Today, City of Austin and Travis County officials updated our current shelter-in-place orders to continue to help flatten the curve of COVID-19 infections. These new orders are in response to Governor Greg Abbott's new Executive Order expanding the reopening of Texas businesses. We have more information...
Council Member Pool
Today, City of Austin and Travis County officials updated our current shelter-in-place orders to continue to help flatten the curve of COVID-19 infections. These new orders are in response to Governor Greg Abbott's new Executive Order expanding the reopening of Texas businesses. We have more information on Governor Abbott's press conference along with the response from Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhart to extend the Stay Home - Work Safe Order below.
U.S. Congressman Lloyd Doggett has responded to the City's request for more medical supplies and COVID-19 test kits. His letter, posted below, touches upon some of the challenges that he and his colleagues face in getting relief to our city quickly.
Also in our Assistance for Residents section, the Council voted unanimously to support my initiative for a more resilient Austin (Item 22), by calling for a comprehensive community resilience plan and a Chief Resilience Officer. The work on this project was shared by my co-sponsors, Mayor Adler, and Council Members Alison Alter, Natasha Harper-Madison, and to the greatest degree, Kathie Tovo. I am grateful for their support and assistance throughout.
Most people think of resilience in terms of “climate change.” Climate change, though daunting for our residents and for the planet, is not the only crisis we face. Community resilience is really about the capacity to survive, adapt, and thrive no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and/or acute shocks we experience. And for our communities who are undermined by chronic social and racial inequities, these fundamental, constant stressors prevent families from bouncing back successfully from catastrophes, such as the current crisis we are in.
I will continue to work toward a more resilient Austin to ensure our families, neighborhoods, and communities are stronger together and have access to the resources needed to successfully recover and flourish.
In other COVID-19 response news, Tuesday's council work session provided a progress report on COVID-19 cases in the Austin and Travis County area. Also, the City's Deputy Financial Officer Ed Van Eenoo briefed council with a budget update on COVID-19 funding programs and resources. For more information, refer to the work session video or the updated COVID-19 FAQ.
Many residents are also asking about the possible use of antibody testing as a method to help us determine where our city can open safely. Austin-Travis County Interim Medical Director and Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott provided a joint statement for clarification. We've also posted it in our Assistance for Residents section below.
In other news, a majority of the Relief in A State of Emergency (RISE) funds have been distributed to several social service organizations by the Austin Public Health Department. You can read what those organizations are and where to access that funding below.
The Austin Animal Services and Parks and Recreation Departments have modified their operations in response to the reopening of public spaces. Please refer to their press release below for information on modifications to parks rules, and the new curbside "meet-and-greets" for those looking to adopt an animal.
This week's Mobility updates include the upcoming Project Connect District 7 virtual community meeting that will be held next Friday, May 15, from 2-3pm. See the flyer below for details.
Update: Council Member Pool's Community Resilience Initiative described below was approved on Thursday, May 7, in a unanimous vote of Council. The project calls for a comprehensive community resilience plan and a Chief Resilience Officer to help our communities recover more quickly and more successfully from shocks and stressors, such as the current crisis.
Council to Vote on Community Resilience Initiative
On May 7, the Austin City Council will consider Item 22 sponsored by Council Member Leslie Pool and co-sponsored by Mayor Adler and Council Members Alter, Harper-Madison, and Tovo directing the City Manager to collaborate on a multi-departmental community resilience plan that prepares the city to help Austinites survive catastrophic events with a focus on addressing economic, social and racial disparities.
The resolution also calls for developing successful community partnerships and identifying funding to hire a Chief Resilience Officer to manage and implement the City’s community resilience plan.
This vision of a comprehensive community resilience plan builds on Austin’s successful climate resilience work while seeking to more deeply address the chronic stressors that undermine community resilience putting some of Austin’s individuals and families at greater risk, particularly during catastrophic events such as the current crisis.
“We are in the trenches at this moment, but even as we fight those daily battles, we are also planning for recovery and looking forward to the future,” said Council Member Pool. “As we do that, we need to ensure that Austin’s future is focused where it should be – on building community resilience for the next and the next crisis, and for the daily crises that are so very real for many families in our city.”
Mayor Adler added, “We see now, more than ever, how important it is for Austin to be resilient. This initiative will make resiliency part of our everyday lives going forward.”
Council Member Alter stated, “Now, more than ever, it is clear we must fortify our plans and strategic investments to ensure our community is resilient to shocks and stressors, including pandemics and environmental catastrophes, we will face in our future.”
