COVID-19 May 26 Updates: Camping Reservations Reopen At State Parks, Local Groups Give Out Groceries

May 26, 2020

This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Tuesday, May 26. 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 5:55 p.m. – Austin ISD parents say superintendent search shouldn't happen during a pandemic

A group of parents and community activists has sent a letter to the Austin Independent School District's Board of Trustees, asking members to reconsider the process for hiring a new superintendent. The letter, signed by hundreds of people, criticizes the district for still trying to hire someone by August. 

“Our most vulnerable families are focused on basic needs like food, safety, healthcare, and education, and even more advantaged families may find it difficult to give this issue the attention it deserves in the current circumstances,” the letter says. 

Superintendent searches do include community engagement, but the pandemic is preventing the district from hosting traditional meetings or talking in person with parents, teachers and students. The consulting firm doing the hire has sent out online surveys and conducted Zoom calls with the community. 

AISD parent Cuitlahuac Tonatiuh Guerra-Mojarro said during a virtual news conference Tuesday that this kind of digital outreach leaves out many families without access to WiFi. 

“For the community to feel engaged during a pandemic seems like an impossible task. Just the fact that we're doing this press conference over Zoom is indicative of that right now," he said. "It’s hard to engage the community." 

Other speakers said the district could have current Superintendent Paul Cruz, who resigned to take a job at the University of Texas, stay until the end of his contract next year, hire an interim superintendent or lengthen the search timeline.

– Claire McInerny

Update at 3:11 p.m. – Escott says pandemic is 'not yet real' for some Austinites, as Latino hospitalizations spike

Public health officials are pleading with people to continue social-distancing measures as the Austin area stares down the possibility of a second wave of COVID-19 cases.

Dr. Mark Escott, Austin Public Health's interim Medical Director, told Travis County commissioners in an update today that there are a couple reasons the area could experience another wave. Austin is just now seeing the benefit of all the preventative measures that have kept many cloistered inside for weeks, he said. Because COVID-19 cases aren't as bad as predicted and restaurants and bars have reopened, he said, people are letting their guard down.

Escott said he fears Austin may become a victim of its own success at preventing the spread and that the pandemic is “not yet real" for some. That speaks to his second reason: People haven't been directly affected.

"They don't know people by name who have been hospitalized with COVID-19 or who have died. I know all the names. My staff know all the names. They've talked to those individuals before they've died. They've talked to their family members because they've been exposed. It's real to us," he said. "We've got to sort out how to make it real to everyone else, so that it doesn't have to take somebody they know being hospitalized or somebody they know dying before they get the message."

Escott urged people to wear masks and to avoid crowds, suggesting it could forestall a surge in cases that could incapacitate hospitals and close businesses again.

The county's head health official also gave updates on the "substantial" spike in hospitalization among Latino COVID-19 patients. Read more on that from Andrew Weber here.

Update at 2:48 p.m. – Potential November transit referendum still on track

During a virtual community meeting on Project Connect this morning, Austin Mayor Steve Adler said there are no plans at the moment to delay a potential November transit referendum, despite economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic.  

The City Council and Capital Metro Board will meet June 10 to discuss the preferred plan for new train lines and bus routes. 

Adler said the city still has a couple months to decide what a referendum would look like and determine whether the community would want to delay some aspects of the plan.

“We ought to wait and see what’s happening in the city economy in the next couple of months,” Adler said. “But if there is a way to set this in motion, and have some initial approvals in November, I can’t think of a stronger way to come out of this virus.”

Officials are leaning toward a property tax rate election as a mechanism to help pay for the plan. Capital Metro would also contribute funding. The cost over 30 years is expected to reach about $10 billion, with at least 40% offset by federal funding. 

Cap Metro President and CEO Randy Clarke said there is talk in Washington about increasing federal grants for transit projects, which could provide 50% or more of the cost for Project Connect. But officials are still budgeting for the local number. 

There are two virtual community meetings left on Project Connect: one on Thursday at 6 p.m. and one on Friday at 2.p.m. Information on those and the virtual open house can be found at projectconnect.com

– Samuel King

Update at 1:55 p.m. — Overnight reservations reopen at state parks

People can resume making camping reservations at state parks on Wednesday, with arrival dates between June 1 and Sept. 7.

