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.  

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. 

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.

An empty examining room at a hospital
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Tiffany Conner, 43, has spent a large chunk of her life without health insurance. There was a brief period, she said, when she made so little money she was eligible for Texas' Medicaid program.

Julia Reihs / KUT

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.

A student uses hand sanitizer on UT Austin campus
Julia Reihs / KUT

UT Austin said Monday it's preparing to move all classes online if COVID-19 cases are confirmed in the Austin area. The university is also advising students on how to avoid spreading the disease and how to travel safely over spring break. 

A sign tells visitors at St. David's Medical Center to alert staff if they've traveled to a region with cases of COVID-19 and have certain respiratory symptoms.
Julia Reihs / KUT

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

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.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

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.

mrlaugh / Flickr

The Americas Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas has been postponed until November due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, MotoGP said.

A person uses hand sanitizer.
Julia Reihs / KUT

A man who was in the Austin area last month has been diagnosed with COVID-19 in Southern India, officials say.

Austin's Homeland Security and Emergency Management Department says the unidentified man was in the area Feb. 28, then traveled to Bengaluru in the Indian state of Karnataka before showing symptoms of the disease six days later. Dell Technologies confirmed Monday night that the man was an employee of Dell India, and that he visited the company's headquarters in Round Rock before heading back home.

A Healthy Horns sign on preventing the spread of germs
Julia Reihs / KUT

There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Austin, but if it happens, the University of Texas wants to be ready.

Pumpjack in Pecos County near Fort Stockton.
Marjorie Kamys Cotera / The Texas Tribune

Oil prices plummeted to their lowest point in decades overnight as Saudi Arabia declared a price war on Russia, adding another stressor to financial markets already reeling amid concerns over the rapid spread of a new strain of coronavirus.

Julia Reihs / KUT

South by Southwest is canceled.

Mayor Steve Adler, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt and public health officials said the concerns surrounding COVID-19 were too great.

Gov. Greg Abbott speaking to officials at the State Operations Center on Feb. 27, 2020.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Six labs in Texas, including a state lab in Austin, can now test for the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, Gov. Greg Abbott said Thursday.

Julia Reihs / KUT

Do you have questions about the coronavirus?

KUT is planning a live, one-hour program aimed at answering your questions about the virus, its potential effects on Austin and Central Texas and what we can all do to help stop the spread of the disease.

Mike Bowen's been a very busy man.

He's executive vice president of Texas-based Prestige Ameritech, one of the few manufacturers of respirators and surgical face masks still making them in the United States.

"I've got requests for maybe a billion and a half masks, if you add it up," he says. That's right — 1.5 billion.

Since the coronavirus started spreading in January, Bowen says he's gotten at least 100 calls and emails a day.

"Normally, I don't get any," he says.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

The state's first coronavirus case identified outside of a Texas quarantine site is a man in his 70s who lives in the Houston area, Fort Bend County health officials said Wednesday.

The man recently traveled abroad, county officials said. He has been hospitalized and is in stable condition.

Dr. Mark Escott, interim director of Austin Public Health, gives an update on what public health officials are doing to protect the community from the new coronavirus.
ATXN screenshot

There is no evidence canceling South by Southwest will make the city safer from the spread of the new coronavirus, Austin public health officials said Wednesday, adding that they are reevaluating the situation on a daily basis.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Health officials are testing "one or more" individuals for COVID-19 in the Austin-Travis County area, Austin Public Health's interim health director said.  

 A crowd of people walks down Rainey Street during South by Southwest last year.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

One of Austin’s biggest months for visitors has begun, just as concerns grow around the new coronavirus COVID-19. While most events are proceeding as planned, the scenario in which a large event would be shut down over the virus is a little murky.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Travis County and the City of Austin say they’re monitoring the spread of the new coronavirus, COVID-19, and collaborating daily with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health officials.

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