We’ll be updating this story throughout the day Wednesday with the latest local news on the coronavirus pandemic. If you’d like to go through a roundup of COVID-19 news from Tuesday, read it here. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.
Update at 5:31 p.m. – Lyft pulls scooters from Austin amid layoffs
Lyft scooters are leaving Austin, the company announced Wednesday.
Citing economic challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lyft said it is laying off 17% of its workforce, or 982 employees.
“We’re grateful to our scooter riders in Austin as well as our partners in Austin city government. We’re shifting resources and have made the tough decision to end scooter operations today, April 29,” the company said in a statement. “We continue to support riders’ essential travel needs during this time with other modes of reliable transportation.”
Lyft pulled its scooters from Austin last month after stay-at-home orders were issued, but returned the scooters April 3 as part of an effort to help essential workers get to their jobs.
It’s offering a $200 credit to those employees who enrolled in its critical worker program.
Lyft will continue its ridehailing service in Austin.
– Samuel King
Update at 3:59 p.m. – Austin Public Library says it won’t open Friday, launches virtual programming
Despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s order that allows libraries and certain businesses to reopen Friday, Austin Public Library doesn’t have plans to do so.
“The Library will reopen when it can do so in a manner that does not jeopardize the health and safety of its employees and the community it serves,” a library spokesperson said.
The library is monitoring public health recommendations for reopening city facilities and developing a reopening plan with the help of the City of Austin and Austin Public Health.
The library does have a virtual collection, where people can access books, movies and other materials online. It has also converted its regular library programming to a digital format. APL+, which launched Wednesday, features video shorts for adults, teens and children on topics such as crafting, books, cooking, digital scavenger hunts and professional growth.
Update at 3:07 p.m. — CTRMA makes budget plans amid COVID-19 uncertainty
The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority has seen traffic drop by more than half on its tollways since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, and fewer cars means millions of dollars of lost revenue.
Officials with the CTRMA told board members Wednesday that revenues from vehicle tags and video tolls were projected to drop by close to $24 million this fiscal year. Revenues had been fairly strong before stay-at-home orders were issued.
But there are signs that traffic is picking up once again. Traffic on the MoPac Express Lane had been down by more than 90% through early April, but is starting to rebound.
“We wanted to stay with this conservative estimate for the rest of this fiscal year, but we are seeing some positive trends,” said Robert Goode, deputy executive director of the CTRMA. “And of course, with the governor’s announcement, we expect those to continue.”
The authority is also beginning budget planning for next fiscal year, with officials calling for cuts in discretionary spending that could be restored if revenues rebound. It has more than $100 million in reserves, but it won’t need to be tapped yet, Goode said.
The CTRMA is also trying to work with customers who may be behind on paying tolls. It has paused outbound collection activity, extended its courtesy waiver program and halted its habitual violator program.
— Samuel King
Update at 2:05 p.m. — Local cities want postponed May elections to be held sooner than November
Round Rock Mayor Craig Morgan has sent a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott requesting he allow Round Rock and other public entities to have elections in August.
In March, Abbott issued a proclamation allowing local governments to postpone May 2 elections to Nov. 3 due to COVID-19 concerns.
Nine other cities have joined Morgan in making this request, including Cedar Park. They want to be able to have elections sooner so that newly elected city council members can participate in votes on the budget and tax rates for the next fiscal year that take place before November.
“Members of the city council elected at a November election will have no say or input into these critical matters,” Morgan wrote in the letter. “More importantly, the voters will not be able to choose who will represent them in these matters.”
Update at 1:57 p.m. — Statewide eviction ban extended
The Texas Supreme Court has extended a statewide ban on evictions until May 18. The ban had been set to expire Thursday.
Renters living in Austin have additional protections against eviction. The City Council approved a 60-day grace period in late March. A landlord has to wait 60 days once rent is late before beginning the formal eviction process. In that case, evictions are essentially stalled in Austin until early June.
Evictions in the state are still allowed to go forward if a tenant or their guests pose a criminal or imminent physical threat to the landlord.
