Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt led the virtual commissioner’s court meeting Tuesday. Since only one other commissioner was physically present and at least six feet away from her and the rest participated online, she removed her homemade mask.▲
Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt says she's preparing a new shelter-in-place order that would extend the mandate for all residents to remain in their homes unless performing essential activities.
The original order, signed by Eckhardt, Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell, was announced March 24 and expires April 13.
Eckhardt expects the new order, based on updated information, to be active next week and include safety standards for essential businesses.
The new order, she told commissioners on Tuesday, will take into account Gov. Greg Abbott's order as well as latest University of Texas coronavirus model projections and other public health information. It's unclear when the new order will expire.
Eckhardt said that, according to UT forecasts, if city and county residents maintain a 50% reduction in activity, then a peak in cases will likely be seen in May. If a reduction of 75% in activity is achieved, then it would push back a peak until about June but the number of cases would be fewer.
Hospitalizations would be about 80,000, according to the UT model, if a 50% reduction is maintained. They would drop to about 17,000 hospitalizations if activity goes down 75%. A 90% reduction in activity would mean about 542 hospitalizations.
"We're looking at the difference between thousands of deaths and hundreds of deaths," Eckhardt said. "I know social distancing is painful and working from home can be problematic and impossible for some, but for a relatively small amount of effort we can reduce the number of hospitalizations and deaths."
In an update to commissioners, Dr. Mark Escott, Austin-Travis County interim health authority, said that hospitals in Travis County are currently at 50% capacity, which he said was encouraging news.
Austin public health officials are investigating a cluster of eight potential COVID-19 cases detected in Travis County, and the health authority expects to unveil this week an online portal that would offer a more direct way of testing that would remove the "potential barrier of going through a doctor or telehealth."
"I think the next two weeks in particular are going to be very telling as far as the impact of our policy-making, as well as social distancing and community engagement in that process," he said.
Escott said that the health authority, along with community partners, have formed a separate think tank to explore how to open businesses up in the future in a safe and moderated way to avoid a large spike later.
"There are still a lot of unknowns about this because we've only known about this virus for a few months," he said. "What we're seeing across the globe is different versions of trying things out."