Travis County judge emphasizes need to further decrease public interaction as county seeks FEMA aid for coronavirus

A screen shot of Sarah Eckhardt at a meeting
Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt speaks at an April 7 meeting of the Travis County Commissioners Court. (Olivia Aldridge/Community Impact Newspaper)

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt speaks at an April 7 meeting of the Travis County Commissioners Court. (Olivia Aldridge/Community Impact Newspaper)

With a unanimous consent motion, the Travis County Commissioners Court voted April 7 to submit a Request for Public Assistance to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, seeking reimbursement for an estimated $1.2 million in county personnel and operating expenses resulting from the coronavirus.

During the vote, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt sat at the near-empty Commissioners Court dais with a homemade cloth mask hanging around her neck.

“I am asking everyone in Travis County, please do, when you go outside, wear a mask when you leave the house,” Eckhardt said, noting the role masks could play in preventing the spread of coronavirus from asymptomatic individuals, which she said could account for 17% of cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Save for Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, who sat at the opposite end of the dais, her colleagues listened to her via a video conference call, and viewers observed video of the meeting’s proceedings.

Eckhardt’s attire set the tone for her address to the body on the county’s status regarding coronavirus, in which she emphasized the need for Travis County residents to step up their efforts to flatten to the coronavirus curve—in heeding Austin Public Health’s advice to wear cloth masks in public, but especially in avoiding public places and unnecessary gatherings altogether.


Based on recent statistical modeling by The University of Texas and other independent surveys, Eckhardt said Travis County has reached something of a plateau in decreasing social interactions, hovering around a 50% decrease in outings and gatherings from usual activity.

“For a relatively small amount of effort by the community, we can reduce exponentially the number of deaths,” Eckhardt said, pointing to a UT study that projected a 90% reduction in activity could bring the area from a projected 90,000 hospitalizations to around 17,000.

In the meantime, Travis County moves forward with efforts to respond to the pandemic locally as Eckhardt prepares a new shelter-in-place order to take effect April 14, after the current shelter-in-place order expires April 13. The new order will likely address best practices for construction companies and workers, who have been given statewide allowance to proceed as essential businesses by Gov. Greg Abbott, despite Travis County’s initial order not designating most construction as essential.
By Olivia Aldridge

Reporter, Central Austin

Olivia joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in March 2019. She covers public health, business, development and Travis County government. A graduate of Presbyterian College in South Carolina, Olivia worked as a reporter and producer for South Carolina Public Radio before moving to Texas. Her work has appeared on NPR and in the New York Times.



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