COVID-19 May 29 Updates: Austin Extends Stay-At-Home Order Until June 15

May 29, 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 5:21 p.m. – Austin extends its stay-at-home order

The City of Austin is extending its stay-at-home order until June 15, the same day an order in Travis County expires. The current city order was set to expire tomorrow night.

The new order maintains a ban on gatherings of 10 or more people and includes changes to better reflect businesses the state has allowed to reopen. Mayor Steve Adler and former Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt have said, however, that people violating the orders will not be cited or arrested, and that police and sheriff's deputies will rely on education, rather than enforcement.

The city and county say the bans are within the framework of Gov. Greg Abbott's orders, although they extend past the state order, which expires June 3. The governor could extend that order, however.

Update at 3:28 p.m. – Conservative group asks state Supreme Court to throw out Abbott's COVID-19 orders

A group of conservatives asked the state Supreme Court today to throw out Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive orders intended to curb the spread of COVID-19.

 

Republican Texas state Rep Bill Zedler of Arlington joined a Houston-area group of business owners and pastors saying the law that grants the governor’s authority during emergencies violates the state constitution. They argue the constitution specifically prevents the governor from suspending state law by executive order and those changes can be done only by the Legislature.

 

The petition also states businesses affected by Abbott’s orders had no time to appeal.

Update at 2:45 p.m. – Travis County judge says stay-at-home order doesn’t violate Abbott’s orders

 Travis County is pushing back against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's allegation that the county's stay-at-home order is “potentially unlawful.”

 

In a letter earlier this month, Paxton argued the county "grossly exceeded state law" by instituting a mandatory shelter-in-place and requiring people to wear facial coverings in public.

 

On Friday, County Judge Sam Biscoe said the attorney general's office misinterpreted the order, contending that the language provides guidelines that fall within Gov. Greg Abbott's emergency orders and that there's no criminal penalty for violating the county order.

 

“The County Order puts added emphasis on individuals voluntarily following the guidelines and health protocols issued by the Austin-Travis County Health Authority and the CDC,” Biscoe wrote. “This is also consistent with recommendations that the Governor has made in his Order and in his [public] statements.”

 

Paxton sent similar letters to San Antonio, Houston and Dallas county leaders.

Update at 8:16 a.m. — City of Austin looks at another program to help struggling renters

The City of Austin is considering another program aimed at helping struggling Austinites pay their rent. The first program, which cost more than a million dollars, was very popular.

Nearly 11,000 applied for that first program in early May. Now the city says it can do it again, but this time reach more families with the help of federal funding.

The program would also be a little more flexible this time. For example, city staff is recommending low-income families would have three months of rent paid — instead of just one. They’re also proposing that the money be handed out on a first-come, first-served basis – rather than through a lottery system, which is how it worked earlier this month.

Talk of a second rent assistance program was part of a larger discussion with city council members Thursday about how the city should spend roughly $270 million in pandemic relief funds. Council members seemed to agree that they need more money going to individuals, instead of business loans. They'll vote to finalize the program next Thursday. 

— Audrey McGlinchy 

Update at 8:11 a.m. — AISD moves up curbside meal distribution times

The Austin Independent School District will move curbside meal distributions to an earlier time starting Monday. Meals will now be handed out from 9 a.m. until 11 a.m. AISD says bus drop-off schedules will also change.

Breakfast and lunch are provided to students under the age of 19 on weekdays at more than 70 curbside and bus stop meal delivery sites. Weekend meals are available on Fridays. Parents and guardians who show up with their student or who bring documentation like a report card can pick up a meal for themselves.

Update at 8:06 a.m. — Typhoon Texas reopens today, Rock'N River will reopen on Saturday

Some Central Texas water parks will be back in business this weekend as part of Gov. Greg Abbott's plan to reopen the state's economy. Pflugerville's Typhoon Texas reopens Friday. People are required to make an online reservation in advance to keep capacity at 25%.

John Pham, Typhoon Texas' director of brand management, says due to social distancing guidelines, standing in line will look different. ​

"Each guest that shows up to Typhoon Texas will receive a wristband and in that wristband there's a chip," he said. "And that chip basically allows the guest to go up to the attraction that they want to go in, they'll tap their wristband, once they tap their wristband it'll let them know when to come back to ride the ride."

The water park will close its bathrooms and rides every hour to disinfect. Round Rock's Rock'N River water park plans to reopen Saturday. The park asks guests to arrive in their swimwear due to a limited number of changing areas.

Face coverings are encouraged when visitors are not in the water. Under Abbott's executive order, interactive parts of a water park including video arcades and child play areas remain closed.

Update at 7:55 a.m. — Early voting for the general election will be extended in Texas

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott says the early voting period for the Nov. 3 general election will be extended because of public health concerns over COVID-19. Abbott told Lubbock television station KCBD the extra time will cut down on the concentration of crowds at polling places:

"You can go vote without having to worry about a whole bunch of people being around you that you could contract COVID-19 from," Abbott said. "That makes voting a lot safer setting than it would otherwise be with the shortened early voting time period."

No specific dates for the extension have been announced yet. The early voting period for the July 14 primary runoff election had already been expanded. Early voting for that election will run from June 29-July 10.

Update at 7:48 a.m. — Travis County Jail inmate tests positive

An inmate at the Travis County Jail tested positive for the coronavirus Thursday morning, the sheriff's office said. The inmate had been in custody for three days when the result came back, and was already in a single-occupancy cell.

The sheriff's office says its jail is "remarkably well suited" for the need to quarantine, given each cell exhausts air out and the jail's HVAC system does not use recycled air.

The sheriff's office said earlier this week that no jail inmates had tested positive, but seven employees had confirmed cases.

Update at 6:15 a.m. — Society of St. Vincent de Paul to offer financial assistance

Austin and Travis County residents can begin applying for financial assistance through the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Diocesan Council of Austin starting June 1. The organization is a recipient of the City of Austin’s Relief in a State of Emergency (RISE) Funding intended to help residents impacted by COVID-19.

The fund offers residents one-time financial assistance for rent, mortgages, car payments, utilities and some medical expenses.

People can apply by calling the phone number that corresponds with the first letter of their last name. The phone numbers will be announced June 1, the society says. Eligibility requirements can be found here.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is a Catholic lay organization that helps people in need.

Catch up on what happened yesterday

Austin leaders encourage peer pressure to get folks to wear face masks and avoid crowding spaces 

Austin and Travis County officials are urging people to wear face coverings and to avoid large gatherings as the city and the state reopen for business.

At a news conference Thursday, Austin Public Health's interim Medical Director Dr. Mark Escott said the five-county region's goal is to keep the daily average of COVID-related hospital admissions below 20. That average drives Austin's and Travis County's five-phased approach to reopening.

The key to that, Escott said, is the well-worn advice officials have been giving for months: Wear a mask, wash your hands and avoid large crowds.

Other local coronavirus news from Thursday:

  • Texas reported its highest single-day increase of COVID-19 cases: 1,855. 
  • Just over 128,100 Texans applied for unemployment benefits last week. That's about 5,960 fewer claims than the week before.
  • More than half of the 3,057 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Austin-Travis County are people who identify as Hispanic.

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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