“In a city as prosperous as ours, there’s no reason any Austinite should experience issues like food insecurity, housing instability, or lack of access to quality education or health care,” said Council Member Harper-Madison. “Yet these are chronic problems that were around long before COVID-19 compounded them. This crisis has been a wake-up call and has given us a golden opportunity to finally and comprehensively address deep-seated inequities so that when the next crisis comes, we don’t have to once again build the safety net in real-time.”
“I’m proud to co-sponsor this action to strengthen Austin’s ability to respond to disaster and to help our residents survive, adapt, and thrive following catastrophic events,” said Kathie Tovo, Council Member for District 9.
Council Approves Spending and Employment Measures
to Assist the Community at May 7 Meeting
Item 23 Initiate a program for sustaining small and local non-profit organizations and businesses using a portion of federal dollars designated for pandemic-related relief, and partner in the creation of a regional Economic Response Dashboard.
Item 56 Extend eviction protections for tenants into July.
Item 57 & Item 58 Use of $2.2 million in City budget reserves to support emergency food access for caregivers of students in Austin-area schools who are experiencing food shortages due to COVID-19.
Item 59 Develop programs to prevent and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 among the residents and staff of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
Item 60 Develop a spending framework for use of all federal and state funding that leverages and maximizes COVID-19 relief funding.
Item 61 Create of an Austin Civilian Conservation Corps, to employ Austinites who are economically impacted by the COVID-19 public health emergency to complete conservation and other beneficial projects, and directing the City Manager to update the City's telecommuting policies and consider other conservation lessons learned from the pandemic.
Item 62 Develop a Healthy Streets program that will facilitate safe, socially distanced outdoor exercise and active transportation on neighborhood streets during the COVID-19 pandemic while still allowing local traffic.
Item 64 Appropriate $18 million for revolving loan programs and grants for business, child care support, health and human services assistance, workforce development, social services, legal services, education, arts and culture, environment, and animal protection.
Austin-Travis County Leaders Urge Communityto
Continue Fight Against COVID-19
Mayor Steve Adler and Judge Sarah Eckhart's
Update on the "Stay Home-Work Safe" Order
New Stay Home-Work Safe Order Asks Austin Businesses
to Help Track the Spread
Austin and Travis County residents have been urged to stay the course and continue modifying their behavior to keep themselves and others safe from the spread of COVID-19 – particularly as person-to-person interactions increase following the Texas Governor’s Orders.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt warned that now – after the community has done so well in flattening the curve – is not the time to let up and allow the disease to overwhelm our community and our health care system.
On Monday, May 4, the Governor lifted restrictions on a range of high-contact businesses and activities and has signaled plans to continue to relax some rules that have so far helped to slow the spread of COVID-19 across Austin and Travis County.
Today, the Mayor and Judge adopted their own updated Orders which incorporate these actions into local rules – as legally required by State law.
But the local orders, which went into effect at 12 p.m., also include provisions aimed at sustaining support for the community’s Stay Home-Work Safe efforts.
The modified Orders continue to:
Ask individuals to stay home and refrain from attending social gatherings of any size outside a single household, subject to stated exceptions.
Require face coverings in public, while making it clear that no civil or criminal penalty will be imposed for failure to wear one.
Ask individuals to practice social distancing, maintaining at least a six-foot distance from other individuals, and to wash their hands regularly with soap.
The Orders reflect concerns that residents are at higher risk of becoming infected by COVID-19 today than when the City and County first introduced its Stay Home Orders onMarch 24.
Austin’s Order warns: “Relaxing stay-at-home measures too quickly and without adequate testing and tracing could result in an overwhelming surge of hospitalizations and deaths.”
To help prevent this, the Order states: “All individuals anywhere in the City of Austin are required to continue to stay at home or their place of residence except as allowed by this Order.”
View the City of Austin Order, which expires May 30,HERE. View the Travis County Order, which expires June 15, HERE.
“This virus is as infectious today as it was a month ago – it spreads quickly,” said Mayor Adler. “Everybody should be minimizing physical interactions absolutely as much as they possibly can as we dip our toe to increase commercial and social interactions. That’s what this Order does.”
“We have to stay the course,” said Judge Eckhardt. “Even as we venture out, we must keep limiting our person-to-person contact. Our lives or someone else’s life depends on it. We've seen hospitalizations begin to rise again. Every day ask yourself what’s essential for me today? Who am I coming in contact with? How can I keep them safe?”
