Travis County to close parks for holiday weekend; county judge calls on other Texas officials to step up safety procedures

A photo of two women on a trail
Travis County Parks will close over Fourth of July weekend to discourage public gatherings. (Olivia Aldridge/Community Impact Newspaper)

Travis County Parks will close over Fourth of July weekend to discourage public gatherings. (Olivia Aldridge/Community Impact Newspaper)

Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe urged all local governments to cancel public events and close public spaces over the Fourth of July weekend to discourage gatherings during the holiday as the spread of the coronavirus threatens hospital capacity. Biscoe's local recommendation echoes his request to Gov. Greg Abbott to give local governments more leeway to enforce local coronavirus prevention restrictions as COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations rise.

"I suggest all local governments cancel publicly sponsored events and close public spaces in advance of the 4th of July weekend in order to discourage social gatherings and therefore discourage spread of COVID-19. We simply cannot afford missteps at this stage which could exacerbate the risk of overwhelming our healthcare system," Biscoe wrote in a June 29 letter to judges, mayors and superintendents in Travis County and the Austin MSA.

In his letter to local leaders, Biscoe outlined the current status of the coronavirus pandemic in Travis County, where the regional hospital system's capacity hovers near 70%. He also said testing and analysis demands have increased, causing Austin Public Health to prioritize testing for those with active symptoms.

"Our numbers of confirmed positives and the lag time between the testing. and these results have either outstripped both our ability to contact trace and the utility in contact tracing," Biscoe wrote. "In summary, the rapid increase in cases has outstripped our ability to track, measure, and mitigate the spread of disease."

In line with his recommendations, Travis County Parks announced the closure of all system spaces and facilities from July 2 at 8 p.m. until July 7 at 8 a.m., with continued closures possible "should the threat of COVID-19 continue to rise."

Biscoe took a similar tone of urgency in a letter to Abbott also sent June 29, emphasizing shrinking hospital capacity as Austin Public Health prepares an Alternative Care Site in case of overflow. He urged the governor to issue additional statewide precautions, including mandatory public masking, prohibition of gatherings of more than 10 people, a rollback to 25% occupancy at businesses and an allowance for major metropolitan localities to reinstitute full stay-at-home orders.

"If you are not willing to take the actions on behalf of the state, please roll back your restriction on local leaders being able to take these swift actions to safeguard the health of our communities," Biscoe wrote.
By Olivia Aldridge
Olivia is the reporter for Community Impact's Central Austin edition. A graduate of Presbyterian College in upstate South Carolina, Olivia was a reporter and producer at South Carolina Public Radio before joining Community Impact in Austin.


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