COVID-19 May 22 Updates: City Cancels Summer Camps, Austin Public Health Submits Testing Plan

May 22, 2020

We'll be updating this story throughout the day Friday with the latest local news on the coronavirus pandemic. If you'd like to go through a roundup of COVID-19 news from Thursday, read it here. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.

Update at 5:31 p.m. – High schools can begin limited workouts and music practice next month

The governing body for most extracurricular academic, arts and sports activities at Texas schools says limited strength, conditioning and band practices will be allowed at high schools starting June 8.

The University Interscholastic League says schools will have discretion over when they offer programs. The UIL says schools should listen to local health authorities in areas of Texas where the virus is more prevalent. Schools that choose to have in-person activities are encouraged to do so carefully.

The UIL emphasized the situation is in flux and any start date could change.

Update at 5:11 p.m. – Austin is canceling summer camps and offering free modified alternative

The City of Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department says it will refund families for summer camps and instead offer a free, modified camp.

“Adhering to CDC and APH guidelines substantially changes the camp offering and the program no longer resembles the program that was originally advertised,” Kimberley McNeely, the director of Parks and Recreation,  wrote in a memo to council members and the mayor Friday.

The modified summer camp program will take place at roughly 20 locations in eastern parts of the city, according to the department’s memo, and be available only to City of Austin residents. Only 16 to 24 campers will be allowed at each facility per day.

The city said this modified camp won’t start until at least July 6, which is how long the department anticipates it will need to prepare facilities and train staff on how to ensure against the spread of COVID-19. The city will announce how families can register for this camp next month.

In the same memo, the city said it planned to open pools in June and would provide more information next week. While Texas Gov. Greg Abbott allowed pools to open earlier this month, the city had said public pools would remain closed for the time being.

– Audrey McGlinchy

Update at 4:45 p.m. – Austin Public Health creates  plan for addressing COVID-19 through the end of the year

Austin Public Health has submitted a three-phase plan for addressing COVID-19 through the end of the year to the federal government.

The plan is required for the city to be eligible for reimbursement for things like COVID-19 testing and contact tracing – the process of following up with people who tested positive and their close contacts to help limit the spread of the coronavirus.

It details the number of tests the city and Travis County expect to have available through the end of the year – scaling up from 10,000 in May to 60,000 per month starting in July. To achieve that, APH says it will need more staff at testing sites and more people doing contact tracing. The department also says it will need more supplies, including gloves and masks. 

The department is in phase one of its plan, which ends May 31. This first phase called for 2,000 tests to be available weekly, implementation of contact tracing, and setting up a separate testing facility for first responders, including front-line public health workers. The phase also called for mobile testing to reach people in vulnerable living situations like nursing homes, as well as some workplaces like construction sites.

APH says it anticipates more people will need to be tested now that statewide stay-at-home policies have been relaxed, increasing the likelihood people will come in contact with a sick person or a contaminated surface. In the second phase, which begins June 1, the department plans to test 5,000 people weekly. A second testing site may be opened to accommodate that.  

Phase three will be implemented only if 5% of tests come back positive in a given week. If the rate gets that high, the plan calls for increasing mobile walk-up testing, expanding testing hours and adding staff.

APH noted that its plan is flexible between and within phases and will depend on the rate of positive test results. 

– Sangita Menon

Update at 11:44 a.m. — Austin Public Health takes phased approach to combatting COVID-19 in nursing homes

Austin Public Health is working through a plan to address coronavirus outbreaks in long-term care facilities and how to prevent them. Hundreds of residents and staff members at these facilities have tested positive for COVID-19. More than 40 people have died in the area. 

APH is attacking the problem in phases, according to a memo from APH Director Stephanie Hayden. The first phase included testing at a dozen or so facilities hit hardest by COVID-19, which was completed this week. 

Strike teams with added personnel and equipment have been sent to six facilities so far. Some are receiving weekly shipments of personal protective equipment, while all long-term care facilities will receive a one-time supplemental pack of PPE in case of other outbreaks. 

APH is also offering training to the facilities on proper use of PPE and testing swabs.

Gov. Greg Abbott has ordered coronavirus testing at all nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Texas, and APH is assisting facilities that need help. Others are testing residents and staff on their own. 

