AUSTIN (KXAN) — As the omicron variant continues to spread rapidly across Central Texas, health leaders are directing businesses to help them flatten the curve. There are 579 people in Austin-area hospitals right now with COVID-19, as of the latest numbers.
Dr. Desmar Walkes, the Austin-Travis County health authority, said they’re seeing roughly 20% of people who show up to the hospital with COVID-19 end up in the ICU.
“This is a little different from other surges in that it’s evolving and unfolding more rapidly but we’re still seeing the need for ICU beds,” Walkes said. “If you look at the setting now, we have less ICU bed capacity because we have less staff so this is a much different situation because of our staffing challenges.”
Austin-Travis County leaders announced new orders aimed at businesses as case numbers and hospitalizations from COVID-19 continue to rise in Central Texas. The orders could draw legal action from the state.
The only enforceable requirement set forward by the orders, which are called the “protecting customers and employees and preserving adequate workforce capacity orders,” is businesses will have to post COVID-19 signage.
Businesses that do not comply with the orders could face a $1,000 fine every day the order is not followed. The order said police officers, the Austin Code Department and the Austin Fire Marshal have the authority to enforce the new rules.
The orders, signed by Austin Mayor Steve Adler, will also give businesses more authority to require people to follow COVID-19 precautions set by the business, which could include requiring employees to be vaccinated and boosted.
Meanwhile, Nan Tolson, a spokesperson for Gov. Greg Abbott said, “This municipal order is preempted by Executive Orders GA-38, GA-39 and GA-40 — all of which remain in full effect. Any business would be within its legal rights to ignore this municipal order.”
Read more about what the orders require of businesses, and reactions from state and local officials under this story.
Staff shortages are leading to school closures across the state as omicron continues to drive case counts up.
Currently, the Texas Education Agency allows schools to offer remote learning for students who test positive or have a close contact for up to 20 days. There’s not a framework for virtual learning for when staff test positive, though.
It’s not much consolation for school districts that are having to ask staff members and volunteers to stand in as teachers because they’re so short staffed.
In an effort to keep classrooms open amid teacher sick calls during this COVID-19 surge, the Austin Independent School District is sweetening the deal for substitutes starting next week.
In an AISD Board of Trustees meeting Thursday, a plan to get more substitutes was laid out that includes reducing the amount of college credit hours required and increasing daily pay rates.
That’s a new call the Hays Consolidated Independent School District is also putting out too, directing principals on all campuses to start recruiting parents who may be able to help out.
The mass COVID-19 testing site at the Toney Burger Activity Center and Stadium will be closed for most of Saturday after it hit capacity early on Saturday morning.
A spokesperson for Nomi Health said the site experienced weather-related delays Saturday due to wind advisories in Central Texas.
Read more on the Burger Center closing early here.
It comes after four COVID-19 testing sites run by Austin Independent School District could not open Thursday because of “supply limits,” the district said.
The district said a third-party vendor it uses to run the testing is affected by national supply chain shortages. AISD is working with Quest Diagnostics to get more testing supplies.
Meanwhile, Austin Public Health is working to expand COVID-19 testing capacity as the demand for free testing explodes parallel to the rapid spread of the omicron variant.
If you need a COVID-19 test, find some options on KXAN’s running list here.