COVID-19 March 17 Updates: Austin Restricts Bars And Restaurants, UT Moves Class Online

Mar 17, 2020

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

  • Confirmed cases in Austin: 17
  • What should I do if I think I have the coronavirus? If you are experiencing symptoms including fever, cough, and shortness of breath, call your health care provider. Do not go to a health care facility first.
  • If you are uninsured and/or don't have a doctor: call CommUnityCare at 512-978-9015. CommUnityCare will talk to you over the phone and send you to the appropriate location.
  • Q&A: Your coronavirus questions answered by a panel of experts

Update at 7 p.m. — Seven more COVID-19 cases confirmed in Austin area

The number of cases of COVID-19 has risen to 17 in Austin-Travis County, Austin Public Health officials reported on the city's website Tuesday. At the end of the day Monday, there were 10. 

The number of cases has been expected to rise as testing ramps up. 

The city says on its website that while it is not yet confirmed that Austin-Travis County has sustained person-to-person spread of the disease in the community, it should act as if it does.

Update at 6:34 p.m. — Kevin Durant tests positive for the new coronavirus 

Former Longhorn and current NBA superstar Kevin Durant announced that he is one of four Brooklyn Nets to test positive for COVID-19.

"Everyone be careful, take care of yourself and quarantine. We're going to get through this,” Durant told The Athletic

The former league MVP missed the entire 2019-20 season recovering from an achilles rupture suffered in last year’s finals.

Update at 5:55 p.m. — Travis County temporarily suspends misdemeanor warrants 

As part of an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus in local jails, Travis County is temporarily suspending all active warrants for misdemeanor offenses with a number of exceptions. Misdemeanor arrest warrants still being executed include those for unlawful restraint, violation of a protective order, unlawful carrying of weapons, terroristic threats, family violence and indecent assault.

The order was signed by County Court Judge Elisabeth Earle at the request of the Travis County Attorney’s Office. The warrants still remain in effect but are being suspended at least until May 8, at which point judges will take another look at the decision. 

Update at 5:50 p.m. — Yellow Cab continues operations

Yellow Cab says it will remain in full operation in Austin and other Texas cities “to serve those who rely on daily transportation to access care, food, jobs and other essential resources such as needing orders picked up from local grocery stores,” the company’s CEO John Bouloubasis, said in a press release.

Bouloubasis said the company has also strengthened cleaning protocols at its facilities and taxicabs. 

Meanwhile, both Uber and Lyft announced the suspension of Uber Pool and Lyft Shared ride services in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.. Services like UberX and Uber Eats remain in operation. 

Update at 5:19 p.m. — UT Austin moves to online classes for the rest of the semester

UT Austin will move the spring semester online starting on March 30 when classes resume. "We are asking students not to return to campus this semester unless there is a specific need," UT Austin President Greg Fenves wrote in a letter to the campus community.

Fenves said the decision was made to protect all members of UT Austin and reduce the spread of COVID-19 within the university and beyond.

"Life on our campus, in our city and across the world has changed for the coming months," Fenves said. "I have seen firsthand how extraordinary the UT community is, and I am proud of the dedication, compassion and leadership you have shown throughout these uncertain weeks."

Update at 4:45 p.m. — Austin Police Department scales back enforcement

The Austin Police Department says it will scale back some enforcement and move some services and responses online or to phone-based systems to ensure COVID-19 doesn't spread.

Police say they're not changing response to critical calls, but they'll no longer be sending officers out to some calls that can be handled online or over the phone – including property crime incidents.

Officers won't respond to crashes in which both vehicles can drive away from the scene of a crash. Police will also continue enforcing traffic laws in cases of "hazardous violations; however enforcement for non-hazardous violations is at the officer's discretion, but generally discouraged."

Scaled-back staffing will also affect admission to the department's headquarters and in-person request and purchase of police reports. In addition, sex offenders who come in for a verification of their address will have to reschedule that check-in for a later date.

Read the announcement here.

Update at 4:40 p.m. — Williamson County halts some court proceedings

Williamson County Justice of the Peace Courts have paused all nonessential court proceedings until May 11.

This includes eviction hearings, other civil trials and criminal trials. Court business deemed essential will continue, including weddings and repair orders for landlords. 

Update at 4:30 p.m. — H-E-B is looking for temporary workers

H-E-B is bringing in temporary workers to help stock products, bag items or complete checkouts.

A spokesperson for H-E-B says the move helps on two fronts. First, its stores have had a huge increase in traffic as coronavirus concerns have gripped the state. And second, some food-service workers are in need of temporary employment while their restaurants are forced to close.

Anyone can apply here.

Update at 2:50 p.m. — As restaurants shut down dine-in service, the internet steps up

The website takeouttracker.com is listing which Austin-area restaurants are offering takeout and delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Several restaurants have closed in the past week, and the city announced Tuesday it is prohibiting dine-in service at restaurants and closing bars to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The website notes which options are available, including takeout, curbside pick-up and delivery.

Uber Eats announced Monday it will waive delivery fees for roughly 100,000 restaurants across the country, including more than 700 in Austin.

Update at 1:58 p.m. – Cap Metro to run fewer trains and buses starting Wednesday 

Capital Metro says most bus routes and MetroAccess service will run on a Sunday schedule starting Wednesday. MetroRail will run on a Monday–Thursday schedule five days a week, with no late-night service on Friday or Saturday service. 