APH is partnering with UT Austin's Dell Medical School for a study of long-term care facilities, conducted through the Design Institute of Health. Preliminary findings are expected next month, with the full study expected to be completed by Sept. 30.

APH is also working with facility staff to study ways to address chronic personnel shortages, a problem highlighted by the pandemic. 

— Samuel King

Update at 11:27 a.m. — City Council wants to help keep Austin's live music and arts communities thriving 

City Council voted Thursday to explore ways to help the arts and live music communities in Austin during the economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 

One way could be using some of the money from the federal CARES Act the city received to prevent music venues from having to permanently shut their doors. Rebecca Reynolds, president of  Music Venue Alliance Austin, says it’s harder for venues to adapt to the social distancing guidelines other businesses are following as they reopen with strict capacity.

“[T]he inclusion of CARES funding for venues will help our business owners make decisions led by the safety for their workers, rather than fear of not being able to provide for their future livelihoods,” she said. 

Council Member Kathie Tovo sponsored one of the resolutions approved Thursday, which asks the city manager to consider loosening permitting restrictions that could allow venues to use performance space as outdoor eating areas to generate some revenue.

“As we look across our communities at different businesses, music venues have some specific challenges with reopening that make them, in many cases, ineligible for other sources of funding,” she said. 

Council members are also considering the possibility that the city could buy venues in the Red River Cultural District in an effort to protect them from market volatility.

— Jerry Quijano

Update at 11:03 a.m. — San Marcos reopens parks for tubing and swimming

The City of San Marcos is reopening some of its parks near the river Friday for activities like tubing, kayaking and swimming.

Dog walking and exercising are also allowed at parks, including City Park, San Marcos Plaza Park and Rio Vista Park. San Marcos officials say park visitors should wear face masks when social distancing cannot be maintained.

Restrooms and hand-washing stations will be cleaned three times a day. Basketball courts, playgrounds and pavilions will remain closed. 

Update at 10:41 a.m. — These Austin bars say they'll reopen in their own phases

Will Tanner says he does want to reopen, but right now the plan is to “sit it out” for about a week and see how other bars fare. Two of his bars – Hole in the Wall and Stay Gold – are music venues, as well. He says when he thinks about reopening, live music is a must. But he hasn’t received much guidance on how to do simple things like sanitize microphones. 

“The whole music piece is very important to me and finding a way forward with that, with safety in mind, is very, very, very complicated,” Tanner says. 

The bars, he says, are supposed to be a place where people come to relax and let loose. Now, with all the restrictions and anxiety surrounding COVID-19, he’s worried the laid-back atmosphere he’s worked so hard to cultivate may no longer exist.

Read more from Nadia Hamdan. 

Update at 5:30 a.m. — Travis County opens most boat ramps at county parks 

Travis County is opening additional parks and amenities on a limited basis starting Friday, including most boat ramps. 

Boat ramps at the following parks are open for day use: Loop 360, Mansfield Dam Park, Arkansas Bend Park, Cypress Creek Park, Mary Quinlan Park, Pace Bend (Collier boat ramp only), Webberville Park and Little Webberville Park.

Other parks or park amenities open for day use include: Reimers Ranch Park, Richard Moya Park (trails only), Northeast Metro Park (trails only), Southeast Metro Park (trails and fishing), East Metro Park (trails and fishing), Allen Park (trails only), and Windmill Run Park (trails only).

Amenities in these parks like athletic fields, swimming pools, camping, park playscapes and water fountains are remaining closed. 

The county recommends visitors wear face coverings and bring their own hand sanitizer. Groups larger than five are not allowed, except for families or people living in the same home. 

These parks’ ability to stay open will depend on the county’s access to necessary personal protective equipment for staff and visitor compliance with rules, the county said. More information on the status of county parks can be found here

Catch up on what happened yesterday

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.

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. 

Council members asked City Manager Spencer Cronk to come back with policy ideas by June 2. 

Other local coronavirus news from Thursday:

  • The Austin Independent School District said it will keep providing meals to children this summer at 70 locations. 
  • CVS announved it 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.
  • Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order ending air travel restrictions put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • Capital Metro will resume charging for rides next month, though the agency will still provide free rides to people who have been approved with the Texas Workforce Commission for unemployment benefits. 
  • Texas Supreme Court Justice Debra Lehrmann and her husband, Greg, have tested positive for the coronavirus, she announced in a tweet.

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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