Update at 1:25 p.m. — UT Austin is seeking to reopen in the fall with modifications
UT Austin’s goal is to reopen the campus for the fall semester – with some conditions. UT Austin President Greg Fenves said in a campus-wide email Tuesday classes could resume “with some courses and activities held in person and others online as dictated by health and safety concerns.”
The email came a day after Gov. Greg Abbott announced plans to partially reopen the state starting Friday. Fenves says the university still has a lot of planning to do before it can give a clear picture of what an open campus would look like during the pandemic.
UT officials say it’s important students register for classes now so faculty can have a better idea of how to deliver coursework. For now, UT will continue online learning and remote working for students and staff. Fenves says the university will announce its final plans for the fall semester by the end of June.
Update at 10:56 a.m. — Drive-thru food distribution happening Thursday morning in South Austin
The Central Texas Food Bank’s last drive-through food distribution in April is Thursday morning at Burger Stadium (3200 Jones Road in Austin) from 9 a.m. until noon.
Families hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic can receive an emergency food box including grocery items such as canned fruit, peanut butter and rice.
Hygiene kits, including shampoo, wipes and toothpaste, will also be distributed. Drivers are asked to make space in their vehicles and enter from the north side of the facility.
If you can’t make the distribution event, you can find a map of where to get food now on the food bank’s website.
Update at 5:15 A.M. — Austin Pets Alive! to open thrift stores on Friday
After Gov. Greg Abbott announced retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters and malls can reopen with limited capacity on Friday, Austin businesses are now deciding whether or not they will open their doors amid the coronavirus pandemic. The animal rescue Austin Pets Alive! says it’s opening its thrift stores on Friday, with some limitations.
Only 15 customers can come inside at once, and people must wear face masks and keep at least 6 feet of distance between each other. APA! says it prefers people pay with credit cards.
APA! runs two thrift stores in Austin, the proceeds of which support the organization’s programs and animals.
Here are some other local businesses that say they’ll open their doors (with limitations): Broken Spoke, Dos Salsas, Gino’s Vino Osteria.
Here are some that say they won’t: Alamo Drafthouse, Austin Film Society.
Catch up on what happened yesterday
‘Not the time to flip on the light switch’: health experts warn of more outbreaks if Austin reopens
The graphs UT Austin professor Lauren Ancel Meyers presented to Austin City Council members in a virtual meeting Tuesday were “plausible futures” and not “forecasts.”
Nevertheless, they illustrated two possible dire scenarios for the Austin area. Remain at home as we are doing now, with schools and many businesses closed, until September 2021 and avoid a surge in hospitalizations – and have fewer than 200 deaths. Alternatively, open up a bit, as Gov. Greg Abbott has suggested, while still protecting vulnerable populations, then lock down when there’s a surge in hospitalizations – and see about 6,500 deaths.
Reality will likely fall somewhere in the middle, with the city playing an in-and-out game, relaxing a lockdown once hospitalizations are steady and then instituting a lockdown once hospitalizations spike.
“How to gamble if you must,” said Meyers, who runs a research lab looking at mathematical approaches for predicting the spread of infectious diseases.
Council members called the meeting to respond to the governor’s order Monday that allows malls, restaurants and movie theaters to open their doors Friday as long as owners limit occupancy to 25%.
Other local coronavirus news from Tuesday:
The Episcopal Health Foundation plans to spend $10 million on addressing the long-term financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in Texas. Part of its strategy will be focused on helping nonprofits that are struggling. The Red River Cultural District says it has distributed more than $40,000 in H-E-B gift cards to roughly 500 out-of-work event and venue staffers. Hays County is partnering with two area medical facilities to provide free testing for residents showing COVID-19 symptoms who are uninsured or under-insured, and those who can’t afford to get a test on their own. Capital Metro is giving bonuses to employees who’ve continued to come into work during the coronavirus pandemic. A coalition of more than 30 organizations is asking the City of Austin to open more space on neighborhood streets for walking and cycling.
What’s happening statewide? Check out special coverage from KERA for North Texas, Houston Public Media, Texas Public Radio in San Antonio and Marfa Public Radio.
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