COVID-19 Latest: Austin ISD To Call Families Directly Ahead Of Start Of School

Aug 20, 2020

This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Thursday, Aug. 20. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.

Travis County sees 291 new cases and no new deaths

Austin Public Health reported 291 new cases of COVID-19 in Travis County on Thursday, down from 303 reported the day before. The seven-day average of daily new cases is 234. No new deaths were reported.

APH says there are now 208 people hospitalized with the virus in the five-county region (Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell), seven fewer than yesterday. Despite that net decrease, APH reported 30 new COVID-19 hospital admissions in the region on Thursday. The seven-day average of new admissions is 27, down slightly from 27.3.

Local officials worry about the coronavirus overwhelming hospitals, so they 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.

Texas programs for women and babies face budget cuts

Health care programs in Texas are facing cuts in the current state budget that runs through next year because of the state’s financial problems during the pandemic.

Advocates say some of the proposed cuts include cuts to women’s health, cuts to early childhood intervention for babies and toddlers with disabilities and cuts for staff who help families sign up for services like Medicaid. 

Peter Clark, a spokesperson for Texans Care for Children, said Texas families should have input and the process should be more transparent.

“We are about to hit the end of the fiscal year,” he said, “and if the cuts are just going to be implemented without any formal decision, or public announcement, or public discussion, then that is certainly concerning.” 

Clark said this opaque process is also making it hard to anticipate what’s going to happen with the next budget, which lawmakers will begin hammering out early next year. 

He said state lawmakers, ultimately, could be dipping into the billions of dollars the state has in its rainy day fund. Lawmakers could also pursue more federal assistance, he said, instead of cutting funds for badly needed programs

“Instead of making things worse for Texas families, this is a moment in our state’s history when Texas leaders should really be funding the services that Texans need most,” he said.

– Ashley Lopez

Rooftop drive-in theater to open downtown next week

A drive-in movie theater is being set up on the rooftop of the state parking garage at Third and San Antonio streets.

A collaboration between the Downtown Austin Alliance Foundation and Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-in Theater, the drive-in will be a contact-free way for people to see movies during the coronavirus pandemic. Shows run from Aug. 27 until the end of October.

In addition to a movie screen, there will also be a performance stage on the rooftop. The foundation says it’s working with local artists, musicians and performers to put on programming that people can watch from their cars.

“The Downtown Alliance Foundation is thrilled to help bring this unique and one-of-a-kind downtown Austin experience to our city,” Molly Alexander, executive director of the Downtown Austin Alliance Foundation, said in a press release. “At a time when we are all doing our part to keep our community protected, this offers an opportunity to get out of the house to enjoy a movie, live music or a theater production in a safe way.”

At the drive-in, guests will have to stay in their cars at all times and keep their windows at least 75% up if not wearing a mask. Guests can leave to use the restroom, at which point they’ll have to wear a mask.

The foundation is also partnering with local restaurants in the area, so guests can place an order and get it delivered to them at the drive-in or pick it up before arriving.

More information can be found here.

More than 1,000 applications submitted for help on Day 1 of Austin rent program

The City of Austin received 1,539 applications for help on the first day of a new $12.9 million rent assistance program.

Austin renters affected financially by the COVID-19 pandemic can apply for at least one month’s rent, while very low-income tenants are eligible for up to three months of rent. The city will use a lottery system to choose who gets the money and expects to pay the rent of 10,000 households over several months.

In May, the city got nearly 11,000 applications over three days for just $1.2 million in rent assistance.

Austin hosting webinars on Creative Worker Relief Grant program

The City of Austin is holding two webinars on its Creative Worker Relief Grant program today. The program gives up to $2,000 in one-time grants to artists or Austinites involved in productions that have halted as a result of COVID-19. A webinar in Spanish will be held this afternoon at 4:30. An English-language webinar starts at 6 p.m.

Find links to register below.

The deadline to apply for a grant is Aug. 28. 

Austin ISD to call all families in the district before start of school

The Austin Independent School District wants to make sure every family has what it needs before virtual learning starts Sept. 8.

​Administrators, counselors or teachers will call the guardian of every child enrolled at a school to see if the family needs any technology or has other questions about the start of the school year.

The district hopes by connecting with each family, they will have a better idea of who is able to do e-learning at home and who will need to come to campus so they can use a computer. The district plans to do at least the first four weeks of the school year online. 

More people are buying and selling homes in Austin

People are buying and selling more homes in the Austin-area now than they were before the pandemic. The number of homes sold in the metro area last month was up by more than 20% compared to July of last year, according to the Austin Board of Realtors.

That’s the second month in a row that sales rebounded. But the number of homes for sale is sharply down from last summer, when it was already low. So prices are higher now — up 10% to a median of about $350,000. Within just the City of Austin, the median sales price was up to $423,000. Those high prices and limited supply are part of the reason why so many people are selling homes.

And a big reason why so many people are buying them? Interest rates are near historic lows. For a 30-year mortgage, you can find rates under 3%.

— Nathan Bernier

Round Rock ISD goes back to school today — virtually

Round Rock ISD students are going back to school today, but they'll start with virtual learning for the first three weeks. 

Students from Pre-K through 12th grade will login to ClassLink, a system that will direct them to the online learning program called Schoology where students will find class work and parents can keep up with their child's progress.

The school district has emphasized the Sept. 8 deadline to turn in required forms for students. And they've outlined policies for students who will return to in-person classes on Sept. 10, called the "Reimagining Education Plan." Read more at RRISD's website.

— Allyson Ortegon

Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter Lane opens today

The Alamo Drafthouse on Slaughter Lane reopened today, one of eight locations nationwide opening by the weekend. The Drafthouse said it plans to open about half of its 41 locations by the end of August.

The Drafthouse website lists the theater chain's safety protocols, including requiring masks when not eating or drinking, and exiting by row once a movie ends. The company says there will be two "buffer seats" on either side of a customer's seat(s) to maintain social distancing.

COVID-19 Dashboards

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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