COVID-19 Latest: Austin Area's Average Of New Hospital Admissions Drops For 10th Day In A Row

Jul 28, 2020

This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Tuesday, July 28. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.

Average of new hospital admissions drops for 10th day in a row

Austin Public Health reported 232 new cases of COVID-19 in Travis County on Tuesday evening, eight fewer cases than yesterday. Three new coronavirus-related deaths were reported.

There are now reportedly 370 people hospitalized with the virus in the five-county region (Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell). Yesterday, there were 390. There were 38 new COVID-19 hospital admissions reported on Tuesday, four more than yesterday.

The seven-day average of new hospital admissions is now 44.3, down from 47 yesterday. This is the 10th day in a row this average has decreased. Local officials worry about the coronavirus overwhelming local hospitals, so they’re keeping an eye on that number and adjusting restrictions based on it and other factors

Currently, the area is in stage 4 of APH’s risk-based guidelines, the second-highest level. If the seven-day average of new admissions falls below 40, the area could move down to stage 3.

Austin Public Health says widespread testing won’t be available ahead of school reopenings 

As Austin-area schools prepare for the possibility of in-person classes this fall, health officials told Travis County Commissioners on Tuesday they are working on marshaling resources to help schools reduce the spread of COVID-19.

School-aged children account for 10% of COVID-19 cases in Travis County, according to Austin Public Health's Dr. Mark Escott. The positivity rate among those 10- to 19-year-olds is the highest of any age group within the last two weeks. APH is advising schools, if they decide to reopen, to do so at only a quarter of their total capacity, and then later ramp up that capacity if administrators believe it's safe.

Asked by Commissioner Jeff Travillion if testing would be available for every Title I school, the medical authority said it wouldn’t be likely – and that it wouldn’t be advisable, as it’s more prudent to test symptomatic patients. APH is seeking state assistance to bolster testing, but Escott says it's simply not possible to test every student in every school ahead of potential reopenings. So administrators must rely on tried-and-true tactics to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

"This is where the masking and the social distancing [are] essential," he said. "This is why it's essential that when schools open, they open with a small number of students."

The Texas attorney general now says no public health authority can issue a blanket order to prevent schools from opening because of COVID-19 concerns. That is a nonbinding legal opinion, but it could sway local authorities to rescind orders.

— Andrew Weber

Ken Paxton says health authorities cannot shut down all schools in their district

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton says local health authorities cannot issue “blanket quarantine orders” to shut down schools to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Paxton wrote this nonbinding legal opinion in a letter to the mayor of Stephenville on Tuesday. He said health authorities do have the power to quarantine property in some instances, but said that authority is limited.

The governor’s executive order allowing school districts to operate in the coming school year overrides local orders to close all schools, he said.

Paxton’s guidance contradicted with what the Texas Education Agency had been telling school officials, but after his letter was sent out, TEA reversed course. The agency now says it will not fund schools districts that keep schools closed because of a mandate from a local health authority.

Earlier this month, Austin's interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott issued an order saying all school systems in Travis County shall not reopen for on-campus, face-to-face instruction until after Sept. 7. 

Austin-Travis County sees decline in COVID-19 numbers, but we're not in the clear yet, mayor says

Austin-Travis County has seen a decline in coronavirus numbers over the last few days. In a Facebook Live video last night, Austin Mayor Steve Adler said Monday's numbers show daily new cases, hospitalizations, as well as ICU and ventilator use, were all down.

Adler said the city and county avoided a spike in cases after the Fourth of July, but that doesn't mean we're in the clear.

"You know, you hate, almost, to present numbers going down like this because the last time we had numbers that went down like this, we all relaxed," he said. "We started living like the virus wasn't here – and that's all the virus needed to do to jump back and forth between people."

Adler said 20% of total deaths in Austin-Travis County have happened in the last two weeks or so. The infection rate is still too high, he said, especially among the Latino community. If numbers continue to decline and people continue to wear masks and social distance, the mayor said, the city and county could look at options to further reopen the economy.

Read more about what Austin's flattening pandemic curve means in this story from Thursday.

Watch Mayor Adler's Facebook video:

Pop-up coronavirus testing planned for Leander on Wednesday

Leander will have a drive-thru coronavirus testing site at the Leander ISD Don Tew Performing Arts Center on Wednesday.

The site will be open from 8 a.m. to noon and offer 500 test slots. People can make an appointment ahead of time here.  

Central Texas Food Bank to distribute food Thursday

The food bank is doing another emergency food distribution at the Travis County Expo Center, at 7311 Decker Lane, on Thursday.

People can drive through between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. to get a pre-packed box loaded directly into their cars.

If you are unable to attend, the Central Texas Food Bank has a map on its website of locations to find food now.

Families now have until Aug. 21 to apply for one-time grocery benefit

A deadline for families with children who have lost access to free or discounted meals because of school closures has been extended.

Those families originally had until Friday to apply for a one-time benefit of $285 per child to pay for groceries. Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday extended the deadline to Aug. 21.

The Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer, or P-EBT, works the same way as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, according to Texas Health and Human Services.

"If your family is eligible, we want you to apply for this one-time benefit, because we don’t want to leave federal lunch money on the table," said Wayne Salter, deputy executive commissioner of access and eligibility services at Texas Health and Human Services. "We’re pleased with how many families have so far received this benefit, but there are still thousands of eligible families in our communities that can apply for assistance.”

Families can learn more and apply here.  

Vaccine will be mass produced at Texas A&M

President Donald Trump announced that a future COVID-19 vaccine will be mass produced at a Texas A&M facility in College Station.

"I'm proud to announce that HHS has just signed a $265 million contract with the Fujifilm Texas A&M Innovation Center, which is quite the place, to dramatically expand their vaccine manufacturing capacity," the president said Monday.

The effort is part of Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration's goal to have 300 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine ready by January.

The new federal order calls for mass producing vaccines at the facility through the end of next year. Texas A&M University System’s Center for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing was originally created in response to the H1N1 influenza outbreak.

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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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