COVID-19 April 8 Updates: Unemployment Agency Tries To Address Overload, Bus Driver Tests Positive

Apr 8, 2020

This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Wednesday, April 8. Read Thursday's live updates here. If you'd like to go through a roundup of COVID-19 news from Tuesday, read it here. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.

Update at 4:21 p.m. — Austin-Bergstrom International Airport awaits word on federal assistance

The change in activity at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus is stark. On April 7 last year, 26,500 passengers went through security. Yesterday, that number was 650. The decline has had a major effect on revenue.

“That impacts both everything on our aeronautical revenue side with the flights themselves to our concessions, parking, all those other revenue sources as well,” said Bryce Dubee, a spokesperson for the Austin Department of Aviation. 

Dubee said the federal CARES Act contains around $10 billion for airports, but it’s not clear at this point how much Austin-Bergstrom is eligible to receive. 

The U.S. Department of Transportation has also come up with minimum service requirements for airlines in order to receive federal assistance under the act. In Austin, that means major airlines like American and Southwest would have to maintain at least five flights per week. Other airlines like Frontier and JetBlue would have to maintain three flights per week.

Dubee said no airlines have announced they are leaving the market, but dozens of flights have been canceled indefinitely because of reduced demand.

Update at 3:32 p.m. — Texas Workforce Commission still trying to get a handle on jobless claims

The agency that handles unemployment claims in Texas says it’s taking new steps to try to fix a floundering system. Hundreds of thousands of people have filed claims in the past few weeks, but many are still trying to get through on busy phone lines and a sluggish website. 

In a video on Facebook today, Texas Workforce Commission Executive Director Ed Serna said the agency has already added hundreds more people to man its phone lines and added some weekend hours. But now, he said, the agency is hiring three privately run call centers with a total staff of 750 to help take claims in addition to its four state-run call centers. Serna said TWC will also expand hours from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., including weekends (Sunday hours start April 19). 

The agency is adding more server capacity to help keep up with demand on its website.

TWC has been processing tens of thousands of unemployment claims for several weeks now. A Department of Labor report coming out Thursday morning is expected to show increasing job losses.

Update at 2:51 p.m. — Capital Metro bus driver tests positive 

Capital Metro says it was informed Tuesday that another employee has tested positive for COVID-19, the agency’s fifth positive case. 

The individual is a bus driver whose last day at work was March 24. The agency says the person has been recovering at home. 

Update at 11:30 a.m. — H-E-B expands grocery delivery for seniors to more cities

H-E-B says its Favor Delivery has doubled its delivery coverage area statewide to give Texans access to more restaurants and grocery stores.

The company says it has added 75 new Texas markets to its delivery coverage area within a week, as well as expanded its delivery areas in its existing markets.

H-E-B & Favor’s Senior Support Program will now be available to seniors (60+) from every H-E-B, Central Market and Joe V’s store in Texas, the company said. Seniors can call the company's Senior Support phone line at 1-833-397-0080 or place their orders directly from favordelivery.com or the Favor app

Update at 10:46 a.m. — We Are Blood seeks plasma from people who've recovered from COVID-19

We Are Blood is seeking plasma donations from people who have recovered from COVID-19. Their plasma contains antibodies that might help treat others who have the disease.

Donors must have had a lab-tested diagnosis of COVID-19 and be symptom-free for at least 14 days, with a negative test after that. All donors also have to be eligible to give blood. Convalescent plasma has not been proven effective for COVID-19, but the FDA is allowing it for patients with serious or life-threatening cases.

You can find more information on how to donate at WeAreBlood.org.

Update at 10:41 a.m. — Texas Senate staffers start volunteer training for the Texas Workforce Commission

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick says staff from his office and Texas Senate staffers will volunteer to help the Texas Workforce Commission respond to people applying for unemployment.

Because of a spike in calls due to the coronavirus pandemic, about 200 staffers — both Democrats and Republicans — will start TWC training tomorrow.

A record 6.6 million Americans applied for unemployment during the last two weeks of March. More than 431,000 Texans filed unemployment claims during that same period. The TWC encourages people to apply on their website between 10 at night and 8 in the morning when they say there's less online traffic.

Update at 9:56 a.m. — Williamson County parks close Easter weekend

Williamson County parks and trails will close Easter weekend starting at sunset on Thursday and ending at sunrise on Monday. The county says the decision was made to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The City of Taylor said it also closing its parks, trails and open spaces during the same timeframe.

Yesterday, the City of Austin said it will close all city trails, greenbelts and preserves, including the Butler Hike and Bike Trail around Lady Bird Lake. The closures start Thursday at sunset and end at sunrise on Monday.

Update at 7 a.m. — Austin ISD gives out paper packets for families without internet access

The Austin Independent School District, which started online classes and learning-at-home this week, is handing out paper packets today to families who do not have internet access.

Parents can pick up printed copies for students in Pre-K through eighth grade between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. The district will distribute packets at many AISD elementary, middle school and high school campuses. Students do not have to be present during pick-up. AISD says new packets will be available every Wednesday.

If you know someone who might need the packets, AISD has a list of schools where you can pick them up at AustinISD.org

The AISD Board of Trustees decided Monday night that students will receive pass or incompelete grades, not A-F scores, for their classes this semester. GPAs for high school students will not include the spring semester.

Catch up on what happened yesterday

Austin anticipates job losses amid the coronavirus pandemic

The City of Austin is expecting Great Depression-era job losses as the coronavirus continues to shut down the economy. Current forecasts predict a quarter of a million people in Austin could be without jobs in the next couple months, an unemployment rate of about 25%. 

Jon Hockenyos, the president of the Austin economic consulting firm TXP, Inc., told city council members Tuesday that this is just the beginning – it’s likely going to take two years for the Austin economy to get back to normal. 

“I’m hoping that is a slightly pessimistic scenario, but I think it is a realistic scenario,” Hockenyos said. 

Job losses are expected to hit the sales, production and hospitality sectors the hardest. This includes people who work in jobs that involve close contact with others, such as restaurant employees, hotel workers and flight attendants. 

More local coronavirus news from Tuesday:

  • Lockhart Independent School District is purchasing seven network towers to provide wireless internet to all of its students and staff in Caldwell County. 
  • Texas can continue to ban abortions as COVID-19 continues to infect more people in the state, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled.
  • All state parks and historic sites are temporarily closing as part of the state's efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Greg Abbott's office said in a statement. 
  • Active construction sites in Austin with more than 10 people must now display visible, on-site safety guidelines in both English and Spanish, the city's Development Services Department said.

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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