Austin’s local disaster declaration extended to at least April in response to coronavirus as City Council calls for new measures to protect residents

Austin Mayor Steve Adler called the initial disaster declaration at a news conference on March 6. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin Mayor Steve Adler called the initial disaster declaration at a news conference on March 6. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)

Austin Mayor Steve Adler called the initial disaster declaration at a news conference on March 6. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)

The local disaster declaration called by Mayor Steve Adler on March 6 in response to the coronavirus, ahead of South by Southwest Conference & Festivals' cancellation, has been extended to at least April 5 following a unanimous March 12 City Council vote.

The move comes one day after the World Health Organization categorized the new coronavirus, and its rapidly spreading infectious respiratory illness COVID-19, a global pandemic to acknowledge its spread in countries across the world.

As of 1:47 p.m. March 12, there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Travis County according to the city’s emergency management spokesperson; however, precautionary measures are being taken throughout the city. Several major events, from SXSW and the Moto Grand Prix, to large events at the Frank Erwin Center have been canceled or postponed. The University of Texas extended spring break for students by a week and some companies have asked employees to work from home.

“When, as a community, we stepped forward and pulled down SXSW, it was a really painful thing to do in so many ways, disruptive in so many ways,” Adler said. “But when you look at what’s happening around the country now, it puts into context what we did. It’s not an outlier at this point, and we need to continue our vigilance to keep the community safe.”

Leading up the vote to extend the local disaster declaration indefinitely, some City Council members called for additional measures to keep residents safe during uncertain times. District 4 City Council Member Greg Casar said, in the event that more people are sent home and cannot work, the city should prepare to halt all electricity and water utility shut offs. He also said the city, to the greatest extent possible, should discourage evictions and prevent the spread of the virus in hospitals, nursing homes and jails.

Echoing the recommendations from Austin/Travis County Medical Director Dr. Mark Escott, Casar said businesses throughout the city and region should provide paid sick days to employees and that the city should begin preparing to mitigate job loss.

“If we don’t have a law that guarantees everybody that right, we need to call on local employers to step up and do that, and call on landlords not to evict tenants impacted by the virus,” he said.

Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza said the city needs to potentially call a special meeting to put together an emergency fund in response to the virus’s economic impact.

“The people that will be most affected by this are the most vulnerable who don't have access to health care, who have jobs that do not provide time off for them who will go to work because they have no other choice because their utilities will be cut off and they will not be able to pay their rent,” Garza said. “We really need to pay attention to that and make sure we are mitigating.”

District 9 Council Member Kathie Tovo said the community should look to the example set by local soup shop, the Soup Peddler, which has offered unlimited paid sick days to employees impacted by the virus.
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


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