This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Wednesday, May 27. 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.
- 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 7:10 p.m. — SH 130 offers discount tolls for overnight truckers
The operators of the State Highway 130 toll plan to offer truckers who work overnight half off of tolls in June.
“Overnight trucking is a hard job in the best of times, and we know that it’s been an especially tough few months for everyone in the freight industry,” said SH 130 Concession Company CEO Tyler Duvall in a press release. “We hope that this program helps drivers and freight companies recover faster and demonstrates our appreciation for this critical industry. We also hope that the industry gets to experience the significant reliability benefits that SH 130 offers relative to other route options.”
The rebate would only apply on the 41 miles of SH 130 operated by the SH 130 Concession Company, LLC. That segment runs between San Antonio and Mustang Ridge. The hours for the break would be between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.
The rebate would be between $11.22 and $18.70, depending on the size and shape of the truck.
To receive the discount, commercial truck drivers or companies must enroll in the program either through SH 130 directly at www.mysh130.com/recovery-program or by contacting their Bestpass or PrePass account managers.
Update at 2:05 p.m. — Austin creates two grant programs to help local artists
The City of Austin’s Economic Development Department has created two grant programs to support musicians and artists facing economic challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Austin Music Disaster Relief Fund is a $1.5 million fund that will give $1,000 grants to vulnerable musicians in Austin. The application is open June 8 through June 12.
The Austin Creative Space Disaster Relief Program is a $1 million fund that will give grants of up to $50,000 to organizations and artists having difficulty paying rent for their commercial creative spaces. The application is open now through June 17.
“Austin is recognized for the creativity of our arts and music industries. These artists, musicians, and creative spaces have faced displacement and loss of income with increasing hardships,” Sylnovia Holt-Rabb, acting director for the Economic Development Department said in a press release. “As directed by Austin City Council, these two emergency grants … will provide funding to our most vulnerable creatives in Austin.”
Update at 1:45 p.m. — Traffic is rebounding on CTRMA toll roads
As more businesses reopen, traffic volumes are increasing across the region. Transactions on Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority tollways, for example, were up 11% last week from the week before. On Wednesdays alone, transactions went from a low of 173,000 last month to 242,000 transactions last week.
That means toll tag revenues are also rebounding, but pay-by-mail tolls still lag. Officials won’t see the impact of that until next month at the earliest.
Traffic on the MoPac Express Lanes is seeing an uptick in traffic, though it's still well below normal. Lane usage was down 92% last month, but only 80% this month.
CTRMA staff are still using the lower traffic estimates systemwide as they come up with the authority’s budget for next year. Modelers are taking into account whether traffic declines will continue long-term, as more companies opt to allow employees to work from home permanently.
“I think you’re going to see a significant number of job hours, independent of the pandemic, but from an efficiency and quality-of-life standpoint where people are going to choose working from home. That’s the question and crystal ball we need to be looking at,” Bobby Jenkins, chair of the CTRMA board, said.
The potential cancellation of events like Austin City Limits could also impact traffic and thus toll revenues.
The CTRMA reopened its public walk-up window to pay tolls this week, and staff will begin returning to its offices in limited numbers June 8, according to Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein.
The CTRMA board plans to adopt the budget for next fiscal year in June.
— Samuel King
Update at 8:03 a.m. — What do you want to know about the search for a vaccine?
Join KUT’s Jennifer Stayton today at noon for a discussion with Jason McLellan, an associate professor of molecular bioscience at UT Austin, about how vaccines are developed and learn more about the search for one for the coronavirus.
This is the first episode in our series, Now What? – weekly livestreamed events, in partnership with UT Austin and the Dell Medical School, focusing on what comes next as we grapple with what the coronavirus pandemic means for our lives now and in the future.
Follow us on Facebook to get a notificiation when the discussion starts.
Update at 7:41 a.m. — No Travis County Jail inmates have tested positive for the coronavirus
The Travis County Sheriff's Office says, as of Tuesday, seven employees have tested positive for COVID-19 – but no jail inmates have tested positive.
To try and slow the spread of the coronavirus, the jail's 237 newly booked, healthy inmates are isolated in single-occupancy cells until cleared by a medical professional. Of those, 103 inmates have been tested – 94 came back negative and nine results are pending. Thirteen jail inmates are in quarantine because some are experiencing symptoms related to COVID-19.
In a May 18 press conference, Gov. Greg Abbott said COVID-19 hotspots fall into three categories: nursing homes, meatpacking plants and jails.
Update at 5:45 a.m. — Tracking number of daily hospitalizations is key, Adler says
Austin Mayor Steve Adler said the number of new hospitalizations each day is a key indicator in determining when things can go back to normal.
“By tracking that number we can see whether or not we’re getting a surge in the virus, a surge that would overrun our hospitals, which is the concern,” Adler said in a Facebook video Tuesday evening. “If our hospitals are beyond capacity, no one’s getting the care that they need.”
During the video, Adler displayed a chart that shows the number of hospital admissions each day in the Austin area. To prevent needing to implement new restrictions or closures, Adler said the area needs to avoid reaching more than 20 new hospitalizations each day. The graph showed the current seven-day average is about eight new hospitalizations per day.
Earlier this month, the city released a color-coded chart that outlines risk stages on a scale from one to five and what precautions and restrictions coincide with each level. As long as the seven-day average for new hospitalizations remains between five and 20, Adler said the Austin area will remain at stage three. If that number rises above 20, the area moves into stage four.
Adler expressed concern about videos he saw circulating over the weekend of crowded Austin venues, including one of Buford’s on West Sixth Street. He commented on the fact that many people in the videos were not social distancing or wearing face coverings.
“We don’t have enough police officers or deputy sheriffs to enforce our way into this,” he said. “It’s got to be something that our community wants to give the best possible chance of being able to reopen the economy.”
Adler said there will likely be a city press conference on Thursday to discuss local hospitalization numbers.
Catch up on what happened yesterday
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 Tuesday 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," he said. "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."
The county's head health official also gave updates on the "substantial" spike in hospitalization among Latino COVID-19 patients.
Other local coronavirus news from Tuesday:
- Water parks, recreational sports programs for adults, driver education programs and food-court dining areas in malls can reopen this month with certain occupancy restrictions and health protocols, Gov. Greg Abbott announced.
- Austin Independent School District parents say the superintendent search shouldn't happen during a pandemic. A group of parents and community activists has sent a letter to the Board of Trustees, asking members to reconsider the process for hiring a new superintendent.
- People can resume making camping reservations at state parks on Wednesday, with arrival dates between June 1 and Sept. 7.
- The Leander Independent School District will provide free meals for all students this summer through July 31.
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