COVID-19 Latest: Austin Urges Kindness After Assaults On Park Rangers Carrying Out Health Rules

Aug 24, 2020

This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Monday, Aug. 24. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.

Travis County sees 154 new cases and five more deaths

Austin Public Health reported 154 new cases of COVID-19 in Travis County on Monday, up from 96 reported Sunday. The seven-day average of daily new cases is 212. Five new deaths were reported, bringing the county’s death total to 362.

There are now 171 people hospitalized with the virus in the five-county region (Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell), one fewer than yesterday. Despite that net decrease, APH reported 15 new COVID-19 hospital admissions in the region Monday. The seven-day average of new admissions is 21.1, down from 22.9. This is the seventh day in a row the average has decreased.

Local officials 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.

Austin and Travis County ask park visitors to 'Spread Kindness, Not COVID'

Austin and Travis County are urging park-goers to be kind to park employees after several were physically and verbally assaulted in the last few months.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Austin Parks and Recreation Department’s park rangers and monitors have been assigned to local parks to encourage social distancing and share safety messages with visitors. Since March, the city says these employees have been assaulted on six different occasions.

“These incidents include employees being yelled and cursed at, pushed into the lake, threatened with weapons, punched and pushed to the ground,” the city and county said in a joint press release.

Park rangers help people who might be lost and share information about parks, the city said. They don’t carry weapons and aren’t commissioned peace officers. Park monitors are staff members who have been reassigned because of closures in their city divisions. They support rangers by checking reservations and explaining health and safety guidelines.

“These employees are there to assist the public, not become an outlet for their frustration,” Amanda Ross, the division manager for natural resources, said.

Though the county says it hasn’t had the same experience, Travis County Parks is also encouraging people to be patient in these uncertain times.

“We understand it can be frustrating when Travis County Parks have to close once they reach capacity, but we have these measures in place to ensure everyone’s well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Travis County Parks Director Charles Bergh said.

Capital Metro makes service changes in response to increased ridership on some routes

Capital Metro says grocery stores and other retail centers have been the main generators of ridership since the beginning of the pandemic. The transit agency has added service along routes that serve major shopping centers to support physical distancing, including the 300 crosstown service, which runs from Westgate Transit Center up to Crestview Station.

“The route happens to serve several grocery stores, several major H-E-Bs,” Roberto Gonzalez, director of service planning for Cap Metro, said. “We wanted to be prepared for any influx into that service.”

Cap Metro also restored timing and service on the 801 and 803 MetroRapid routes to pre-pandemic levels. Ridership has begun to increase systemwide ahead of classes resuming at UT Austin, which could add even more passengers despite far fewer classes being held in-person.

“Some of that ridership is specific to those routes where we’ve made those frequency investments,” Gonzalez said. “We have some growth in mornings and evenings that reflects people needing to get to and from work.” 

Gonzalez said staff will be closely monitoring Cap Metro routes Wednesday and Thursday to see if more adjustments are needed around campus. It's also adding service on UT shuttles in the afternoons and evenings to accommodate adjusted class schedules.

Most MetroRail, MetroExpress and Flyer service will continue to have reduced service, as ridership has not rebounded as much as it has on local bus service. 

Cap Metro aims to have capacity on buses not exceed 50% for 15 minutes or more. It will unveil a performance dashboard in the upcoming weeks that allow users to track crowding issues and other safety indicators.

– Samuel King

Texas State University starts in-person classes today

In-person classes at Texas State University in San Marcos start today for the first time since the pandemic began.

Classes that are meeting in person are limited to no more than 50% of a room's maximum occupancy. There will also be assigned seats and attendance tracking to make sure students are properly distanced. The university says custodians will spray classrooms with a hospital-grade sanitizer every night. 

Last week, University President Denise Trauth sent an email to students acknowledging the uptick in cases at universities across the country. Many of these schools, like the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Michigan State University, have had to stop in-person classes temporarily within just a week of reopening. 

— Riane Roldan

Travis County sees 177 cases over the weekend and four deaths

Austin Public Health reported 177 new cases of COVID-19 in Travis County over the weekend — 81 on Saturday and 96 on Sunday. Four more deaths were reported, bringing the county’s death total to 357.

As of Sunday evening, there were 172 people hospitalized with the virus in the five-county region (Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell). On Saturday, there were 184.

There were 37 new COVID-19 hospital admissions reported in the region over the weekend — 19 on Saturday and 18 on Sunday. The seven-day average of new hospital admissions is now 22.9, the lowest since June 15.

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

 

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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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