Austin weekly roundup: Governor plans statewide camping ban, COVID-19 numbers flatten and more

Gov. Greg Abbott said he will announce statewide plans to address homelessness that include camping bans. (Brian Rash/Community Impact Newspaper)
Gov. Greg Abbott said he will announce statewide plans to address homelessness that include camping bans. (Brian Rash/Community Impact Newspaper)

Gov. Greg Abbott said he will announce statewide plans to address homelessness that include camping bans. (Brian Rash/Community Impact Newspaper)

Good morning Austin. We are trying out something new to help you follow all the local news happening in your community. Each Monday morning, we will summarize the biggest stories we are following in the city and let you know what’s happening as you get your week started.

There is so much going on right now—from the ongoing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic to the vaccine rollout to the start of the 87th Texas legislative session—and that sometimes means the flood of information can get overwhelming. With so much changing day to day, the goal of this update is to quickly catch you up. Sometimes I will write it. Sometimes you will see our reporters jump in, and if you have any feedback, as always, get in touch with us to let us know what you like or what we can do better.

—Jack Flagler, editor, Central Austin and Southwest Austin/Dripping Springs editions

A state and local push is happening to reinstate a camping ban, but is that legal?

Homelessness has been a priority issue in Austin for years amid a growing crisis in the city, and Austin City Hall Reporter Christopher Neely has the latest developments this week.

Gov. Greg Abbott, a harsh critic of the way Austin has handled its homelessness challenges, said he will announce a statewide plan that will include bans on camping. That announcement came one day after Abbott threatened to step in and enforce tighter restrictions in Austin, which lifted its camping ban in 2019.

Meanwhile, a local effort to reinstate the camping ban is also underway. Nonprofit group Save Austin Now said this week it turned in more than the required 20,000 signatures to the Austin City Clerk to put the question of bringing back the ban to Austin voters in May. The group tried to get the question on the November ballot but did not have enough valid signatures, according to the clerk.

The legality of reinstating the ban is an open question. In 2018, a year before Austin repealed its own ban, a federal court ruled unless a community had enough shelter beds for its homeless population, the community could not ban camping. That court ruling does not have jurisdiction in Texas—it stemmed from a case in Boise, Idaho, If the Fifth Circuit court that does cover Texas were to rule differently on the same issue, it would create a circuit split—which, according to Emily Gerrick of the Texas Fair Defense Project, could lead the U.S. Supreme Court to get involved.

With vaccines coming in slowly each week, public health professionals preach patience

Reporter Olivia Aldridge has covered the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in Austin, including residents hitting dead ends when seeking an initial dose of the vaccine. Dr. Mark Escott, the interim health authority for Austin-Travis County, has tried to provide some perspective for a community that is anxiously waiting, calling it a “miracle” that effective vaccines are already in circulation. As of the end of last week, about 6% of the local population had received at least one vaccine dose, according to state data.

While vaccine doses remain extremely limited, there is some somewhat promising news regarding the COVID-19 numbers locally. The community is still in its highest risk stage, Stage 5, but since hitting a peak of 93.7 for the seven-day moving average for COVID-19 hospitalizations, the trend has flattened, leveling off at 83.8 on Jan. 21.

More news to know

  • New unemployment numbers came out Jan. 22 from the Texas Workforce Commission. Austin’s unemployment rate dropped to 5.1% as, like many communities, it continues to slowly crawl back from double-digit unemployment levels in April. Austin’s rate is better than the state and national averages but still double what it was at this time last year.

  • Abby Jane Love, who formerly was the pastry chef at Dai Due, has opened her own bakeshop in Dripping Springs, Abby Jane Bakeshop. Elsewhere on the bakery beat, Teal House Coffee & Bakery is opening its new storefront on South Congress Avenue on Saturday. Owner Lance Phillips will keep his trailer on Slaughter Lane open as he expands to the brick-and-mortar shop.

By Jack Flagler
Jack is the editor of Community Impact Newspaper's Central Austin and Southwest Austin editions. He began his career as a sports reporter in Massachusetts and North Carolina before moving to Austin in 2018. He grew up in Maine and graduated from Boston University, but prefers tacos al pastor to lobster rolls. You can get in touch at


Photo of a Joe's coffee barista handing off a drive-thru coffee
Jo's Coffee, other businesses bring new locations to north Central Austin

Four new businesses have recently opened in or are coming soon to north Central Austin.

If approved, the bill would also establish goals for emissions reductions by 2030, 2040 and 2050. (Courtesy James Talarico)
After Winter Storm Uri, Rep. James Talarico files climate action plan in Texas House

The Texas Climate Action Act would require the development of a climate action plan to help alleviate future climate-related disasters and establish goals for reducing emissions for 2030, 2040 and 2050.

A tree with fallen branches has fallen on a car in North Austin in the midst of Winter Storm Uri.
Does your emergency repair need a city permit? Here is how you can find out

The city of Austin has directed additional funds into programs to help some homeowners with repairs following February's winter storm.

Photo of Judge Brown in a mask and orange vest with megaphone
Travis County and 3 Central Texas neighbors to pilot mass vaccination site

Some 3,000 people will be vaccinated at a drive-thru event at the Circuit of The Americas this weekend.

Austin Water has lifted its boil-water notice for the city of Austin. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin Water lifts boil-water notice for all customers

Water quality tests have shown that city water is now safe to drink, and Austin Water continues to repair water mains and leaks.

Boil-water notices are still in place for some Austin residents. (Courtesy Pexels)
Austin dealing with ‘tens of thousands’ of water main breaks, officials say

Austin's water director said water main breaks during the winter storm were the likely culprit behind the draining of the city's reserves.

Photo of a desk with vials of Moderna vaccines on top
Austin Public Health resumes vaccinations, testing after weather-related delays

APH is currently in the process of rescheduling 3,300 vaccine appointments that were postponed beginning on Feb. 13.

Austin ISD staff at Pleasant Hill Elementary School distribute meals. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin ISD offering free meals to children and caregivers Feb. 25

Austin ISD is distributing meals at 33 campuses across the city of Austin.

Photo of cars driving in the snow
Travis County sees surge of 911 calls, emergencies during winter storm

Sheriff's Office patrollers also responded to heightened calls regarding vehicle collisions and distressed motorists.

Austin Resource Recovery resumed curbside pickup of items such as trash, recycling and composting Feb. 22. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Crews will collect extra material curbside for no charge as service resumes in Austin

On their scheduled days, customers can leave extra material, such as trash, recycling and composting, on the curb with no fees after winter storms caused delays in service.

Austin Water lifted its boil water notice for customers within its central pressure zone the morning of Feb. 22. (Amy Denney/Community Impact Newspaper)
Boil notice partially lifted in Austin, water service expected to be fully restored Feb. 22

Austin Water director Greg Meszaros said in a statement he expects service to be fully restored to all customers Feb. 22 and the boil notice to be fully lifted shortly thereafter.