As economy begins to reopen, Austin leaders plan for second lockdown, surge in cases

Austin and Travis County officials have extended their stay-home orders, emphasizing the role that reducing social interaction has on slowing the coronavirus's spread. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin and Travis County officials have extended their stay-home orders, emphasizing the role that reducing social interaction has on slowing the coronavirus's spread. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)

Austin and Travis County officials have extended their stay-home orders, emphasizing the role that reducing social interaction has on slowing the coronavirus's spread. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)

Today, Austin barbershops, hair salons and gyms began welcoming clients for the first time since March 25.

This comes exactly one week after restaurants, movie theaters and malls reopened their doors as part of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s phased approach at awakening the state’s economy from a prolonged shutdown meant to mitigate the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus.

During that shutdown, which included a stay-home order that prohibited nonessential activity, Austin and Travis County residents reduced their person-to-person interactions by 95%, which officials said is an astounding achievement that helped to dampen what they expected to be a rapid rise in local confirmed coronavirus cases.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler said he believes that the decision to have the state and cities “dip our toe” into reopening will, "by definition," result in a second surge in infections, as person-to-person interactions will increase.

“The virus is just as infectious today as it was a month ago,” Adler said during a May 8 press conference, in which he extended his stay-home order through the end of May. Adler said Abbott’s decision to reopen happened earlier "than [he] would have liked” and that the message from local officials was to continue staying home as much as possible.


Adler and Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said they are already working with the local chamber of commerce to plan for a second surge and for a potential second lockdown of local commerce.

Eckhardt, who extended the county's stay-home order through mid-June, said Austin Public Health officials, elected leaders and the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce are working together on an emergency plan should the community see a surge in cases following the reopening.

“We’re in a yellow light—we’re cautiously beginning to open commerce,” Eckhardt said; however, she said area leaders, experts and stakeholders are developing plans for what to do if the community hits “a red light.”

Eckhardt and Adler said planning has involved, for one, putting triggers in place for hospitalizations over time, which would alert officials that a surge is on its way and that a second lockdown needs to be implemented. Adler said the calculations are complex because policy decisions typically do not how their impact on the virus for 10-14 days. By the time a surge is detected, it could already be too late.

Adler further emphasized the importance of staying home. Last week, researchers from The University of Texas at Austin provided models of how continuing to reduce social interactions and protecting the most vulnerable residents could impact the length of the virus in the community as well as the number of deaths, hospitalizations and the necessity of further lockdowns.

The models showed that at 95% effective cocooning, another lockdown could be necessary between mid-June and mid-September. Hospitalizations would peak at just under 3,000 in early August and would not overwhelm the hospital system. Under these circumstances, the models predicted a similar peak in hospitalizations by mid-December before indicating a permanent downward trend toward a complete fizzling-out by June 2021. Deaths would still reach 2,900 but would not reach that number until roughly March 2021.

A separate model showing 80% effective cocooning paints a grimmer picture. In that situation, to refrain from overwhelming the health care system, another lockdown would be necessary between June and November, followed by another lockdown from mid-November to mid-January 2021, another lockdown from early March to late April 2021 and a final lockdown in June 2021. This model shows three waves of hospitalizations—in early August, January 2021 and late April 2021— before slowing down after September 2021. Deaths would continually rise through September 2021, peaking at 6,500.

Adler said that at this point, they have not figured out what the triggers will be or what an emergency lockdown plan would look like. He emphasized that no one, including the Texas governor, has the answers and said that officials will continue to rely on data.

The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce was not immediately available for comment.
By Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following two years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Su


MOST RECENT

Demonstrators marched in the streets in front of the Texas Capitol on May 31. (Chris Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin City Council hears from community on police response to weekend protests

"He is in so much pain, and I can't help him," said the brother of a 16-year-old injured in the weekend's protests.

CMS also unveiled an interactive map that lets users search any nursing home in the U.S. to see its COVID-19 cases. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
CMS reports 321 coronavirus deaths in Texas nursing homes, nearly 32,000 nationwide

CMS also unveiled an interactive map that lets users search any nursing home in the U.S. to its COVID-19 cases.

The annual Texas 4000 ride from Austin to Anchorage has gone virtual this year. (Courtesy Texas 4000)
Texas 4000 ride goes virtual, aims to raise $1 million in fight against cancer

Riders from the University of Texas usually trek from Austin to Anchorage, Alaska, each summer, but they will not make the journey this year due to safety concerns around the coronavirus.

A 323-unit apartment complex will be opening in 2020 off East Riverside Drive in Austin. (Rendering courtesy Aspen Heights Partners)
New 323-unit apartment complex coming to Austin's East Riverside area

Leasing is expected to begin in November for the new building.

Manor Road Peruvian restaurant Yuyo closes permanently

Chef Maribel Rivero is offering recipes and cooking classes through her website.

A screen image of Sam Biscoe at a meeting of the Travis County Commissioners Court
Travis County allocates $7.3 million in coronavirus relief aid to small cities

Commissioners voted to issue $55 per capita to the county's small cities, significantly less than mayors had lobbied for.

FDA testing
Austin Public Health director cautions residents against unauthorized antibody tests

Residents who use some unauthorized antibody tests to determine if they have contracted COVID-19 may be vulnerable to receiving false test results.

There have been a total of 3,501 coronavirus cases in the county and 95 deaths since the pandemic began locally March 13. (Community Impact staff)
Travis County’s first two coronavirus deaths of June bring total to 95

There have been a total of 3,501 coronavirus cases in the county and 95 deaths since the pandemic began locally March 13.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Phase 3 of his Open Texas plan June 3. (Brian Rash/Community Impact Newspaper)
Gov. Greg Abbott's June 3 guidelines allow most Texas businesses to operate at 50% capacity

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott continues to lift coronavirus-related business restrictions.

Alta Alexander shows the fire damage at her boutique on East 12th Street, Altatudes. (Photo by Jack Flagler, design by Shelby Savage/Community Impact Newspaper)
Altatudes and Kane's Barbershop, 2 black-owned businesses on East 12th Street, look to rebuild after fire

The Austin Fire Department said a fire that started in the early morning of June 1 at Kane’s Barbershop was accidental and caused by an electrical failure.

Legendary baseball player Nolan Ryan has long enjoyed ranching. Now, he and his team are preparing to open a butcher shop in Round Rock to showcase Goodstock, Nolan Ryan Beef and other Texas-made products. (Photo courtesy Nolan Ryan)
Nolan Ryan to open Round Rock butcher shop and 20 other Central Texas business updates to know

Read the latest news on Central Texas businesses from Community Impact Newspaper's latest coverage.