This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Thursday, May 21. 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.
- Do you think you have the coronavirus? Here's how to get tested.
- How to get help (and help) in Austin
- Find mental health support
- Track the spread in Texas
- Sign up for coronavirus email alerts
Update at 8 p.m. – As Austin reopens, City Council asks staff to come up with protections for high-risk workers
Austin City Council members asked the city manager on Thursday to come up with rules or programs to protect workers at risk of becoming infected with the coronavirus, including people who are elderly or have underlying medical conditions.
“How do we make sure that those high-risk people don’t go to work and continue to not go to work, and how can the city facilitate getting those sick workers to stay home?” Council Member Greg Casar asked at a council work session Tuesday.
Part of the resolution also asks the city manager to come up with ways to help workers stay home if they’re sick. One potential solution, floated by Casar, is to have contact tracers — the people who identify and call individuals potentially infected with the coronavirus — to also educate them about new federal sick-time benefits.
The resolution asks city staff to come up with ways to make people feel more comfortable getting tested.
Austin Public Health Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott told council members Tuesday that when the city went to test workers at two construction sites, an industry identified as a “hotspot” for the spread of COVID-19, 60% refused a test. Some said they refused because they didn’t have symptoms, and others were afraid to test positive and then have to stay home and forgo a paycheck.
In the same resolution, council members also asked the city manager to meet with community members to come up with policies to mitigate the disproportionate effects of the virus on people of color. Latinx individuals in Austin, for example, are more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19. At a press conference Wednesday, city officials said they were creating a task force to address this disparity, which came as a surprise to some advocates who’d been asking for this.
Council members asked City Manager Spencer Cronk to come back with policy ideas by June 2.
— Audrey McGlinchy
Update at 4:10 p.m. – Austin City Council requires landlords, when asked, to let tenants know about eviction protections
The Austin City Council passed an ordinance today requiring that landlords respond within five days to a renter asking whether the property they live in qualifies them for federal protections from evictions and fees for late or unpaid rent.
“It allows tenants to have a bit of power and control in a time when many, rightfully, feel powerless and demoralized,” Shoshana Krieger, project director of Building and Strengthening Tenant Action (BASTA), told council members.
As part of the federal CARES Act, landlords renting homes financed by federally backed mortgages or taking part in a federally subsidized program, such as Section 8 housing vouchers, cannot begin evicting a tenant or charging late fees until Aug. 24. A state ban on evictions expired Tuesday.
Tenant advocates and housing lawyers worry renters have few ways of finding out how the building they live in is paid for. Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid and Texas Housers have built a searchable map for renters in the state, but concede the list may be incomplete, especially when it comes to smaller apartment complexes or rented single-family homes.
Update at 3:55 p.m. – Austin ISD’s free meal distribution to continue through summer
The Austin Independent School District says it will keep providing meals to children this summer at 70 locations. Breakfast and lunch will be offered Monday through Friday at curbside and bus stop meal sites, the district says.
AISD has been offering meals for children under the age of 19 throughout school closures caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
In addition to weekday breakfast and lunch, students will receive weekend meal packs each Friday. Curbside meal sites will open earlier – from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. – starting June 1.
"Children need good nutrition year-round so they can learn, grow and succeed in life," Anneliese Tanner, AISD executive director of food service and warehouse operations, said in a press release. "With more families impacted by the effects of COVID-19, we know food insecurity is on the rise in Austin. We are proud to continue to provide access to healthy, tasty meals for children throughout our community."
The food distribution sites will feature a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, along with low-fat or fat-free dairy products and culturally appropriate meals, the district says.
The district will also offer meals to parents and caregivers through June. Those meals will be prepared by a local, third-party vendor and available only to adults accompanying children or with documentation of the children they are getting meals for.
Update at 3:33 p.m. – Texas removes restrictions for air travelers
Gov. Greg Abbott has issued an executive order ending air travel restrictions put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The restrictions ordered air travelers from certain states (California, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Washington) and certain cities (Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit and Miami) to self-quarantine for two weeks after arriving in Texas.
