COVID-19 Live Updates: Thunderbirds Detail Flight Path Over Austin On Wednesday

May 12, 2020

This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Tuesday, May 12. Read Wednesday's live updates here. If you'd like to go through a roundup of COVID-19 news from Monday, read it here. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.

Update at 7:30 p.m. — Texas Attorney General warns some Austin-Travis County COVID-19 orders are 'unlawful'

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sent a letter to Austin Mayor Steve Adler and outgoing Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt on Tuesday saying some of the requirements in their local public health orders are unlawful and “likely to confuse residents.”

The letter says their orders place unconstitutional demands on houses of worship, put unnecessary restrictions on essential services and feature unenforceable requirements such as wearing a mask. 

Adler disagreed, saying the city’s order complements the governor’s order and doesn’t conflict with it.

“Up to this point, we have avoided the naked politicization of the virus crisis,” he said in a statement. “I will not follow the AG down that road.”

Read more from Marisa Charpentier here.

Update at 4:01 p.m. — Travis County approves more contracts for strike teams

The Travis County Commissioners Court approved more help Tuesday for long-term care facilities dealing with the impacts of the coronavirus. It authorized more funding for "strike teams" that provide needed health care and staffing support. 

New analysis by Austin Public Health finds at least 38 residents and one staff member at long-term care facilities have died from COVID-19. Hundreds more have tested positive. Officials have directed more testing resources to those facilities to get a better sense of how the virus is spreading. 

“Once COVID-19 takes hold in a facility, it’s very, very difficult to stop it,” Dr. Mark Escott, interim Austin-Travis County health authority, told commissioners. “That’s why we continue to emphasize the importance of facilities that do not have COVID-19 cases to work hard as possible to keep them from ever getting in.”

The state had initially paid for the teams but has since asked local officials to do so. Some commissioners expressed frustration that even though federal funding could cover the costs, that’s money that can’t be spent for other relief efforts.

Chief emergency management coordinator Eric Carter told commissioners that the local teams are smaller than the original state teams which consisted of 17 people. 

“They’re putting in smaller teams, they’re getting in quicker, they’re able to help them, help the facility train up a little bit more on donning/doffing PPE (personal protective equipment), being a little bit safer,” Carter said. 

The county is contracting with several staffing agencies for the teams, which would be at the facilities for seven to 10 days. It has allocated a maximum rate of $15,000 per day for the teams, but now they’re averaging a rate of $3,000 per day, according to Carter. 

— Samuel King

Update at 3:52 p.m. — Texas Department of Criminal Justice to expand testing in prisons

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is starting a new COVID-19 testing program for prisons across the state this week. The program uses oral fluid tests approved last month by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration emergency use authorization, the agency announced Tuesday. 

The tests, manufactured by Curative, Inc., are designed to be self-administered by the person being tested.

“These tests are readily available and deployable,” TDCJ Executive Director Bryan Collier said in a statement. “Increasing the information available to our medical professionals will help us to further enhance the agency’s ability of stop the spread of COVID-19.”

The state “has acquired and is deploying tens of thousands” of these tests, according to TDCJ. The agency says it has 12 strike teams being trained to begin the testing.

Update at 2:24 p.m. — SNAP recipients can purchase groceries online starting Wednesday

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients in Texas will be able to use their accounts to buy groceries online at participating retailers starting Wednesday.

The pilot program allows SNAP recipients to use their Lone Star Card to buy groceries for curbside pickup or delivery from Walmart or Amazon, according to a press release from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

“This innovative initiative helps provide healthy food to Texas families who need it the most during this challenging time,” said HHS Access and Eligibility Deputy Executive Commissioner Wayne Salter. “We’re committed to reducing food insecurity for at-risk Texans.”

SNAP funds only cover grocery purchases. Other associated charges, like delivery or convenience fees, may not be paid for by SNAP, according to the release. Recipients don’t need to make changes to their account in order to start purchasing online. 

