AUSTIN, Texas - City and county officials participated in a virtual town hall Wednesday afternoon to discuss Austin and Travis County's response to COVID-19.
"I can't imagine that anybody would have thought that even four weeks ago, we would be where we are right now," said Austin Mayor Steve Adler.
Adler said the city is facing two crises: battling COVID-19 and the subsequent economic fallout. "We could have 4 to 6,000 people die in our city by mid-August if we're not able to flatten out this curve," he said.
To help flatten that curve, city officials are asking everyone to stay home. “This is not an issue we’re going to enforce our way out of,” said Austin Police Chief Brian Manley, adding that the virus will only be cured through “voluntary compliance” with the stay-home order.
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Manley says the department is doing its best to socially isolate, but “sometimes that’s not possible on the front lines.” One Austin police officer and one civilian have tested positive for the virus. Manley says there is a process in place for APD employees who believe they have been exposed and for those experiencing symptoms to get tested for COVID-19.
The city is also working to protect it’s most vulnerable populations – including the homeless. Assistant City Manager Christopher Shorter says city property is being used to ensure those who are homeless can access “services like showers, handwashing stations, restrooms,” as well as places to self-isolate.
"When we find someone with a positive test, we can remove them from the general population from the group that they were in, we can take the people that they were immediately with and isolate them as well," explained Adler
District Attorney Margaret Moore says the county's justice system is focused on getting people who are not a threat to the community out of jail and keeping them out. Warrants for certain non-violent, low-level offenses have been suspended.
"So when the police make a stop for some reason, they would not bring that person into the booking area," she explained.
The county already had automatic personal bond orders that needed to be slightly modified after governor Greg Abbott recently banned release without bail for inmates who are accused of or were convicted of a violent offense in the past. Still, Moore says the modified order puts the county in a good spot.
"In March 13 of 2020, there was 2213 people in our jail and today we have 649 people, that is partnership in pure form," said Sheriff Sally Hernandez.
As more people spend time at home with their abusers, and domestic violence cases rise, Councilwoman Natasha Harper-Madison is asking anybody with an extra property to contact her office.
“Everybody’s Airbnb, all of your reservations canceled from March to June -- so if you have a space that's just sitting open and it's more appropriate to have a mom and her four babies go to your three-bedroom two-bed house than a hotel room, then please, offer up the resources,” said Harper-Madison.
With Texas schools closed until at least the beginning of May, and learning to shift online, the councilwoman says she wants to make sure no one gets left behind because of digital inequality. Her office is working on expanding access to broadband and digital devices. “This will likely will be the great equalizer of our time,” she said.
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You can also get the latest COVID-19 news from around the country at coronavirusnow.com.