This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Wednesday, Aug. 12. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.
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Travis County sees 172 new cases and six new deaths
Austin Public Health reported 172 new cases of COVID-19 in Travis County on Wednesday, down from 296 reported the day before. The seven-day average of daily new cases is 200. Six more coronavirus-related deaths were reported, bringing the county’s death total to 313.
There are now 275 people reported hospitalized with the virus in the five-county region (Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell), down from 279 yesterday. Despite that net decrease, APH reported 38 new COVID-19 hospital admissions in the region Wednesday. The seven-day average of new admissions is now 32.7, down from 33.6.
Local officials worry about the coronavirus overwhelming hospitals, so they’re 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.
Austin asks nonprofits for help reaching renters in upcoming rent assistance program
The City of Austin is asking nonprofits to help it reach renters affected by the pandemic by applying for grants to provide assistance for low-income residents.
Funds will range from $1,000 to $50,000. Priority will be given to nonprofits with a record of helping families with children, veterans, and Black and Latino populations. Applications close Aug. 25.
Rental assistance is expected to be available later this month. Read more about the program on the city's website.
Correction: This post previously said applications were open for renters seeking assistance.
Study shows thousands with flu-like symptoms at the beginning of the year likely had COVID-19
COVID-19 was far more widespread ahead of lockdowns earlier this year than previously thought, according to a new study from UT Austin researchers.
The first case of COVID-19 in Seattle may have occurred as early as Christmas or New Year’s Day, they found.
The researchers retested throat swabs from patients who had flu-like symptoms in January in Wuhan, China, and in late February and early March in Seattle. Some contained the virus that causes COVID-19. Using this throat-swab data, they modeled what the spread might have looked like across these cities at the time.
“Even before we realized that COVID-19 was spreading, the data imply that there was at least one case of COVID-19 for every two cases of flu,” Lauren Ancel Meyers said in a press release.
Meyers leads UT Austin’s COVID-19 Modeling Consortium and worked with her research team on the study.
“Since we knew how widespread flu was at that time, we could reasonably determine the prevalence of COVID-19,” she said.
The team estimates there could have been more than 12,000 undetected symptomatic cases of COVID-19 in Wuhan on Jan. 22, when the Chinese government shut down the city. There were 422 known cases at the time.
In Seattle, they estimate more than 9,000 people with flu-like symptoms had COVID-19 on March 9, when the city closed schools because of the virus. About a third of those were likely children.
“We can go back and piece together the history of this pandemic using a combination of investigative techniques and modeling,” Meyers said. “This helps us understand how the pandemic spread so quickly around the globe and provides insight into what we may see in the coming weeks and months.”
– Marisa Charpentier
Blanton Museum reopens with COVID-19 precautions
The Blanton Museum of Art is reopening to the public Saturday.
The museum, which closed in March because of the pandemic, is implementing protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19, like limiting capacity and requiring patrons to reserve a time slot online. Visitors and staff will have to wear masks and social distance.
Some exhibitions currently on view include The Avant-garde Networks of Amauta: Argentina, Mexico, and Peru in the 1920s, Ed Ruscha: Drums Skins and The Artist at Work.
Blanton members and UT ID holders can start visiting today. The museum opens to everyone else Saturday at 10 a.m.
City of Austin creates $3.5 million grant for creative workers
The City of Austin has created a $3.5 million grant program for creative workers in Austin hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, including people who work in the arts, music and fashion.
Eligible applicants can receive up to $2,000 to help cover immediate needs like rent, groceries and bills. Applicants must be 18 years or older, show proof of economic loss due to COVID-19, live within Austin city limits and have worked in the creative field during the last two years.
Musicians who've received money from the Austin Music Disaster Relief Program can still apply for a $1,000 grant. Applications for the relief grant open this coming Monday at 10 a.m. Read more about the grant application process on the city's website.
Nearly half of UT Austin students say they prefer all virtual classes
UT Austin expects more than 75% of classes will be fully online for the fall semester as the coronavirus pandemic continues. Nearly half of undergraduate students have said they prefer all virtual classes.
The remaining half have opted for a majority of online and hybrid courses, which mix virtual and in-person elements. University officials say because so many students will be learning remotely, they expect only 5% of classes will be fully in person.
More than 60% of faculty will be teaching online-only courses this semester and the number of staff members who must be on campus will be significantly reduced. The number of undergraduate students living on-campus has also been cut down to 4,500 students out of the normal capacity of 7,300 to help limit the spread of COVID-19. Classes begin in two weeks.
Austin airport sees increase in traffic, but still significant year-over-year drop
Passenger traffic at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport was down in June by just under 82% compared to a year earlier. Fewer than 292,000 passengers moved through.
The coronavirus pandemic has taken a significant toll on air travel. Passenger traffic at the airport from January to June 2020 was down about 55% compared to the same period last year.
The airport did see an uptick in passengers in June compared to months before. In May, Austin-Bergstrom saw around 130,000 passengers. That month’s total was down 91.5% from May 2019. In April, the airport saw only about 48,000 passengers — a 96.6% year-over-year decline.
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