Editor’s note: This story is part of The Daily Texan’s coverage of how coronavirus concerns are affecting UT-Austin. Read the rest of our coverage here.
Mayor Steve Adler has extended the city of Austin’s stay-at-home orders until the end of May with exceptions for the businesses that Gov. Greg Abbott reopened.
Adler said in a press conference Friday it will be community behaviors that drive the force behind curbing the spread. While the governor's orders are binding, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said the recommendations of public health officials remain.
Adler said the city is also amping up the testing and contact tracing in an effort to contain the virus.
“What is most remarkable about these orders is that there is not much remarkable about these new orders,” Adler said. “These orders are continuations in substance of our past orders, still maintaining the ‘Stay Home, Work Safe’ structure that is both in our orders and in the governor’s orders.”
Adler said individual behaviors will make the governor’s plan as successful as it can be, including wearing face masks and staying at home when possible even though there is no punishment for not complying with these orders.
“The virus is as infectious today as it was a month ago,” Adler said. “Everybody should be minimizing physical interactions absolutely as much as they can as we dip our toe in increased social interactions.”
Travis County’s stay-at-home order is being extended until June 15 since the infection rate in the county is less than expected given no restrictions.
“Our infection rate is 90% less than what medical science expected under business as usual,” Eckhardt said. “Our cases are still climbing, but for the last two weeks of April, our hospitalization rate stabilized at 75 patients with serious cases.”
Eckhardt and Adler said they are still searching for the right number to determine when they might have to reissue “Stay Home, Work Safe” orders. Adler said they have no specific numbers right now, but they will be monitoring the level of hospitalizations for COVID-19.
“That trigger is something that the experts and the scientists are now working on,” Adler said. “We can all watch the number and see if we are approaching it so we can know when and if we need to act.”
The city will use federal aid to establish rent and mortgage assistance. The program will also help small-unit landlords as the city extends the ban on evictions. Adler said those who cannot go back to work because they have no access to childcare will still be eligible for unemployment benefits.
Travis County is establishing a fund for nonprofits so undocumented individuals can also access the funds they need. Adler said the city is doing similar measures through the Relief in a State of Emergency Fund, or RISE, which helps finance certain social services, including those for artists and undocumented individuals.
“We don't care where you were born,” Eckhardt said. “If you need help, we will provide it. We want to be there to help everyone survive medically and economically from COVID-19.”
Adler said the city does not have the capacity for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-recommended 2,000 tests per day. However, he said they do have more tests than there are people signing up for tests. He encourages people to sign up for a test online through the city website.
“There are still not enough tests to go around for everybody,” Adler said. “Different labs have different time periods. There are tests we can access but not get results in three or five days. We are in the process of coming up with a strategic plan to increase testing.”
Eckhardt said the county does not have the officer capacity to fully enforce the limitation on gatherings, and people will have to monitor themselves. Even though churches are exempted from the governor’s order, Adler said he encourages them to place self-imposed limitations.
Eckhardt said the community has to care for each other to stop the virus.
“Show the love, y’all,” Eckhardt said. “Consider, ‘What am I going to do that is essential? Who am I coming in contact with, and how can I keep them safe? Do I know them and care about them enough … so I can find them and they can get tested?’”