City of Austin Scales Back on Some Public Services During COVID-19 Outbreak

Essential services including public safety, utilities continue

While the city is scaling back some operations, there are no announced changes to essential city services including trash, recycling, and compost pickup; public safety, Austin Water service; Austin Energy service; and transportation services. (photo by John Anderson)

City of Austin officials announced Sunday, March 15, that all public library branches, golf courses, athletic programs, recreation and cultural centers, and the Austin Animal Center will be closed to the public March 16-30.

All non-essential Municipal Court dockets within that date range will also be rescheduled. Critical city services, like trash pickup, public safety, utilities, and transportation services, will continue.

The announcement comes hours after three more cases of coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, were “presumed positive” in Austin. The cases are “presumed” to be positive, because only a Centers for Disease Control lab can actually confirm coronavirus tests; the two tests announced today were performed by state labs.

In a press release announcing the city closures, Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott reminded Austinites not to panic. “We continue to urge the public to remain calm, to be responsible, and to prepare appropriately,” Escott said. “Our personal hygiene and social distancing messages are still the critical piece to stopping the spread of this virus.”

City employees who are able will also begin “transitioning to teleworking schedules” throughout the coming week, per the release. For employees who cannot work remotely, department directors are evaluating additional safety measures, such as increasing the physical work space among workers and “modifying operations,” although it is unclear what that means at this point. “Our approach strives to create internal equity among City employees while balancing the need to continue or modify City services,” the release reads.

The city’s vast array of boards and commission meetings will also come to a halt. “Many boards and commissions meetings this week will be rescheduled or cancelled,” according to the release. The Chronicle asked which meetings would be canceled (not every board or commission meets next week), but did not hear back from city officials before publication of this post.

Land-use commissions, which inherently require more personable contact than others in the form of rallying neighbors in support or opposition to a particular case on the agenda item, will be especially impacted by the social distancing measures health experts warn are needed to slow the spread of coronavirus in communities where outbreak has not already occurred. The city did not say if pending or scheduled land-use cases would be rescheduled in the near future.

The city has also set up a new webpage where information on the current number of coronavirus cases will be tracked.

In an emergency order that will become effective Monday, March 16, Travis County’s Court Administration announced that all in-person, non-emergency hearings for cases in civil and family courts would be suspended until April 13. It “effectively includes all jury trials, all non-jury trials, and all non-essential hearings,” per the order, but not juvenile court matters.

Lawyers and litigants are asked to “exercise their best judgement” to determine if a hearing they have scheduled within the next four weeks is an emergency. If they believe it is, they are required to contact the Court Administrator and wait for a response before visiting the courthouse in person.

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