President, governor declare states of emergency over coronavirus; LISD announces school closure
By Wesley Gardner
Editor’s note: this article will be updated as local government officials release more information
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster for all counties throughout the state as a result of the coronavirus at a noontime press conference on Friday.
President Donald Trump followed suit around 2:30 p.m., declaring a national emergency that will allow the federal government to be far more aggressive with its response to the outbreak.
During his address, the president highlighted a number of partnerships with the private sector that will significantly increase the availability for testing, including a website that will provide residents with a screening questionnaire that will facilitate testing when needed.
There are currently 77 confirmed cases of COVID-19 known across Texas and 3,737 cases confirmed in the U.S. as of Monday, according to data released Johns Hopkins University.
While there have still been no confirmed cases in Caldwell County, Austin and Travis County officials confirmed the first two “presumptive cases” of the virus in the area on Friday, marking the county’s closest encounter to virus yet. The cases are considered presumptive after testing positive by state officials. They are then sent to the Centers for Disease Control for final confirmation.
On Monday, Caldwell County Judge Hoppy Haden declared a local state of disaster, barring community gatherings of 250 people or more. Violation of the order is punishable as a Class C misdemeanor by a fine not to exceed $1,000 or 180 days in jail.
As a result, the Old Settler’s Music Festival, scheduled for April 16-19 just outside Lockhart, has been postponed. Event organizers plan on rescheduling the festival for the fall.
Lockhart ISD Superintendent Mark Estrada announced on Monday the district would be suspending normal school operations beyond spring break at least through April 3.
“At this time, we are unsure when normal operations will resume, and we encourage parents to begin thinking of long-term plans in the event we are closed for an extended period of time beyond April 3,” said Estrada. “There will be no instruction during this closure; however, we are working on plans for instruction should the closure extend beyond this date.”
Estrada noted that Grab & Go curbside pick-up meals during the weeks of March 23-27 and March 30 through April 3 will still be available. Each campus will have child nutrition staff waiting outside with a Grab & Go curbside pickup breakfast from 7:30-8:30 a.m.
Each campus will also have Grab & Go curbside hot lunch pickup from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Parents will need to drive up to the pickup site, and staff will hand them their meals through the car window. Residents who don’t drive and need to walk to pick up the meal will be allowed to walk to distribution sites to pick them up.
Estrada said the district will send maps for food pick up sites in an email later this week.
Estrada noted residents living in more rural areas will still have access to meals.
“If you are unable to pick up meals, curbside at your child’s campus, our school buses will be driving routes to drop off food between 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. during any school day we are closed,” said Estrada, noting additional information about bus routes and drop-off times would be released soon.
All Lockhart school district staff members will be paid during the time of the school closure, Estrada said. Nonexempt employees (hourly time clock employees) will be paid for their regular hours even though they are not required to be at work. If they are required to work, they will be paid additionally for the hours that they do work.
In addition, the University Interscholastic League (UIL) – which governs athletic, musical and academic contests for public primary and secondary schools in the state of Texas – suspended all sanctioned contests through March 29, postponing the high school soccer playoffs and one-act competition, among others.
City of Lockhart officials are reminding residents they have the option to pay bills online and at drop-off locations to limit face-to-face contact. The online payment option can be found at http://lockhart-tx.org/page/utility_home.
Two centrally located drop boxes are located at the front and back of City Hall — 308 W. San Antonio – and are checked twice a day. A drive-through location can be found at the Municipal Court Building, 1914 W. San Antonio St.
To mitigate risks associated with large crowds, Lockhart officials canceled all the spring break events scheduled at the Dr. Eugene Clark Library and has indefinitely postponed KIDFISH and Welcome Spring Day that was scheduled for March 21.
Local businesses throughout the area affected by the virus should be able to seek financial assistance soon following the expected passage of a Congressional virus response package.
President Trump said last week that his administration will provide a $50 billion relief package to small business owners affected by the coronavirus outbreak as part of federal officials attempt to dampen the economic impact of the pandemic.
Trump said he will direct the Small Business Administration to provide liquidity to states and small business owners through low-interest loans.
On Friday, Gov. Abbott said the state’s testing capacity for the virus was 272 per day but said that number should increase into thousands by next week.
Abbott also confirmed state officials opened a drive-through testing center in San Antonio, with ones to follow soon in Dallas, Houston and Austin. The drive-through testing center in San Antonio will only test first responders, health care workers, operators of critical infrastructure and certain high-risk patients.
During his address, Abbott told Texans there was no need to hoard or panic-buy supplies, though many stores in Lockhart have seen bare shelved.
To address the issue, HEB officials announced Saturday morning that stores throughout the state would be opening at 8 a.m. and closing at 8 p.m. to give overnight crews more time to restock important items associated with hindering the spread of the virus.
On Friday, HEB officials issued a press release stating the company was still in a strong position to restock shelves and encouraged customers to remain calm.
Wal-Mart stores throughout the country are taking similar measures, changing hours of operation nationwide to 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. to give staff members additional time to restock.
For more information about symptoms and strategies to minimize exposure, visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.