COVID-19 March 20 Updates: H-E-B Offers Delivery For Older Customers; Testing Increases In Texas

Mar 20, 2020

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

Run-off primary elections postponed until July

Gov. Greg Abbott issued a proclamation Friday evening postponing the runoff primary election scheduled for May  26 until July 14.

“The postponement of this election serves to help fulfill the Governor's recent executive orders mandating certain obligation for Texans that are aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19, including the encouragement of social distancing,” Abbott’s office said in a statement.

The new date for the runoff is the same as the special election for Texas State Senate District 14, which is the seat recently vacated by state Sen. Kirk Watson of Austin. That election was originally supposed to happen on May 2, but was postponed earlier this week as the pandemic threat grew.

In a statement, Abbott’s office explained that having the runoff in May would “cause the congregation of large gatherings of people in confined spaces and cause numerous election workers to come into close proximity with others” – threatening the health and safety of many Texans.
 
Early voting for the runoff will begin July 6.

— Ashley Lopez

Update at 5:50 p.m. — Road construction projects continue during the pandemic

The Texas Department of Transportation has implemented added safety protocols for its construction and maintenance crews amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Road projects across the region are still progressing, according to Brad Wheelis, a spokesperson for TxDOT’s Austin District. 

“We are continuing to monitor the situation closely and we are in constant contact with state health and emergency management officials to follow any guidance issued,” Wheelis wrote in a statement. 

Earlier in the week, TxDOT postponed or canceled its in-person public hearings and gatherings through at least April 3. The Texas Transportation Commission meeting on March 26 will be conducted through teleconference. 

Meanwhile, the Austin Transportation Department is also making some changes. It is looking at ways to accelerate some construction projects to take advantage of lower traffic volumes. At the same time, it is limiting other work that requires more than 10 people on a team, such as surfacing projects. 

Public Works crews are also still responding to emergency requests such as those dealing with sidewalks and potholes.

ATD urges drivers to slow down and follow traffic safety rules, even though traffic is less congested. It plans to work with Austin Police to inform drivers that they can help health care professionals deal with the COVID-19 situation by avoiding injuries caused by avoidable accidents. 

Update at 5:22 p.m. — Travis County suspends arrest warrants for some offenses

Travis County judges have suspended active arrest warrants for nonviolent felonies in an effort to reduce the number of people entering county jails in light of coronavirus concerns. 

The order from presiding Judge Brenda Kennedy on behalf of district court judges suspends all active warrants of 16 different nonviolent offenses, including possession of a controlled substance, felony possession of marijuana, credit card fraud, prostitution and theft, among others.

The order will remain in effect until May 8, though it could be extended. Earlier this week, county court judges issued a similar order that suspended most active arrest warrants for misdemeanors.

Update at 4:53 p.m. — Help-At-Home Kits to be delivered to MetroAccess customers

Capital Metro and H-E-B are partnering to deliver food to the elderly and people with disabilities. Beginning Monday, MetroAccess customers can get help-at-home kits containing staples like peanut butter, rice, soup and canned vegetables. 

“We want to make sure that our most vulnerable customers can stay at home to protect their health and safety, and not worry about how they will get basic necessities,” said Chad Ballentine, Capital Metro’s vice president of demand response and innovative mobility. “We are very thankful for our ongoing partnership with H-E-B and the Central Texas Food Bank during this critical time.”

H-E-B is donating $150,000 to support the effort, on top of the donation of $1.2 million to Feeding Texas and a trailer of food to the Central Texas Food Bank.

Update at 4 p.m. — Austin warns COVID-19 has spread in the community – and slowing it requires 'every single person' 

Austin-Travis County has evidence of community spread of COVID-19, Dr. Mark Escott, the interim medical director and health authority for Austin Public Health, said Friday.

This means people have been infected with the virus in the area – not from traveling – and they may not know how. As of Thursday evening, there were 41 confirmed cases of the respiratory illness in Austin-Travis County.

“Our success in battling and defending this community against this virus depends on every single person in the community,” Escott said.

Some of the individuals who tested positive here have been in public spaces, Escott said, which is why his agency warned Tuesday the community should act is if there was sustained person-to-person spread.

“That was a warning to the community that if they’re amongst other people, there is some risk of exposure and spread,” Escott said. “That’s why we want people to be very careful about going out in public if they don’t have to.”

More from Marisa Charpentier

Update at 12:52 p.m. — Smaller CommUnityCare clinics are closing

CommUnityCare Health Centers in Austin announced today they are temporarily closing some of their smaller, single-provider clinics.

Officials with the chain of clinics funded by the hospital taxing district in Austin said this is an effort to consolidate services to better serve people during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We must conserve personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to protect the health of patients and staff,” CommUnityCare President & CEO Jaeson Fournier said in a statement Friday. “The most effective way to do this is to concentrate services at our larger clinics and temporarily close some of our smaller locations. At the same time, we are shifting many of our patient interactions to the telephone, meaning people can access health care from their mobile device.”

CommUnityCare also announced that medical staff in their mobile unit have been reassigned as part of their COVID-19 response.

