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. 

A woman wears a mask outside a polling place during the runoff elections on July 14.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

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Local election officials in Texas are scrambling to find enough polling sites willing to host voters in the upcoming presidential election.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, left, plans to attend the Republican Party's national 2020 convention in place of Gov. Greg Abbott, right, who will remain in Texas to deal with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Miguel Gutierrez Jr. / The Texas Tribune

Gov. Greg Abbott will skip the Republican National Convention later this month in North Carolina as he continues to respond to the coronavirus pandemic in Texas, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick will instead chair the state's delegation to the scaled-down gathering.

Scientists are in a sprint to find a vaccine that could stamp out the coronavirus pandemic. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious diseases expert, said on Friday he's "cautiously optimistic" that a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine will be ready for distribution in early 2021.

"In my hospital, last week was the deadliest week I've ever had in my life."

The words of a Houston doctor treating COVID-19 patients illustrate the brutal reality facing many in the U.S. medical system now.

What Melissa Hickson says happened to her husband — and what the hospital says — are in conflict.

But this much is for sure: Michael Hickson, a 46-year old quadriplegic who'd contracted COVID-19, died at St. David's South Austin Medical Center in Austin, Texas, on June 11 after the hospital ended treatment for him and moved him from the intensive care unit to hospice care.

The Hays County Courthouse.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Friday, July 31. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.

Updated at 4:15 p.m. ET

A coronavirus vaccine could be ready for distribution by the end of the year, and distributed to Americans in 2021, the nation's top infectious disease specialist told lawmakers Friday.

While it typically takes years to develop vaccines, new technologies, the lack of bureaucratic red tape and the human body's robust immune response to COVID-19 have hastened the process, Dr. Anthony Fauci said.

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From Texas Standard:

From sanitizing the mail to disinfecting groceries and door knobs, many individuals and businesses are taking aggressive measures to keep surfaces clean to protect against the coronavirus. But are all of these precautions necessary? Or are some overdoing the advice public health authorities have been providing since the pandemic began?

Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT

From Texas Standard:

Members of the Texas Association of School Administrators are worried that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's recent opinion about school reopenings amid the pandemic created more confusion than clarity. In a statement the association released Thursday, the group said Paxton "muddied the waters" when he said that local health authorities don't have the right to shut down schools to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

A field hospital is set up at the Austin Convention Center to handle coronavirus patients if hospitals in the area get overwhelmed.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Austin Public Health officials say Austin and Travis County residents have done a great job to help lower COVID-19 numbers over the last few weeks, but caution there is still a lot to be done – especially with colleges and schools reopening in the coming weeks.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Read this story in English.

El Centro de Convenciones de Austin estará listo la próxima semana para recibir pacientes de COVID-19, si es necesario, dicen funcionarios de salud locales, pero esperan que eso nunca suceda.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

College towns across the country could face major losses in population and revenue if students don’t return to campus this fall, a new study finds. One of the most at-risk towns? San Marcos.

Michael Minasi / KUT

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has challenged Round Rock City Council’s decision to move its May 2020 elections to May 2021.

Austin Public Health has set up an Alternate Care Site at the Austin Convention Center to take in COVID-19 patients, if needed.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Thursday, July 30. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.

People gather in front of the Austin Police Department on May 30 to protest racism and police brutality.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

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Mientras el COVID-19 lleva a los hospitales a latinos y negros en Austin a un ritmo desproporcionado, el Concejo de la ciudad de Austin consideró este miércoles al racismo como una crisis de salud pública.

Updated at 6:13 p.m. ET

The United States crossed a grim milestone Wednesday, with more than 150,000 lives now lost as a result of the coronavirus.

The tragic number includes around 33,000 people who have died in New York, nearly 16,000 in New Jersey and more than 8,700 in California.

UT Austin is offering in-person and hybrid classes this fall and welcoming students back to dorms.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Lee esta historia en español. 

UT Austin is asking students to self-quarantine for 14 days before they arrive on campus this fall.

The request is the latest effort in the university’s attempts to prevent COVID-19 infections in the UT community. Since March, 456 people on campus – including students, faculty and staff – have tested positive for the coronavirus. UT topped a New York Times survey published Wednesday of American universities with the most reported cases of COVID-19.

A sign at Crockett High Schools says the building is closed until further notice because of the coronavirus.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Lee esta historia en español. 

The Austin Independent School District's "very existence" could be threatened if it doesn't follow rules set out by the Texas Education Agency, the director of academics said Wednesday.

People gather in front of the Austin Police Department on May 30 to protest racism and police brutality.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Lee esta historia en español. 

As COVID-19 hospitalizes Latino and Black people in Austin at disproportionate rates, the Austin City Council on Wednesday deemed racism a public health crisis.

Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland in 2013.
Gage Skidmore via Flickr

U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, has tested positive for the new coronavirus, he said in an interview with East Texas Now where he speculated that he may have caught the virus from wearing his mask.

UT Austin's DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium undergoing renovation work on May 28.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Wednesday, July 29. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.

People in Austin protest racism and police brutality.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

Lee esta historia en español. 

2020 has been a difficult and upsetting year so far. The coronavirus pandemicpolice killings of Black people, reckonings with racism and a militantly divided electorate ahead of the presidential election have some people looking for bright spots. But it's possible to go too far in that optimistic search for a little good news.

A classroom with chairs overturned on top of desks.
Miguel Gutierrez Jr. / The Texas Tribune

Local health officials do not have the authority to shut down all schools in their vicinity while COVID-19 cases rise, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in nonbinding guidance Tuesday that contradicts what the Texas Education Agency has told school officials.

Michael Minasi/KUT

From Texas Standard:

Ever since medical experts determined that COVID-19 is a pulmonary disease that affects the heart and other organs, the state of Texas has begun counting deaths from the disease differently. Doing so increased the state's COVID-19 death toll by 12% – to 5,700 lives lost so far. But at the same time, the rate of increase in new COVID-19 cases appears to have reached a plateau.

Steve Alvarez started feeling sick in late June. His symptoms were mild at first, but then he developed a fever, chills and shortness of breath. He thought it was a bad cold he just couldn't shake.

"Just when I started to get to feeling better and I would have a couple of good days," Alvarez says. "I felt like I'd backtrack and I was just really run down. This thing lingered and lingered."

Medical equipment sits at the field hospital located at the Austin Convention Center on July 24.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Tuesday, July 28. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.

Nurses look over the X-rays of coronavirus patients in the COVID-19 unit at the DHR Health Center in Edinburg.
Miguel Gutierrez Jr. / The Texas Tribune

After months of undercounting coronavirus deaths, Texas’ formal tally of COVID-19 fatalities grew by more than 600 on Monday after state health officials changed their method of reporting.

Updated at 2:15 p.m. EDT

President Trump's national security adviser Robert O'Brien has tested positive for the coronavirus, the White House announced on Monday.

"National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien tested positive for COVID-19. He has mild symptoms and has been self-isolating and working from a secure location off-site. There is no risk of exposure to the president or the vice president. The work of the National Security Council continues uninterrupted," the White House said in a statement. No further details were immediately available.

A sign requiring face coverings at the entrance of Galindo Elementary School in South Austin.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Monday, July 27. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Lee esta historia en español. 

The Austin Convention Center will be ready next week to take in COVID-19 patients, if needed, local health officials say, but ideally, they hope that never happens.

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