COVID-19 March 24 Updates: City Of Austin, Travis And Williamson Counties Issue Stay-At-Home Orders

Mar 24, 2020

This post has updates from Tuesday, March 24. 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 8:01 p.m. – Health experts don't see 'any way' schools can return this semester

It’s a question on a lot of people’s minds: How long can we expect to continue avoiding interactions, staying home, away from work and away from school? At Tuesday's meeting of the Travis County Commissioners Court, Dr. Mark Escott of Austin Public Health said it will have to be taken in stages.

“We have to look at the next three weeks, look at the impact of the additional social distancing measures that we’re going to take today to make a prognostication about the future. I will say quite clearly that in my viewpoint, in the consensus viewpoint of the expert panel, we don’t see any way that schools will be able to return to session this semester.”

Escott also said predictions from modeling will become more accurate as more information is fed into the modeling calculations. 

Update at 5:03 p.m. – Fort Hood moves to 'mission essential manning'

Operations at one of the nation’s largest military bases are changing in response to COVID-19. Fort Hood leadership is asking personnel considered nonessential to follow any shelter-in-place orders issued by local officials. The base itself is moving to a “mission essential” manning, after discussions with local and state authorities. 

A Fort Hood soldier has already tested positive for COVID-19, and the soldiers with whom he was in contact are in self-quarantine in their homes.

"This decision will help mitigate the spread of the virus while allowing us to maintain our core mission capabilities, and critical functions and services on the installation,” Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt, deputy commanding general of III Corps, wrote in a letter to the Fort Hood community. “The role and importance of engaged leadership does not change because our circumstances have changed. Together-as teammates, with each doing their part-we will overcome COVID-19 to protect our Soldiers, families, and communities for their safety so we can fulfill our duty to the nation."  

Maj. Gen. Efflandt said the order does not mean everyone can return home, and the base will remain open for mission and critical services. The Department of Defense has already restricted domestic travel for service members, DOD employees and their families through May 11.

Update at 3:41 p.m. – Texas hospitals ordered to submit daily reports on beds and COVID-19 tests

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is ordering hospitals to submit daily reports on hospital bed capacity and COVID-19 tests to the state health department, which will in turn submit reports to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We have a goal in this state and that is to ensure that everyone is doing everything possible to mitigate and reduce the spread of COVID-19,” Abbott said during a news conference Tuesday.  

The governor has been focused on expanding hospital capacity and getting more medical supplies. On Sunday, he issued orders directing health care professionals to postpone elective surgeries and allow more than one patient to be treated in the same room. He said Tuesday a task force he assembled has placed an order for $80 million worth of supplies.
 
Abbott said the state is enlisting every medical professional they can find to help, and said people who want to donate medical supplies, like personal protection equipment, or volunteer can find out how to do so at www.texas.gov.

Read more from Marisa Charpentier here.

Update at 1:37 p.m. — City of Austin, Travis and Williamson counties issue stay-at-home orders

A stay-at-home order has been issued for Austin, Travis County and Williamson County, county and city leaders announced this afternoon.

A press conference with city and public health leaders was held noon. You can watch it here:

The orders go into effect at midnight and ask residents to leave their homes only for essential reasons, like getting groceries or going to the pharmacy.

“What we’re talking about today is not just a county approach but a regional approach to fighting something we’re facing,” Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell said. “The coronavirus knows no boundaries.”

Dr. Mark Escott, the interim health authority for Austin-Travis County, said Austin and Travis County have enough hospital beds, ICU beds and ventilators to get through the next three to four weeks.

“If we don’t take action today, we are going to run out, and we are going to run out soon,” he said.

Williamson County has 75,000 residents over the age of 65, according to the county’s Health Authority Lori Palazzo.

“Our goal is to protect all our residents but especially this vulnerable population,” Palazzo said.

Escott said the Austin-Travis County community has so far been at 50% social distancing, but that percentage needs to be 90%.

