COVID-19 April 9 Updates: More Than 313,000 Texans Filed For Unemployment Last Week

Apr 9, 2020

We'll be updating this story throughout the day Thursday with the latest local news on the coronavirus pandemic. If you'd like to go through a roundup of COVID-19 news from Wednesday, read it here. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.

 

Update at 5:33 p.m. – AISD closes all recreation and sports fields

All Austin Independent School District facilities and open spaces – including running tracks, tennis courts, football fields, basketball courts and playfields – will be closed starting tonight at 7.

AISD says the measure is in keeping with Austin's stay-at-home order.

Update at 5:07 p.m. – Austin City Council passes $15 million relief fund

Austin City Council members unanimously approved a $15 million relief fund Thursday to aid residents affected financially by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Council members are asking that half the $15 million be used to help nonprofits meet increased demand for current services they provide, such as help for survivors of domestic abuse, rental assistance and food access.

The remaining money will be available through nonprofits for one-time direct cash payments to residents, via either a debit or credit card.

Read more from Audrey McGlinchy here.

 

Update at 4:41 p.m. – Austin Emergency Center opens drive-thru testing

 

Austin Emergency Center has started offering drive-thru symptom assessment. The center says through the car-side process, patients can avoid the risk of being exposed to diseases that could be in a clinic. 

 

Doctors or nursing staff will evaluate a person in a “minimally invasive manner” and run tests to rule out common causes of symptoms. Patients can speak with a physician on duty, AEC says, and the physician can make medicine recommendations or prescribe medications to treat symptoms. 

 

If a patient is negative for flu and strep throat but shows COVID-19 symptoms like low oxygen or fever, they can be tested for COVID-19, according to a center spokesperson.

 

Seriously ill patients will be taken inside the ER for more evaluation. 

 

“Given the limited number of COVID-19 tests, AEC physicians may make presumptive ‘stay at home’ recommendations based upon the clinical picture and COVID-19 risk factors,” the center said in a press release.

More information and locations can be found here.

Update at 4:25 p.m. – Luck Productions highlights local chefs in new livestream cooking show 

Luck Productions is starting an interactive cooking program featuring local chefs and artists and benefitting the Austin Food & Wine Alliance.

Each week, a host chef will make a recipe and viewers can ask questions. The series Prime Cuts kicks off Friday at 6 p.m. This week's show will feature host Michael Fojtasek of Olamaie and James Beard’s 2019 “Outstanding Chef” Ashley Christensen. They’ll be making “Hoppin John” cornbread. Jessica Sanders of drink.well will teach a lesson on Mint Julep and Old Fashioned cocktails. 

Shakey Graves will perform between cooking steps.

The program will be streamed live at www.luckreunion.com/primecuts.

Luck Productions is the cultural collective headquartered at Willie Nelson’s Luck, Texas ranch. Its annual Luck Reunion music festival was canceled in March and replaced with a livestream event because of the coronavirus pandemic. The livestream raised more than $200,000 for participating artists and partnering nonprofits.

Update at 3:38 p.m. – Texas hasn't confirmed if it will accept federal funds to test uninsured residents

Texas officials still haven’t said whether they plan to accept federal funds set aside for free COVID-19 testing for uninsured people.

The funding was part of the second bill passed by Congress in response to the economic crisis caused by the pandemic.

Anne Dunkelberg, an associate director with the Center for Public Policy Priorities, said the funding would also pay for the hospital, clinic or doctor’s visit in which someone got tested.

“That is 100% federally funded,” she said during an online event Thursday. “There is no state share at all – and that includes the cost to the state of setting it up and operating the program.”

Dunkelberg said the program will be particularly helpful in Texas.

“One of the reasons it’s there is for states like Texas that have really large uninsured populations,” she said.

There are about 5 million uninsured people living in Texas, which is the highest number in the country.

– Ashley Lopez

Update at 1:30 p.m. — Austin is opening up more hotel rooms for emergency housing, quarantine for homeless Austinites

City leaders on Thursday approved a plan to expand the use of hotels for people who can't safely quarantine because of COVID-19. 

The Austin City Council OK'd $3.5 million in agreements to lease the hotels – one in South Austin near St. Edward's University and two in North Austin – for the next two months, and an option to extend those agreements another two months. 

Most of that money will go toward leasing the Crowne Plaza hotel near the intersection of North Interstate 35 and Highway 290 East. Council members will use $2.8 million from its general fund's emergency reserve to lease the hotel, which could house as many as 292 people. 

The agreement also includes meal service for those staying at the hotel. City staff estimate the hotel would need to provide 1,022 meals a day for those quarantined at the hotel, along with 30 daily staff meals. 

Read more from Andrew Weber

Update at 12:05 p.m. – Austin community health centers to get $4.6 million from federal government

Austin community health centers will receive more than $4.6 million in funding under the new federal CARES Act, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett announced Wednesday.

More than $1 million will go toward People’s Community Clinic, while the Travis County Healthcare District will receive about $3.6 million. The funding from the coronavirus relief package will be delivered through the Department of Health and Human Services.