Activity Logs to Help Contact Tracing
Under Mayor Adler’s Order for the City of Austin, businesses that reopen are asked to help Austin Public Health track and trace customers who may have been exposed to COVID-19. All restaurants allowing dine-in service as well as all reopened services with allowed occupancy or capacity of 75 or less are encouraged to maintain an activity log of contact information for all inside or sit-down customers and employees, including the dates and times they were present in the business and the location where they sat or were served. In the absence of such a log, the Order states, Austin Public Health “may need to publicly release, without limitation and in its discretion, the location where people with confirmed infections have been, with relevant dates and timeframes, so as to otherwise trace contacts.”
The activity logs will enable APH epidemiologists to inform and test others who may have come into close proximity with an infected patient but who may not be aware they were exposed. Identifying contacts and ensuring they do not interact with others is critical to protect communities from further spread. If communities are unable to effectively isolate patients and ensure contacts can separate themselves from others, rapid community spread of COVID-19 is likely to increase to the point that strict mitigation strategies will again be needed to contain the virus.
APH currently has about 30 people assigned to case investigations, which include contact tracing, with a strategy to scale up this effort as needed. APH also receives additional help from local healthcare partners.
“We work to identify those infected and isolate them instead of isolating the entire community,” said Dr. Mark Escott, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority. “We have to avoid an uncontrolled spread which could overwhelm our healthcare system and lead to excess deaths in our community.”
How Contact Tracing Works
Details of a positive case are sent from Texas Department of State Health Services and directly from labs to APH epidemiologists, who begin an investigation.
The person who has tested positive will be asked questions related to their exposure, including their whereabouts and close contacts, from the 14 days prior to their symptoms showing to the present.
Contact tracers will then call the locations and contacts mentioned in the course of the investigation.
Investigators have a variety of tools to obtain contact information of those who may have been exposed, including use of reservation lists, credit card receipts, sign-in sheets, and now activity logs.
People who have been informed they may have been at risk of exposure can be tested and isolated if found to be positive.
U.S. Congressman Lloyd Doggett Responds to Austin's Request for More Medical Supplies and COVID-19 Tests.
Austin & Travis County Public Safety Joint Statement
on COVID-19 Antibody Testing
Workforce Solutions COVID-19 Update
32,595 Travis Co. residents claimed unemployment between January–March, with 29,453 in March. Workforce Solutions Capital Area (WFS) projects another 35,000–38,000 claims in April.
Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) has indicated that work search for jobless beneficiaries,required under state law but waived during the state emergency, will likely be reinstated when the Governor reopens business to 50%.
800 jobs are posted on WFS’s new Jobs Now website.
To learn more about the Economic Vulnerability Index of Austin-Round Rock MSA and Travis County compared to other regions, you can download the data here. Vulnerability Index measures the impact potential of a region related to the mix of industry employment.
WFS continues to accept applications for fully subsidized child care.
Child care is only authorized for children of essential workers. Childcare providers are not permitted to accept other children for health reasons, and there are lower teacher-child ratio.
WFS plans for up to 25% of its staff to return to the workplace starting June 1.
We will follow the TWC mandated process/guidelines for reopening our offices to the public, putting safety first and providing quality customer services.
Non‐COA Utilities COVID‐19 Relief Measures
On April 9, 2020, the Austin City Council approved Ordinance No. 20200409‐083 authorizing the City Manager to work with other utilities providing service to City residents to facilitate their development and implementation of pandemic‐related assistance programs. Read the memoupdateregarding measures non‐City of Austin utilities are taking for customers who are suffering financial hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Relief in A State of Emergency (RISE) Funds Update
An update on the disbursement of $13,000,00 in Relief in a State of Emergency (RISE) Funding, resolution 20200409-81. Since the program’s inception, the RISE program has received over 80 applications from various agencies willing to provide direct relief and direct financial assistance to residents impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis. As of May 4, 2020, eleven organizations have been recommended for funding for a total of $7,069,180. Below are the organizations and their funding amounts.
Currently there are 44 applications awaiting review, representing an additional $25.4M in funding requests. For the remaining funds, Austin Public Health is utilizing the RISE resolution as a guide and will be seeking input from the Social Services Arm of the City’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC). This partnership will help identify gaps in services or reaching target populations to allocate the remaining $5.9M.
Further Modifications to City Operations
During COVID-19 Crisis
Parks and Recreation and Animal Services
announce changes to services
Two City of Austin departments are adjusting operations to continue providing services to residents while ensuring public health and safety in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
The Animal Services Office (ASO) will begin offering adoption of dogs to the general public with appointment-only curbside meet and greets at the Austin Animal Center, beginning Friday, May 8.
And the Parks and Recreation Department (PARD) is introducing safety measures to manage attendance at three major City parks, also from May 8, as the Austin community continues to fight the spread of the disease.
