Subject: Keeping Our Community Safe

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Dear Neighbors,

Many of you have now spent more than 5 weeks hunkered down in your homes. I understand how hard this has been. Some among us have battled illness, lost loved ones, and faced significant economic hardships and separations. Know that as a community, we are in this together.

I remain confident that there are many things we can do to keep our community safe. The City’s Stay-At-Home Order remains in place. This is true even after the governor’s recent actions.

To save lives, we need you to continue to follow proper hygiene precautions and stay home, if you can
. This means you should minimize in-person contact with people who are not in the same household by practicing social distancing and avoiding social gatherings. If you must leave home, please do so only to conduct essential activity or to access or provide services at essential and permitted re-opened businesses. When you leave home, as recommended by our health professionals, wear a face covering to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. If you do operate an open business, please follow all recommended safety precautions to safeguard your employees and customers, including guidance issued yesterday by the city.

I would like to remind you that in Austin it remains mandatory to wear a face covering. To date we have relied on voluntary enforcement and education and achieved a high level of compliance. That will continue to be the city’s approach and I know that each of you will choose to contribute to our city’s safety. We must recognize that not everyone can stay home and face coverings are one way that we protect these workers.

This week Council received a presentation from District 10 constituent and University of Texas at Austin professor Dr. Lauren Ancel Meyers. Dr. Meyers shared new COVID-19 modeling under different reopening scenarios. Though these models are projections and not guarantees, it is clear that our actions with respect to social distancing have a significant, direct impact on the spread of COVID-19. You can find more information about her presentation in my newsletter below, and I encourage you to share this information with your neighbors and loved ones.

In this newsletter, you will find information on a new rental assistance program through the City, how to register for free testing if you are sick, details about a new non-profit that is providing PPE to local businesses, and an opportunity to tell the City how it should allocate federal COVID-19 HUD funding and more. I also have highlighted several grant opportunities and some pandemic related literary contributions by District 10 constituents. If you need help finding specific resources, please contact my office at

Please continue to look out for one another and stay safe, stay home when you can.


Alison Alter
Council Member, District 10
Table of Contents
  • City Council Special Called Meeting on Re-Opening
  • Expanded COVID-19 Testing
  • Rent Assistance for Austinites Affected by COVID-19
  • Relief In a State of Emergency (RISE) Funding Now Available
  • New Texas Workforce Commission Guidance For Unemployment Claimants
  • Help Donate Masks Through the Austin Emergency Supply Foundation
  • CityView: COVID-19 Resources
  • Public Input on Federal CARES HUD Funding Allocation
  • New Greater Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce Donation Campaign
  • Austin Public Library Launches APL+
  • Facebook Grants for Small Businesses
  • H-E-B Extended Hours
  • ATX For ATX
  • Humanities Texas Grants Available
  • Urbānitūs New Series: "Renewal"
  • New Book Published By District 10 Constituent Lawrence Wright
City Council Special Called Meeting on Re-Opening

This week, Council met to discuss possible scenarios for re-opening. We received presentations from Dr. Mark Escott, Interim Medical Director and Health Authority for Austin/Travis County, and Dr. Lauren Ancel Meyers, Cooley Centennial Professor of Integrative Biology and Statistics & Data Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin, and Dr. Clay Johnston, Dean of Dell Medical School at UT-Austin.  

Dr. Mark Escott's presentation provided us with an update on the data behind Travis County's case count. Dr. Escott shared that around two-thirds of the COVID-related deaths in Travis County have been of people who lived in nursing facilities. He also shared data showing that about 44% of our hospitalizations are of Hispanic Austinites, though Hispanic residents only make up about 26% of our population. African-Americans patients make up about 10% of those hospitalized though they only make up 8% of Austin's population. From this data, we can see that vulnerable and minority populations are overrepresented in the COVID-19 case count.

Dr. Meyers shared with us models that project COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths through September 2021 under ​four different scenarios​. These models help illustrate how our choices might impact whether our hospitalization rates will exceed capacity and how long and how often we must observe a lockdown.

