COVID-19

CommUnityCare conducts drive-thru COVID-19 testing at Hancock Center.
Credit Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by a coronavirus that was detected at the end of 2019 in Wuhan, China. The virus was first reported in the United States on Jan. 20, and by June had infected nearly 2 million people and led to more than 110,000 deaths in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The World Health Organization announced COVID-19 could be characterized as a pandemic, meaning the disease had spread among multiple countries and continents, on March 11. Many cities, including Austin, took measures to slow the spread of the virus in March, such as cancelling major events like South by Southwest, closing nonessential businesses, issuing stay-at-home orders and urging people to wear face coverings in public.

With many businesses closed, the unemployment rate skyrocketed as millions of Americans lost their jobs. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott took a phased approach to reopening businesses. In May, he began allowing some nonessential businesses to reopen at a fraction of their normal capacity. Business owners have been told to implement social distancing practices, like keeping people 6 feet apart. Health officials also say people should wear face coverings in public, though Abbott said people won’t face repercussions if they don’t.  

COVID-19 isn’t the only disease caused by a coronavirus. Coronaviruses have been known to cause the common cold, as well as more severe diseases like SARS and MERS. The virus that causes COVID-19 is called “SARS-CoV-2.” It’s rare, but animal coronaviruses can infect people and then spread from individual to individual, as was the case with this new coronavirus, though the exact source of the virus is still unknown, according to the CDC. 

COVID-19 spreads mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets from coughing, sneezing or talking. Studies have shown that even people who are asymptomatic, meaning they don’t show symptoms, can spread the disease. Illnesses have ranged from being mild to severe. Symptoms include fever, shortness of breath, sore throat, loss of taste or smell, body aches and fatigue.

The CDC says people can take preventative measures like washing hands frequently, staying at least 6 feet apart from people outside your home, covering your mouth and nose in public and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces. A vaccine or drug is not yet available. 

Oil prices bounced back a bit after President Trump said the Department of Energy would buy crude for the nation's strategic petroleum reserve.

"We're going to fill it right to the top," Trump said Friday in a wide-ranging news conference at the White House. He said it will save taxpayers "billions and billions of dollars" while helping an industry that's been reeling.

While oil prices increased nearly 5% after Friday's announcement, that was just a fraction of the amount they lost earlier in the week.

Empire Control Room and Garage
Julia Reihs / KUT

UpdateOfficials announced a ban on events with more than 250 people in attendance. Read more here.

Original story: Health officials are urging venues to cancel or reschedule events with more than 250 attendees in light of COVID-19 concerns.

Austin Public Health has capped large-scale events at 2,500, but issued a statement late Friday asking organizers to reconsider these smaller events, citing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

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.

A sign at H-E-B tells customers they are limited to two items of bath tissue per shopping visit.
Michael Minasi / KUT

Texans don’t need to rush out and stock up on groceries or household items: There’s no shortage if everyone takes only what they need.

That’s the message from Texas officials and industry representatives, who say preparing for a health disaster like the state's COVID-19 outbreaks is different from a natural disaster.

How long can the new coronavirus live on a surface, like say, a door handle, after someone infected touches it with dirty fingers? A study out this week finds that the virus can survive on hard surfaces such as plastic and stainless steel for up to 72 hours and on cardboard for up to 24 hours.

A sign on Guadalupe tells drivers to stay home if they are feeling sick.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

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.

Travis County Deputy Theresa Stewart serves an eviction suit to a tenant in Southwest Austin in 2018.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Eviction hearings in the Austin area will be put on pause until at least April 1, after Travis County justices of the peace issued an order Friday.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

As the coronavirus spreads in Texas, older people and people with underlying health issues are being asked to isolate themselves, which could make voting in upcoming elections tricky.

Updated at 9:30 p.m. ET

President Trump on Friday declared that the coronavirus pandemic is a national emergency, a designation that frees up as much as $50 billion in federal assistance to state and local governments overwhelmed by the spread of the virus, and makes it easier to surge medical resources to areas that need them most.

Rosa Montalvo, a cafeteria employee, delivers food to parents parked outside Dawson Elementary school.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Austin Independent School District is preparing meals to hand out to students while school is closed amid COVID-19 concerns. 

UT Austin President Greg Fenves
Martin do Nascimento / KUT

UT Austin President Greg Fenves' wife, Carmel, has tested positive for COVID-19, he said in a letter sent to the UT community Friday.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott formally declared a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

"I am at this moment declaring a state disaster for all counties in the state of Texas," he said at a news conference Friday. 

