COVID-19 March 26 Updates: Abbott Orders Travelers From NYC, New Orleans To Self-Quarantine

Mar 26, 2020

This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Thursday, March 26. Read Friday's live updates here. 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 6:15 p.m. — City of Austin publishes dashboard breaking down cases by age, gender

The official number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Austin-Travis County is now at 137, up from 119 reported Wednesday night. The city has published a dashboard that breaks down the cases by age and gender. 

Of the confirmed cases, 75 are people in their 20s and 30s, and 42 are people in their 40s and 50s.

Credit City of Austin

One patient is under age 20, and 7 patients are over the age of 70.

The cases are split evenly between genders — 68 women and 69 men have confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the area.

Update at 5:50 p.m. — Hays County reports two more cases ahead of stay-at-home order taking effect

Hays County is reporting two more cases of COVID-19, bringing the total in the county to at least 13. Of the two additional cases confirmed today, one is an adult from Dripping Springs and the other is an adult from Kyle.

One of the patients in the original group of positive cases in Hays County, also an adult from Kyle, has recovered and is out of quarantine. 

A stay-at-home order for Hays County goes into effect Thursday at 11:00 p.m. and is scheduled to be in effect until Friday, April 10. It prohibits nonessential travel outside the home.

Update at 5:43 p.m. — Transportation agencies deal with the impacts of COVID-19 

Officials with the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority said this week they have enough cash on hand to weather expected drops in revenue as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. Fewer drivers are using toll roads as more commuters work from home. 

For instance, on the MoPac Express Lane alone, revenue could be down from $2 million per month to lower than $500,000 per month.

The CTRMA has taken steps to reduce unnecessary spending. Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein says the authority also has $100 million in a reserve fund established more than a decade ago.

“Our goal was to build that up to a point to where that if everything stopped for a year, I mean totally stopped, we have enough to keep moving projects forward and maintain the integrity of the agency,” Heiligenstein told the board on Wednesday.

But one of the organization's projects may be delayed. Potential bidders on the 183 North project have asked for more time because of staffing and financial concerns caused by the COVID-19 crisis. They now have until May to submit their bids.

Meanwhile, the Texas Transportation Commission held its monthly meeting Thursday morning via teleconference. Chair Bruce Bugg said road construction projects are continuing, but the Texas Department of Transportation is in constant contact with state health and emergency management officials on the latest guidance.

— Samuel King

Update at 5:24 p.m. – Austin City Council passes rule giving tenants more time to pay rent before eviction process starts

Austin City Council members unanimously approved an ordinance Thursday adding another step to the eviction process, thereby slowing a potential force-out for tenants who are unable to pay rent because their wages have dried up. It goes into effect immediately and applies to both residential and commercial properties.

The eviction process typically begins when a landlord posts a "notice to vacate" sign on a tenant’s door. This indicates their intent to file an eviction with the courts within days unless the tenant pays rent or moves out.

The city’s order now requires landlords to notify tenants of a "proposed eviction" first, giving tenants 60 days to respond or pay rent in full before the landlord can begin the official eviction process.

Read more from Audrey McGlinchy.

Update at 3 p.m. — Texas governor orders air travelers from NYC metro, New Orleans to self-quarantine 

Gov. Greg Abbott is ordering all people traveling to Texas by air from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, as well as New Orleans to self-quarantine for 14 days. They will have to report their self-quarantine location to the Texas Department of Public Safety. Abbott issued the order at the request of public health officials, including Dr. Deborah Birx with the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

The New York metropolitan area has been an epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States. Health officials are also concerned about the growing number of cases in Louisiana. Abbott said California and Washington State could also be added to the order at a later date, but public health officials have not made that request yet.

Update at 12:46 p.m. — Williamson County now has 27 confirmed cases

Williamson County now has 27 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, the Williamson County Cities & Health District announced today. Seventeen — or 63% — of the cases are females.

The majority of the documented cases are with people ages 60 and under. The county released age ranges for each of the confirmed cases:

  • 0 to 17: 1 (4%)
  • 18 to 40: 9 (33%)
  • 41 to 60: 10 (37%)
  • Over 60: 7 (26%)

Five of the 27 have been hospitalized, the county said, and four have recovered.

