COVID-19 March 30 Updates: Austin Police Employee Tests Positive, Lake Pflugerville Closes

Mar 30, 2020

This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Monday, March 30. Read Tuesday's live updates here. If you'd like to go through a roundup of COVID-19 news from the weekend, read it here. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.

Update at 8:27 p.m. — Austin ISD prepares for e-learning, laments loss of senior year

The Austin Independent School District’s board of trustees had a meeting Monday night, the first since the district extended spring break so it could plan for e-learning during the coronavirus pandemic. Students will resume classes online starting next Monday.

During the meeting, which was held on a video conference platform, school board members expressed their appreciation for staff getting technology and curriculum ready in time. School board president Geronimo Rodriguez said while this is a tough time for everyone involved, it’s what we all need to be doing.

“I believe that we’re called to a shared sacrifice during this time,” Rodriguez said. “My hope is that in the end our shared experience will make us more resilient and we will look back and remember that all of us together, while the schools are closed, are saving lives.”

Trustee Arati Singh wanted to talk specifically to high school seniors in the district.

“I’m so sorry that this is happening to you in your year,” Singh said. “You have worked so hard over your whole career in school to make it to this year, and I know you’re missing out on a lot of special times. I just feel terrible that you’re going through this.”

Update at 6:03 p.m. – Austin Police Department employee tests positive for COVID-19

An Austin Police Department employee has tested positive for COVID-19, the department said Monday. 

APD did not identify what unit the individual works in “due to privacy concerns,” but says it has notified employees who might have been in contact with the person. The employee is now quarantined at home.

APD employees with symptoms are using a testing site designated for first responders, the department says. 

Update at 3:05 p.m. — Austin Public Health is setting up facilities to house nursing home patients with COVID-19

Austin Public Health announced Monday that its new nursing home task force is setting up sites to house nursing home residents who test positive for COVID-19. The city says these isolation facilities will give COVID-19 patients who don’t need hospitalization a safe place to recover while staying away from other nursing home residents and staff.

Dr. Liam Fry, who leads the nursing home task force, said the goal is to prevent outbreaks in nursing homes that other areas, like Washington, have experienced. There will be one facility in Travis County and one in Williamson County. In total, they will have 100 beds.

Two nursing home residents tested positive for the disease late last week, according to the city, and officials are investigating how the patients, who are hospitalized, were exposed. While the number of affected nursing home patients may be low now, Fry said she doesn’t expect it to stay that way.

Read more from Marisa Charpentier here.

Update at 1:16 p.m. – Stay-at-home order goes into effect in Caldwell County on Tuesday night

Caldwell County has issued a stay-at-home order, effective Tuesday night at 10. The order follows the first confirmed positive case of the coronavirus in the county just southeast of Travis.

“This order is intended to strike a healthy balance between protecting the citizens of Caldwell County from the rapid spread of COVID-19 and keeping our economy from collapsing," Caldwell County Judge Hoppy Haden said as the order was announced Monday. "It is important to note that this order brings the number of people allowed to socially gather down from 10 people, as in the Governor’s order, to zero; no social gatherings of any kind will be allowed henceforth.”

The order will be in effect until April 8, but Haden says he will ask the Commissioners Court to extend the order for two weeks at a time until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declares the crisis over.

Update at 1:07 p.m. – Lake Pflugerville Park closed indefinitely

The City of Pflugerville closed Lake Pflugerville Park effective at noon Monday until further notice.

The closure includes fishing piers, restrooms, pavilion and trails around the lake and park. The city says Lake Pflugerville has become too crowded, creating a danger to the public.

“We are closing Lake Pflugerville to protect our community from COVID-19,” Mayor Victor Gonzales said in a statement. “Now, more than ever, it takes the entire community working together and committing to stop the spread of this disease.”

Update at  12:57 p.m. – Texas will automatically renew SNAP and Medicaid benefits

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission will automatically renew SNAP – the federal food assistance program – and Medicaid benefits, so existing clients can continue coverage during the coronavirus pandemic.