Laborerers work on the helipad of an offshore oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Coronavirus hit the global markets this week, sending stocks reeling and pushing economies toward possible recession. In Texas, the view could be even bleaker thanks to plummeting oil prices. Analysts say the state can expect layoffs, bankruptcies and state revenue shortfalls in the months ahead if prices remain low.

City and health officials gather at City Hall on March 6 to announce South by Southwest's closure.
Julia Reihs / KUT

The city is sharing additional details on the first confirmed coronavirus cases in Central Texas, Friday morning. 

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Three presumptive positive cases of the coronavirus disease COVID-19 were confirmed in Austin on Friday, city health officials said. The cases are the first confirmed in Central Texas.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

Austin Independent School District is canceling large gatherings and other events through April 3 in response to COVID-19, Superintendent Paul Cruz announced Thursday.

A panelist of experts answer questions about COVID-19 during a special hour of Morning Edition.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

This post was updated on Friday, March 13, at 4: 18 p.m. 

KUT hosted a special hour of Morning Edition on Thursday to answer questions about the coronavirus. We asked listeners and readers to submit questions and assembled a panel of experts to answer them.

An eviction notice on a door
Gabriel C. Pérez

Local elected officials say they are looking into ways to help residents unable to pay rent or utility bills because of the potential spread of COVID-19.

UT announced Thursday that it is suspending all events at the Erwin Center for the immediate future.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Rodeo Austin and Willie Nelson's Luck Reunion will not be held this spring.   

Organizers received word from Travis County officials Thursday that the public health risk was too great.

There will also be no fans at Austin sporting events for the near term amid concerns over the coronavirus. As of Thursday evening, there were no confirmed cases in Travis County, but officials are playing it safe and planning as if there were.

The checkout lines at Costco 20 minutes after opening.
Sangita Menon / KUT

People concerned about fallout from the coronavirus have been wiping out grocery store shelves across Austin and the U.S. as other countries restrict movement to contain the spread of COVID-19. 

President Trump on Thursday defended new restrictions on travelers from most parts of Europe, a decision that angered allies and trading partners, was questioned by some public health experts and sent stock markets reeling.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

KUT hosted a special hour of Morning Edition to answer your questions about the coronavirus. For the past week, we've been taking listener and reader questions and have assembled a panel of experts to answer some of those questions.

Martin Do Nascimento / KUT

UT Austin is extending its spring break by one week in response to the coronavirus, UT President Greg Fenves announced Wednesday. Classes were originally scheduled to resume March 23, but will now resume March 30.

Updated at 12:34 a.m. ET Thursday

President Trump announced a 30-day ban on travel from European countries to the United States, beginning on Friday at midnight, in a bid "to keep new cases" of coronavirus "from entering our shores."

The restrictions, he said late Wednesday, do not apply to travelers from the United Kingdom.

Cindy Lo, owner of Red Velvet Events
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Cindy Lo spent the weekend after South by Southwest was canceled reassessing things. The owner of Red Velvet Events and her 27 employees have a reputation for transforming spaces into experiences for clients like Mercedes Benz and Tito’s Vodka. The loss of the festival could have been worse for her.

Dr. Mark Escott, interim medical director of Austin Public Health
Julia Reihs / KUT

Austin Public Health is mandating that nursing homes, assisted living and long-term care facilities in Austin-Travis County secure building access and screen all individuals – including employees, volunteers and visitors – for fevers before allowing them to enter.

Julia Reihs / KUT

With South by Southwest canceled, a collective of downtown clubs led by the Red River Cultural District announced a series of shows Wednesday that they're calling "We Can Do Magic."

Updated at 3:20 p.m. ET

The COVID-19 viral disease that has swept into at least 114 countries and killed more than 4,000 people is now officially a pandemic, the World Health Organization announced Wednesday.

"This is the first pandemic caused by a coronavirus," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a briefing in Geneva.

It's the first time the WHO has called an outbreak a pandemic since the H1N1 "swine flu" in 2009.

The spread of coronavirus has compelled hundreds of K-12 schools in the U.S. to close, affecting more than 850,000 students, according to an analysis by Education Week. And those numbers are certain to increase in the coming days, as concerned parents call for more school closures.

Julia Reihs / KUT

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.

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