March 10 Updates: Travis County Extends Disaster Declaration Over Coronavirus

Mar 10, 2020

This is an archived post for March 10, 2020. Find live updates for March 11 here. Have a news tip? Email us at news@kut.org.

5:47 p.m. — Texas officials ask health insurers to waive costs associated with coronavirus testing 

Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Department of Insurance are asking health insurers to waive the costs of testing and telemedicine visits associated with diagnosing the coronavirus.

"We must ensure no Texan is denied access to testing resources relating to coronavirus," Abbott said. "Texans who are concerned that they may have coronavirus should seek medical attention in the most appropriate setting, and telemedicine is a good first medical encounter for anyone experiencing mild symptoms."

The state insurance agency is specifically asking insurers to waive co-payments, co-insurance, deductibles and consumer cost-sharing for care related to the coronavirus. They are also asking them to waive penalties, restrictions and claims denials for necessary out-of-network services – and they want insurers to authorize payment to pharmacies so people can get a 90-day supply of medication, regardless of when they last filled a prescription.

So far, 11 insurers in Texas have signed on to this; they're not required, however, to do everything the state has requested. The state's request applies only to people with state-funded insurance plans. A large chunk of Texas’ insurance market is people with employer-provided plans, which are mostly federally regulated.

4:07 p.m. — Texas A&M delays start of classes after spring break

Texas A&M University will not return to class until Wednesday, March 18, the university's provost announced Tuesday afternoon.

The university, currently on spring break, said the extra time will go toward planning and logistics. There are no plans to cancel classes or move them online, A&M said. 

Dining, transportation, health and counseling services will be be available as normal starting Monday, March 16.

3:02 p.m. — Only one flight canceled in wake of SXSW's cancellation

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport says only one flight has been canceled so far. The flight was the only one that had been added to accommodate anticipated South by Southwest travel, according to an airport spokesperson.

The spokesperson added March is not generally one of the airport's busiest travel months. 

The airport is focused on disinfecting areas like podiums and kiosks, in addition to providing more hand sanitizer stations in high-traffic areas.

2:34 p.m. — Travis County extends disaster declaration

Travis County extended its state of emergency of large-scale events indefinitely on Tuesday.

The county and city's joint declaration last Friday lasted a week and prohibited events with attendances over 2,500 people, unless event organizers have a plan to reduce public health risks associated with COVID-19 that's approved by Austin Public Health. Travis County Commissioners OK'd the decision to extend that declaration.

At a work session Tuesday, health officials briefed Austin City Council members on the prospect of having large events going forward.

City officials say there are roughly 230 official and unofficial events that were scheduled to take place during SXSW that now need to be reviewed. Austin Public Health Director Stephanie Hayden said, as of Monday, there are 20 events being reviewed that are taking place after SXSW.

The declaration will be in effect until the commissioners vote to terminate it.

12:47 p.m. — Texas State University monitoring 10 people for the coronavirus

Credit Julia Reihs / KUT

Texas State University is monitoring 10 people who recently traveled to countries where the coronavirus is actively spreading, a spokesperson told KUT on Tuesday. The individuals – nine students and a faculty member – are self-quarantining at their homes off campus.

The university has not tested any of the people for the disease because none of the individuals have met the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s criteria for testing. A spokesperson did confirm the university health center is waiting on equipment to test people.

You can read more about the development here.

12:07 p.m. — "Texas must show the world how this is done," official says

It’s mostly up to Texans right now to prevent widespread transmission of the coronavirus, the commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services told lawmakers Tuesday.

“Texas must fight back,” Dr. John Hellerstedt said during a meeting at the state Capitol. “[This] is a challenge everyone must take seriously. Texas must show the world how this is done.” 

Texas state Health Commissioner John Hellerstedt, seen during a news conference last month, told Texas lawmakers Tuesday it's mostly up to Texans to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Credit Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

When asked how prepared the state is for the potential spread of the virus, Hellerdstedt said the preparedness “that really matters” is what people can do to prevent transmission in their own communities. For example, he said, people should wash their hands, cover their coughs with their arm and stay home when they are sick.

Read more on the commissioner's statements here

11:07 a.m. — Austin's MotoGP race postponed until November

The Americas Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas, the world championship motorcycle race, has been postponed until Nov. 13-15 due to ongoing coronavirus fears, MotoGP said Tuesday. 

The race, held every spring in Austin, was to be the first of the season after MotoGP canceled two other events due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19. 

Read more here