Here’s the list of clinic closures:

  • Austin OB Manor-1408 Shadowglen, Hwy 290, Ste. 302, Manor, Texas
  • Austin OB Riverside-2410 E Riverside Dr., Ste. G-2, Austin
  • Carousel Pediatrics May’s Crossing-1201 S. IH-35, Ste 303, Round Rock, Texas
  • Del Valle Health Center-3518-A FM 973, Del Valle, Texas
  • Dove Springs Integral Care-5015 South IH-35, Austin
  • Hornsby Bend Health Center-1412 Hunters Bend Road, Austin
  • Manor Health Center-600 W Carrie Manor St, Manor, Texas

These closures are effective starting Monday, March 23 and will remain in place indefinitely.

— Ashley Lopez

Update at 11:39 a.m. — H-E-B develops grocery delivery service for seniors

H-E-B is partnering with the delivery app Favor, which it acquired in 2018, to provide grocery delivery specifically for customers over 60. The San Antonio-based grocer says orders will be filled on the same day and fees will be waived for the first 30 days. 

Orders will be left on customers' doorsteps to maintain social distancing. You can find details here.

Are you older or otherwise susceptible to COVID-19? Here's a list of grocery-shopping options that will help you dodge crowds.

Update at 9:50 a.m. — Testing starts to climb in Texas

State officials say Texas has now completed 5,277 coronavirus tests so far, with yesterday's count being more than all the previous testing combined. According to data from the governor's office and the Department of State Health Services, 2,942 tests were done on Thursday. Up until that point, the state had done 2,335 tests. 

Those numbers are expected to climb significantly as testing finally becomes more available nationwide. 

The number of positive tests is also expected to climb significantly. As of this morning, Texas had 194 confirmed cases.

Update at 9:13 a.m. — Hays County now has a total of six cases

With one additional confirmation, Hays County now has six total cases of the coronavirus. The Hays County Local Health Department says the question of how the latest case, a Kyle resident, contracted the disease is unclear. The six confirmed are in the following cities:

  • Austin: 1 (Some Hays County addresses are in Austin)
  • Buda: 1
  • Dripping Springs: 1
  • Kyle: 2
  • San Marcos: 1

Additional information about the patients is not allowed to be shared due to health privacy laws, the county said. 

Update at 7:45 a.m. — Two DPS employees test positive

Two Texas Department of Public Safety employees have tested positive for COVID-19, the agency said Thursday night.

A recruiting employee who tested positive was last in the DPS office in Belton on March 16, a DPS document shows. The other employee with the virus worked in a driver’s license office in Carrollton, Texas — a suburb of Dallas — and was last in the office on March 13.

“Public safety is our number one concern, and the department will work in conjunction with public health authorities to provide any additional information necessary to notify the public of these positive cases,” DPS said.

Update at 6 a.m. – Texas driver's licenses expiration dates extended

The Texas Department of Public Safety announced Thursday that driver's licenses and Texas IDs will be extended beyond their expiration dates until at least 60 days after the department notifies Texans that normal operations have resumed.

All driver's license offices are also closed to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The move follows Gov. Greg Abbot's state of disaster declaration over the coronavirus outbreak.

Update at 6 a.m.— Catholic Charities to distribute diapers and personal hygiene kits Friday

Catholic Charities will be passing out diapers and personal hygiene kits Friday in the nonprofit's parking lot at 1625 Rutherford Lane.  

People struggling during the coronavirus crisis can drive through and pick up supplies from 11 a.m. to noon. The items will be distributed until they're gone.

Catch up on what happened yesterday

Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order that temporarily closes schools, bars and gyms – and limits restaurant service to takeout and delivery orders only amid COVID-19 concerns. The order, which goes into effect at 11:59 p.m. Friday and lasts until April 3, also limits gatherings to 10 people.

The order bans people from visiting nursing homes and longterm care facilities unless they are providing care.

"This executive order is not a shelter-in-place order," Abbott said. "It does not prohibit people from doing things like going to the grocery store or gas stations or parks or banks. All critical infrastructure will be open and operational."

The governor also urged employers to require only essential staff come in to work and to encourage employees to work from home, if possible.

There were 41 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Austin-Travis County as of Thursday evening, an increase from 23 confirmed cases on Wednesday.

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

Austin Public Health has developed a five-phase plan for COVID-19 response and now believes the community is in Phase 5, which is “sustained person-to-person spread in the community,” according to the city’s website

Community spread means people have been infected with the virus in an area — not from traveling — and they may not know where they got it from. 

The pandemic has affected local transit. Capital Metro is asking lawmakers in Washington to include public transit agencies in any emergency aid packages in response to COVID-19. 

The agency saw a 64% drop in ridership on Wednesday, the first day of a reduced daily schedule. Ridership was down 40% on Monday and 45% on Tuesday.

Even more concerning for Capital Metro officials is a potential drop in sales tax revenue as the economy slows. The agency was expecting $265 million in sales tax revenue this fiscal year.

Other local coronavirus news from Thursday:

  • Austin ISD will provide meals to students under 19 and their parents or caregivers while school is out. 
  • The Travis County Sheriff’s Department is taking measure to prevent COVID-19 in its jails, such as taking people’s temperatures at facility entrances.
  • The Austin Transportation Department has begun converting some paid on-street parking spots into free temporary loading zones.