COVID-19 Latest: Austin ISD Union Demands Start Of School Year Be Pushed Back

Aug 3, 2020

This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Monday, Aug. 3. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.

Travis County sees 335 new cases and six more deaths

Austin Public Health reported 335 new cases of COVID-19 in Travis County on Monday, up from 247 reported the day before. The seven-day average of daily new cases is 261. Six more deaths were reported.

There are 310 people hospitalized with the virus in the five-county region (Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell), three more than yesterday. APH reported there were 36 new COVID-19 hospital admissions Monday, 10 more than yesterday. 

The seven-day average of new admissions is now 36.6, up from 36.3. Local officials worry about the coronavirus overwhelming hospitals, so they’re keeping an eye on that number and adjusting restrictions based on it. An average below 40 could push the region down to stage 3 of APH’s risk-based guidelines, but that move also depends on other factors, like ICU and ventilator capacity. The health authority said last week the area is remaining in stage 4, the second-highest level, for now.

Some children with autism have been isolated during the pandemic

Specialized living facilities for people with disabilities in Texas continue to be treated like nursing homes during the pandemic, which means many children with autism are currently unable to have visitors, including their parents and other family members.

Kelle Wood Rich, the founder of the Central Texas Autism Center, said because of COVID-19, many children with autism are being forced to communicate remotely with their parents.

She said using platforms like Zoom and Facetime are not a helpful replacement for children who have trouble communicating.

“Many of them are more severely impaired and non-vocal,” Rich said. “They don’t understand why their parents aren’t coming.”

Advocates are asking state leaders to change guidelines so that residential treatment centers and group homes are treated differently than nursing homes. Rich said parents should be able to visit their children while still keeping important safety precautions in place.

This has been really hard on many families in the state, she said, as well as the children who are no longer getting visitors.

“They have reported that their children’s behavior has declined, where it was under control,” she said. “Now, they are having a resurgence of behavioral issues – emotional outbursts – it’s very, very detrimental.”

— Ashley Lopez

Austin ISD’s teachers union asks to delay first day of school

Education Austin, the union that represents Austin ISD’s employees, has updated its list of demands on how to start the school year amid the pandemic, including delaying the first day of school until Sept. 8. 

Right now, AISD plans to start virtual classes for everyone on Aug. 18. Union President Ken Zarifis says teachers would feel more comfortable using the technology and with virtual lessons if the start date were pushed back until after Labor Day. 

"I have some teachers who don't know how to do a Google doc. I have some teachers who know how to do a Google doc but don't know how to do video editing,” he said. “Regardless of what the district says, uniformly people don't have the training needed right now."

​The union also wants schools to remain online only until there is a decline in new cases for 14 consecutive days. 

It would be careless to go back to school buildings in mid-September, Zarifis said, especially knowing Black and Latino people are disproportionately affected by COVID-19. 

“If we say we know that and we allow people to go back into the schools that’s a racist demand,” he said, “because we know that more of our Black and brown community will be infected.”

The Texas Education Agency says school districts can do virtual-only classes for the first three weeks of the semester, but after that they need approval from the state.

– Claire McInerny

Hays County establishes two new testing sites, thanks to new partnership

Hays County is partnering with CommuniCare Health Centers, a private medical clinic with locations in Kyle and Wimberley, to offer free COVID-19 testing. On days when the clinics are closed, the county will go in and conduct testing.

The Hays County Commissioners Court approved the agreement last week.   

“There are many pieces that need to come together for one location and that's why the public-private partnerships I keep hearing about are so good,” Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra said during the meeting last week. “We're utilizing infrastructure in place and the talent and the horsepower already in motion, and we're just supplementing it. That's why I find so beneficial.” 

Drive-thru testing will be offered Wednesdays in Wimberley, while testing in Kyle will be walk-ins on Sundays. Testing is free, but appointments are required at both locations. For more information go here.

Austin seeks to loosen rules for charities that distribute food

The City of Austin is trying to make it easier for food charities to hand out free meals as the pandemic increases demand, according to KUT's partner the Austin Monitor.

Food banks have not been allowed to repackage food from restaurants unless they have a kitchen permit. That comes with a list of requirements, including a double sink and stainless steel surfaces. But food pantries say this limits their options, since restaurants are a source for food distribution.

Austin City Council members approved a resolution last week asking the city manager to temporarily stop enforcing restrictions on food charities at least through the end of the year – as long as they don't impact people’s safety or health. The resolution also calls for a new task force aimed at addressing other ways the city's permitting process limits people’s access to food. 

Travis County sees 469 new cases over the weekend

Austin Public Health reported 469 new cases of COVID-19 in Travis County over the weekend — 222 on Saturday and 247 on Sunday. Five new deaths were reported. 

As of Sunday evening, there were 307 people hospitalized with the virus in the five-county region (Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell counties). On Saturday, there were 321.

There were 67 new COVID-19 hospital admissions reported in the region over the weekend — 41 on Saturday and 26 on Sunday. The seven-day average of new hospital admissions is now at 36.3, the lowest it’s been since June 22. 

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 last week the area is staying in stage 4 of its risk-based guidelines, the second-highest level, for now. The health authority 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.

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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