March 11 Updates: Austin Rodeo Still On, While Houston Rodeo Ordered To Close Over COVID-19 Concerns

Mar 11, 2020

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

  • Texas confirmed cases: 33, including 11 cruise ship passengers in quarantine at Lackland Air Force Base. No cases are confirmed in Central Texas.
  • What should I do if I think I have the coronavirus? Call your health care provider. Austin Public Health says, to prevent the spread of the virus, it's important to call your provider before going to a health care facility. 
  • Got coronavirus questions? KUT is answering them in a special hour-long program starting at 9 a.m. Thursday.

7:13 p.m. – Food banks take precautionary measures 

Feeding Texas, a network of food banks across the state, announced this week that as the economic impacts of the coronavirus start to grow, food banks are stockpiling emergency food boxes and sanitation supplies to distribute to communities in need. 

So far, it’s been business as usual at the Central Texas Food Bank, which is part of the network. But if the COVID-19 situation evolves into a disaster, it will employ different types of food distribution models, says the food bank’s Chief Operations Officer Denise Blok. 

“We always keep on hand a supply of disaster boxes and hygiene kits, so we always have those ready to release once there has been a disaster,” Blok said. 

Central Texas Food Bank shares free food with families dealing with food insecurity in 21 counties in Central Texas. The food bank is taking extra care to make sure its food sanitation guidelines are communicated clearly to staff and volunteers, Blok said. Extra signs about how to properly cough and wash hands, as well as additional hand sanitizer have been distributed around the food bank.

“We’re still providing food, but we really could use volunteers to help with that,” Blok said. “And if you can’t volunteer, we would love to receive some donations so we can make sure we have the food necessary for the future and providing for any contingencies.”

Feeding Texas says it has urged federal and state officials to adopt proposals to deal with effects of the virus like school closures and quarantines. For example, the network is pushing for the ability of states to administer a program similar to SNAP for families whose schools have been closed.

– Marisa Charpentier

4:55 p.m. – Texas Medical Association holds statewide briefing for doctors  

Almost 4,000 doctors from across the state held a teleconference Tuesday in preparation for the potential spread of the coronavirus in their communities. Among other things, they discussed the measures they should take to be prepared.

During the call hosted by the Texas Medical Association’s Board of Trustees, doctors largely discussed what advice they should be giving people in certain situations. Dr. E. Linda Villarreal, the chair of Texas Medical Association's Board of Trustees, said doctors will be playing an important role for the public.

“The majority of our population in Texas will look to their local physician or their primary care physician – and even in the smaller rural communities, the commissioners, the county people – they are look to their local physician and ask questions about what needs to be done,” she said.

Villarreal, an internist in the Rio Grande Valley, said doctors also discussed what plans to put in place amidst shortages in resources like masks and hand sanitizer. Overall, though, Villarreal said the main message sent to physicians has been not to panic.

– Ashley Lopez

3:33 p.m. – Austin Public Health orders screening for people entering long-term care facilities, assisted-living facilities and nursing homes

Mark Escott, interim director for Austin Public Health, said long-term care facilities, nursing homes and assisted living facilities must be secured to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to vulnerable populations. Any individuals entering these facilities must be screened for fever and symptoms before being allowed in, he said. His order also requires any patient or staff with an unexplained illness or fever to notify Austin Public Health.

Read more from Marisa Charpentier here.

2:27 p.m. – Austin Public Health gives update on protecting vulnerable populations

Mark Escott, interim director for Austin Public Health, is giving an update at 3 p.m. on efforts to protect vulnerable groups – older people and those with underlying health conditions – from COVID-19.

Watch here.

1:40 p.m. — Austin clubs continue plan to reschedule SXSW shows

A group of about 25 local clubs and promoters announced a series of shows Wednesday that they're calling "We Can Do Magic."

Rescheduling shows in the wake of SXSW Music's cancellation has taken some wrangling. Music industry folks met Saturday to iron out the details of rescheduling and booking what were once official SXSW shows. 