The first two models (shown below) depict COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths in the Austin-Round Rock MSA from February 15 to September 2021 under two extreme scenarios. The top graph shows a scenario in which strict social distancing is maintained through September 2021, resulting in a 90% reduction in transmission, along with vigilant cocooning of vulnerable populations (95% effective), and school closures. The bottom graph shows a scenario in which social distancing is permanently relaxed on May 1, 2020. Thereafter, transmission is reduced by only 40% (rather than 95%) by other precautions, such as extensive testing, contact tracing and isolation. Schools open in mid-August 2020 as scheduled and 95% effective cocooning of vulnerable populations is maintained through September 2021. This comparison illustrates that we must remain vigilant and continue to take precautions or risk a second wave this summer that overwhelms the capacity of our hospital system.
The second set of graphs (shown below) depict COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths in the Austin-Round Rock MSA from February 15 to September 2021 under two optimized strategies for initiating and relaxing shelter-in-place (lockdown) orders. ​The top graph projects COVID-19 transmission under an adaptive lock-down strategy in which shelter-in-place orders are enacted when daily hospitalizations cross a specific threshold and relaxed when daily hospitalizations recede back below the threshold. This assumes 95% effective cocooning of vulnerable populations. The threshold used to trigger social distancing was optimized to minimize the days of lock-down while ensuring that hospital surges do not exceed capacity. The bottom graph shows an alternative scenario, in which cocooning of vulnerable populations is only 80% (rather than 95%) effective. You will notice that the amount of time we must stay on lockdown is a function of the level of effective measures we take to protect our vulnerable populations such as the elderly, assisted living residents, homeless, and the working poor.
In another UT Paper (not presented at council) Dr. Meyers and her colleagues illustrate how both the date of relaxation (now or waiting a few weeks) and how well we adopt precautions to reduce the spread of disease may impact the likelihood of a second pandemic wave as well as its length and severity.

All three of the presenters underscored the need to improve our capacity to test more of the population, to expand our contact tracing efforts, and identify and implement mechanisms and deploy resources to protect and reduce exposure by vulnerable populations (cocooning). It also was evident that here in Travis County we have benefited from significant and effective collaboration across our hospital network, the University of Texas and local government, as well as exemplary participation by the general public in adopting social distancing measures.   

You can watch the special called meeting hereincluding the presentations, answers to council questions, as well as council discussion.
Expanded COVID-19 Testing

The Austin Public Testing Enrollment Form that allows the community to complete an online assessment for COVID-19 testing is now live on Appointments are currently available.

The new tool allows the public to be screened for COVID-19 symptoms without having to see a physician. The form will use an algorithm-based assessment to evaluate whether or not an individual should be referred to a free testing site. Completion of the online assessment will not guarantee referral to a testing site. Austin Public Health (APH) will continue to prioritize health care workers and first responders on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as people at higher risk for developing severe symptoms. 

Additionally, the CDC expanded the list of possible symptoms for COVID-19 by six. Some of these symptoms are less severe in nature (for example: loss of taste/smell vs. fever), so we anticipate more people will be eligible for testing. Testing continues to be by appointment-only, and tests at the APH testing sites will be at no cost to the individual.

Rent Assistance for Austinites Affected by COVID-19

To help Austinites at risk of losing their rental housing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the City of Austin has put together a one-time Relief of Emergency Needs for Tenants (RENT) rent assistance program. The City of Austin Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department (NHCD) is providing $1.2 million in emergency rental assistance to Austinites affected by the COVID-19 outbreak to be administered through a contract with the Housing Authority of the City of Austin (HACA).

The Relief of Emergency Needs for Tenants (RENT) program will distribute one-time rental subsidies through a lottery system similar to HACA’s Housing Choice Voucher program. Residents must apply for the lottery through HACA’s RENT website at starting May 4th at 9:00 a.m. and ending at 11:59 p.m. on May 6th. More information is available

Relief In a State of Emergency (RISE) Funding Now Available

Austin Public Health (APH) has identified the first phase of social service agencies to receive funding through the Relief In a State of Emergency (RISE) fund to provide immediate services to those Austinites impacted by COVID-19.

