COVID-19 April 14 Updates: Austin ISD Students 'Displaced,' Two More Cap Metro Drivers Test Positive

Apr 14, 2020

This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Tuesday, April 14. Read Wednesday's live updates here. 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 7:30 p.m. — Austin ISD reschedules graduation

The Austin Independent School District has officially canceled proms and graduation ceremonies for this spring because of COVID-19.

The district has said if mass gathering are allowed in August, they will hold high school graduations at the Erwin Center starting Aug. 10. The district is also working on a virtual graduation ceremony that would take place in June.

Update at 6:20 p.m. – UT Austin announces hiring limits as it anticipates economic impact of COVID-19

UT Austin has announced it's limiting new hires and lowering tuition for summer classes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“University leaders – with input from faculty members, students and staff members – are developing mitigation plans that will be needed because we anticipate both reduced revenue for the university and increased emergency needs for students,” UT President Greg Fenves and Interim President Designate Jay Hartzell said in a joint email sent Tuesday. 

Faculty recruitments already in progress will continue, but recruitment and hiring of staff will be subject to additional review, the email said. 

A new staff member can be hired only if there isn’t another employee available to take on the tasks on an interim basis, if the position is critical or if not filling it poses health or safety risks. 

Any new faculty or staff hires or promotions need final approval from the provost or senior vice president.

“Student employee positions will be filled as long as they contribute to the core mission of the university and work can be conducted remotely,” the email said. 

UT is also changing its raise policy. Colleges, schools and other university units won't fund recurring merit increases for 2020-21, though there will be some exceptions. Although many may have been anticipating merit raises next year, Fenves and Hartzell said, "staying at current salary levels is a financially prudent step at this time as we seek to maintain employee positions."

UT announced last month that summer courses have been moved online to slow the spread of COVID-19. Fenves and Hartzell said Tuesday that UT will reduce tuition for 2020 undergraduate summer courses to 50% of the tuition rate for fall and spring semester courses. Typically, summer tuition is 85% of those rates.

UT is also adding 25 additional summer classes that will include 2,000 seats more than the usual capacity, they said. 

Graduate student tuition is not changing, but UT will support these students “through tuition assistance in targeted graduate areas where a department may have limited resources.”

Fenves and Hartzell said decisions about fall classes will be made later this spring. 

– Marisa Charpentier

Update at 5 p.m. – Texas Juvenile Justice Department temporarily stops admitting new youth to its facilities

The Texas Juvenile Justice Department is halting new admissions to its facilities starting Tuesday until April 27. The timeframe could be extended depending on circumstances, the department says.

The decision aims to prevent the spread of COVID-19. No youth in a state facility has tested positive for the coronavirus at this point, the department says.

“Our partnership with the local juvenile probation departments has been essential to limiting the spread of COVID-19,” Executive Director Camille Cain said in a press release. “By working together, we have continued to implement the best options to keep all of our youth safe.” 

Update at 4:46 p.m. — Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to receive millions in federal coronavirus relief funding

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is eligible to receive $58.7 million in grants under the CARES Act. The Federal Aviation Administration released its guidelines Tuesday on how close to $10 billion in federal coronavirus relief spending will be distributed. The money can be used not just for efforts to fight the virus, but also to sustain airport operations.

“While it is no panacea for hard times our local airports are facing, this funding will help prevent Austin-Bergstrom from any freefall and maintain planned payroll as well as safety and construction work,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-TX, in a statement. “This investment allows local airports flexibility to deploy resources as needed. But so much more needs to be done; until we resolve our health care crisis, we cannot resolve our worsening economic crisis.”

Austin-Bergstrom is one of the many airports across the country that have seen a drastic decline in revenue since the outbreak of the coronavirus. Already, the airport has seen a budget cut of $20 million for this fiscal year. 

“We've seen a significant decrease in our air service demand and air travel in the Central Texas region, and because of the fact that airports are directly funded by their revenue based on aeronautical and non-aeronautical sources, that's a significant impact to the operating budget,” said Bryce Dubee, a spokesman for the Austin Department of Aviation.

All told, Texas airports are eligible to receive up to $811 million in CARES Act funding. 

Under separate provisions of the act, the City of Austin will receive $168 million, while Travis County is eligible to receive $54 million, according to Travis County Economic Development Director Diana Ramirez.

— Samuel King

Update at 2:25 p.m. — Travis County Commissioners approve hiring freeze, receive update on new online tool to schedule coronavirus testing

County Commissioners OK'd a hiring freeze in Travis County to offset projected losses of anywhere between $25 and $32 million this fiscal year because of COVID-19's economic impact.

County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said the freeze would be targeted and that it wouldn't affect open roles in critical departments like courts, public health or emergency services.

"We're not saying that these are not critical positions that have already been budgeted, but we're looking for immediacy. We're looking for those that are not immediately critical," Eckhardt said, "and right now, we do know that we have immediate criticality."

