COVID-19 Latest: Emergency Food Distribution To Take Place Thursday

Sep 16, 2020

This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Wednesday, Sept. 16. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.

Travis County sees 142 new cases and one more death

Austin Public Health reported 142 new cases of COVID-19 in Travis County on Wednesday, down from 185 reported Tuesday. The seven-day average of daily new cases is 128, up from 120. One new death was reported, bringing the county’s death total to 413.

There are now 74 people reported to be hospitalized with the virus in the five-county region (Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell), 12 fewer than yesterday. Despite that net decrease, APH reported five new COVID-19 hospital admissions in the region Wednesday. The seven-day average of new admissions is 14, the same as yesterday.

The area is in stage 3 of APH’s risk-based guidelines. At this level, people are encouraged to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people.

Pace of COVID-19 economic recovery a factor in Capital Metro's budget

The COVID-19 pandemic has made 2020 “a very challenging year,” Capital Metro officials say, but they expect some recovery by fall of 2021.

At a public hearing on its fiscal year 2021 budget Wednesday, officials said Cap Metro plans to keep operating spending flat from FY2020, at $278.2 million. Wage and hiring freezes are in effect for most positions not covered by union contracts. 

Cap Metro is taking a conservative approach to its budgeting, despite signs that sales tax revenue is rebounding faster than expected.

“We do have a number of projects that we’ve sidelined and placed on hold, because of the current economic situation,” said Kevin Conlan, Cap Metro's budget director. “If we do have fast recovery, there are some projects the agency would like to embark on in the next year.”

The agency received $101.9 million from the federal CARES Act, which is helping to make up for shortfalls in sales tax and fare revenue. 

The budget includes spending for more personal protective equipment and additional disinfection of vehicles. The agency is also increasing service on busy routes and adding upgrades to allow for all-door boarding in vehicles that don’t have it, in order to promote more physical distancing. 

It also includes more than $70 million to help start construction on Project Connect, if voters approve Proposition A during the general election.

The Capital Metro board is expected to adopt the budget at its meeting on Sept. 28.

– Samuel King

Austin ISD teachers union wants to continue virtual learning, but district plans phased-in return

Education Austin, the union for Austin ISD employees, is asking Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde not to bring students back to school buildings Oct. 5.

"We feel that ... maintaining online as long as possible is very important for the safety and health of our kids, our workers and their families," union President Ken Zarifis said at a news conference Wednesday.  

​But under Texas Education Agency rules, the school district must start bringing students back after the first four weeks of classes if it wants state funding. Elizalde said she plans to move forward with the plan to begin in-person learning on the first Monday in October. 

“Our campuses will begin a phased-in approach,” she said in a statement. “It's important to note that there is not an avenue through TEA waivers to continue 100 percent remote learning.”

AISD is limiting the number of students who can come back during the fifth and sixth weeks of the semester until a building is at 25% of its capacity. Here is the district's plan:

Week 5 – Oct. 5 (facilities at 25% capacity)

  • Students receiving specialized services (life skills, social behavior skills, SCORES, early childhood special education, and/or auditory/deaf education)
  • Children of staff returning to the school at which they are enrolled
  • Grade levels: ES - PK3, PK4, K; MS - 6; HS - 9
  • Newcomers Year 0 (PK, K) and Year 1
  • Siblings of students in prioritized group(s) for this week

Week 6 – Oct. 12 (facilities at 25% capacity)

  • Grade levels: ES - 1, 2; MS - 7; HS - 10
  • Students receiving specialized services (resource, dyslexia, 504, speech only)
  • Siblings of students in prioritized group(s) for this week

Week 7 – Oct. 19 (facilities at 50% capacity)

  • Grade levels: ES - 3, 4; MS - 8; HS - 11
  • Newcomers Years 2 and 3
  • Siblings of students in prioritized group(s) for this week

Week 8 – Oct. 26 (facilities at 50% capacity)

  • Grade levels: ES - 5 (6 when applicable); HS - 12
  • Siblings of students in prioritized group(s) for this week

The district notes any caregiver wishing to keep a student online-only will have that option.

– Claire McInerny

Austinites are getting test results back faster as demand for testing declines

Austin Public Health’s turnaround time for COVID-19 test results is now just two days on average, the health authority said in a press release Wednesday. That’s because fewer people are seeking COVID-19 tests right now, so the labs that process the tests aren’t as overwhelmed as they were earlier this summer.

Testing providers in Austin saw a high demand for testing in June and July — when some were having to turn people away and reporting turnaround times of seven to 10 days.

APH also said Wednesday it has signed contracts with more labs to help maintain a shorter turnaround time if demand increases going forward.

Public testing site to open in Montopolis neighborhood

Austin Public Health is opening a neighborhood testing site Tuesday at 1416 Montopolis Drive, the former Montopolis neighborhood center.

“The 78741 zip code is among the hardest hit by COVID-19 in Austin-Travis County, and Austin Public Health continues to work to reduce disparities in health outcomes for our community,” APH Director Stephanie Hayden said in a press release.  

People will not be required to arrive at the site in a car. APH encourages people to make an appointment, but there will be limited slots available for those who do not sign up in advance, according to the release.

The site will be open Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturdays from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

COVID cases in Hays County are dwindling. But there's still a small spike among college students.

Active COVID-19 cases in Hays County are on a steady decline, but there’s one age group still seeing small spikes in cases.

“We are seeing quite a few cases that are popping up here in San Marcos, especially in the 18-, 25-year-old age range, which does have a lot to do with our Texas State population here in San Marcos,” epidemiologist Eric Schneider said at a news conference Wednesday. “We want to make sure that our college students are being smart. I know you're wearing your mask. I know you’re social distancing. But when you're off campus, you need to continue those practices.”

Texas State University started conducting some in-person classes again in late August. The school has its own contact tracing system and team, as well as its own COVID-19 dashboard.

Schneider also said there are more active cases in Hays County than in Travis County, despite major population differences, because Hays doesn’t automatically clear active cases after 14-20 days. Instead, the county keeps people listed as active cases until someone from the health department can contact them to confirm they’re better.

Read more from KUT's Riane Roldan.

Emergency food distribution to take place Thursday

Central Texas Food Bank is hosting another emergency relief food distribution on Thursday to help those in need during the coronavirus pandemic.

The event takes place from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. at Nelson Field, 7105 Berkman Drive, Austin.

Pre-packaged boxes of food will be distributed via drive-thru. The boxes will be loaded directly into the vehicle’s trunk, so organizers ask that people make room before arriving.

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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