COVID-19 May 20 Updates: UT Students Will Return In Fall, Home Prices Climb Despite Shutdown

May 20, 2020

This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Wednesday, May 20. Read Thursday's live updates here. If you'd like to go through a roundup of COVID-19 news from Tuesday, read it here. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.

Update at 7:10 p.m. — Officials ask state agencies to reduce expenses 

The Texas governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker are directing state agencies and institutions of higher learning to find ways to reduce expenses. They sent a letter Wednesday calling them to identify ways they can operate with 5% less funding from the state. 

Agencies and higher learning institutions are cautioned to come up with cost-saving strategies which would not affect the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

One suggestion in the letter is to keep open unfilled jobs that are unessential to the state’s response to the virus. 

Update at 5:30 p.m. — UT students will return to campus in August

UT Austin officials announced some aspects of its plans for the fall semester today –  including having students return to campus. The semester will begin on Aug. 26, though it’s not entirely clear yet how classes will work or how dorms will function. The semester will be shorter – at least the part where students are on campus. Once students leave for Thanksgiving break, they will not return until after the new year.

“With COVID-19 still expected to be active this fall, we hope to avoid the possibility of students becoming infected during the Thanksgiving break and then spreading the virus to classmates upon their return after Thanksgiving,” outgoing UT President Greg Fenves and incoming interim President Jay Hartzell wrote in a letter to UT students, faculty and staff today.

In-person fall commencement ceremonies will be postponed. 

Officials also said that UT employees working on campus over the summer will be required to wear face masks.

Update at 4:14 p.m. — Free testing at Williamson County's Family Emergency Room paused over backlog in requests

Williamson County has taken down an online portal that determines if residents can receive COVID-19 testing. The county says it has seen an overwhelming interest in testing and will put the portal back up once the backlog of requests has been scheduled. 

The county has been partnering with Family Emergency Room to offer free COVID-19 assessment and testing. Residents fill out an online questionnaire and get an appointment time if they're deemed eligible for a test.

As of Tuesday, 564 tests had been conducted through the partnership, eight of which were positive, according to the county. About 350 people are currently scheduled for a test, and more than 1,000 are in line to be scheduled. 

RELATED | MAP: Drive-Thru COVID-19 Testing Locations In Austin And How To Access Them

Williamson County has also partnered with Austin Public Health to open a free, public testing site in Georgetown; the enrollment form can be found here

Update at 2:20 p.m. — Austin to open more streets for outdoor recreation and exercise

Five miles of streets in Austin will soon be closed off to vehicle traffic to allow people to have more space while spending time outdoors. 

Austin City Council approved the "Healthy Streets" initiative earlier this month, after a coalition of more than 30 organizations asked the city to open more space on neighborhood streets for walking and cycling.

“The Healthy Streets initiative is intended to support essential travel by connecting disconnected portions of the active transportation network as well as support daily physical activity by creating more space for physical distancing,” Austin Transportation Director Robert Spillar wrote in a memo announcing the pilot program. 

The initial closures will encompass portions of Comal Street, Bouldin Avenue and an extension of the Country Club Creek Trail. The streets would still be available for residents, deliveries and emergency vehicles. 

The city had already closed portions of Riverside Drive near Vic Mathias Shores to vehicles, as well as reduced some vehicle lanes on the Longhorn Dam bridge. Parks and trails have been crowded in Austin, raising concerns about social distancing. 

You can find more information on how the program will work and nominate other streets here

— Samuel King

Update at 8:17 a.m. — Austin-area home prices continue to climb — despite the coronavirus shutdown

The median home price in the City of Austin is now around $412,000. That’s up 12% from last year according to April data from the Austin Board of Realtors.

Austin buyers had fewer houses to choose from last month as the pandemic and economic uncertainty kept many would-be sellers in their homes. Still, buyers snapped up what they could and pushed prices higher through most of the Austin area.

Median prices moved higher in Bastrop and Williamson Counties, while the number of sales jumped 16% in Hays. A trend that Romeo Manzanilla, president of the Board of Realtors, says could continue as people grow used to working from home.

“As they’re reassessing their workspace within their current home, maybe their current home just doesn’t suit their needs anymore," Manzanilla said. "Now the only way they’re going to get a larger home is to start to look a little further out.”

Manzanilla added that low interest rates have helped keep demand high for homes — despite the health and economic crisis.

— Jimmy Maas

Update at 5:15 a.m.— Williamson County justice courts prepare to reopen

Williamson County justice courts are preparing to open their courtrooms. 

The Texas Supreme Court ended its statewide moratorium on evictions May 18. The county says in order to proceed with an eviction, the plaintiff must show the tenant is not protected from eviction through the Federal CARES Act. 

Court hearings won't begin until after June 15, unless the case is an “imminent threat,” the county says. Jury trials will not happen until the courts receive more guidance from the Office of Court Administration. 

Precinct 3 Judge Evelyn McLean, Precinct 1 Judge KT Musselman and Precinct 4 Judge Stacy Hackenberg plan to hold court remotely, and Precinct 2 Judge Edna Staudt will hold court in person. 

A small portion of the City of Austin falls into Williamson County, and renters in that area have additional protections. Per Mayor Steve Adler’s order, landlords cannot begin the eviction process against a tenant until after July 25.

Catch up on what happened yesterday

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 come as Gov. Greg Abbott begins the second phase of reopening the state’s economy, including opening child care facilities for Texas parents.

Other local coronavirus news from Tuesday:

  • 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.
  • UT Austin says 11 members of its custodial staff have tested positive for COVID-19. It's unclear which facilities they worked in. 
  • UT Austin announced it’s beginning the next phase of budget cuts as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. 
  • The ZACH Theatre said it is canceling the remainder of its 2019-20 season due to uncertainty around the coronavirus pandemic. 

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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