COVID-19 Latest: Austin Public Health Site To No Longer Test People Without Symptoms

Jun 29, 2020

This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Monday, June 29. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.

Second-highest number of daily new cases reported in Travis County

Austin Public Health reported 508 new cases of COVID-19 in Travis County on Monday evening, the second-highest single-day increase in cases yet. The highest single-day increase was reported Sunday, with 636 new cases. Four more deaths were reported Monday, bringing the total number of COVID-19-related deaths in the county to 121. 

There were 48 new hospital admissions in the five-county region (Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell). Currently, 368 people are hospitalized with the virus in the area. 

The seven-day average of daily COVID-19 hospital admissions is now at 53.4, up from 52. Local officials worry about patients overwhelming hospitals, so they’re keeping an eye on that number and adjusting restrictions based on it.

The area is in stage 4 of APH’s risk-based guidelines, meaning higher risk individuals (people over 65 and those with underlying conditions) should avoid gatherings of more than two people and stay home unless absolutely necessary. Lower risk individuals should avoid gatherings of more than 10 people.

Stage 5, the highest risk level, could be triggered if the hospitalization average rises above 70. If the average falls below 40, the area will move down to stage 3.

We Are Blood seeks plasma donations from people who've recovered from COVID-19

We Are Blood, which manages the Central Texas blood supply, says there is a “critical shortage” of COVID-19 convalescent plasma – or plasma from people who have recovered from the disease. That part of the blood may contain antibodies that could be used to treat other patients with COVID-19. 

The blood bank has been collecting convalescent plasma since early April. According to Nick Canedo, the vice president of communications, We Are Blood has received 600 donations to help more than 450 people. But due to the increase in COVID-19-related hospitalizations, the supply isn’t keeping up with demand. 

“Before when we had ample amount of donations and fewer hospitalizations, we were able to fulfill physician and hospital requests within hours,” he said. “And now, depending on blood type, it could be within a day or so. And that can be critical – critical for a patient’s treatment.”

The use of convalescent plasma has shown some promising results, according to Dr. Kristin Mondy, chief of infectious diseases at Dell Medical School. 

With limited supplies, Mondy said she has had to reduce the amount of plasma given to patients and use it only for sicker patients on the cusp of requiring ICU care.  

She said if more people could donate plasma, "people could get better faster ... [which] could help free up more ICU space in the long run.” 

To donate, a person must have tested positive for COVID-19 and be symptom-free for at least 14 days. We Are Blood expanded eligibility to include people who have tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies using certain FDA-approved tests. But those tests may produce inaccurate results, Mondy said. 

Donations are by appointment only and take more than two hours. 

– Sangita Menon 

The Park at The Domain receives alcohol suspension for not shutting down 

Seven bars in Texas, including one in Austin, got their alcohol permits suspended for 30 days for refusing to shut down. 

On Friday, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered bars to close to limit the spread of COVID-19. The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission said it sent agents to 1,500 businesses in the state over the weekend to ensure they complied with the governor’s order. 

Fifty-nine of those businesses were still operating, but 52 of them agreed to shut down immediately after TABC’s visit. The remaining seven, including The Park at The Domain, did not agree and received suspensions.

All bars that earn at least 51% of their revenue from alcohol sales are supposed to close, according to the governor’s order. They can still offer takeout and delivery, though. Restaurants that earn less than 51% of their revenue from alcohol can keep operating at half of their normal capacity. 

TABC says the first violation results in a 30-day suspension of their alcohol license, and a second violation results in a 60-day suspension. More violations could lead to other penalties, like cancelling the business’ alcohol license or permit. 

In an attempt to block Abbott’s decision to shut down bars, more than 30 bar owners filed a lawsuit on Monday challenging his emergency order.

Travis County judge asks Abbott to mandate masks statewide or let locals enforce rules

Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe is asking the governor to enforce statewide face-covering recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or to allow local officials to enforce stricter stay-home orders.

“If you are not willing to take these actions on behalf of the state, please roll back your restriction on local leaders being able to take these swift actions to safeguard the health of our communities,” he wrote in a letter to Greg Abbott today.

Biscoe said hospitals in the five-county Austin metropolitan area have exceeded 70% of their capacity and that Austin Public Health is preparing an alternative care site. He said the surging number of new coronavirus cases in the area has made efforts to contact trace and slow the spread of disease almost useless.

“The rapid increase in cases has outstripped our ability to track, measure, and mitigate the spread of disease,” he said in the letter.

Because of increased demand, Biscoe said APH and CommUnityCare sites are no longer testing people without symptoms of the virus.

He thanked the governor for rolling back occupancy limits to 50% for most businesses on Friday, but asked that the limit be pushed back to 25%. His letter also called on Abbott to prohibit gatherings of more than 10 people who are not seeking essential services and not living in the same household.

Austin Public Health goes back to testing only people with symptoms

People who aren't showing COVID-19 symptoms can no longer get tested for the coronavirus due to a shortage of tests, Austin Mayor Steve Adler said. Local public health officials and city leaders had been encouraging everyone to get tested, whether they had symptoms or not. 

Adler said Friday that Austin Public Health’s testing sites are seeing a high demand for testing.

​“Dr. [Mark] Escott is now saying that not everybody can get tested," he said. "We are going to go back to only testing people who are symptomatic because we frankly don’t have enough testing capability. And the tests aren’t coming back quickly enough.”

Adler said people are having to wait up to five days before getting their test results, so patients who are positive aren’t self-isolating fast enough.

He urged people with health insurance to get tested through their medical provider instead of the city to make sure uninsured patients get priority. 

Travis County is reporting a cumulative total of 8,461 coronavirus cases. That case count is up 636 cases from the day before – the largest day-over-day change so far. The death toll from COVID-19 remains at 117.

The city and county saw a record number of new hospital admissions Sunday: 60. That raises the seven-day average of new hospital admissions to 52. Local public health officials say hospitals will be overwhelmed if the number of hospitalizations continues to rise.

The Central Texas Food Bank is distributing groceries to families today

The Central Texas Food Bank is handing out emergency food boxes today to families financially impacted by COVID-19.

People can receive grocery items, including produce, cereal, milk, meat and eggs. Drivers are asked to make space in their vehicles. There will be a separate line for people who walk or take the bus.

The food distribution will be behind Navarro Early College High School on Payton Gin Road between 183 and North Lamar from 10:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. 

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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