This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Wednesday, June 24. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.
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Hospitalizations and cases in Austin area continue to climb
Austin Public Health reported 318 new COVID-19 cases in Travis County on Wednesday evening, up from 257 new cases reported Tuesday. Two more deaths were reported.
There were 56 new coronavirus hospitalizations reported in the five-county region (Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell); the same number was reported Tuesday. There are currently 274 people hospitalized with the virus in the region. The seven-day average of new hospital admissions is now 43.4, up from 39.3 yesterday. 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.
Another record number of new cases reported in Texas
Texas reported 5,551 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, a record in a month of record-high daily new cases. Tuesday saw the previous record: 5,489 new cases.
For the 13th day in a row, the state is reporting a record number of COVID-19 hospitalizations: 4,389, which is about 300 more hospitalizations than on Tuesday.
There were 29 new deaths reported, bringing the death total to 2,249.
Despite the increase in cases and hospitalizations, the Trump administration plans to end federal funding for seven COVID-19 testing centers in Texas.
Sen. John Cornyn commented on the move during a press call, saying now is not the time to “retreat from our vigilance in testing.”
“I believe that they need to extend that federal support in Texas, at least until we get this most recent uptick in cases addressed,” he said.
A spokesperson for Sen. Ted Cruz said in statement that Cruz “has urged and will continue to urge [the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and FEMA] to extend the community testing sites in Texas.”
UT Austin to cut $28 million from budget
The University of Texas System will cut more than $78 million from its budget, and UT Austin will bear the largest part of the cut. State leaders have called for tighter budgets as Texas grapples with the economic ramifications of the pandemic.
Last month, Gov. Greg Abbott and other leaders wrote a letter to state agencies and institutions of higher learning asking that plans be made to cut budgets by 5% for both the 2020 and 2021 fiscal years. They made exceptions for agencies responding to COVID-19 or providing “critical government functions.”
Texas’ Legislative Budget Board calculated UT Austin’s targeted budget cuts to be $28 million.
In response, UT Austin Interim President Jay Hartzell said the university has already been making cuts including cancelling merit-based raises, laying off employees, allowing voluntary furloughs and having restrictive reviews on new hiring and large expenditures.
Hartzell said that while savings in some areas will help the university meet its reduction target, with only two and a half months left in this fiscal year, it’s not possible to make more strategic budget cuts this year.
“As a result,” Hartzell said, “the bulk of the reductions will need to occur in fiscal year 2021.”
- Sangita Menon
New York, New Jersey and Connecticut announce travel restrictions for Texans
The governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have announced travel restrictions for people heading to their states from Texas and eight other states.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a tweet that people traveling from states with significant community spread of COVID-19 must quarantine for 14 days. The travel advisory goes into effect at midnight tonight.
The other states included in the advisory are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah and Washington.
San Marcos closes river parks after uptick in cases
River parks in the City of San Marcos are closing Thursday at 8 p.m. until further notice. The dog park, skate park and natural areas will remain open, but the city is advising people visiting these areas to practice social distancing and wear masks. Visitors are also prohibited from gathering in groups of more than five people.
San Marcos currently has the highest number of new COVID-19 cases in Hays County. At a press conference last week, Hays County Epidemiologist Eric Schneider said young people floating the river is one of the reasons cases are on the rise. Following city efforts, the Lion’s Club Tube Rental will also close on Thursday.
More information on park closures can be found here.
New Braunfels issues order mandating businesses require face coverings
New Braunfels has joined the list of Texas cities now mandating businesses require employees and visitors wear face coverings inside to help curb the spread of COVID-19.
Under the new order, all employees and visitors must wear face coverings, such as homemade masks, bandanas or scarves. The order also requires anyone over the age of 10 to wear a mask over their nose and mouth in public when social distancing cannot be maintained. Per the governor’s order, though, individuals can’t be penalized for not wearing a face covering.
Businesses have to implement a policy starting Monday. Failure to do so could result in a $1,000 fine each day the order is violated.
Latino Austinites face a consistent COVID-19 disparity
COVID-19 continues to have an outsized impact on Latino communities in Austin. Latino Austinites represent 34% of the area’s population, but 60% of COVID-19 cases are among Latinos.
While city and county officials have tried to address that disparity, former Austin School Board Member Paul Saldaña, who leads a task force addressing disparities in the Latino community, says officials could be doing more.
"Here we are – week 18 of the pandemic – and you're hearing city and county officials talk about the importance of wearing masks," he said. "Well, the reality is that there's still a lot of folks who don't have the basic, fundamental necessities of protecting themselves and their families – i.e., the mask and hand sanitizer."
Saldaña says he'd like the city to use some of the $171 million it received in federal coronavirus relief funding to set up pickup locations for hand sanitizer and masks in areas that have been especially hard-hit by COVID-19. He likens that possibility to the city's efforts during the boil-water notice last year, when it set up citywide pickup locations for clean water.
As for outreach, he says the recent slate of PSAs by the city and the Austin Chamber of Commerce are tone-deaf, don't address that disparity and come from a place of "privilege."
"It's clearly intended for the people who don't have to work in the restaurants and the bars and the grocery stores and the construction sites. That's not for us," he said. "That's a message for the people who are privileged and have options and don't have to work necessarily."
— Andrew Weber
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