COVID-19 Live Updates: Travis County Has Now Seen More Than 3,000 Confirmed Cases

11 hours ago

We'll be updating this story throughout the day Thursday with the latest local news on the coronavirus pandemic. If you'd like to go through a roundup of COVID-19 news from Wednesday, read it here. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.

Update at 2:20 p.m. — Texas Transportation Commission weighs road safety, financial impacts of pandemic

The Texas Transportation Commission discussed in a virtual meeting Thursday the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on transportation, including fatalities on roads. Commissioner Laura Ryan mentioned a recent study from the National Safety Council that found that while the number of fatalities nationwide dropped in March, the death rate per miles driven went up. 

“What that means is if you are on the road, there’s a higher chance of fatality,” Ryan said. “And what we have also learned during this time, is that it falls right into one of our top reasons for the fatalities and that’s speed.”

The commission approved the allocation of more than $84 million in grants to address highway safety, which includes $7 million targeted at pedestrian safety, after the number of pedestrian fatalities increased last year.  

The pandemic is also having an effect on state finances, with a projected decline in sales, oil and gas taxes. The Texas Department of Transportation, which is governed by the commission, is drafting its budget request for the next cycle, and is considering whether to request more positions while cutting costs elsewhere to make up the difference.

“We are obviously very aware of the broader societal issue that everyone is experiencing, so as always, if we do bring that forward, we would look to bring operational efficiencies and savings that can then be redirected,” said TxDOT Executive Director James Bass.

Commissioners urged TxDOT staff to have alternative plans in case more funds or fewer funds become available. In the short term, the governor and legislative leaders have asked most state agencies to find 5% in potential savings by June 15. 

Texas Transportation Commission Chair Bruce Bugg also said he wants to explore whether more money could be found for cybersecurity, after a recent ransomware attack disrupted operations.

— Samuel King

Update at 7:48 a.m. — More than 2.4 million Texans have filed for unemployment since COVID-19 hit

Just over 128,100 Texans applied for unemployment benefits last week. That's about 5,960 fewer claims than the week before.

Since mid-March, when the coronavirus pandemic starting hitting the Texas economy hard, just over 2,405,500 Texans have applied for first-time unemployment benefits.

Nationwide last week, 2.1 million people filed for unemployment, bringing the total for the past 10 weeks to 40.8 million, NPR reports. That represents 26% of the civilian labor force in April.

Update at 7:28 a.m. — More than half of people who test positive in Austin-Travis County identify as Hispanic

More than half of the 3,057 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Austin-Travis County are people who identify as Hispanic. Angelica Erazo, vice-chair of the city’s Hispanic-Latino Quality of Life commission, says city officials could be doing more to reach out to these communities who have historically been wary of government entities, especially Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"We would request that they partner with local nonprofits that have this trust in the community, and also allocate additional funding to APH so they can get creative and do at-home-testing," Erazo said. 

She says people are concerned about what information might be collected if they visit a drive-thru testing site. There's also worry that testing positive for the virus could put people out of work indefinitely.

Update at 7:03 a.m. — Food distribution event planned for Thursday morning

The Central Texas Food Bank is holding the last food distribution event of the month today for families hit hard by COVID-19.

People in need will receive emergency boxes including 2% milk, produce and frozen chicken or pork. Only one person from each household can attend the drive-thru event — held at Toney Burger Stadium (3200 Jones Rd.) in South Austin, from 9 a.m. until noon.

Drivers are reminded to make room in their trunks before arriving. No walk-ups are allowed. If you're unable to attend, visit the Food Bank's website for a map of locations where you can find food now.

Update at 5:50 a.m. — Travis County case total rises above 3,000

Travis County has now had more than 3,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Austin Public Health reported 73 new cases Wednesday evening, bringing the total to 3,057. APH says 1,084 people have recovered from the disease, and 91 people have died.

Williamson County has seen 588 confirmed cases, 221 of which are active and 345 of which are reported to have recovered. There have been 22 confirmed COVID-19-related deaths in the county.

Hays County has had 297 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 129 still-active cases and 165 recoveries. There have been three confirmed coronavirus-related deaths in the county.

Get caught up on what happened yesterday

Austin Public Health officials are urging more residents to get tested for the coronavirus

Austin Public Health said it can administer 1,750 COVID-19 tests per day at its drive-thru testing site, but only 200 to 350 people are being tested each day.

At a press briefing Wednesday, interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said the agency doesn't want to test everyone at this point, because it wants to use public resources responsibly, but it does want to test more people.

“You see some communities who are testing everybody that comes and there’s a bit of a diminishing return,” he said. Taxpayer dollars are used to "perform the test and if the return on that investment is very, very small, those resources might be better utilized to care for people or to utilize for different public health measures.”

Escott said APH is working on targeted outreach for marginalized groups like the black and Latino communities to ensure they have adequate access to testing. 

Other local coronavirus news from Wednesday:

  • The City of Austin’s Economic Development Department has created two grant programs to support musicians and artists facing economic challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • As more businesses reopen, traffic volumes are increasing across the region. Transactions on Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority tollways, for example, were up 11% last week from the week before.
  • The Travis County Sheriff's Office said, as of Tuesday, seven employees have tested positive for COVID-19 – but no jail inmates have tested positive.

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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