This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Monday, Aug. 17. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.
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Travis County sees 265 more cases
Austin Public Health reported 265 new cases of COVID-19 in Travis County on Monday, up from 136 on Sunday. The seven-day average of daily new cases is 208. No new deaths were reported.
There are now reportedly 236 people hospitalized with the virus in the five-county region (Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell), two more than yesterday. APH reported 27 new COVID-19 hospital admissions in the region on Monday. The seven-day average of new admissions is now 32.7, up from 31.6.
Local officials are 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.
Applications for Austin rent assistance open Wednesday
The City of Austin will begin accepting applications Wednesday for a second round of rent help for people affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Applications open here at 8 a.m., and the city expects to start cutting rent checks the first week of September.
“The coronavirus endures, the economy struggles [and] renters are increasingly unable to pay their rent as worries mount about being evicted from their homes,” Rosie Truelove, director of Austin’s Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department, said at a virtual press conference Monday.
The city will be pulling from a pot of $12.9 million in federal and local funds, more than 10 times the amount available for renters during the city’s first rent assistance program in May.
Applications will stay open until the money runs out, which city staff expects to happen early next year. Austin first announced the program last month.
Applicants must live in Austin, prove they’ve been financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and be on a lease or some sort of contractual relationship for a rental property — this can include extended stay hotels. To qualify, renters must also earn less than 80% of the median family income, which amounts to $78,100 a year for a four-person household. People are eligible to apply regardless of their immigration status.
There are some restrictions: You cannot apply if you currently benefit from a federal housing subsidy, like a Section 8 voucher, or are a full-time student whose rent is paid by someone else.
Williamson County to offer free COVID-19 tests to all Texans this week
Williamson County is offering free, walk-up COVID-19 testing Tuesday through Thursday at the Georgetown Community Center. Testing is available from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., or until supplies run out.
The tests will be cheek swabs, so people must not eat, drink or use tobacco products for 20 minutes beforehand.
The testing is open to anyone, not just Williamson County residents.
For more information, go here.
Central Texas school districts start virtual learning
Bastrop, Del Valle, Dripping Springs, Georgetown, Lake Travis, Manor, Round Rock and Wimberley school districts are beginning the school year — online — this week. Harmony Charter Schools are also starting classes this week online.
Other districts have asked the Texas Education Agency to start later, with some waiting until September for their first day of virtual classes. Every district has a different plan for when it will go back to in-person learning. The state has told districts they can do online learning for four weeks, but then must apply to do online-only longer.
The Austin Independent School District has taken that offer and will be mostly virtual for eight weeks.
Austin releases guidelines for reopening schools and child care centers
Austin Public Health and the City of Austin released guidelines Friday for schools and child care centers that bring students back into buildings.
The city suggests schools operate at no more than 25% capacity while Austin is still in the stage 4 risk level. The city suggested that as cases decrease in Austin, more students can go back to school.
Austin Public Health also released guidelines saying schools and child care centers need to enforce mask wearing, hand washing and sanitizing of surfaces and objects. APH says someone in each building must do health screenings and notify the city if a student or family member tests positive for COVID-19.
Longhorns will play in front of fans in September
The Texas Longhorns football team will play in front of fans next month, but the stadium will only be at 25% capacity — or hold fewer than 25,000 fans. The athletic department sent notifications over the weekend to season ticket holders informing them of the plan.
Head coach Tom Herman has led his team through a great deal of uncertainty this summer, preparing for a season that could be undermined by COVID-19. He says most of his players want to play, but understand that at any point it may change.
"That calms a lot of apprehension and frustration because we realize that we’re doing the same things as everybody else in the country and are held to similar standards as everybody in the country," Herman said.
He added that the teams that are successful this season will be the most mature and able to follow COVID-19 rules – on and off the field.
Last week, the Big 12 committed to a 10-game season. Texas is scheduled to play its first game Sept. 12 against the University of Texas at El Paso.
Travis County sees 274 cases over the weekend and three deaths
Austin Public Health reported 274 new cases of COVID-19 in Travis County over the weekend — 138 on Saturday and 136 on Sunday. Three more deaths were reported, bringing the county’s death total to 335.
As of Sunday evening, there were 234 people hospitalized with the virus in the five-county region (Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell). On Saturday, there were 228.
There were 64 new COVID-19 hospital admissions reported in the region over the weekend — 38 on Saturday and 26 on Sunday. The seven-day average of new hospital admissions is now 31.6.
Local officials worry about the coronavirus overwhelming hospitals, so they’re keeping an eye on that number and adjusting restrictions based on it.
Even though that average is below 40, Austin Public Health said the area is staying in stage 4 of its risk-based guidelines, the second-highest level, for now. The health authority has said the area could move to stage 3, which would mean fewer restrictions, if the average went below 40. But that move also depends on other factors, like doubling time and ICU and ventilator capacity.
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