Last month, the governor ended restrictions for travelers flying or driving from Louisiana into Texas.
Update at 3:14 p.m. – Texas driver’s license offices will start to reopen at end of May
The Texas Department of Public Safety will gradually reopen driver’s license offices across the state with limited services by appointment only.
Gov. Greg Abbott said DPS will launch a statewide driver’s license appointment system to allow customers to book a time up to six months in advance.
Offices in Central Texas will reopen during the second phase on May 29. Customers without a Texas driver’s license, commercial driver’s license, learner permit or ID card, as well as those who need a driving test, can begin scheduling appointments May 26 at 1 p.m.
During the final phase, expected to begin mid-summer, customers will be able to schedule an appointment for all driver’s license office transactions anywhere in the state.
Have an expired license? Don’t worry. The extension for expiration dates will remain in effect until phase four is in place, Abbott’s office said.
Update at 2 p.m. – Fare-free Cap Metro rides to continue until June 1
Capital Metro will resume charging for rides next month. The transit agency had been offering free rides to mitigate the potential spread of the coronavirus by limiting contact between customers and bus operators. Customers will be able to board through the front door; previously, riders had to board through rear doors to promote social distancing.
Cap Metro says plexiglass shields will be installed on all vehicles by the end of May to protect operators and customers.
Cap Metro will still provide free rides to people who have been approved with the Texas Workforce Commission for unemployment benefits. They can receive a Workforce Aid Pass, which ensures free rides for the month of June.
Cap Metro says it’s continuing health and safety measures until further notice, including enhanced cleaning, skip-a-seat signage to promote physical distancing and requiring customers to wear facial coverings.
Update at 1:36 p.m. – Texas Supreme Court justice says she tested positive for COVID-19
Texas Supreme Court Justice Debra Lehrmann and her husband, Greg, have tested positive for the coronavirus, she announced in a tweet Thursday.
“We began to exhibit symptoms last week, despite diligently complying with stay-at-home rules,” Lehrmann wrote. She said the illness has not affected her ability to work, since the Texas Supreme Court is working remotely.
Lehrmann, a Republican, is the first high-ranking state official to have COVID-19, the Dallas Morning News reported.
The justice told the newspaper that she and her husband have both had fevers and body aches since last week and were able to get tested at a drive-thru testing center in Austin.
Update at 8:04 a.m. — Since start of pandemic, more than 2.2 million Texans have filed for unemployment
New numbers out this morning show just over 134,300 Texans applied for unemployment benefits last week. That's about 7,100 fewer claims than the week before.
Since mid-March, when the coronavirus pandemic starting to hit the Texas economy hard, just over 2,277,000 Texans have applied for first-time unemployment benefits.
Nationwide, 2.4 million people filed claims for unemployment last week. That's down 249,000 — or 9% — from the previous week, but still painfully high by historical standards, NPR reports. In the last nine weeks, jobless claims have totaled 38.6 million.
Update at 8 a.m. — Drive-thru testing opening Friday at six Austin-area CVS Pharmacies
CVS will begin offering COVID-19 testing at 44 CVS Pharmacy drive-thru locations in Texas on Friday — including at five Austin locations and one Round Rock location.
The sites will offer self-swab tests to individuals that meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention criteria, the company says. Patients will have to register in advance to schedule an appointment. Once they arrive, they’ll be directed to the pharmacy drive-thru window where they’ll be given a test kit and instructions. Tests will be sent to a lab, and results will be available in about three days.
The Austin-area locations starting testing Friday are:
- CVS Pharmacy, 5526 S. Congress Ave., Austin
- CVS Pharmacy, 2610 Lake Austin Blvd., Austin
- CVS Pharmacy, 11300 N. Lamar Blvd., Austin
- CVS Pharmacy, 11725 N. FM 620, Austin
- CVS Pharmacy, 3500 W. Slaughter Ln., Austin
- CVS Pharmacy, 1855 Gattis School Rd., Round Rock
The company says patients should not have any out-of-pocket costs, but you should check with your health plan to confirm scheduling a test. If you do not have insurance, CVS says to bring your Social Security number (card not needed), driver's license or state ID.
