COVID-19 Latest: 107 New Cases In Travis County, No New Deaths

Jun 16, 2020

Austin Public Health reported 107 new COVID-19 cases in Travis County on Tuesday evening, down from 119 reported on Monday. No new coronavirus-related deaths were reported.

The five-county region (Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell) had 22 new COVID-19 hospital admissions, according to APH. The seven-day average of new admissions rose from 22.6 to 24.6. Local officials worry about COVID-19 cases overwhelming local hospitals, so they’re keeping an eye on that number and adjusting risk and restrictions based on it. 

The area is currently in stage 4 of APH’s risk-based guidelines, meaning higher risk individuals (people over 65 and those with underlying conditions) should avoid gatherings of more than two people and stay home unless absolutely necessary. Lower risk individuals should avoid gatherings of more than 10 people. 

Stage 5, the highest risk level, would be triggered if the hospitalization average rises above 70. If the average falls below 20, the area will move down to stage 3.

The local health authority on Tuesday stressed the importance of wearing masks to slow the spread of disease. Dr. Mark Escott told Travis County Commissioners he wished Gov. Greg Abbott would allow cities and counties to enforce rules requiring people to wear face coverings in public.

"This is not one of those issues where we need to be divided. We've got to overcome the talking points. We've got to overcome the misinformation. We've got to overcome the conspiracy theory that this is some left-wing issue that is made up," he said. "It's not. It is simply not. Let's come together on this one issue."

Escott added that he could see room for discussion – and even political disagreement – on how quickly restaurants, bars and other businesses should reopen to offset economic losses from the pandemic. But he said masks should be mandatory. Wearing a mask limits the spread of COVID-19, he said, and it could also bolster "consumer confidence" for those wary of venturing out.

During a news conference, Abbott didn't directly address whether he would allow cities and counties to require face coverings.

Mayors of Austin, Arlington, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Grand Prairie, Houston, Plano and San Antonio wrote a joint letter to the governor Tuesday asking him to allow for local control to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In other COVID-19-related news:

Hotel tax used to fund arts and culture programs in Austin cut in half by COVID-19

The City of Austin predicts the portion of the Hotel Occupancy Tax used to pay for at least 600 contracts for art and cultural programming will be nearly half its usual amount this coming fiscal year, because of the decreased use of hotels and short-term rentals in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a memo to the mayor and council members today, Economic Development Department Interim Director Sylnovia Holt-Rabb wrote that the department predicts a 46% decrease (from $12,094,248 to $6,561,696) in money available for direct funding of cultural programs.

Austin City Council members begin their annual budget discussion next month and will likely have hard conversations about funding cuts. In April, the city estimated it would lose 5% of its revenue for the current fiscal year. 

Texas Supreme Court justice recovers from COVID-19

Texas Supreme Court Justice Debra Lehrman said Wednesday her symptoms while battling COVID-19 were “quite severe,” but she has fully recovered.

Lehrman is one of nine judges on the state’s highest court for civil law. She announced May 21 that she and her husband, Greg, tested positive for the coronavirus despite being diligent about following social distancing guidelines. She is the highest-ranking state official in Texas known to test positive for the coronavirus.

Lehrman said she her husband will be donating blood plasma to help other patients. (AP)

After resuming for a couple weeks, eviction hearings In Travis County on hold again

Travis County Justices of the Peace signed an order Tuesday to stall eviction hearings for both commercial and residential properties until July 22 at the earliest. Judges in the county began hearing eviction cases again after June 1, once a state and local order banning evictions expired.

Judges said they reinstated the ban because of the county’s recent move to stage 4 of Austin Public Health's risk-based guidelines in response to increasing hospitalizations related to COVID-19.

The City of Austin has prohibited landlords from filing new evictions until after July 25. And there are federal protections as well; tenant advocates estimate roughly 50% of the city’s renters are protected from eviction until late August, as part of the CARES Act.

Texas Workforce Commission resumes job search requirements on July 6

Texans who receive unemployment benefits will have to prove they're actively looking for work again beginning July 6. The Texas Workforce Commission says it will resume job search requirements in response to Gov. Greg Abbott's phased reopening of the state.

The job search requirement was initially waived in March because many businesses had shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. "The maximum number of work search requirements is set to three activities for all areas of the state," TWC spokesperson Cisco Gamez said. "Counties that have set their work search requirement to less than three may keep that number intact."

At last count, more than 2.6 million people in Texas had filed for unemployment since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in mid-March. The first time Texans should report their job searches is on or after July 19th when requesting benefit payments. 

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