This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Thursday, June 25. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.
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COVID-19 hospital admissions in Austin area continue to rise
Austin Public Health reported 183 new cases of COVID-19 in Travis County on Thursday evening, down from the 318 new cases reported the day before. No additional deaths were reported.
There were 49 new hospital admissions in the five-county region (Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell). Currently, 293 people are hospitalized with the virus in the area, up from yesterday’s 274.
The seven-day average of daily COVID-19 hospital admissions is now at 44.6, up from 43.4. Local officials worry about patients overwhelming local 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, would be triggered if the hospitalization average rises above 70. If the average falls below 20, the area will move down to stage 3.
U.S. House hearing highlights need for more protections for nursing home residents and staff
An Austin woman whose brother died at Riverside Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in April told federal lawmakers Thursday that nursing homes should have done more to protect residents from COVID-19.
“I don’t blame the workers; they were doing their job. They should have been given the PPE to keep them and their patients safe,” Delia Satterwhite testified before a House Ways and Means Subcommittee hearing chaired by Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin. “If someone was sick, they should have been given leave to stay home.”
Riverside’s owner has previously said it acted quickly to put protective measures in place to combat COVID-19.
Lawmakers called for more federal oversight of nursing homes and more coordination of the distribution of personal protective equipment and testing.
They also want to explore ways to increase pay for nursing home workers, an issue that has led to staffing shortages. It’s also meant that aides sometimes work at multiple homes, a factor health experts say contributes to spreading the coronavirus to different facilities.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said an independent commission will review the response to COVID-19 in nursing homes. The agency reports more than 100,000 cases and at least 29,000 deaths among nursing home residents.
– Samuel King
Most nursing homes in Travis County have a low COVID-19 positivity rate
Results from state-mandated testing at nursing homes in Austin-Travis County show few people tested positive in facilities without a known outbreak of COVID-19.
Last month, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered all nursing homes to test residents and staff. As of June 23, tests were administered to 3,476 staff and 2,165 nursing home residents. Results for 180 tests are still pending, according to a press release from the city and county.
Within the 27 facilities that didn’t already have known ongoing transmission of the disease, three residents and nine staff members tested positive.
“The testing shows that the screening of staff members may help detect asymptomatic COVID-19 infections,” the city and county said. “According to the test results, of the staff members who tested positive, many may not have direct patient care responsibilities.”
Of the nursing homes that did have ongoing transmission of COVID-19, one had a 38% positivity rate among its staff and residents. Results at two other facilities with ongoing spread showed an 11% positivity rate. Positivity rate is the percentage of tests administered that come back positive.
Gov. Abbott puts a pause on the state's reopening plan
Texas will pause any further phases to reopen the state, Gov. Greg Abbott announced today, as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rise statewide.
Businesses that have already been permitted to reopen under previous phases can continue to operate at their designated occupancy levels — currently set at 75% indoors for restaurants and 50% indoors for bars.
“As we experience an increase in both positive COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, we are focused on strategies that slow the spread of this virus while also allowing Texans to continue earning a paycheck to support their families,” Abbott said. “The last thing we want to do as a state is go backwards and close down businesses."
The governor said the "temporary pause" will help the state control the spread until Texas can safely enter the next phase of reopening.
City of Austin delays return of city employees to July 27
A plan to bring City of Austin employees back to their workplaces set to go into effect on June 29 is now delayed until July 27, City Manager Spencer Cronk said in a memo to City Council.
"Recent trends in COVID-19 cases have understandably raised concerns and, after conferring with local health authorities, we are delaying all three reintegration phases," Cronk said.
Phase 1 of the plan included employees whose jobs require them to be at work to perform their duties or interact with the public or other city employees. The first phase allowed city offices to require appointments for in-person meetings depending on the nature of the work. And for those whose jobs involve interacting with the public, the city said it will install plexiglass barriers where possible.
Williamson County sees spike in cases, particularly among those age 18-40
The number of COVID-19 cases in Williamson County is rising sharply, according to local public health officials. Confirmed coronavirus infections are up by 50% in the past week and are expected to double again in about two weeks. The total stands above 1,600. About half of those are active cases.
"The virus is spreading rapidly in Williamson County," Derrick Neal, executive director of the Williamson County and Cities Health District, said. "I believe we’re beginning to see the Memorial Day activity, along with the governor’s reopening, all culminating into what we’re seeing right now."
Neal said the county is concerned about social gatherings over the Fourth of July long weekend.
"And that’s why at this point our efforts are really focusing on health promotion, which is imploring to our citizens how important social distancing and mask wearing is," he said, "and that’s our last lifeline at this point.”
The biggest increase in cases in Williamson County has been among those aged 18 to 40. The biggest decrease has been among those aged 61 to 80.
More free COVID-19 testing available in Kyle, San Marcos
Hays County is opening up a new walk-up COVID-19 testing site this weekend. Residents 5 and older can get tested at the Hays CISD Performing Arts Center in Kyle from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Wednesday, July 1. Registration is not required and residents do not need to report symptoms.
A second testing site will open at San Marcos High School on Sunday, July 12, and operate until Thursday, July 16, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day.
Results from these testing sites will be sent directly to the individual and not the Hays County Health Department. On average, results are sent within seven days of a test.
Nearly 90,000 Texans applied for unemployment last week
New numbers released this morning show 89,241 Texans applied for unemployment benefits last week. That's about 5,480 fewer new claims than the week before.
Since mid-March, when the coronavirus pandemic started hitting the Texas economy hard, just over 2.7 million Texans have applied for first-time unemployment benefits.
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