This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Wednesday, July 29. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.
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Travis County nears stage 3 of Austin Public Health’s COVID-19 risk chart
Austin Public Health reported 235 new cases of COVID-19 in Travis County on Wednesday, three more cases than yesterday’s total. Nine more people have died from the disease, according to APH, bringing the county’s death total to 264.
There are currently 371 people hospitalized with the virus in the five-county region (Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell), one more than yesterday. There were 37 new COVID-19 hospital admissions on Wednesday, one fewer than yesterday. The seven-day average of new hospital admissions is now 41.3, down from 44.3. This is the 11th day in a row this average has decreased. It’s now the lowest it has been since June 23.
Local officials worry about the coronavirus overwhelming local hospitals, so they’re keeping an eye on that number and adjusting restrictions based on it and other factors. Austin is currently in stage 4 of APH’s risk-based guidelines, the second-highest level. If the average of new hospital admissions falls below 40, officials could move the area down to stage 3.
City of Austin extends eviction notification requirements
The Austin City Council has extended a rule requiring landlords to give tenants 60 days’ notice of an eviction. Previously, the ordinance was in place until Aug. 24. On Wednesday, council members voted to push that back to Sept. 30.
Evictions in Austin and Travis County are banned until that date.
Once evictions are allowed to proceed, landlords who want to evict tenants for missed rent payments as far back as the end of March will need to give notice 60 days before beginning the eviction process, which typically starts by posting a “notice to vacate” on a renter’s door.
UT Austin tops survey of U.S. colleges with coronavirus cases
UT Austin is at the top of a New York Times survey of American universities with the most cases of COVID-19.
The survey, which shows UT Austin has 449 cases among employees and students, represents “the most comprehensive look at the toll the virus has already taken on the country’s colleges and universities,” The Times said.
The newspaper said it surveyed every four-year college, as well as private institutions that compete in Division I sports and elite research universities, revealing 6,300 cases at about 270 colleges.
Hundreds of colleges did not reply to survey questions, however, and others “refused to answer basic questions,” citing privacy concerns.
The University of Central Florida was the only other respondent to come close to UT, with 438 cases recorded.
Other Texas universities included in the survey reported far fewer cases. Texas State University in San Marcos reported only five cases — all in the athletic department.
Football is not compatible with controlling the spread of COVID-19, health official says
The NFL, college and high school football teams are set to begin practice and play this fall. But football and controlling a pandemic are not compatible, Austin Public Health’s top doctor said. Mark Escott told Travis County Commissioners on Tuesday that he's surprised UT Austin is planning to have fans at home games in September.
Escott said if the coronavirus spread can't be stopped in a socially distant sport like Major League Baseball, football has little chance.
"That disease spread in the college-age group, and certainly in the high school age group, is going to look different than it does in professional sports," he said. "It’s going to impact people of color who are athletes. It’s going to affect families of those athletes."
Escott said he communicated his concerns to UT Austin, which is still set to play South Florida on Labor Day weekend. Last week, the university said it was moving forward with plans to have fans in attendance at 50% capacity. Today, it said it was looking into reducing that to 25%. The stadium, which normally fits more than 100,000 people, already would have had a slightly reduced capacity this season because of renovations.
High school football workouts will not begin in Travis County until Sept. 7 at the earliest. NFL training camps began earlier this week.
Mayor Steve Adler reacts to Attorney General Ken Paxton's guidance on school reopenings
Austin Mayor Steve Adler said he'll continue to rely on local health authorities before making decisions about reopening schools ahead of the 2020-2021 school year. Tuesday, state Attorney General Ken Paxton issued nonbinding guidance that said local health authorities cannot order school districts to close classrooms as a preventative measure during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Texas Education Agency originally said it would continue to fund schools that don't have in-person instruction because of a local health mandate, but then reversed in response to Paxton's guidance. Districts that keep buildings closed beyond the first four weeks of the school year must get permission from the TEA to receive funding.
"The work that Dr. [Mark] Escott has done here and his orders and stuff — that was reached collaboratively with schools. And that's really how it should work, everybody looking at the same science and data and then being governed by those things," Adler said during a Facebook Live last night.
The Austin Independent School District has said it will provide virtual learning only until just after Labor Day. Other Central Texas school districts — including Leander, Pflugerville and Round Rock ISDs — have also delayed reopening school facilities.
Wilco Forward has given grants to more than 3,500 businesses
A Williamson County program, Wilco Forward, has supplied more than 3,500 businesses with grant money to help them during the coronavirus pandemic. The first phase of the program, which is funded by the federal coronavirus relief bill known as the CARES Act, concluded earlier this month and doled out an average of $9,000 to local small businesses.
While the distribution showed cities with more businesses received the largest allocation, County Judge Bill Gravell praised cities' chambers of commerce for reaching smaller populations.
“I think if you look at the Hutto, the Taylor and the Liberty Hill [chambers], I think they did really a good job in getting the message out to their community,” he said.
Now underway, phase 2 of the program aims to reimburse medical services and cities for COVID-19-related expenses. Phase 3 will focus on rent or mortgage and utility assistance.
Travis County has allocated $27 million of CARES Act funds
Travis County has allocated $27 million to businesses from the federal coronavirus relief bill known as the CARES Act. The county is putting to work nearly $34 million more after a commissioners’ vote Tuesday.
Already in the works is a fund to provide $40,000 grants to individual small businesses and another fund to help small cities. The county’s rental assistance program has had its hurdles, but staff is working through applications and weeding out who’s eligible.
“It covers all of Travis County, with the caveat that applicants must identify if they believe they’ve received [rental] support from another program that is funded by the CARES Act,” said Sherri Fleming, the county executive for Health and Human Services.
She said staff has processed around 300 applicants and expects many more checks to go out soon.
All CARES funds must be allocated before Dec. 30 or funds will revert back to the federal government.
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