The venues say they've bolstered their supply of hand-sanitizer and they'll set up more hand-washing stations in and near clubs. 

More here from KUT's Andrew Weber.

12:41 p.m. — Houston Rodeo canceled; Rodeo Austin is still on

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, scheduled to take place March 3-22, was ordered to close Wednesday by the City of Houston and the Houston Health Department. 

"The Rodeo is deeply saddened; however, the safety and well-being of our guests and our community is our top priority. Out of precaution, the City has decided that this is the best course of action for our community," organizers said on the rodeo website. A ticket refund process is still in the works, the rodeo said.

Rodeo Austin said in a Facebook post Tuesday that, based on the information they have and with direction from local officials, the rodeo will go on as planned.

"Rodeo Austin has taken additional steps to increase public information, health awareness and sanitation measures throughout the event," the post said. The rodeo runs from this Saturday through Saturday, March 28 at the Travis County Expo Center.

12:16 p.m. — COVID-19 is now a pandemic

The World Health Organization is officially declaring the coronavirus to be a pandemic. 

Eight countries — including the U.S. — are now each reporting more than 1,000 cases of COVID-19, caused by the virus that has infected more than 120,000 people worldwide.

The organization is "deeply concerned," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, "both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction" by the world's leaders in response to the outbreak.

Read more about the new designation here.

11:21 a.m. — Austin's Urban Music Fest postponed 

Originally scheduled for March 27-28, Urban Music Fest announced in a Facebook post it will be postponed until a later date due to "unforeseen evetns transpiring in the City of Austin and around the globe."

The event organizer says the purchased tickets will be honored for the rescheduled days. 

8:14 a.m. — For many Texans without insurance, doing everything to avoid coronavirus is not an option

More than 5 million Texans don’t have health insurance. The state has the highest uninsured rate and number in the country – and it’s been getting worse recently.

Anne Dunkelberg, an associate director with the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin, said she's concerned about this population as the coronavirus spreads.

“They are not quite as vulnerable as seniors,” she said, “but they do face a special round of challenges.”

Most of these people are among the state’s working poor. Dunkelberg said these people work mostly in the service industry and – on average – make less than $32,000 a year.  

“Our folks who are out there in the retail and service trades – practically and economically – have a hard time trying to comply with the ideal behaviors that we are putting out there as what we want people to do during a disease outbreak,” Dunkelberg said.

Read the full story from KUT politics and health care reporter Ashley Lopez here.

7:23 a.m. — Rep. Doggett says Trump administration exacerbates the coronavirus situation

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, says the Trump administration is intensifying the threat of COVID-19 by attacking both the Affordable Care Act and immigrants. 

“With this pandemic, the health of our families is only as secure as that of our most vulnerable neighbor,” Doggett said in a statement. “The soaring number of Texans with no insurance may delay the testing and treatment that they need to avoid transmitting this disease to others.”

The congressman, who represents Texas’ 35th Congressional District, said the administration’s actions, like the public charge rule, discourages immigrants from getting tested and treated.

“Protecting our communities from an outbreak requires access to comprehensive health insurance that covers other preventative measures and any needed treatment,” Doggett said. 

7 a.m. — Austin ISD limits district-sponsored travel in the U.S.

Austin Independent School District is suspending district-sponsored travel to states that have “community-wide spread” of COVID-19, according to a March 10 statement. The states include California, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, New York, Oregon, Washington and Utah.

Superintendent Paul Cruz said in the statement that the situation “can change quickly, and we will continue to assess the effects on domestic travel.”

Cruz encouraged families to avoid traveling to China, Iran, Italy and South Korea — as the CDC recommends — during spring break.

Families who do plan to visit these countries should let their campus’ administration know and plan to self-quarantine for two weeks after returning to the U.S., he said. Missing school to self-quarantine will be considered an excused absence.

Out of an abundance of caution, Eanes ISD said, it has canceled all school-sponsored out-of-state trips taking place before spring break. The school district is re-evaluating trips scheduled for after spring break.