Austin Top News – April 22, 2020

pennybacker bridge

Photo by Roschetzky Photography

Governor Greg Abbott has not given new information yet about his plan to reopen the state economy. He says the numbers are beginning to show that progress is being made when it comes to controlling the coronavirus outbreak. Deaths and positive tests continue to trend down.  Abbott says he will issue a new executive order in the coming days detailing when businesses can open on a limited curbside basis. A recent U.T. study estimates the peak for Texas may be a week and 1/2 away. 

Williamson County leaders say they’re working to stay in line with Governor Abbott’s upcoming order that will begin allowing businesses to reopen. County Treasurer Scott Heselmeyer says they recently surveyed various chambers of commerce to get a feeling for where they stand.

“We’re starting to get really good information on that, and that will help us as we start moving forward into getting more open,” says Heselmeyer.

The plan is to have businesses post a list of required steps that customers have to take to maintain safety. For now, if a company can continue to operate from home once the green light is given to reopen, he’s recommending they continue to do so. 

Now that the payroll protection programs have been replenished by Congress, small business owners are hoping to not be left out this time. The most current survey from the National Federation of Independent Business shows that just 20% of their members who submitted applications for the payroll protection program actually received funding. 

“80% of the people that have applied have not received the money and either been turned away or they don’t know where their application is in the process,” says Any Spillman, the Texas director of the N.F.I.B. 

She says the deck has been stacked against smaller businesses in the program’s first round of funding. While they applied right away, they were put at the back of the line. 

4,000 people have filed for jobless claims in the five-county Austin region. Tamara Atkinson with Workforce Solutions says the area saw 59 consecutive months of unemployment rates of 3% or less, leading up to the COVID-19 crisis.

“By comparison in February we had a 2.6% unemployment rate, in March it’s 3.5%,” says Atkinson.

As people search for work, Governor Abbott says there are nearly 500,000 jobs that need to be filled across the state right now. 

Travis County’s COVID-19 numbers continue to grow, both in terms of new cases and people who have fully recovered. Interim health authority Dr. Mark Escott says watching these recovery numbers climb is providing a real glimmer of hope that we may be nearing the peak. 

“We have many more individuals who are now in the time frame for recovery. We certainly hope to add more substantial numbers to that this week,” says Escott.

There are 1,233 cases of coronavirus as of this morning, 331 of which have now recovered. 79 people are hospitalized and 27 have died.

The number of people who have recovered from COVID-19 in Williamson County is steadily beginning to outpace the number of total cases. 101 of the 158 cases there are now classified as recoveries. Williamson County shows only 33 people have ever needed inpatient care. Five people have died.

The Austin and Round Rock housing market is hitting a rocky period because of coronavirus. Austin Board of Realtors President Romeo Manzanilla says he foresees a more balanced market following the shutdown.

“What we’re gonna see is that sellers are coming on the market at market value and a lot of those homes are gonna sell at market value and not be artificially driven up by all the competition.”

Manzini says the March metro area median home price grew by 11%. They’re still collecting data from this month, where he’s seen 1/3 of homes taken off the market by sellers.

HEB store hours will be expanding beginning next week. Stores have had to operate on modified schedules to slow the coronavirus spread and to allow seniors and at-risk people to shop at separate times. Starting Monday, all stores will operate from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m.

This news and more on News Radio KLBJ:

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