The agency said it's working to make sure there's backup if an employee becomes sick with the coronavirus and an office needs to be shut down temporarily. To protect drivers, Cap Metro is asking passengers to enter buses through the rear door, unless they’re paying with cash or need the ramp.

The agency has set up a website with updates.

Read more from Samuel King here.

Update at 12:40 p.m. – City closes bars and orders restaurants to do takeout and drive-thru only, limits public gatherings to 10

The City of Austin has ordered bars to close and restaurants to allow drive-thru or pickup service only, effective immediately Tuesday. The city has also banned gatherings of more than 10 people.

Critical infrastructure, like grocery stores, government buildings, schools and hospitals are exempt from the order, Dr. Mark Escott, interim medical director and health authority of Austin Public Health, said.

Read more here.  

Update at 7:50 a.m. — First known coronavirus death in Texas

A man in his late 90s died Sunday in Matagorda, Texas — about 80 miles southwest of Houston — with symptoms consistent with COVID-19, the Matagorda County Emergency Operations Center said in a Facebook post. A positive test was confirmed the following evening, officials said.

It's the first known death from the coronavirus in the state, the Texas Department of State Health Services said. The Texas Tribune's statewide count of cases is at 69 as of Monday.

Update at 7:16 a.m. — Mayor Adler gives update on possibility of business closures 

Austin Mayor Steve Adler will give an update at noon Tuesday with Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt on the status of business closures. Though originally expected at 11 a.m., the news conference is now scheduled for noon.

"We have been closely watching cities across the country move to close & restaurants bars. I've been on the record in favor of this as part of #Austin 's #COVID19 response," Adler said in a Monday evening tweet.

On Saturday, Austin instituted a ban on gatherings of 250 people or more, lasting until May 1. That was followed on Sunday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidance against gatherings of 50 people or more for the next eight weeks. Monday, President Trump urged Americans to avoid groups of 10 or more people for at least the next 15 days.

The White House will hold a news conference at 10:30 a.m. Central. It was originally scheduled for 9:30 a.m. CT.

News you may have missed Monday evening

Alamo Drafthouse closes all locations until further notice

All Alamo Drafthouse locations — except one franchise location in Virginia — are now closed amid the spread of the coronavirus, the company announced Monday evening. 

“When we re-open after this unprecedented and indefinite hiatus, it will be in a dramatically altered world, and in an industry that’s been shaken to its core,” the business posted on its website. “We’ll be in close contact over the coming days and weeks with our teams, suppliers, and colleagues on what these closures mean and what we plan to do next.”

Already-purchased tickets will be refunded. Alamo said it is working with the Emergency Assistance Foundation to help as many staff members as possible. 

Georgetown closes city facilities; Red Poppy Festival postponed

The City of Georgetown closed its public library and most parks and recreation facilities Monday evening until May 11 due to COVID-19. The city says these changes are in response to Williamson County’s recent restriction on mass gatherings of 50 or more people. 

The City Council is scheduled to meet March 19 to extend its local disaster declaration until April 14. 

The city’s annual Red Poppy Festival, which attracts tens of thousands of visitors and was scheduled to take place April 24-26, has been rescheduled to Oct. 23-25.

The city says people with library materials checked out can hold onto them until the library, which doesn’t charge late fees, reopens. Athletic field rentals and practices are canceled, and parks and recreation events and programs are canceled through May 11 as well. 

City Council meetings will continue. Staff is working to find ways to hold meetings remotely, the city says, and people are encouraged to send in written public comments and watch a live stream of meetings on the city’s website.

San Marcos restricts gatherings of more than 50 people

Public or private gatherings of more than 50 people are prohibited in the City of San Marcos beginning Tuesday until May 11. Mayor Jane Hughson signed the order, which follows recent guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on Monday.

The prohibited gatherings do not include office spaces, residential buildings, grocery stores, restaurants, malls, hospitals, medical offices, schools or institutes of higher learning. San Marcos CISD announced Monday that schools would be closed until April 5.

The city also closed San Marcos Public Library, its activity center and discovery center on Monday until May 11. City staff are exploring alternative options for residents to access services, such as library services, the city says.

“This is a fluid, evolving situation and we’ve taken these actions to follow the most recent guidelines from our national and regional health authorities,” Mayor Hughson said in a statement. “At this time, we would rather operate with extreme caution for our facilities and public facing operations that accommodate the largest number of daily residents, in order to do our part in halting the spread of COVID-19 within our community.”

Austin Energy offers to restore services that have recently been disconnected

Austin Energy says it’s reaching out to residential customers whose electricity, water or trash collection have recently been disconnected for nonpayment and offering to restore service as a way to help people cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week, the public utility suspended pending disconnects for that reason. 

“It is important to note that the Utility Contact Center must speak with the customer before implementing a courtesy reconnect,” Austin Energy said in a statement. “We cannot automatically reconnect all accounts because we must obtain the customer’s authorization that services may resume in their name.”

People with questions about their account are asked to call Austin Energy at 512-494-9400.

Austin Energy is also warning about scammers impersonating call center employees and contacting people to threaten them with disconnection unless they send money or other forms of payment. The utility has already received reports of more than 20 scam calls.