“That takes all of you making individual decisions to stay home, to work from home and to only go out if you need essential things,” Escott said. “If you don’t need essential things, you need to stay home, you need to be with your family, you need to connect with the world virtually.”

You can read more about Austin's order here, or read the full order below:

Update at 8:43 a.m. — Bastrop County opens COVID-19 testing site

At 2 p.m. today, a COVID-19 testing site will open in Bastrop County, the county’s Office of Emergency Management announced in a Facebook post.

You need to go through a screening process with a health care provider in order to get an appointment to be tested.

“The CDC has stated that only those with symptoms may be tested,” Bastrop OEM said in the post. “There are not enough test kits or personnel for those without symptoms to be tested.”

If you feel sick or are experiencing symptoms, the county asks that you call your health care provider for a screening and possible appointment. If you do not have a provider, you can call the Ascension COVID-19 Medical Hotline at 833-978-0649. If you are experiencing life-threatening symptoms, call 911 or call ahead to an emergency room so personnel can prepare for your arrival.

Bastrop County officials say they'll set up another location to house first responders who have been exposed to the virus or become ill. The first responders can stay there until they're no longer contagious. 

A separate patient monitoring center is also in the works for people who've tested positive for the virus and should not return home. Bastrop County has reported one positive case of COVID-19 so far.

Update at 6:30 a.m. — Travis County Commissioners Court goes virtual 

The Travis County Commissioners Court will hold their regularly scheduled voting session today over video to practice social distancing. County Commissionrs will join via Skype while Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt serves as presiding officer in the Commissioners Court. 

The public can watch online or on public access TV channel 17. They can also provide comment on any agenda item by calling (866) 393-8739 and entering the Meeting ID: 149-100-895.

"As we continue to adjust our daily lives for COVID-19, it is imperative we also adjust your local government," said Hector Nieto, Travis County public information officer. "Going virtually ensures that everyone has access to their local government, all the while being able to protect the health and safety of the public and the public servants." 

The virtual meeting starts at 9 a.m. 

Update at 6 a.m. — Gov. Abbott to provide another update 

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott will give an update on COVID-19 in the state on Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. 

During his last update Sunday, he announced he was signing orders to help expand hospital capacity across Texas. The orders directed health care professionals to postpone elective surgeries and allow more than one patient to be treated in the same room. 

He declined to issue a statewide “shelter-in-place” order, noting local officials have the authority to issue stricter standards if they so choose.

Soon after Sunday’s announcement, Dallas County issued a shelter-in-place order. Austin and Travis County are expected to follow suit Tuesday.

Catch up on what happened yesterday

Austin, counties prepare to announce shelter-in-place orders

Stay-at-home orders are expected to be issued in the City of Austin, Travis County and Williamson County on Tuesday in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said. The orders would require all nonessential businesses to have employees work from home and further restrict other gatherings.

Businesses with essential functions – like grocery stores – would be exempt, as would government functions and critical infrastructure. She said the orders could be in place for two to three weeks.

“We have a very short window to really affect COVID-19’s expansion through our community,” Eckhardt said. “The longer we wait, the more acute the spike will be, so we need to act fast in really decreasing the circulation of people in our community.”

Austin Mayor Steve Adler also signaled earlier in the day Monday that such an order would be coming. The city is planning a news conference for Tuesday morning. 

Read more from Samuel King here.

Other local coronavirus news from Monday:

  • Austin City Council members will vote Thursday on a measure to essentially stall eviction filings against tenants for two months.
  • Pflugerville is closing pavilions, playscapes; and volleyball, basketball and tennis courts in its city parks.
  • Five new positive cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed by the Williamson County and Cities Health District, bringing the county’s total to 14.
  • Tito’s Handmade Vodka says it’s working on producing hand sanitizer to give away for free to the community and those most in need. 
  • Blanco County has its first confirmed case of COVID-19.