COVID-19 May 19 Updates: 11 UT Austin Custodial Staff Test Positive, YMCA Distributes Free Produce

May 19, 2020

This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Tuesday, May 19. 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 7 p.m. — UT Austin likely to see furloughs, layoffs as coronavirus pandemic impacts revenues

UT Austin announced Tuesday it’s beginning the next phase of budget cuts as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The university has directed its “revenue-generating units” to develop plans to contain costs, which will likely include furloughs or layoffs for units where revenues have dropped off, outgoing President Greg Fenves and interim President Jay Hartzell wrote in an email to faculty and staff. 

In April, the university announced it would be limiting new hires, freezing salaries and lowering tuition for summer classes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The shifts we’ve been forced to make in the ways we teach and work have come with increased costs,” Tuesday’s email said. “We are also facing declines in our expected future revenues and continued uncertainty about the coming academic year.”

The email did not outline what these “revenue-generating units” are but described them as units that fund their operations through things like service charges, fees and memberships. 

The leaders also announced that after May 31, employees unable to do their jobs because the campus is closed will no longer be able to use paid emergency leave. During the last two months, UT had extended its emergency leave because of the pandemic.

“But the university cannot extend this leave indefinitely without having a significant financial impact,” the email said. 

Fenves and Hartzell said UT will likely have to make more “difficult employment decisions” in the coming weeks and months to mitigate budget shortfalls that could arise. 

(Note: UT owns KUT's operating license.)

– Marisa Charpentier

Update at 5:45 p.m. – ECHO suggests 'definite' increase in at-risk, homeless Austinites due to COVID-19

The Ending Community Homelessness Coalition released its annual census of people experiencing homelessness today. The count showed 2,506 people were homeless during the one-night count back in January – a 10-year high. (ECHO also noted a higher portion of people transitioned into housing within the entire year compared to a year earlier.)

Sarah Duzinski, vice president of quality assurance for ECHO, told reporters the COVID-19 pandemic has overwhelmed some homeless service providers like Caritas, adding that it has also led to record unemployment and scores of Austinites seeking food and rent assistance. Duzinski said she fears that could put more people at risk of becoming homeless.

"Given the COVID pandemic, it would not be surprising if we saw a definite increase over the coming months – and even years – in people both at risk for homelessness and falling into homelessness," she said.

ECHO said that possibility – and the results of the count – underscore the need to expand affordable housing in Austin.

Read more on the count from Andrew Weber.

Update at 5:05 p.m. — Texas Workforce Commission votes to scale back on child care programs

Wednesday is the last day Texans can apply for a state program that provides child care subsidies to essential workers. This comes after the Texas Workforce Commission voted Tuesday to start scaling back programs helping parents during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Another program that supported low-income parents by covering a share of normal child care costs will end on June 1. 

The moves follow an announcement by Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday that child care facilities can open immediately as state restrictions are relaxed.

Read more from The Texas Tribune here.

Update at 3:55 p.m. – ZACH Theatre cancels remainder of the season

The ZACH Theatre said it is canceling the remainder of its 2019-20 season due to uncertainty around the coronavirus pandemic. The production of The Sound of Music, which was scheduled to begin July 15, will move to the 2020-21 season, it said. A revised season was expected to be announced in the coming months.

Ticketholders will have several options, ZACH said, including moving tickets to the new dates, applying the ticket value as a donation to the theater and receiving a refund.

It said interactive classes for all ages had been moved online and that registration is open.

Update at 3:40 p.m. — 11 custodial staff members at UT Austin test positive for COVID-19

UT Austin says 11 members of its custodial staff have tested positive for COVID-19. It's unclear which facilities they worked in. 

The university has seen 27 positive or presumptive-positive cases since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, including the latest cluster.

News of the cases was first reported by The Austin American-Statesman

Update: This post initially said 10 staffers, but UT confirmed an additional case. 

Update at 3:05 p.m. — Slowing spread of COVID-19 key to preserving hospital capacity, researcher says

New modeling from UT Austin shows hospitals could be at capacity in Austin by the end of the summer if COVID-19 infections increase too much. 

UT Austin Professor Lauren Ancel Meyers shared with the Travis County Commissioners Court on Tuesday a scenario in which COVID-19 transmissions increase by 50% from where they were during the region’s initial stay-at-home orders. If that happens, hospital capacity could be exceeded for several weeks, requiring a new round of stay-at-home orders. 

“We are monitoring the situation on the ground on a daily basis and using it to estimate how quickly the disease is spreading and using that to project how quickly hospitalizations might increase in Austin in the coming weeks and the coming months,” Meyers said. “And we’re also using that to inform planning so that we ensure Austin takes measures before it is too late.”

Those measures include monitoring any changes in the rate of cases once camps and schools reopen. 

Meyers said it is important for Austinites to continue social distancing and wearing face coverings to slow the spread of COVID-19.