“No one is more pleased than us to welcome more outdoor enthusiasts back into state parks as part of the continued reopening of Texas,” Carter Smith, executive director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, said in a statement. 

Visitors need to buy day passes and make overnight reservations in advance online or by calling 512-389-8900, according to TPWD.

Social distancing rules are still in effect, such as the recommendation to wear face coverings and bring hand sanitizer. People also need to remain at least 6 feet away from others outside of their party. Groups larger than five are prohibited, unless members are part of the same household.

The state parks are still operating at a limited capacity, and in-person rentals and transactions are suspended. Headquarters, visitor centers and nature centers are also remaining closed for now, TPWD says.

Update at 1:30 p.m. — Local organizations offer food to those in need on Tuesday and Wednesday

Austin Voices for Education and Youth is distributing food at Navarro Early College High School’s Family Resource Center on Tuesday at 4 p.m. until all food is gone. Drive-thru is preferred, but the organization will accept walk-ups. 

The distribution is in partnership with Central Texas Food Bank, Austin Independent School District’s Police Department and local volunteers,

GT Austin Church is giving away free groceries on Wednesday to people in need. The groceries will be distributed via a contactless drive-thru at 2700 Northland Dr., Austin. 

Those interested can register for a time slot to pick up food and indicate family size to help GT Austin prepare. 

Update at 8:19 a.m. — Leander ISD will provide free meals for all students this summer

The Leander Independent School District will provide free meals for all students this summer through July 31.

Hot lunch and breakfast will be offered daily from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. via curbside or drive-thru pick up at Reed Elementary, River Place Elementary and Running Brushy Middle School.

They'll also be available at Bagdad Elementary through this Friday. Parents do not need their child with them to pick up meals as long as they have documentation like a birth certificate or report card. 

Update at 7:57 a.m. — Lake Pflugerville trail reopens

The trail at Lake Pflugerville will reopen starting Tuesday. All other amenities, though, including the fishing piers, playground area, pavilion, beach and lake access are still closed.

The City of Pflugerville asks anyone using the trail to practice social distancing.

Update at 5:30 a.m.— Census work resumes in Central Texas — with protective measures

Some 2020 Census work is resuming in Central Texas. Census workers are going to continue dropping off 2020 Census invitation packets at front doors in areas where many households do not receive mail at their home.

That includes areas in Bastrop, Blanco, Burnet, Hays, Llano and Williamson, among other counties in the Central Texas region. 

According to the agency, workers will wear protective gear as they confirm or update a household’s physical location address and then leave a census questionnaire packet.

The Census Bureau had begun distributing census materials to these households on March 15 – but that was put on hold three days later because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Update at 5:30 a.m. — Blanco County Commissioners to consider coronavirus relief grants

The Blanco County Commissioners Court on Tuesday will consider applying for grants to help address costs associated with the coronavirus. 

County commissioners will consider applying for a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency – or FEMA. The agency has a public assistance program to help entities, including local governments, be reimbursed for “emergency protective measures” taken in response to the pandemic.  

County Commissioners will also consider applying for money from the Coronavirus Relief Fund which was created by the federal CARES Act. According to the Texas Division of Emergency Management, the county — based on its population — is eligible to be reimbursed for almost $420,000 dollars in unplanned expenses created by the public health emergency. 

Catch up on what happened yesterday

Memorial Day ceremonies go online this year, Commemorative Air Force Central Texas Wing flies over Austin

Many Memorial Day ceremonies this year were moved online due to the COVID-19 crisis.

The Veterans Land Board held a wreath-laying ceremony via Facebook Live at the Central Texas Veterans Cemetery in Killeen. It included a keynote speech from retired Admiral and former UT chancellor William McRaven and remarks from Veterans Land Board Chairman George P. Bush.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs allowed people to visit veterans cemeteries for Memorial Day but asked that they follow social distancing guidelines. The Commemorative Air Force Central Texas Wing held a flyover in the Austin area.

Other local coronavirus news from Monday:

  • ​The Austin Independent School District will continue to serve free meals this summer to anyone under the age of 19. Families can get breakfast and lunch for each child from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. starting June 1 — at the same curbside and bus stop meal sites set up during campus closures due to COVID-19.
  • The total number of coronavirus cases reported in Austin-Travis County rose to 2,933. That case count was up 86 from the day before.

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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