COVID-19 May 14 Updates: Williamson County Begins Free Testing For Those Without Symptoms

May 14, 2020

This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Thursday, May 14. 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 3:51 p.m. – Voters concerned about coronavirus can apply for mail-in ballots while court case proceeds 

Voters who don't want to risk exposure to the coronavirus can use mail-in ballots during upcoming elections as a legal battle moves through the courts, the 14th Court of Appeals ruled today.

Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a petition with the Texas Supreme Court on Wednesday challenging a district court ruling allowing voters to use the disability excuse to cast votes in upcoming elections by mail. He bypassed the appeals court in requesting the high court "compel the early-voting clerks for Dallas, Cameron, El Paso, Harris and Travis Counties to follow Texas law on mail-in ballots."

The appeals court ruled the lower court's decision would stay in place while the case was heard.

Read more from Ashley Lopez.

Update at 9:10 a.m. — Williamson County begins free testing for those without COVID-19 symptoms

As of Wednesday, Williamson County residents can now be tested for the coronavirus, even if they do not have symptoms.

The county says the expanded testing capability is thanks to its partnership with Family Emergency Room. Residents can sign up for the free testing by making an appointment at wilco.org/coronavirus.

A representative will then call you sometime during the week, Monday through Friday, to schedule your appointment. Testing will be done seven days a week, the county said in a Facebook post.

Update at 8:12 a.m. — More than 2.1 million Texans have now filed for unemployment

Numbers out this morning show just over 141,000 Texans filed new unemployment claims last week. That's about 102,000 fewer claims than the week before.

But since COVID-19 started hitting the state's economy in mid-March – just over 2,140,000 Texans have applied for unemployment benefits.

Update at 7:15 a.m. — Smithville ISD cafeteria worker tests positive for coronavirus 

The Smithville Independent School District says a female employee at the Junior High School has tested positive for COVID-19. She worked in the child nutrition department and distributed meals at the Ponderosa/Highway 71 and Bluebonnet Circle food distribution sites on May 6.

The district says the employee was wearing personal protective equipment, including mask, gloves and a disposable apron.  Out of an abundance of caution, district officials are asking all staff and community members who went to those food distribution sites to monitor their health and follow CDC guidelines if they feel sick.

Smithville ISD says the 14-day isolation period for anyone who may have come in contact with the infected employee ends on May 20. The Junior High cafeteria will be closed until May 27 to be commercially cleaned. 

Update at 5:29 a.m. — Austin Public Health publishes risk-based guidelines for how to stay safe during the pandemic

Austin Public Health published a chart that provides recommendations on how to stay safe during different stages of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The guidelines are based on levels of risk on a scale of one, the lowest threat, to five, the highest. APH currently considers Austin and Travis County to be in stage three, which means people should maintain social distancing, wear face coverings and avoid all social gatherings, among other precautions.

Public health officials are hosting a press conference Thursday morning at 10 a.m. to discuss the chart and its recommendations. Watch the news conference here

Catch up on what happened yesterday

St. Edwards University lays off professors and staff as COVID-19 pandemic causes budget shortfall 

St. Edward’s University has announced it is laying off professors, reducing salaries and postponing construction projects because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a letter to the St. Edward’s community, President George Martin said the pandemic and the need to cancel in-person classes has led to less revenue and more expenses.

“Reductions in staff were the last things we considered, and desperately wanted to avoid,” Martin wrote. “Unfortunately, there was no other way to balance the budget. Thus, the Fiscal Year 2021 budget includes the reduction of employee positions, effective this month.”

The exact number of layoffs has not been confirmed.

Other local coronavirus news from Wednesday:

  • UT Health Austin and the Dell Medical School are seeking volunteers to help with contact-tracing efforts to help slow the spread of COVID-19. 
  • The Texas National Guard will send teams to disinfect nursing homes across the state, Gov. Greg Abbott announced today. Six have already been deployed, with more to follow.
  • Texas is receiving $63 million in federal coronavirus relief from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Secretary Ben Carson announced.
  • Sam Biscoe was sworn in Tuesday night as the interim Travis County judge to replace Sarah Eckhardt, who led the county's response to the coronavirus pandemic. Biscoe preceded Eckhardt on the dais, serving as county judge from 1998 to 2014. 

What's happening statewide? Check out special coverage from KERA for North Texas, Houston Public MediaTexas Public Radio in San Antonio and Marfa Public Radio.

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