COVID-19 Latest: State Fair Of Texas Canceled, UT Austin Marks First Staff COVID-19 Death

Jul 7, 2020

This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Tuesday, July 7. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.

Austin surpasses crucial threshold for hospitalizations, which could signal additional restrictions

Austin Public Health reported 482 new cases of COVID-19 in Travis County on Tuesday evening, up from 247 reported Monday. Seven more deaths were reported.

There were 73 new hospital admissions in the five-county region (Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell). Currently, 469 people are hospitalized with the virus in the area. 

The seven-day average of daily COVID-19 hospital admissions is now at 74.8, up from 64.6. 

The jump is in part due to an effort to address data discrepancies, according to APH. Though rising above 70 could push the area into stage 5 of APH’s risk-based guidelines, the health authority says it’s still determining if it will recommend this move. 

“We are currently evaluating the impact of passing the threshold of 70 as well as updated modeling and secondary indicators, such as doubling times of cases, hospitalizations, and ICU patients, to make a final determination of the stage of risk for the City of Austin and Travis County later this week,” APH said in a statement shortly after the new numbers were released.

For now, the area remains in stage 4, Austin Mayor Steve Adler tweeted Tuesday. Stage 4 says 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 says only essential businesses should operate, and all individuals should avoid gatherings outside their households. Everyone should also avoid shopping and dining, except as essential.

How to avoid unnecessary COVID-19 test charges

State insurance officials say there are steps Texans can take to avoid unnecessary charges for a COVID-19 test.

The Texas Department of Insurance said in a statement today that if your doctor requests the test as medically necessary, you shouldn’t be charged for it. That would be in violation of federal law.

The agency also recommends calling your primary care doctor before getting tested, because getting a doctor’s order means you get the test at no cost.

Officials say you should also ask a testing site if it has any charges or fees not covered by insurance and you should also make sure they aren’t adding any extra tests that aren’t approved by your doctor.

The agency recommends avoiding hospitals and free-standing emergency rooms because they usually charge more.

For the many Texans who don’t have health insurance, though, officials say they should shop around on the web or by phone to compare testing prices and possible add-on fees.

If you do receive a bill related to a test, though, you should call your health plan and find out why. 

— Ashley Lopez

Walk-up testing sites open in Austin to increase accessibility

Austin Public Health opened two free COVID-19 testing sites this week that don’t require patients to arrive in a car. A third location is set to open on Monday. All three sites are designed to serve the underserved neighborhoods in which they are located, APH says. 

They’re located at:

  • Southeast Branch Library, 5803 Nuckols Crossing Rd.
  • Little Walnut Creek Branch Library, 835 W. Rundberg Ln.
  • Givens Park (opens July 13), 3811 E. 12th St. 

Unlike APH’s main drive-thru testing site, these locations allow people to arrive by foot or on a bicycle or motorcycle. Patients can still arrive in a vehicle if they choose to. Everyone is required to wear a face covering when they arrive.

People can access a test at these sites by completing an assessment and scheduling an appointment, which can be done online or through the nurse hotline: 512-972-5560. People who don’t schedule an appointment in advance, though, may still be able to get tested. 

“APH recommends that everyone planning to get a test at the neighborhood testing sites schedule an appointment ahead of time, but as long as there is capacity at the site, no one will be turned away if they show up needing testing,” a press release stated. 

The agency encourages people who have health insurance to seek other options, like pharmacies or urgent care centers, for testing.

State Fair of Texas cancels 2020 season

The State Fair of Texas will not open this year because of COVID-19 concerns, the fair announced Tuesday.

“In the current climate of COVID-19, there is no feasible way for the Fair to put proper precautions in place while maintaining the Fair environment you know and love,” said Gina Norris, the fair’s board chair, in a statement. “While we cannot predict what the COVID-19 pandemic will look like in September, the recent surge in positive cases is troubling for all of North Texas.”

The event attracts more than 2.5 million people to Dallas’ Fair Park each fall. This will be the first time since World War II the fair has not opened. The fair says it will automatically issue refunds to people who have already purchased tickets and season passes.

The fair plans to return for the 2021 season.

UT Austin staff member dies from the coronavirus

A member of the custodial services team at UT Austin has died from the coronavirus, interim President Jay Hartzell said he learned Monday night.

"This is our university’s first death related to COVID-19 and it comes at a time when cases are growing in Texas and Travis County," Hartzell said.

Everyone who was in contact with the staff member is self-isolating, according to the university.

"There are no actions or new precautions to take on campus right now. However, given the virus is still very active in our city and in other locations across the state and nation, everyone should continue to follow preventive precautions," Hartzell said, including social distancing and wearing face coverings.

Leander ISD families can choose online or in-person learning in the fall

The Leander Independent School District has rolled out plans for the school year as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

Leander ISD families can choose between two options: either online classes with live and self-paced instruction or in-person classes with safety measures like face coverings, contact-tracing and health screenings.

A combination of at-home and in-person learning will not be offered due to concerns about funding, logistics and teacher workloads. The district said schools will sanitize surfaces often, enforce social distancing during meals and stagger time between classes.

Leander ISD students are scheduled to start school on Aug. 13.

Applications open for Austin small business grant programs

Two grant programs aim to help Austin small businesses and nonprofits hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

The $16.5 million Austin Small Business Relief Grant will give grants of up to $40,000 to small businesses within Austin city limits.

The $6.35 million Austin Nonprofit Relief Grant will give grants of up to $20,000 to Austin nonprofits. The Better Business Bureau will process and score the applications.

Applications opened Tuesday and close July 24 at 5 p.m. Find more information and apply at ATXRecovers.com.

Travis County reopens some parks

Travis County is reopening some parks on Tuesday after they were closed over the July 4 weekend to help curb the spread of COVID-19. Those parks include East Metro Park, Pace Bend Park and Webberville Park.

They'll be open from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. Amenities like pools, athletic fields, pavilions and picnic tables remain closed. Other parks including Hippie Hollow Park, Loop 360 Park, Mansfield Dam Park and the Hamilton Pool Preserve are still closed until further notice.

Visit Travis County Parks' website for more information on open and closed parks.

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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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