Update at 8:53 a.m. — U.S. sees record number of unemployment claims

At least 155,657 Texans filed unemployment claims last week, according to data from the U.S. Department of Labor. That’s up from around 16,000 claims the week before. On a national level, almost 3.3 million people filed for unemployment — shattering the all-time record set in 1982.

But the numbers likely don’t reflect the full picture of the toll the coronavirus pandemic is taking on people’s livelihoods. The crisis deepened this week, which isn’t reflected in today’s numbers. It also doesn’t account for folks like gig workers or undocumented people who may also be out of work.

With a simultaneous drop in oil prices, Texas’ energy sector — in particular — could also see more layoffs in the near future.

— Matt Largey

Update at 8:34 a.m. — Round Rock ISD, Pflugerville ISD among Central Texas school districts extending closures 

Some Central Texas schools will stay closed in response to growing concerns over the coronavirus. Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott closed all schools in the state through April 3. But, on Tuesday, the City of Austin, Travis County and Williamson County issued a stay-at-home order through at least April 13. 

In response, the Lockhart Independent School District announced all schools will close until further notice. The district says it will notify families one week in advance when it's safe for students and staff to return to school. The Del Valle Independent School District extended its school closures through May 1. This includes the cancellation of all extracurricular activities, athletics and after-school programs.

Round Rock ISDPflugerville ISD and Lake Travis ISD are suspending operations until at least April 13, following a similar decision this week from Austin ISD.

Manor ISD officials say they still plan to reopen on April 6. This decision comes after a Manor ISD staff member tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday. This person had visited the Manor High School campus the day before, unaware of their diagnosis. The district says all areas the employee came in contact with have been disinfeced by members of the janitorial staff. Those staff members are now self-isolating at home for two weeks.

— Nadia Hamdan

Update at 5:50 a.m. — Austin City Council to vote on economic injury loans and stalling evictions

Austin City Council will vote on the creation of a temporary Economic Injury Bridge Loan Program during a meeting Thursday. 

Through the program, small and nonprofit businesses hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic could apply for loans that would provide gap financing while they’re waiting on emergency loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Council members will also vote Thursday on a measure to essentially stall eviction filings against tenants for two months. The proposed ordinance requires landlords give tenants up to 60 days to pay owed rent before posting a “notice to vacate” sign on a tenant’s door. 

As of now, landlords can still file evictions during the pandemic, but Travis County judges are not hearing these cases. Judges suspended eviction hearings until at least May 9 in effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The proposed city ordinance is an attempt to further slow the eviction process for renters who have lost wages because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Austin City Council’s meeting, which starts at 10 a.m., will have social distancing modifications. Public comment will be taken over telephone, but in-person input is not allowed. 

Update at 5:35 a.m. — Austin Community College keeps campuses closed

Austin Community College will keep campuses closed until April 13. Its classes will continue online March 30. 

The change allows the college to comply with stay-at-home orders issued Tuesday by Austin, Travis County and Williamson County. 

“We understand many students did not choose online as their delivery of instruction,” ACC President/CEO Dr. Richard Rhodes said in a press release. “However, the health, safety, and well-being of our community is our first concern.”

Only essential personnel and faculty and staff working to facilitate remote learning will be allowed on campuses, ACC says.

Catch up on what happened yesterday

Austin ISD extends school closures; Hays County issues stay-at-home order

Austin Independent School District Superintendent Paul Cruz announced he will extend school closures through at least April 13 in response to the City of Austin and Travis County’s shelter-in-place orders issued Tuesday. Cruz also said families and staff should be ready for the possibility that schools will be closed beyond April 13.

“I know you are concerned, and so am I,” Cruz said in an email. “Austin ISD is committed to providing ongoing communication regarding district measures taken to assist public health officials in their prevention of COVID-19.” 

The district will keep providing learning opportunities for its students, including a website with class lessons students can practice at home. AISD is also distributing meals Monday through Friday while schools are closed. 

Hays County joined Travis and Williamson Counties in issuing a stay-at-home order. It goes into effect Thursday at 11 p.m. and lasts until April 10. 

The order tells residents to stay in their homes unless they need to leave for essential activities, like getting food or going to the doctor. Essential businesses, like grocery stores and transportation services, can continue operating, but other businesses must close or work from home. 

Other local coronavirus news from Wednesday:

  • An Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services medic tested positive for the coronavirus. 
  • The City of Austin is waiving extra-trash fees until further notice. 
  • The City of Georgetown is closing amenities and playgrounds at its parks.