COVID-19 May 18 Updates: Advocates Call For Task Force To Address Latino Cases

May 18, 2020

This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Monday, May 18. Read Tuesday's live updates here. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.

Update at 4:40 p.m. — Advocates call for city task force to address disparate COVID-19 cases among Latinos

Advocates are calling for more outreach and engagement on the part of Austin and Travis County after a spike in hospitalizations, deaths and cases of COVID-19 among Latinos. Advocates led by former Austin School Board Trustee Paul Saldaña say the city could do a better job communicating risks associated with COVID-19 and are asking the city to convene a task force.

Saldaña says he thinks a task force could provide more Spanish-language translations of city press conferences and guidelines.

"Lives in the Latino community are being lost. And so that's what we want to focus on," he said. "We should refocus on preventative public education measures that are actually going to save lives in the community. And that's what we’re hoping: that the city would be hoping to take up our offer and do that."

Some of that targeted, preventative education, he said, could include Spanish-language guidelines on how frontline workers can decontaminate at the end of a workday. He added that he'd like to see the city provide simulcasts of press conferences in Spanish.

While the city does offer multilingual information on COVID-19, Saldaña said the translations are within a single, 57-page PDF, which may be a lot to comb through.

Austin Public Health says Latinos represent more than 60% of hospitalizations because of COVID-19, and recent numbers from drive-thru testing sites suggest Latinos were more than three times as likely to test positive for the coronavirus.

— Andrew Weber

Update at 4:15 p.m. — Researchers say Austin-area will likely see peak in COVID-19 deaths in next two weeks

UT Austin's COVID-19 Modeling Consortium defines a peak as the day their predictions of the average daily death rate stop increasing and start decreasing. Researchers say there is a 95% chance that will happen in the next two weeks for the Austin-Round Rock-Georgetown area.

The modeling data also shows an 86% chance the peak will happen in just one week and a 71% chance it has already passed. The estimates are modeled after anonymous GPS data from mobile phones that track social distancing efforts. UT also uses data from Johns Hopkins to calculate both probable and confirmed deaths related to COVID-19. 

Update at 4 p.m. — Gov. Abbott says child care services can open now; bars can begin to reopen Friday 

As more businesses begin to reopen today, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said child care is essential and announced providers could reopen immediately.

At a news conference, the governor also said bars would be allowed to reopen at 25% capacity starting Friday. Restaurants will be allowed to expand to 50% then, he said. These limits will not apply to outdoor patios where customers can maintain safe distances.

Abbott said camps and sports activities, including professional sports (without fans), will be able to resume May 31. Schools can reopen for summer classes as soon as June 1, he said.

Read more here.

Update at 3:49 p.m. – No grocery store voting for July runoff elections

Travis County voters won’t be able to cast ballots in grocery stores during July’s runoff election because it's too risky, County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said.

“Grocery stores are out of the question,” she said. “They are doing everything they can to feed us and we are entirely grateful for their extra efforts, but there is no way to provide safe voting and proper social distancing for that group of people when we already have such crowded conditions in the grocery stores.”

Grocery stores are, by far, the most popular polling sites in Austin.

They are not the only former voting locations, however, that won’t be available during the election. DeBeauvoir said various sites – including Austin Community College campuses – have decided not to open their doors to voters during the pandemic.

Read more here from Ashley Lopez.

Update at 8:43 a.m. — Texas state parks gradually restart overnight camping

Limited overnight camping begins Monday at state parks across Texas. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department says some existing reservations will be honored, but to prevent overcrowding, no new reservations can be made for now.

All visitors are required to pre-purchase and print day-use and overnight camping permits through the Texas State Parks website before traveling to a park. 

TPWD recommends visitors wear face coverings and bring their own supply of hand sanitizer. The department says state parks will continue to require six feet of distancing from people outside of your group. Gatherings of larger than five people not in the same family or household are prohibited in state parks, TPWD says.

Update at 8:28 a.m. — Austin ISD Wi-Fi-equipped buses will be available for students' Advanced Placement testing

The Austin Independent School District says buses with free Wi-Fi are available to students from 8 a.m. until 4:15 p.m. through May 22 to accommodate Advanced Placement testing.

AISD, which has a map of the nearly 30 locations providing Wi-Fi, says students can only use it on their school computers — not personal devices.

The school district reminds students to stay at least six feet apart and to call 512-414-0187 for technical help.

Update at 5:30 a.m. — Next phase of reopenings begins in Texas

Gyms, office buildings and nonessential manufacturers can open in Texas on Monday, as the next phase of Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan to reopen the Texas economy kicks in. 

They’ll need to adhere to certain health protocols, like limiting capacity to 25% and disinfecting equipment after use. Abbott allowed salons and barbershops to reopen on May 8, and restaurants, movie theaters, retailer stores and malls could reopen May 1, with restrictions.

Abbott is holding a press conference Monday at 2 p.m. to talk about the reopenings in Texas. You can watch live at KUT.org.  

Catch up on what happened over the weekend

Texas reports largest one-day increase in new coronavirus cases

Texas reported 1,801 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, the highest one-day total yet. More than 700 of those cases were reported in the Amarillo area.

On May 4, Gov. Greg Abbott deployed a team to Amarillo to test employees at meatpacking facilities, according to a statement from the governor’s office. The numbers from Saturday included results of those tests, his office said.

“As Texas continues ramping up its testing capabilities, there will be an increase in positive cases as the state targets the most high-risk areas: nursing homes, meatpacking plants and jails,” Abbott said in a statement. 

There were 33 new deaths related to COVID-19 reported in the state on Saturday. On Sunday, 785 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 were reported statewide and 31 deaths. 

Austin Public Health reported 44 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday and 34 on Sunday, bringing the total number of cases that have been confirmed in the county to 2,459. No new deaths were reported over the weekend. Seventy-seven people in the county have died related to the disease. As of Sunday evening, 892 people in the county have recovered from COVID-19. 

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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