COVID-19 Roundup March 14: Austin Bans Events With 250-Plus People, Hays County Reports First Case

Mar 14, 2020

We'll share live updates on how the coronavirus is affecting Austin and Central Texas throughout the weekend. Have a news tip? Email us at news@kut.org.

Here's a roundup of local news on the coronavirus (for Friday's updates, go here):

Austin bans events with more than 250 people

The City of Austin has banned events with more than 250 attendees in an effort to stave off the spread of COVID-19.

The ban, which lasts until May 1, includes religious services, weddings, conferences, parties and sports events, according to the joint declaration released Saturday from Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt. It includes bars, restaurants, theaters and event spaces.

The ban wouldn't restrict workplaces, public transit or travel, but officials are urging people to maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet. It also does not explicitly ban schools from staying open

Read more from Andrew Weber here.

Austin issues new guidance for people who may have had contact with someone with COVID-19

The city’s interim health authority, Dr. Mark Escott, is urging people who may have come into contact with someone who has COVID-19 to follow some simple guidance to help stop the spread of the virus.

The guidance includes:

  • Any individual who is aware of close unprotected contact (within 6 feet) of an individual with COVID-19 should stay home and monitor their temperature and symptoms for 14 days.
  • Individuals aware they have been in the same room, but not within 6 feet, of an individual with COVID-19 should self-monitor their temperature and symptoms for 14 days, avoid close gatherings where they cannot maintain 6 feet of separation from others, including mass transit and air travel.
  • Individuals exposed to a case who become symptomatic, including with a cough and/or fever, should stay home and contact their primary care provider or telemedicine provider for advice and assessment of testing priority with Austin Public Health.
  • Anyone who is feeling ill – even if they are not aware of any contact with a COVID-19 case – should also stay at home.
  • Officials say they are working with local health providers to increase access to testing, including finding locations for drive-thru testing. 

New guidelines issued for health care facilities in Austin

Austin Public Health is issuing new requirements for all health care facilities. This follows rules for long-term care and nursing homes facilities last week.

Now, all health care facilities are required to do the following:

“Help Prevent Disease” signs provided by Austin Public Health must be displayed prominently in all health care facilities.

Hand sanitizer must be available and supplied to employees, patients, visitors and volunteers.

The facility must symptom-check all employees, patients, visitors and volunteers before entry and may not allow any persons into the facility who exhibit symptoms of COVID-19, unless they are patients.

The facility will develop a plan to screen, identify and, when required, isolate individuals and patients presenting to health care facilities using CDC recommendations to assess and further direct the care of patients and individuals presenting to the facility.

The facility will apply the same approach of screening, identifying and, when required, isolating health care workers employed by or affiliated with the facility.

All health care workers should self-monitor their temperature before and at least once during their shift.

Any suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 should be reported to Austin Public Health in the usual manner for notification of reportable disease.

Hays County reports its first COVID-19 case

Hays County reported its first presumptive case of COVID-19 on Saturday. Health officials say the patient had traveled to several cities on the West Coast and was likely exposed while traveling. 

The patient is in self-isolation at home. Official test results are expected next week. The Hays County Local Health Department said it's working with the Department of State Health Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to notify people who may have been exposed on the plane with the patient.

“As this is a pandemic disease, we fully expected to see cases in Hays County and have been preparing for this situation,” County Judge Ruben Becerra said in a statement. “We have been working with local and state officials to ensure that protocols are established and followed, and that we have access to additional resources should they be necessary.”

H-E-B changes store hours to better stock shelves

H-E-B stores, Central Market and H-E-B Pharmacies are changing their hours in response to reactions to the coronavirus. The grocer announced that starting Sunday, the stores will be open from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. On Saturday, stores will close at 8 p.m.

Growing concerns over COVID-19 have led people to wipe out grocery store shelves around the U.S. The grocer has already been implementing limits on how much shoppers can buy of certain items, like hand sanitizer and toilet paper, “to help protect the supply chain in Texas.”

The company says the temporary change in store hours will give stores additional time to better stock shelves overnight.

Judge declares local state of disaster in Williamson County

Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell declared a local state of disaster for the county on Saturday in an effort to “limit the development, contraction and spread of COVID-19.”

The announcement came after both President Donald Trump and Gov. Greg Abbott made disaster declarations on Friday.  

There are no confirmed cases of the coronavirus disease in Williamson County, but the declaration enables the county to “allocate resources, utilize personnel and enact procedures to prevent the spread of COVID-19” in the county. 

“We are prepared to protect our residents, and ask that you remain calm and continue to practice the preventative measures outlined by the CDC,” Gravell said in a statement.

Preventative measures include washing your hands often for at least 20 seconds, avoiding touching your face, staying home when sick and covering your cough or sneeze. 

Georgetown issues disaster declaration

The City of Georgetown is one of a number of local areas that have declared a state of disaster in an effort to combat the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Although there are currently no confirmed cases in Georgetown, the declaration allows the city to “allocate resources, reorganize personnel, and enact procedures” to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Mayor Dale Ross is urging people who are sick to stay home and call their health care providers before showing up to a facility. 

“Our goal is to reduce the spread of disease to the point where our healthcare system can maintain capacity and properly care for our residents,” he said in a press release.

The city says it is using hospital-grade disinfectant and frequently cleaning surfaces that are touched often. It has also provided hand sanitizers in common areas and to front-line employees. 

Travis County civil and family courts put nonemergency, in-person hearings on hold 

Travis County civil and family courts are postponing nonemergency, in-person hearings scheduled for the next four weeks.

The suspension will run until April 13, 2020. Officials say hearings should be rescheduled with the court administration.

The District Court says the order is in response to Gov. Greg Abbott’s disaster declaration and an effort to “protect the due process rights and public health of all residents.” 

Limited court staff will be available at the Heman Marion Sweatt Travis County Courthouse for emergency, in-person hearings. 

The order does not include all juvenile court matters.

Texas Medical Board waives some requirements for doctors

The Texas Medical Board says it’s waiving some requirements under state law, following Gov. Greg Abbott’s disaster declaration Friday. 

The TMB says health care providers are now able to use telemedicine – even telephone-only – consultations. 

“This expanded use of telemedicine may be used for diagnosis, treatment, ordering of tests, and prescribing for all conditions,” the board said in a press release. 

The board will also take the COVID-19 pandemic into account when it comes to licensing and permitting for doctors and health care providers.