The following agencies have demonstrated experience providing community-based services and financial assistance:
  • Catholic Charities of Central Texas: $1.6 million
    Call the phone number which corresponds to the first letter of your last name:
    •   A-D (512) 910-5768
    •   E-K (512) 910-5907
    •   L-R (512) 910-7076
    •   S-Z (512) 910-7170
  • El Buen Samaritano: $500,000
    •   512-439-8902
  • Austin Area Urban League: $500,000
    •   English: 512-838-3442
    •   Spanish: 512-900-1598
Please visit the City's RISE website to find eligibility requirements and other information.
New Texas Workforce Commission 
Guidance For Unemployment Claimants

The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) has issued new guidance to unemployment claimants concerning their eligibility for unemployment benefits should they choose not to return to work at this time due to COVID-19. Under this guidance, Texans can continue to receive unemployment benefits throughout the COVID-19 response if they choose not to return to work for certain reasons as specified by TWC.

Each unemployment insurance claim is currently evaluated on an individual basis. However, because of the COVID-19 emergency, the following are reasons benefits would be granted if the individual refused suitable work.

Reason for refusal:
  • At High Risk: People 65 years or older are at a higher risk for getting very sick from COVID-19.
  • Household member at high risk: People 65 years or older are at a higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19.
  • Diagnosed with COVID: The individual has tested positive for COVID-19 by a source authorized by the State of Texas and is not recovered.
  • Family member with COVID: Anybody in the household has tested positive for COVID-19 by a source authorized by the State of Texas and is not recovered and 14 days have not yet passed.
  • Quarantined: Individual is currently in 14-day quarantine due to close contact exposure to COVID-19.
  • Child care: Child’s school or daycare closed and no alternatives are available.
Any other situation will be subject to a case by case review by TWC based on individual circumstances.

Donate or Order Masks Through 
the Austin Emergency Supply Foundation

The Austin Emergency Supply Foundation (AESF) is a nonprofit foundation created by Austinites to help respond to the pandemic. Originally founded to serve hospitals, AESF has expanded its mission to help nursing homes, clinics, and any small businesses in Austin. The Yacktman Fund, Coon Family Foundation, and others have contributed approximately $3 million to purchase medical supplies for Austin

Using those generous donations, AESF has purchased 4.3 million surgical masks and has 2 million currently in Austin. They have donated 5,000 masks for free to APD and given 40,000 masks to Cap Metro to provide for free to public transportation customers. All materials are sold at-cost to those who need it. 

Learn more about this initiative, donate, and order PPE for your small business at
CityView: COVID-19 Resources

The City of Austin's Public Information Office is now releasing remotely-recorded CityView episodes, which share important new city updates and information. Recent episodes are focused on COVID-19 and include details on Council action, small business loans, enhanced protections for nursing homes, and more. Take a few minutes to watch the latest episode on YouTube or by clicking the photo below.
Public Input on Federal CARES HUD Funding Allocation

From Monday May 4 through Monday May 11, Austinites can provide input on how the City should spend an anticipated $7 million in federal funding from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provided through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. 

HUD funding from the CARES Act can support programs for affordable housing, homelessness assistance, community development, economic development, and public services through three federal formula grants: Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG), and Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA).

Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department (NHCD) created a Draft Housing and Urban Development Spending Plan that tells HUD how those funds will address housing, homelessness, community development, economic development, and public services. The Spending Plan will be available for review and public comment. 

 Austinites can submit comments in three ways:
  • Send written or typed comments via postal mail to:
    Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department
    Attn: City of Austin Housing and Urban Development Spending Plan
    P.O. Box 1088
    Austin, Texas 78767
  • Via email:
    Subject Heading: City of Austin Housing and Urban Development Spending Plan
For more information, go to the HUD funding website, or email

New Greater Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce Donation Campaign

#AsianEatsGives is the Greater Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce's donation campaign to pay for meals from local restaurants that will be donated to non-profits, healthcare providers, and people in need.

Donations will help blunt sales losses reported by restaurants due to COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders. Your generosity will help restaurants stay open, keep employees on the payroll and raise their morale by enabling them to help others. Your donation will also help many in our community to get a warm, delicious Asian meal. Recipients include families in a Hudson Bend trailer park, people in shelters, and people in hospitals.