Until further notice, the agency says, anyone up for a renewal does not have to call or complete a renewal to extend coverage for food assistance or health care. Texas is also waiving interview requirements for low-income households applying for SNAP. This means people do not have to come into an office, and HHS will be able to process applications faster.

Texans can apply for benefits here.

Update at 12:49 p.m. – Abbott bans release without bail for some inmates

Gov. Greg Abbott issued an order Sunday that blocks jails from releasing inmates without paying bail who've been accused of – or previously convicted of – violent crimes.

Counties across the state are loosening rules to shrink the number of inmates to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Over the weekend, Harris County began working to release hundreds of inmates after it reported its first case of COVID-19 in its jail.

Abbott's new statewide order means an inmate cannot automatically be released on a personal bond if they've been accused of, or charged with, a violent crime. A personal bond requires regular check-in and drug tests. These types of inmates can be released only if they have the cash to make bail. The order also says a judge can consider an inmate's release for medical reasons, after the district attorney is notified and there's an opportunity for a hearing. 

Update at 8:53 a.m. — Parents can now pick up lunches from Austin ISD without bringing children

The Austin Independent School District is expanding how you can pick up a meal at its 70 sites around Austin

In an update Monday, AISD said the meals — breakfast and lunch, served weekdays — can now be provided to parents without their children being present. Previously, a child had to be with a parent for the meals to be distributed.

Parents will need to bring one of the following: an official letter or email showing their child is enrolled, a report card, an attendance record from the parent portal, a birth certificate for a child not in school or a student ID.

At curbside food pick-up sites, parents will need to tape their documentation to their car windor or dashboard so staff can review it through the glass. At bus stop sites, parents will need to place the documentation on the table for staff to see, the district said.

If the parent does not have any of the required documentation, a child must be present to receive a meal, AISD said.

Update at 6:15 a.m. — Williamson County reports first death from COVID-19

Williamson County says a man in his 70s is the first person to die in the county from the coronvirus. He died Saturday; the local health department has not released any other information due to privacy protection laws. 

"To the family, we are heartbroken for your loss," Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell said. "To the rest of the community, I emphasize that it is everyone's responsibility to stay home and stay safe in order to protect our community, our families, and especially the most vulnerable among us." 

Officials say, of the 37 confirmed cases in Williamson County, eight have been hospitalized and seven have recovered. 

Update at 5:30 a.m. — Three more cases confirmed in Hays County; six are recovered

Hays County has three more confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to 16. All cases are adults. 

Six people have recovered, but 10 cases are still active. The countys says 170 people have tested negative for the disease so far. Three people have been hospitalized for it, but only two remain in the hospital.

Here’s a breakdown of where the Hays County cases have been found:

  • Austin (some Hays County residents have an Austin address): 2 total; 1 active
  • Buda: 5 total; 4 active
  • Dripping Springs: 1 total; 0 active
  • Kyle: 5 total; 4 active
  • San Marcos: 3 total; 1 active

Catch up on what happened over the weekend

Gov. Abbott expands travel restrictions; Trump extends social distancing guidelines

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott added more locations to his self-quarantine requirement Sunday. He said people traveling by air from Miami, Atlanta, Detroit and Chicago, as well as from anywhere in California and Washington, must self-quarantine for 14 days once they get to Texas. 

Additionally, anyone traveling here from Louisiana by road must self-quarantine for 14 days. 

Abbott also announced the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas will serve as the state’s first pop-up hospital during the pandemic. Officials are looking for more spaces like this to convert into medical facilities in places such as Austin, San Antonio, Houston, the Rio Grande Valley and El Paso, the governor said. 

President Donald Trump extended federal guidelines urging Americans to social distance to April 30. He had initially said the guidelines would be in place for 15 days, but said Sunday the guidelines will ask U.S. residents to socially distance for another month.

He said the worst days of the pandemic could hit the U.S. in two weeks. 

Other local coronavirus news from the weekend:

  • The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Austin-Travis County increased to 200 Sunday night. 
  • Capital Metro said it will stop charging passenger fares starting April 1. 
  • The City of Austin has closed most park amenities — but not parks themselves — in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

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