“Today, we’re deploying resources to reinforce our frontline health centers, who care for some of our most vulnerable neighbors,” Doggett said in a statement. “This is a good start, but much more is needed to adequately combat this pandemic. Until we resolve our health care crisis, we cannot resolve our economic crisis.”

The money will go toward the health centers' COVID-19 treatment, detection and prevention, as well as toward staffing.

Update at 11:27 a.m. – UT lab prints 3D face shields for health care workers

As the need grows for personal protective equipment for health care workers, researchers at UT Austin’s School of Pharmacy are creating 3D-printed customized face shields.

The school's research lab has three 3D printers to make the shields. Each one takes about 10 to 30 minutes to print depending on its size and complexity. So far, the research team has made about 50 face shields and expects to double that by the end of this week.

The researchers are also working on changing the materials so the shields can withstand sanitization and be reused. Mohammed Maniruzzaman, who leads the pharmaceutical engineering 3D printing lab, says they are also working on a 3D-printed ventilator separator. 

​"This separator can be attached to an existing ventilator and one ventilator can serve four or five patients at the same time," he said. "So this will actually help to overcome some of these current problems with the shortage of ventilators in hospitals."

Maniruzzaman says the ventilator design is in its early stages, but the team hopes to have a completed product within three to six months.

– Sangita Menon

Update at 8:17 a.m. — More than 313,000 Texans filed for unemployment last week

That’s up by almost 38,000 people from the week before. About 744,000 Texans have applied for unemployment in the last three weeks, though that number likely doesn't reflect the true number of jobless given the difficulty filing.

We've heard from many people in this situation. Kim Downman is one of them. She says she tried calling the Texas Workforce Commission 2,000 times in one day to file for unemployment, but never got through. Downman eventually went to the TWC building in person and was able to file the next day.

The Associated Press reports that 10% of the U.S. workforce became unemployed in the last three weeks alone. The unemployment rate could hit 15% when the April employment report is released in early May, the AP says.

Update at 8:06 a.m. — Austin Community College is moving all summer classes online

The decision was made to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Summer classes start June 1. ACC says it will extend its pass/no pass grading option into the summer.

Student support services like advising, academic coaching, tutoring, library services and tech support are available online. All ACC campuses are closed until at least May 31.

Update at 7:57 a.m. — Bastrop County closes parks, requires residents to follow CDC guidelines for face coverings

County Judge Paul Pape announced residents are required to wear fabric face coverings when out in public. His order goes into effect at 11:59 tonight.

Pape says that applies when someone is inside any government or public building, outside of their home with other people or while working in a business open to the public. Bastrop County has 18 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and one death.

Bastrop County is also closing all its county parks starting tonight. The cities of Bastrop, Elgin and Smithville have closed their city parks to prevent people from gathering and potentially spreading COVID-19.

Update at 7:55 a.m. — The Austin Diaper Bank is distributing diapers Friday morning

The Austin Diaper Bank will give out diapers from 9:30 a.m. until 11 a.m. at its warehouse at 8711 Burnet Rd. The limit is 25 diapers per child. Children do not need to be present for families to receive diapers through the drive-up service.

The diaper bank says you must stay in your car and follow the posted signs. For more information on the diaper bank, or for how to donate diapers, visit austindiapers.org

Update at 7:13 a.m. — Georgetown closes parks and trails for Easter weekend

The Georgetown Parks and Recreation Department is closing all parks and trails beginning sunset Thursday until sunrise Monday. The city says the goal is to discourage gatherings of more than 10 people and to optimize physical distancing goals as COVID-19 spreads in the city. 

“I recognize family activities are already limited, and holidays are a special time to gather with our loved ones,” Mayor Dale Ross said in a press release. “However, we simply cannot afford to take the risk. Your health and your family’s health are too important.”

There will be signs on the trails and parks telling residents access is not allowed, the city says.

Williamson County, Cedar Park and Taylor announced Wednesday they’ll be closing their parks and trails Easter weekend as well. Austin made the same announcement Tuesday.

Catch up on what happened yesterday

Austin officials plan for backup facilities if hospitals become overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases 

City officials say they are preparing to increase the number of hospital beds in the area in case there is a surge of COVID-19 patients overwhelming existing hospitals.

Dr. Mark Escott, Austin’s interim medical director and health authority, said the city has created a “surge plan” that would include creating additional facilities to treat patients.

It's important that everyone who requires medical attention during the pandemic gets the care they need, he said.

“While most of these cases are mild, it is critical that you not wait until when it gets worse,” he said. “It is critical that you seek out medical care.”

According to the city, the Austin-Travis County area currently has about 4,300 hospital beds. Hospitals are operating at about 50% capacity. In the event there is an influx of patients with COVID-19 who need medical attention, the city has identified two kinds of what officials call “alternative care sites” that will act as temporary hospitals.

Other local coronavirus news from Wednesday:

  • The Texas Workforce Commission said the agency is hiring three privately run call centers to help take unemployment claims in addition to its four state-run call centers.
  • 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.
  • Capital Metro said it was informed that another employee — a bus driver — has tested positive for COVID-19, the agency’s fifth positive case. 

  • 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.

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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