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. 

A sign at the entrance of Austin Public Health's drive-thru testing site in North Austin.
Michael Minasi / KUT

Lee esta historia en español. 

As Texas sees record spikes in new coronavirus cases, Austin and Travis County's accounting for infections is lagging. A record-breaking surge in cases is partly to blame, but there's another culprit: the fax machine.

People wear masks while waiting in line to enter a business on South Congress.
Michael Minasi / KUT

Businesses in Austin must require their employees, customers and visitors to wear face coverings starting Tuesday, otherwise they could face a fine of up to $1,000.

Under Gov. Greg Abbott's plan to reopen the economy, bars can be open at 50% capacity and restaurants at 75% capacity.
Michael Minasi / KUT

This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Monday, June 22. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.

Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT

From Texas Standard:

Some of the state’s most populated cities and counties are mandating businesses require customers to wear face masks. The ordinances started going into effect over the weekend.

In Dallas County, for example, businesses can now be fined up to $500 per violation if they don’t comply with a countywide face-mask ordinance.

Julia Reihs / KUT

Lee esta historia en español. 

As coronavirus hospitalizations and cases continue to rise in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott is urging people to wear masks and follow other health protocols to slow the spread of the disease. 

“COVID-19 is now spreading at an unacceptable rate in Texas, and it must be corralled,” he said during a news conference Monday.

Under Gov. Greg Abbott's plan to reopen the economy, bars can be open at 50% capacity inside. Outdoors, there are no capacity limit.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Sunday, June 21. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.

Mask wearing has become a topic of fierce debate in the United States.

Updated at 9:05 a.m. ET Sunday

In his first big campaign event since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, President Trump reached back into his culture war playbook to paint an image of a left-wing extremist dystopia that will take hold if he is defeated and Democratic opponent Joe Biden is elected this November.

Under Gov. Greg Abbott's phased-in plan to reopen the economy, bars in Texas can operate at 50% capacity indoors. Capacity limits do not apply outside.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Saturday, June 20. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.

Michael Minasi / KUT

This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Friday, June 19. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.

A face mask hangs from the rearview mirror of a parked car during the coronavirus pandemic.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Lee esta historia en español. 

Travis and Hays counties are following the footsteps of other local governments in Texas and directing businesses to develop safety policies that require employees and customers wear masks. 

Austin Public Health says it will need an ever-increasing supply of masks and gloves at its COVID-19 testing site in North Austin.
Michael Minasi / KUT

In an effort to secure N95 masks for first responders and public health workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, the City of Austin has had to cancel deals with vendors that couldn’t deliver and return thousands of lesser-quality masks.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Lee esta historia en español. 

In an effort to get younger people in Austin to become poll workers during upcoming elections, local groups have put together a simple online application.

Miguel Gutierrez Jr. / The Texas Tribune

Texas students will be returning to public schools in person this fall, Gov. Greg Abbott told state lawmakers Thursday morning.

The state's top education officials confirmed the plans in a statement to The Texas Tribune.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

A week after many UT Austin football student-athletes returned to campus for voluntary workouts, 13 players have tested positive or are presumed positive for COVID-19.

Some people wear face masks on East Sixth Street on May 22.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

A record 220 new COVID-19 cases were reported in Travis County on Wednesday evening. The previous record was 161 new cases on June 9. 

A sign at an Austin restaurant on East Sixth Street tells customers to wear masks.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

While the governor has said Texans can’t face penalties for not wearing face coverings, cities and counties can apparently mandate that businesses require their customers to wear masks. 

Austin Mayor Steve Adler issued an order Wednesday that requires businesses to start doing so by next week.

A person tosses a tube onto a pile.
Lorena Peña for KUTX

The recent spike in positive coronavirus cases is largely being fueled by 20-somethings in the San Marcos area, Hays County health officials say.

In particular, officials point to the many young people who recently have attended large gatherings, such as the police violence protests, or who have floated in local rivers.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Dell Medical School epidemiologist Darlene Bhavnani joined us Wednesday for a live conversation about what you can do to protect yourself from COVID-19.

A mobile COVID-19 testing cite operates off of Interstate 35 in North Austin on May 22.
Michael Minasi / KUT

While the Austin area doesn’t currently have a shortage of hospitals, ICU beds or ventilators, that could all change if the upward trend in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continues over the next three to five weeks, the local health authority said on Wednesday.

Some shoppers at Barton Creek Square wear masks on May 1.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Austin Public Health reported 107 new COVID-19 cases in Travis County on Tuesday evening, down from 119 reported on Monday. No new coronavirus-related deaths were reported.

A mobile coronavirus testing site off I-35.
Michael Minasi / KUT

Lee esta historia en español. 

People without internet access can now call a hotline to sign up for a free COVID-19 test. Those without transportation can soon get tested at home.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler talks to media at a mask donation event in May.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

Lee esta historia en español.

Since Gov. Greg Abbott has allowed businesses across the state to reopen and rendered mask-wearing unenforceable, city and county leaders have been urging their communities to take matters into their own hands to slow the spread of COVID-19. 

Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT

From Texas Standard:

A growing number of local officials in Texas want to have more say in social distancing rules, as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations rise across the state.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has not made masks mandatory as part of his state reopening orders. And his orders override any local mask rules.

The Texas Capitol
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Lee esta historia en español

As the state set another record Tuesday for COVID-19 hospitalizations, Gov. Greg Abbott tried to reassure Texans the uptick is manageable.

A sign at La Holla on West Sixth Street encourages customers to wear face coverings on May 22.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Austin Public Health reported 119 new COVID-19 cases in Travis County on Monday evening. The county also had two more deaths, bringing the total number of COVID-19 related deaths to 106. 

Texas State University
Texas State University

Texas State University is moving forward with plans to have students back on campus for summer classes that start July 6. But as the number of COVID-19 cases in the county grows, many students are concerned about going back to school.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Read this story in Spanish.

Austin and Travis County are renewing their stay-at-home orders as the area sees an upward trend in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

Some of the worst coronavirus outbreaks have occurred at long-term care facilities that now account for more than one-third of all COVID-19 deaths in America. Some states have taken aggressive actions to slow the spread of the virus among residents and workers in nursing homes. Texas formed a strike force to assess problems at its 1,222 nursing homes.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

A record of 30 new COVID-19 hospital admissions was reported in the Austin area Sunday evening. The seven-day moving average of new admissions increased to 20.6. 

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