Update March 23-29: There are now 200 confirmed cases in the city of Austin, Travis County

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt formally announced that Travis County will issue a shelter-in-place order March 24. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt formally announced that Travis County will issue a shelter-in-place order March 24. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt formally announced that Travis County will issue a shelter-in-place order March 24. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)

This post will include updates from Travis County and the city of Austin for the week of March 23. For updates from March 17-20, please click here.

Update: March 29, 6:33 p.m.

The number off coronavirus cases confirmed by local health officials in Austin and Travis County reached 200 on March 29, a 21 case increase in one day.

Capital Metro also announced March 28 that it has further adjusted its operating model to combat the spread of COVID-19 and will now offer free fares for all transit rides throughout April.

Beginning April 1, riders will not have to pay Capital Metro operators or use the fare box, according to a March 28 news release from the transit agency.

Update: March 28, 8:36 p.m.

One day following the first death of a COVID-19 patient in Travis County, the number of total cases of the disease grew to 179.

According to numbers on the city of Austin's website, 89 of those patients are between the ages of 20 and 39.

Update: March 27, 7:02 p.m.

The first death from the coronavirus occurred in Travis County on March 26, according to Austin Public Health officials. APH confirmed the death on March 27. According the woman who died from the disease was in her 70s and had significant underlying health issues.

The number of total confirmed coronavirus cases in Travis County and Austin as of March 27 stands at 160, according local health officials.

The Salvation Army of Austin has also confirmed that a client at its downtown homeless shelter has tested positive for the coronavirus, and has been sent to a hospital to be isolated. According to a news release by the organization, the individual had shared a dorm with 19 others at the shelter, and those 19 individuals are currently being isolated and monitored as well.

Update: March 26, 7:02 p.m.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Travis County and Austin now stands at 137, according to the March 26 update from local health officials.

Update: March 25, 7:03 p.m.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Travis County and Austin has officially entered the triple digits, with 119 cases as of March 25, according to local health officials.

The city of Austin also reported its first instance of a paramedic testing positive for the coronavirus on March 25. The Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services worker is experiencing mild symptoms, according to a media release, and she has been provided with housing, medical care, food and mental health services.

Dr. Jason Pickett, alternate health authority for Austin and Travis County, said anyone considered in close contact with the medic who tested positive would also be placed in isolation. Pickett said the exposure was not a result of a breach in protocol.

Ernesto Rodriguez, Austin-Travis County EMS Chief, said the best thing residents can do to help healthcare workers is to take social distancing orders seriously and avoid having physical contact with others as much as possible.

"Frontline workers, community health workers, doctors, nurses, paramedics, all of us are serving an important role in our community. Because we’re so frontline and we are seeing people who do have the virus, the risk is very high we can become infected too," Rodriguez said in a media conference.

President Donald Trump has also declared a major disaster in Texas due to coronavirus on March 25, according to Gov. Greg Abbott. The announcement came as the Texas Department of State Health Services reported 334 people statewide have tested positive for the virus, up from 304 on Saturday, and officials in Dallas said a man in his 80s has become the sixth Texan with the disease to die.

Due to coronavirus, Austin ISD has canceled classes through at least April 10, with school campuses closed through April 13, according to the district.

The University of Texas has also confirmed that spring commencement ceremonies will not be held in person on May 23 as the school continues to put measures in place to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Update: March 24, 7:05 p.m.

There are 98 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Travis County and Austin as of March 24 at 7 p.m., according to city and county health officials.

Earlier in the day, Travis County and the city of Austin announced shelter-in-place orders at a press conference. While not identical, both orders dictate that individuals should remain in their places of residence except to conduct essential activities and that nonessential businesses should have employees work from home. The orders take effect at 11:59 p.m. tonight. You can learn more about the order here.

Prior to the press conference, Mark Escott, Austin-Travis County interim health authority, shared updates on the county’s evolving response to the coronavirus with the Travis County Commissioners Court at a March 24 meeting.

Escott said that drive-thru testing sites continue to be developed in partnership with Hays, Bastrop and Williamson counties, although critical shortages in testing materials, including swabs, persist.

Escott also said he and other area authorities agreed that schools would likely need to abstain from in-person learning for the rest of the school year.

“We don’t see any way that schools will be able to return to session this semester,” he said.

Travis County Commissioners Court also voted as part of a consent motion March 24 to extend the appointment of Escott through Sept. 30. Escott has been a lead source for recommendations regarding the county's response to the coronavirus.

Two alternate health authorities for Travis County were also designated in the motion: Drs. Jonathan MacClements and Ming Sheng Tang. Both will serve through Sept. 30.

Update: March 23, 9:22 p.m.

Austin and Travis County health officials updated the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases to 86 on March 23. Over the weekend, officials said the area has entered Phase 5 of its response plan, which means there is "sustained person-to-person spread in the community."

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt formally announced that Travis County will issue a shelter-in-place order March 24, and Mayor Steve Adler has confirmed that the city of Austin will also announce such an order.

The Travis County clerk's office also announced March 23 that it would close its lobbies to the public beginning March 24 as social distancing measures to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus continue.

All "face-to-face" services will be limited to emergency, appointment-only circumstances until at least May 1, according to communications from the county. Individuals can continue to contact the clerk's office to conduct services and transactions via mail, phone and electronic filing.
By Nicholas Cicale
Nick has been with Community Impact Newspaper since 2016, working with the Lake Travis-Westlake and Southwest Austin-Dripping Springs editions. He previously worked as a reporter in Minnesota and earned a degree from Florida State University.


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