Austin Public Library Launches APL+

The newest addition to Austin Public Library’s Virtual Collection, APL+, is now available at

APL+ provides Austin Public Library programming and information literacy in video shorts accessible via the internet. Content is searchable by target audience – Adult, Teen, or Child – and covers topics such as sing-a-longs, crafting, book talks, cooking, virtual library navigation, digital scavenger hunts, professional growth (resume building, job seeking, skill building) and digital literacy.

Facebook Grants for Small Businesses

Facebook announced a Small Business Grants Program to help businesses that have been heavily affected by COVID-19 crisis, beginning with a focus on regions where they have offices and data centers. This includes Austin, which will be receiving $2.5 million to help local small businesses. Facebook's grant program will provide cash grants and ad credits to help businesses maintain their workforce, manage rent costs, connect with more customers, and cover operational costs. 

To be eligible to apply, you must be located in or near Austin and should meet the following additional criteria:
  • You have between 2 and 50 employees 
  • You’ve been in business for at least one year 
  • Your business has experienced challenges from COVID-19 
Applications will be going live in the coming weeks. To learn more, access additional resources and sign up for updates, visit
H-E-B Extended Hours

H-E-B has expanded its temporary hours of operation at stores across Texas. Starting this week, H-E-B stores will open at 7 a.m. and close at 10 p.m. until further notice.

With an improving supply chain and stronger product availability, stores have the capacity to serve more customers throughout the day while providing the products they want. Along with the new hours, H-E-B continues to ease product limits on many items and customers will start to notice many popular departments reopen, such as the bakery, deli and floral departments.

Most H-E-B Pharmacies will continue to operate from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and observe their normal weekend hours. Learn more about H-E-B's effort here.


The City of Austin and Travis County launched a campaign called ATX for ATX to highlight Central Texans' efforts to connect, unite, support, and keep one another safe while the local health authority and community fight the spread of COVID-19. ATX For ATX serves as a crowdsourced database of a number of resources that are available to the community. Individuals may register to add an idea and visitors may search by different key words. The initiative will serve to help connect individuals and families in need with information and resources from both City departments and community organizations. 

You can join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram using #ATXforATX.
Humanities Texas Grants Available

Humanities Texas invites Texas cultural and educational institutions facing financial hardship resulting from the coronavirus pandemic to apply immediately for fast-track Relief Grants.

Nonprofit organizations and state and local governmental entities are eligible to apply. Applicants must administer humanities programs that have a significant impact in Texas communities. Small and rural organizations are especially encouraged to apply.

Humanities Texas will make immediate grants of up to $5,000 and, depending upon the availability of funds, will consider requests above this level to a maximum grant of $15,000. Applications will be accepted on an ongoing basis.

Visit to learn more and apply.

Urbānitūs New Series: "Renewal"

Conceived and launched in late 2019, Urbānitūs (Ur-bahn-ee-toos) is a new media platform focused on Austin as the center of a global revolution in civic, cultural and democratic innovation. 

District 10 constituent and friend David Judson leads Urbānitūs as its editor, and I invite you to check out the insights Urbānitūs offers into the interplay between the global and the local and the past and the present. 
The future of Austin’s water use, the history of gentrification, and the strengthening of local democracy are just a few topics explored thus far. Most recently and most urgently, Urbānitūs is exploring Austin beyond the COVID-19 global pandemic in an ongoing series called "Renewal".

Find the "Renewal" series online and join in what promises to be a thought provoking conversation about how Austin and other cities evolve and impact the broader world in which we live.

New Book Published By District 10 Constituent Lawrence Wright

District 10 constituent Lawrence Wright recently published The End of October, a powerful new novel about life in a pandemic that he began writing three years ago. Wright brings a compelling literary imagination to the realities of our current world. He began writing the book three years ago. 

Lawrence Wright is a staff writer for The New Yorker, a playwright, a screenwriter, a musician, and the author of ten books of nonfiction, including The Looming Tower, Going Clear, and God Save Texas, and one previous novel, God’s Favorite. His books have received many honors, including a Pulitzer Prize for The Looming Tower. He and his wife are longtime residents of Austin, Texas, where Lawrence plays in a local band, WhoDo. 

On this week's episode of This is Democracy, Jeremi Suri and Zachary Suri sit down with Lawrence Wright to discuss The End of October and its lessons for today. You can find This is Democracy episodes online or anywhere you get your podcasts.
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