In support of a phased-in approach to opening our economy, City operations remain on modified work schedules until May 29.
Animal Services Office
Animal Services will begin offering adoption of dogs to the general public via appointment beginning Friday, May 8. Adopters can view adoptable dogs on the Austin Animal Center website, choose up to two dogs to meet and then contact ASOAnimalAdoptions@austintexas.gov to schedule an appointment. Upon arrival at their appointment at the Animal Center, adopters will have time to meet and play with their chosen pups and decide if they'd like to move forward with the adoption. For more information, visit the Austin Animal Center website.
Austin Parks and Recreation Department
PARD continues to monitor parks for safe usage during the City of Austin's modified operations. Based upon recent observations and data collection related to park usage over the past two weeks, PARD will make the following operational adjustments:
Beginning Friday, May 8, PARD will monitor park capacity at Emma Long Metropolitan Park, Commons Ford Ranch Metropolitan Park, and Walter E. Long Metropolitan Park. Once capacity is reached at these parks, signage will indicate no additional vehicles will be admitted. Staff will be on-site to educate park patrons and inform them of closures.
Starting Thursday, May 14, park patrons will be required to obtain day passes for Emma Long Metropolitan Park, Commons Ford Ranch Metropolitan Park, and Walter E. Long Metropolitan Park via an online registration system or make a reservation by phone from Thursday through Sunday. A limited number of passes will be available per day. No entry will be granted without a pass. Regular entry fees apply for Emma Long and Walter E. Long parks. Vehicle access to Commons Ford entry remains free; however, a day pass will be required. No registration is required Monday through Wednesday.
Throughout the week, PARD has removed parking lot barricades. Barricades unintentionally restricted emergency vehicle access due to park patrons parking illegally along park entrance roads.
In accordance with the recent State Reopening of Services Order, golf courses, tennis centers, skeet shooting, and boating concessions are permitted to operate provided each can comply with the Order’s operational criteria. Some concessions have elected to remain closed.
At this time, PARD facilities and park system amenities remain closed. Park system restrooms, water fountains, boat ramps, green spaces and trails remain open. PARD will continue to monitor park safety throughout these modified operations and adjust as needed. PARD will also continue to message social distancing and other safety precautions via flyer distribution and social media.
Park Rangers and Park Monitors continue to patrol and monitor the entire park system, focusing attention where there is traditionally high usage. Additional information regarding the modified operations, closures, and online registration will be made available on the PARD website, austintexas.gov/parks.
Governor Abbott Expands Business Openings in Texas and Announces Surge Response Teams to Combat COVID-19
Governor Abbott's Press Conference from Monday, May 8
The Intergovernmental Relations Office would like to share with you that Governor Greg Abbott has issued a new Executive Order to expand openings of certain businesses and activities. The Governor also announced new guidance from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) on graduation ceremonies and the creation of Surge Response Teams to combat any COVID-19 flare ups in Texas.
Beginning May 8, cosmetology salons, hair salons, barber shops, nail salons and shops, and other establishments where licensed cosmetologists or barbers practice their trade, may open, but must ensure at least six feet of social distancing between operating work stations. Tanning salons may also reopen under the same limitation. Swimming pools may open subject to certain limitations, including on their occupancy or operating levels.
Beginning May 18, office buildings may open with the greater of five or less individuals or 25% of the total office workforce. Gyms, exercise facilities, and exercise classes may also open but must operate at 25% occupancy. Locker rooms and shower facilities will remain closed, but restrooms may open. Non-essential manufacturing services may also open on May 18 but facilities must limit their occupancy to 25%.
These newly opened services are subject to recommended minimum standard health protocols outlined by DSHS. These protocols will be available on the Open Texas webpage.
Governor Abbott also spoke on Surge Response Teams that will serve nursing homes, prisons, packing pants, and other facilities that experience flare ups of COVID-19 by providing personal protective equipment, testing supplies, onsite staffing, and assessment assistance. These teams will also work with local officials to establish health and social distancing standards to contain these flare ups. Several Surge Response Teams have already been deployed to locations across the state.
TEA Commissioner Morath also provided new guidance on class of 2020 graduation ceremonies for Texas school districts. The TEA is providing four different pathways for schools to celebrate their graduating seniors, and each district is at liberty to determine if any of these options best serve the needs and desires of their community. Full details of the TEA's graduation ceremony guidancecan be found on the TEA website.
