms and playground equipment. The district will provide hand sanitizers at all entrances and exits, and supervised hand washing will be required at least twice a day. The school district says passing periods will be staggered to allow for social distancing. 

During the first nine weeks of school, parents or guardians won't be allowed to walk students inside campus buildings. They must wait in their vehicles during dismissal. Remote learning begins Aug. 21. 

Nearly half of UT Austin students plan to take all classes online 

About 45-50% of UT Austin students have opted to take classes completely online this fall, interim UT President Jay Hartzell said Tuesday during an update on plans for the upcoming semester.

“When that reduction in density on our campus is combined with our various safety measures and our testing measures, we think and believe this is going to create a safer campus for everybody,” Hartzell said.

UT is planning to offer a mix of online, in-person and hybrid classes. Hartzell said 75% of seats will be delivered online, 20% in hybrid classes and 5% in person. 

The university also plans to test hundreds of symptomatic students each day, and aims to proactively test up to 5,000 people in the UT community each week. 

Hartzell said the university is relying on in-house expertise, including Dell Medical School, UT Health Austin and its scientists, to deliver this testing. 

“By developing this ability in-house, we’re much more insulated from many of the supply-chain issues that can affect testing through relying upon an outside vendor,” Hartzell said.

The fall semester is scheduled to begin Aug. 26. The university is asking students to self-quarantine for 14 days before they get to campus. 

Bastrop County launches a second community COVID-19 testing site

The Bastrop County Office of Emergency Management has launched a second community testing site at Elgin Ascension Seton, located at 200 Roy Rivers Road. The new location will provide free COVID-19 tests to eligible Bastrop residents who register beforehand — either at BastropCountyCOVID19.org or by calling 512-972-5560.

The Elgin testing site is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The county says the other testing site, located in Bastrop at Mayfest Park, is still operational. Residents can choose which location they prefer, but they'll need to make an appointment online before showing up.

The cumulative total of coronavirus cases in Bastrop County is at 1,302, and 17 people have died.

San Marcos City Council approves funding to improve COVID-19 testing

The City of San Marcos unanimously approved about $105,000 in federal funding for COVID-19 at a city council meeting Tuesday night.

The funds are intended to improve COVID-19 testing in Hays County. They can be used for test kits, lab testing, or to help pay the lease at a testing site.

COVID-19 Dashboards

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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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