Travis County currently has 392 vacant positions. Officials estimate the freeze would save the county $4.7 million a month. Commissioners have until April 20 to finalize a budget.

In an update to commissioners, Dr. Mark Escott, interim health authority for Austin Public Health, said to expect an online option for people to determine if they need to get tested for the coronavirus by as soon as next week. 

Escott said prospective patients would be able to input their symptoms into the site and, if it's determined they need a test, they would be able to immediately schedule an appointment. The tool aims to address gaps in testing, specifically for people without a primary care physician or telehealth option, he said.

Escott added that he expects an increase in test kits from Abbott Diagnostics to be available in hospitals and drive-thru test sites in the Austin area this week. 

— Andrew Weber

Update at 2:10 p.m. – Austin ISD says it’s having difficulty locating all students who need computers

The Austin Independent School District is still trying to get computers to all the students who need them for at-home learning.

At a school board meeting Monday, Kevin Schwartz, AISD’s chief technology officer, said the district is buying Chromebooks for students who don’t have a computer at home and are delivering them by school bus.

A big challenge, he said, is trying to find the students.   

“I heard today that more than 50 percent of the kids that have told us they need a Chromebook have given us a different address than what we have in the ... system,” he said. “Which means they’re displaced. It may be a few doors down the hall or it might be across town. We even have some students who are in other states right now.”

Schwartz said students from low-income homes and those who get special education services are at the top of the list to get devices. It could take weeks before every kid has a computer, he said.

Update at 1:42 p.m. – Two more Cap Metro bus drivers test positive for COVID-19

Capital Metro says two more bus drivers have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the agency’s total number of employee cases to seven. The individuals’ last days at work were April 2 and April 9. 

The agency encourages people to act as if anyone could have the virus. It has enacted several physical-distancing measures, including putting a yellow chain in buses to create a barrier between drivers and riders, making rides fare-free and having people board through the rear door.

Austin's and Travis County's new stay-at-home orders include the requirement that people over 10 wear fabric face coverings while using public transit.

“Our operators will remind any customer not wearing a face covering of this new requirement and they have been instructed not to leave a stop if a rider refuses to cover their face,” the agency said in a statement Tuesday.

Update at 10:53 a.m. – H-E-B updates list of items with purchasing limits

H-E-B is easing up on how many food and non-food items shoppers can buy. The grocery chain removed purchasing limits on several foods this week, including chicken, bread, milk, water and frozen foods like pizza. Restrictions on buying baby products such as formula and diapers have also been lifted. 

Shoppers are still limited on the number of egg cartons, pasta sauces, rice, dried beans and powdered milk they can buy. Limits on disinfectants and cleaning products – such as antibacterial wipes and sprays, hand soap and masks – are still in place. 

To see the latest changes, visit H-E-B’s website.  

Update at 9:54 a.m. — City and county leaders will discuss extended stay-at-home order at noon

Austin Mayor Steve Adler, Travis County Judge Eckhardt and Dr. Mark Escott, the interim Austin-Travis County health authority, will discuss and answer questions about the extended stay-at-home order at 12 p.m.

You can watch the city's livestream on KUT.org.

Update at 7 a.m. — Austin-Travis County marks largest single-day increase in COVID-19 cases

Austin-Travis County is reporting 856 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Monday evening. Eleven people have died from the virus.

That’s up by 82 cases from the day before and up by 354 cases from a week ago. Hays County has reported its first death related to COVID-19 and has 93 confirmed cases. Williamson County is reporting 119 cases — that’s up by 38 cases from a week ago.

Catch up on what happened yesterday

Austin and Travis County extend stay-at-home orders

Austin and Travis County extended their stay-at-home orders until May 8. The original orders expired Monday at 11:59 p.m. 

Under the extended orders, people over age 10 are now required to wear fabric face coverings when conducting essential work or activities.

Fabric stores are considered essential businesses under the new orders, so they can sell fabric and needed supplies. The stores will have to follow physical distancing requirements and limit the number of people in the store at once to no more than 10.

The extended orders also outline new instructions for people living with someone who is being tested for or has tested positive for COVID-19. Anyone living in the house must isolate until the health authority clears them.

Other local coronavirus news from Monday:

  • Salvation Army has temporarily closed its downtown shelter after 12 clients tested positive for COVID-19. The nonprofit moved its 187 clients to a city-leased hotel providing emergency housing until at least next week.
  • Austin Public Health has launched a hotline — called “Helping Austin Restaurants Today” or  HART — to answer questions from restaurants in Austin and Travis County about coronavirus issues.
  • Parking for downtown parks, district parks and neighborhood parks was reduced starting Monday to discourage crowding. Residents can use the PARD parkviewer app to see which parks are affected.
  • The City of Austin’s Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department is setting up several pots of money for people seeking help in paying their rent.
  • Hays County reported its first death related to COVID-19: a woman in her 80s who was living with a relative in Buda.

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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