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COVID-19 Latest: Nation's First Virtual Criminal Jury Trial Takes Place In Travis County

The Travis County Courthouse
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
A misdemeanor traffic case in Travis County is believed to be the first criminal jury trial in the country to take place through video conference.

This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Tuesday, Aug. 11. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.

Travis County sees 296 new cases and four more deaths

Austin Public Health reported 296 new cases of COVID-19 in Travis County on Tuesday, up from 229 reported the day before. The seven-day average of daily new cases is 204. Four more coronavirus-related deaths were reported, bringing the county’s death total to 307.

There are now 279 people reported hospitalized with the virus in the five-county region (Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell). Yesterday, there were 271.

APH reported 46 new COVID-19 hospital admissions in the region Tuesday. The seven-day average of new admissions is now 33.6, up from 32.9.

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

Austin Public Health sees positive signs, but urges people to get tested

The number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 in the Austin-area is elevated, but "generally moving in the right direction,” Austin Public Health's interim health authority said Tuesday.

Dr. Mark Escott said local hospitals are in a much better place than they were a month ago.  

“Talking to our hospital executives, there’s plenty of room in the hospitals right now – of general beds, of ICU beds, of ventilators," Escott told Travis County commissioners. "So now’s the time to remind folks that if they’ve been putting off going to the hospital, if they’ve been putting off elective procedures, now’s the time to get those done.”

Escott said the amount of time it takes for cases to double has risen to 85 days – a record high since the start of the pandemic. That's a good sign, he said, especially as schools prepare to reopen in a limited capacity.

But Escott told commissioners health officials have seen a drop-off in people seeking COVID-19 tests in recent weeks and urged people – with or without symptoms – to get tested.

"A few weeks ago, we were over 6,000 tests in a week. Last week, through our public enrollment testing, we didn't even hit 1,400," he said. "This is not because tests are not available. It's because less individuals are signing up for testing."

Many Texas counties expected to face poll worker shortage this fall

Many counties in Central Texas are at a high risk of a poll worker shortage during the presidential election this fall, according to a new report from the Voter Protection Corps.

The organization compiled public data with Carnegie Mellon University to identify areas in Texas that will need the most support in recruiting poll workers. Among other things, they looked at demand for in-person voting resources, supply of those resources, history of recruitment problems and prevalence of vulnerable populations.

According to the report, 56 counties in Texas must begin recruiting poll workers immediately in order to avoid a shortage – including Williamson, Travis, Hays and Burnet counties.

Quentin Palfrey, chair of the Voter Protection Corps, said a shortage of workers could lead to long lines and poll closures, if unaddressed.

“The earlier you get a handle on this recruitment effort, the more likely you are to be successful in keeping lines short on Election Day,” he said. “I also think that we should be broadening the universe of people who are approached about working as poll workers.”

Palfrey said election officials should be reaching out to younger workers – including high school and college students who may be able to receive civic credits for working at the polls.

Historically, older people have worked at the polls. During the pandemic, though, that population is less likely to volunteer.

“We need to communicate to people that this is a concrete way that they can help,” Palfrey said.

– Ashley Lopez

Austin Public Health says employees don't need to show proof of a negative test to return to work

It’s unnecessary for people who have recovered from COVID-19 to provide their employer with proof of negative test results before returning to work, Austin Public Health said in a statement Tuesday.  

The health authority said it has received reports that many employers are requiring workers to provide multiple negative test results. APH said neither it nor the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend the practice and that it puts an unnecessary burden on employees.

The agency said CDC guidelines require people to stay home for at least 10 days following the onset of COVID-19 symptoms and at least one day after they no longer have a fever. It said people who’ve had mild to moderate cases are no longer infectious after 10 days following symptom onset. 

Country’s first virtual criminal jury trial takes place 

The nation’s first virtual criminal jury trial is taking place Tuesday in Travis County.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced courts to close their doors and court hearings to go online via video conference platforms like Zoom. Since June, Texas has held fewer than 10 jury trials in person because of COVID-19 precautions, according to the Texas Office of Court Administration.

Travis County Justice of the Peace Nicholas Chu is presiding over the trial, which is a misdemeanor traffic case. Everything – including the jury selection, testimony and verdict – will be done online. The Office of Court Administration loaned iPads to potential jurors who did not have access to technology.

“Jury summonses were sent out in July, and 30 jurors will show up for virtual jury selection from the comfort of their homes,” the office said in a press release.

The trial will be streamed live on YouTube starting at 8:30 a.m. 

$600,000 will go to Hays County businesses unable to get federal COVID-19 relief

The Hays County Emergency Cash Assistance Program will provide a total of $600,000 to local businesses that are struggling as a result of the pandemic. Applications are open as of Monday and will close on Dec. 31 or when all the money is distributed — whichever comes first.

The funding will provide grants of up to $10,000 to qualifying businesses on a first-come, first served basis. The program is intended for smaller businesses in Hays County that were unable to secure federal coronavirus relief funds earlier this year.

The application can be found in English and Spanish at PeopleFund.org/Hays.

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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