The City of Austin will be conducting an online virtual public hearing on the proposed projects. The virtual public hearing for North Lamar Boulevard will be launched on Friday, May 15, 2020 at 9 a.m. To participate go to AustinTexas.gov/NorthLamarENV. The virtual public hearing for Burnet Road will be launched on Wednesday, May 20, 2020 at 9 a.m. As we approach that date, the AustinTexas.gov/BurnetENV public participation website will be launched. Bookmark the address and check back. We will also notify you through the newsletter when the website becomes available.
Transportation staff has offered several methods for the community to submit their feedback. Comments will be posted on each respective project website after submission. Please feel free to "cc" District7@AustinTexas.Gov in your emailed responses to share your comments with us as well.
Community news during COVID-19
City of Austin Postpones Police Academy Class Pending Review
The Austin City Manager has delayed the start of the next police academy class to allow completion of an ongoing audit of the academy’s training materials. The purpose of the audit is to ensure all training materials are free of any potential bias or unrecognized discriminatory perspectives.
The class, scheduled for June 2020, is now expected to start in mid-July.
On Dec. 5, 2019, the Austin City Council passed a resolution requiring a series of actions aimed at identifying and eliminating discrimination and bias in policing. This included a provision directing the City Manager to audit and update the academy’s materials and curriculum.
“Racist language, slurs, intolerance, and derogatory behaviors – implicit or explicit – are completely unacceptable in our organization and it is my expectation that every person is treated with dignity and respect,” said City Manager Spencer Cronk. “This audit provides an opportunity to reinforce that commitment and identify where we can improve to ensure that our officers are being trained to provide the policing our community expects and deserves.”
While the audit was to be completed by June, City staff now anticipates finishing by mid-July due to the scope of work and the unanticipated impact of the city-wide response to COVID-19.
“While this delay is not optimal given the number of officer vacancies, it is necessary,” Cronk added. “I know our academy and community will be well served by taking the time to do the hard work called for in this audit.”
The audit is being conducted by staff from the City Manager’s Office, Equity Office, Office of Police Oversight, and Austin Police Department’s Organizational and Development Training Manager - working in conjunction with an outside academic consultant and select community members.
One million 3-Ply medical masks are being donated to Austin small businesses and organizations and you can help determine who receives them!
The non-profit Austin Emergency Supply Foundation (AESF), funded in large part by the Coon Family Foundation and the Yacktman Fund, is asking Austinites to send a tweet that includes @atxsupply, the Twitter handle for the suggested business or organization and #FreeMasksForAustin. Get 20 retweets and your nominated recipient gets 2,000 free masks!
AESF is generously providing at least two other ways to help businesses and people obtain these masks:
The Arboretum is proud to honor the Class of 2020 and their accomplishments, while safely celebrating their high school graduation.
Although Austin graduates may not be able to have a traditional ceremony this year, The Arboretum is providing special opportunities throughout the summer to honor 2020 graduates and to commemorate their accomplishments.
The Arboretum’s parent company, Washington Prime Group, will host a digital graduation cap photo contest called #ScholarSpree, presented in partnership with Vervantis, Inc and Lewis Sign. Washington Prime Group is giving away $10,000 to 13 lucky winners who will have the chance to win prizes ranging from $500 to $3,000 to spend at any Washington Prime Group property nationwide. The prize money is intended to help graduates prepare for their next steps after graduation.
High school and University graduates from the class of 2020 are encouraged to decorate the top of their graduation cap or submit a creative graduation photo, and then share a photo of their masterpiece on social media, tagging @WashingtonPrimeGroup with the hashtag #ScholarSpree. All of the entries will be posted on a landing page where friends and family can vote for their favorite design. Winners will be determined by the caps with the most votes on the website. The #ScholarSpree contest will run from May 8 until June 12. Winners will be announced June 19.
All of the entries will be pulled together to create a unique work of art – a digital mosaic posted on The Arboretum’s website. The celebratory tribute is another way to honor graduates across the country, during this time of social distancing.
Additionally, The Arboretum will invite seniors to decorate and personalize their own parking spot with approved chalk and materials in the Brio Tuscan Grille parking later this summer. More details will be announced at a later date.
In the midst of an unprecedented health situation, more than ever, The Arboretum is embracing its role as a community partner by finding unique ways to transform its space for social good. Honoring 2020 graduates is one way that The Arboretum is showing its support for the local community during this difficult time.
“We know missing traditional graduation ceremonies and the end of senior year has been hard for the class of 2020 and their families,” said Kelly Bohart, General Manager. “These students have worked so hard and are off to change the world. It is an honor for The Arboretum to commemorate their hard work and bring the community together to celebrate these students.”