Update at 1:55 p.m. — Thunderbirds release flight plan over Austin for Wednesday

The Air Force reminded people to stay home and not gather in groups to watch the flyover.
Credit U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds

The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds plan to fly in formation over much of Austin Wednesday afternoon — as long as the weather cooperates.

The Air Force says the flyover serves as a salute to front line COVID-19 responders in Texas. Bad weather could delay or postpone Wednesday's event — currently scheduled to start at 2:40 p.m. and end at 3:15 p.m.

Residents will be able to see the flyover from their homes throughout Austin, Williamson County and along I-35 in Hays County. A map released Tuesday shows the flyover will start around Leander, loop over Georgetown and Pflugerville and then head south over downtown Austin and the surrounding area, before continuing into Buda and Kyle.

The Thunderbirds said people should not gather at landmarks, hospitals or in large groups to watch the flyover, reminding residents to stay home and follow social distancing guidelines during the event.

Update at 1:07 p.m. – Home Slice closes South Congress location as North Loop shop reopens

Home Slice Pizza has temporarily closed its South Congress location after two employees tested positive for the coronavirus. The restaurant said neither employee has been at the location for about a week. The location will be closed until at least Monday, while it is being professionally cleaned. It said all staff members there would be tested.

The restaurant reopened its North Loop location today after closing for a week upon learning an employee there had tested positive for the virus. It said all returning staff have tested negative. 

Update at 5:45 a.m. — Bastrop County nursing home survey results in one positive case out of 94 tests

A recent COVID-19 survey of nursing home facilities in Bastrop County resulted in one positive test out of the 94 tests administered.

“This is very good news,” County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said in a press release. “Based on other facilities in the MSA, we are pleased that there appears to be no epidemic of the virus in our local elder-care facilities.”

The person who tested positive is now being monitored and is in isolation, according to the release. The county is asking the Texas Department of State Health Services to now test all residents and employees of the facility where the positive case was found as soon as possible.

Bastrop County’s health authority and Office of Emergency Management have been monitoring local nursing homes, which in some cities have become hotspots for COVID-19. The survey was conducted last week. The county is not releasing the names of the facilities included in its survey “for the confidentiality of those being tested,” according to the release.

The county says, in all, it has conducted 890 tests so far. There are 112 confirmed cases of the virus in Bastrop County, with 35 recoveries and two deaths.

Catch up on what happened yesterday

Abbott directs state agencies to test all Texas nursing home residents and staff

Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday he’s directing the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, the Texas Division of Emergency Management and the Texas Department of State Health Services to test all residents and staff in Texas nursing homes.

Abbott has instructed these entities to “develop and implement a plan based on the guidance of Vice President Mike Pence and Doctor Deborah Birx,” according to a press release.

“The State of Texas is working to rapidly expand our testing capacity—especially among vulnerable populations in Texas nursing homes,” he said in the release. “This important collaboration among HHSC, TDEM, and DSHS will ensure that any potential clusters of COVID-19 cases in nursing homes are quickly detected and contained.”

Other local coronavirus news from Monday:

  • The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds say they will honor frontline COVID-19 responders and essential workers with flights over San Antonio and Austin on Wednesday, starting at 2:40 p.m. in Austin and lasting 25 minutes. The event was originally scheduled for Tuesday but was posptoned due to expected bad weather.
  • Capital Metro is partnering with the Austin Independent School District to provide Wi-Fi to neighborhoods in need.
  • While a lot of businesses are seeing few, if any, customers right now, bike shops are an exception. Many are reporting that they’re backed up for days or even weeks on repairs, as more people turn to cycling during the pandemic. 
  • Two voting rights activists have asked the district attorney in Dallas to investigate Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton for election fraud after he sent letters to local election officials telling them not to administer mail-in ballots to people who do not feel safe voting in-person due to the coronavirus.

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.

If you find this reporting valuable, please consider making a donation to support it. Your gift pays for everything you find on KUT.org. Thanks for donating today.