CVS says it plans to have up to 1,000 locations in the U.S. offering this service by the end of the month and aims to process up to 1.5 million tests per month. Once the testing is fully up and running, the company says more than half of the sites will serve “communities with the greatest need for support, as measured by the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index.”
The City of Austin is providing free COVID-19 screening and testing through its website, AustinTexas.gov/COVID19.
Update at 7:57 a.m. — Food distribution event planned for Thursday afternoon at Del Valle High School
The Central Texas Food Bank is giving out food today to people impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Families will receive a box of grocery items including produce, 2% milk and frozen chicken or pork protein. The food bank asks each household to send one person to the drive-thru event.
Drivers are reminded to make space in their trunks before arriving. No walk-ups are allowed. Meals will be distributed at Del Valle High School (5201 Ross Rd., Del Valle) from 1-4 p.m.
If you're not able to go, you can find other places where food is being distributed on the food bank's online map.
The next drive-thru distribution event is scheduled for Thursday, May 28 at Toney Burger Stadium (3200 Jones Rd.) in South Austin from 9 a.m. to noon.
Update at 7:44 a.m. — Walk-ins and cyclists will be limited at three Austin parks
Starting Thursday, Austin Parks and Recreation will monitor walk-in and cyclist capacity at three parks: Emma Long, Commons Ford Ranch and Walter E. Long.
No more walk-ins or cyclists will be let in once they fill up. A vehicle day pass is already required to go to those parks. Austin Parks has been monitoring capacity there for a few weeks to try and ensure safe spacing while the coronavirus pandemic continues.
Update at 7:37 a.m. — The first Dell Medical School class graduates Thursday — on Zoom
The first class of medical students from the University of Texas at Austin's Dell Medical School graduates today – virtually on Zoom. Former Austin-area state Sen. Kirk Watson – who was integral in the formation of the school – will give the commencement speech.
Ava Karimi is one of the 50 students graduating today. She says she's disappointed she can't share this moment with family and friends – but graduating into a pandemic has put a lot in perspective.
"Thinking about this milestone to celebrate, with the completion of these years of learning, and, really, thinking about embarking on that new chapter as a physician," Karimi said. "Now, it's a new reality. It's completely different from what I ever imagined." The ceremony starts at 6:30 p.m.
Read more about the school's first graduating class from Nadia Hamdan.
Update at 6:00 a.m. — Austin ISD meal sites will be closed for Memorial Day
Austin Independent School District’s meal distribution sites will be closed on Monday in observance of Memorial Day. The district says it will still be providing food for the long weekend: students and caregivers will get two breakfast and lunch meals on Thursday and Friday.
AISD recommends families bring a bag to transport the meals home safely.
The district has been providing meals for students while schools are closed during the coronavirus pandemic. AISD began on Tuesday also providing meals to caregivers. The food distribution sites and times can be found here.
Catch up on what happened yesterday
Planning to attend football games or large concerts in Austin this fall? Don't count on it.
Barring an unforeseen breakthrough in COVID-19 testing or treatment, Austin public health officials said, it's unlikely large-scale events like ACL Fest or UT Longhorn football games will happen for the rest of the year.
At a briefing Wednesday morning, Dr. Mark Escott, interim health authority for Austin Public Health, said the risks of exposure and the lack of social distancing would facilitate the spread of the virus.
"The large events were the first thing that we turned off and are going to be the last thing we turn back on, because of that risk of exposing lots of people to one another – particularly individuals outside of a household," he said.
Other local coronavirus news from Wednesday:
- The Texas governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker are directing state agencies and institutions of higher learning to find ways to reduce expenses. State leaders sent a letter calling them to identify ways they can operate with 5% less funding from the state.
- UT Austin officials announced the semester will begin on Aug. 26, though it’s not entirely clear yet how classes will work or how dorms will function. Once students leave for Thanksgiving break, they will not return until after the new year.
- Williamson County temporarily took 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.
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