AUSTIN (KXAN) — Mayor Steve Adler expressed unease Wednesday that continuing construction projects in the city could especially put people living in east Austin at greater risk of contracting COVID-19.
“I am concerned about the impact that this could have on the east side of our city in part because so many of the people that are doing construction in our city live on the east side of town,” Adler said. “Now that construction is moving forward by the governor’s order, if the construction sites don’t properly mitigate or protect those workers, it could easily be that we develop multiple clusters coming off the construction activity that could be downtown, but then we see in people on the east side of town.”
Those comments came Wednesday morning during a 45-minute digital live stream on KXAN Live with anchors Sally Hernandez and Will DuPree.
During that conversation, he also shared that the City of Austin will start releasing demographic information about local COVID-19 patients as early as Wednesday. He said doing so publicly could help identify trends happening in the community. As of Wednesday afternoon, Travis County has 554 COVID-19 cases and seven people have died from the disease.
“As we get more tests, we’re going to be checking more and more people, so we would expect the positive number to go up,” the mayor said. “The real number we’re going to start tracking here and looking at and using in our models is hospitalizations. We’re going to start looking at that number every day because the hospitalization number is independent of the number of people that we test. It’s a good way for us to track the virus, so we’ll be getting that information out as well.”
Hernandez asked the mayor about the possibility of Austin doing something similar to the City of Hutto, which recently laid off 48 city workers because of COVID-19. Adler explained that Austin is not planning any layoffs or furloughs of city employees at this point. However, the city is currently not filling any job openings right now, while city leaders work on the budget and discuss potential cuts to spending or programs.
“The city manager has implemented a hiring freeze in the city,” Adler said. “We have a little over 550 jobs in the city right now that we’re actively recruiting for. We’re going to not hire for any of those positions as a general rule.”
He also stated that the City of Austin is expecting to receive somewhere between $150 million and $160 million in COVID-19 relief funding from the federal government. However, he said it’s still unclear how the city will be allowed to spend that money.
Adler explained that the city is closing all parks, trails, greenbelts and preserves starting Thursday for the Easter weekend because city leaders worried about too many people gathering in those public spaces and putting themselves more at risk.
“We’re going to be longing for that, especially this weekend, because we’ve all been inside so much, but it’s real important that we not do that,” Adler said. “For that reason, we’re putting a special emphasis on making sure people don’t aggregate and gather we’re going to close the trails and the parks.”
KXAN also asked Adler if he has been tested for COVID-19. He said he had not because he didn’t meet the protocols. He added that testing is not available for everyone in the community. Instead, he said it’s focused on first responders, health care workers, people with symptoms or someone had a known contact with a positive patient.
“At this point we’re prioritizing where our tests go,” Adler said. “I would very much like for us to open that up, but we’re not there quite yet.”
Adler concluded the live stream by asking people to only leave their homes if it’s critical. If they do, he advised them to maintain a six-foot physical distance from others and to wear a cloth face covering, especially during trips to the grocery store.
“We have clerks in these stores that are the economic first responders. They’re out with the public,” the mayor said. “The least we can do for those folks is to wear face coverings in stores. Putting on a face covering doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay attention to the six feet [distance]. You absolutely do. Putting on a face covering doesn’t protect you from getting the virus. What it does is it protects you infecting others because it blocks if you sneeze or something like that.”
He added, “If we all wear masks or face coverings in the grocery store, we do a better job of protecting the people who work there. Frankly, if everybody in the grocery store would wear face coverings, then each one of us would get added protection, too.”