First cases of COVID-19 confirmed in Austin

City officials urge that citizens act but not overact; AISD to provide student lunches at multiple locations

The+custodial+staff+begins+a+deep+clean+of+the+Mac+campus+this+morning+by+wiping+down+the+tables+in+the+cafeteria.+Originally+the+deep+clean+was+to+take+place+during+spring+break%2C+but+because+of+today%27s+districtwide+cancellation%2C+administrators+decided+to+start+the+deep+clean+today+instead.+Assistant+principal+Gabe+Reyes+urged+all+teachers+to+make+their+classrooms+ready+for+the+deep+clean+by+10+a.m.+today.+Photo+by+Dave+Winter.

Dave Winter

The custodial staff begins a deep clean of the Mac campus this morning by wiping down the tables in the cafeteria. Originally the deep clean was to take place during spring break, but because of today’s districtwide cancellation, administrators decided to start the deep clean today instead. Assistant principal Gabe Reyes urged all teachers to make their classrooms ready for the deep clean by 10 a.m. today. Photo by Dave Winter.

Alysa Spiro, staff reporter

This morning, shortly after 6 a.m., city health officials confirmed the first two “presumptive positive” cases of Coronavirus in Austin.

We have to avoid overtaxing our health care system with folks flooding hospitals and ERs who don’t need to be there.”

— Dr. Mark Escott, Austin-Travis County interim medical authority

“This is concerning but not surprising and we have been prepared for the arrival of COVID-19 in our area,” said Dr. Mark Escott, Austin-Travis County interim medical authority, in a City of Austin press release. “It is critical that the community continue to heed our recommendations and take personal hygiene seriously. This will be the key to ensuring that this virus doesn’t spread.”

The two cases aren’t believed to be community spread. One case is a female from the Houston area, and the other is a male transferred from a rural location to an Austin hospital.

“This means these cases are epidemiologically linked to another case or another jurisdiction,” Escott said in the release.

City officials raised concern about overstressing the healthcare system.

“We have to avoid overtaxing our health care system with folks flooding hospitals and ERs who don’t need to be there,” Escott said.

The lines at the CostCo on Research Boulevard this morning extended all the way down the main aisles in the story and bent to the back corners of the building. An employee at the wholesale grocer said today that in her 19 years working there she had never seen anything like it. City officials urged that people be proactive but not overreact to fear about the caronavirus pandemic. Photo by Dave Winter.

City officials urged the public to stay calm but be proactive.

Our best defenses from COVID-19 are the things our mama taught: washing our hands, sneezing into our elbow, staying home when you’re sick and being a good neighbor.”

— Travis Country Judge Sarah Eckhardt

“We are facing two epidemics right now: one is COVID-19, and the other is fear,” Escott said. “We need people to start planning, do things which are reasonable to mitigate this risk, to prepare themselves and their family and not spread panic.”

Travis Country Judge Sarah Eckhardt, echoed Escott’s message.

The reports of these first cases prompted AISD to cancel classes early this morning.

UT Austin also canceled classes because of a confirmed COVID-19 case on the UT campus. In a UT press release, UT president Gregory L. Fenves confirmed that his wife Carmel had tested positive for COVID-19. 

“Panic will make us weaker,” Eckhardt said. “Our best defenses from COVID-19 are the things our mama taught: washing our hands, sneezing into our elbow, staying home when you’re sick and being a good neighbor.”

At noon, Gov. Greg Abbott at a press conference confirmed “a state disaster” for all Texas counties. A drive through testing facility has opened in San Antonio and plans to open more in Dallas and Austin are underway. Abbott confirmed that the Texas Education Agency is working with local superintendents to choose how to move forward.

Abbott spoke about the future of school lunch programs should schools remain closed.

“Texas is seeking waivers for federal regulations for the school lunch program to give districts flexibility to provide food should the district need to shut down for a temporary period to respond to the corona virus,” Abbott said.

Despite the school closure, AISD will be providing lunches for students under 19 at 14 sites in the district. The closest one to McCallum High School is Burnet Middle School.

MAC students are feeling the repercussions of the confirmed Austin cases. MAC’s varsity choirs was set to compete at three UIL events this morning, but the competition was cancelled at the last minute, and the MAC varsity baseball team had to pull out of the Leander ISD baseball tournament after two wins on the first day of play on Thursday.