— Samuel King

Update at 8:08 a.m. — Free, fresh produce distributed starting today

The YMCA of Austin, Brighter Bites and DiMare Fresh will host free distributions of fresh produce starting this morning. People in need can get 20-pound boxes of fruits and vegetables through a drive-thru or walk-up on a first-come, first-served basis.

The weekly program will run every Tuesday through August. Distribution at the North Austin YMCA at 1000 West Rundberg Lane will start at 9 a.m. Distribution at the East Communities YMCA at 5315 Ed Bluestein Blvd. will begin at 10 a.m.

Read more about the program on the YMCA's website.

Update at 7:53 a.m. — 22 Travis County inmates are in quarantine

The Travis County Sheriff's Office says, as of Monday, 22 jail inmates are in quarantine because some are experiencing symptoms related to the coronavirus.

To try and slow the spread of COVID-19, all 212 newly booked, healthy inmates are isolated in single-occupancy cells until cleared by a medical professional.

Eighty-two inmates have been tested; 73 results have come back negative and nine are still pending. TCSO says six employees have tested positive for COVID-19.

Update at 7:48 a.m. — Austin police officers increase patrols on high-traffic roads

The Austin Police Department says it is increasing its presence and enforcement on high-speed and high-traffic roads. APD says the move is in response to the number of deaths and serious injuries caused by crashes — even though traffic is down as many stay home during the coronavirus pandemic.

The department also said it stopped two drivers going over 100 mph on MoPac Expressway on Monday morning.

APD says its goal is to reduce speeding and red light violations and cut down on the number of crashes. The citywide initiative will last through May 31.

Update at 6:10 a.m. — Austin ISD to provide meals to caregivers starting today

Caregivers picking up meals for children from Austin Independent School District’s meal distribution sites will be able to receive meals themselves beginning today. 

The Austin City Council passed a resolution earlier this month allocating up to $2.2 million in funding the city received from the federal coronavirus relief bill to pay for caregiver meals delivered through Austin ISD and Del Valle ISD.

Adults accompanying children to meal sites or who have documentation of the children they are picking up meals for will be able to receive food, according to an Austin ISD press release. The meals are prepared by local restaurants. Easy Tiger is providing caregiver meals at Austin ISD sites during the first two weeks of the program.

“Partnering with the City of Austin to serve caregiver meals prepared by local restaurants helps to provide additional food security for our families during these challenging times,” Anneliese Tanner, AISD’s executive director of food service and warehouse operations, said in the release. 

Austin ISD has been providing students meals throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Distribution sites and times can be found here.

Update at 6:10 a.m. — In planning for next budget cycle, Central Health focuses on ongoing COVID-19 response, increased access to care  

Central Health expects the economic impact of COVID-19 to stretch beyond the current fiscal year. The local health care district held a virtual community meeting Monday evening to kick off the public engagement process for planning its fiscal year 2021 budget. 

“We haven’t made as much progress on the current fiscal year 2020 budget resolution priorities as we would like,” Monica Crowley, Central Health’s chief strategy and planning officer, said during the meeting. “And we are all aware that the COVID-19 impact is going to continue not just throughout the end of this fiscal year, but it will continue into the next fiscal year.” 

The current fiscal year ends in September. Crowley said the coronavirus crisis is resulting in a narrowed process for developing the next budget (usually planning begins earlier in the year), and the list of proposed priorities is slimmer than normal.

Proposed priorities include ongoing COVID-19 responses like additional testing capacity, continued support for contact tracing and continued educational outreach regarding how to stay safe during the pandemic. Improving access to care in Eastern Travis County is another priority.

Federal funding has been infused into local health care facilities, including $3.7 million for Central Health’s CommUnityCare Clinics, to help offset the effects of the pandemic. Central Health has submitted an application to FEMA for public assistance as well, Deputy Chief Financial Officer Lisa Owens said. 

While planning for the next fiscal year, the district will be taking into account the uncertainty that lies ahead, including the possibility of a second COVID-19 wave, Owens said.

“Looking into the future, we are very focused on trying to make sure that we plan conservatively, taking into account the knowns but also the unknowns as we look at fiscal year 2021,” Owens said. 

The public engagement process of developing the budget, including an online survey, will take place through May and June, and a proposed budget will be presented to Central Health’s board in August with public hearings and adoption in September.

– Marisa Charpentier

Catch up on what happened yesterday

Gov. Abbott says child care services can open now; bars can begin to reopen Friday

As more businesses begin to reopen, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said child care is essential and announced that providers would be allowed to reopen immediately.

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

The reopenings come with a number of restrictions. For instance, customers at bars will have to be seated and won’t be able to order from or sit at the bar itself. Tables will be restricted to six people and dancing will be discouraged. 

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.

Other local coronavirus news from Monday:

  • 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.
  • Austin ISD 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.
  • Gyms, office buildings and nonessential manufacturers were allowed to open in Texas on Monday, as the next phase of Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan to reopen the Texas economy kicked in.

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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