Tag Archives: covid19

All posts relating to pandemic response and COVID-19

Stamp Out Hunger with NALC and AFL-CIO

The following is a message from our sisters and brothers at AFL-CIO and the National Association of Letter Carriers:

Sisters, Brothers & Kin,

The need for food relief has never been greater and neither is our determination to help. Throughout this COVID-19 pandemic, the labor movement has stepped up to help union members and struggling families keep food on our tables. We’re doing what the labor movement does best: joining together in solidarity, lifting each other up and serving our communities.

The AFL-CIO is proud to partner again with the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) for the “Stamp Out Hunger” Food Drive campaign. Because of safety concerns, this year’s food drive was unable to happen as it usually does in May. This year’s campaign may be different because of the pandemic, but it is more important than ever.

NALC is asking members of the community to participate by donating food directly to food banks in their area.

Please go to nalc.org/food, select your state and find the food banks in your area.

In Solidarity,
Team AFL-CIO

Below are some central Texas food banks:

Central Texas Food Bank
6500 Metropolis Dr
Austin, TX 78744
http://centraltexasfoodbank.org/stampout

Round Rock Area Serving Center
1099 E Main St
Round Rock , TX 78664
https://www.rrasc.org/donate/

Bastrop County Emergency FP
806 Fayette St
Bastrop, TX 78602
https://www.bastropfoodpantry.org/donate/

Caldwell County Food Pantry
901 Bois D’Arc
Lockhart, TX 78644
https://www.caldwellfoodpantry.com/donate

The Caring Center
2000 Railroad Ave
Georgetown, TX 78626
https://www.caringplacetx.org/how-to-help/give/donate-online.html

Fredericksburg Food Pantry
701 Mustang
Fredericksburg, TX 78624
http://fbgfoodpantry.com

The Helping Center
1315 Broadway
Marble Falls, TX 78654
https://www.helpingcenter.org/#give

Lacare
507 W Bachanan Dr
Burnet, TX 78611
https://austincf.fcsuite.com/erp/donate/create?funit_id=2244

San Antonio Food Bank
5200 Enrique Barrerra Parkway
San Antonio, TX 78227
https://safoodbank.org/donate

Soundgirls of Austin and IATSE Local 205 to Mayor Adler

The City of Austin has taken measures during this unprecedented time to provide relief for both musicians and music venues via the Music Disaster Relief Fund. Sadly, this fund offers no support for the hardworking venue technicians whose behind-the-scenes efforts make live music events possible. Please sign this petition to let City Council know that production technicians such as lighting designers, sound engineers, and stage managers need to be included when it comes to aiding the Austin music scene and providing hope through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Sign the online petition.

Sample Letter:

To: Mayor Steve Adler
From: You

We recognize that protecting Austin’s musicians and music venues is extremely important. However, if the goal is to protect Austin’s music industry, one key element has been left out of Austin’s Music Disaster Relief Fund; live event technicians.

Whether an event is large or small, musicians cannot be seen or heard without the involvement and expertise of stage technicians. Production staff, including sound engineers, lighting designers, video engineers, and others, are integral to the success of live music performances. In fact, the quality of production can have a direct impact on the income a venue generates.

Production staff are often freelance and just as financially unstable as musicians. Like musicians and music venues, technicians are also in need of assistance to survive the health and economic crisis caused by COVID-19. Most affected are technicians who have been misclassified as contract labor causing their unemployment claims to be denied, delayed, or significantly reduced.

We realize these are extremely difficult times for everyone. However, in formulating help for performance-based arts, we ask that assistance is not limited to performers and venues only. Although professionally stage technicians strive to be invisible, we do not wish to be invisible within our community.

Please expand the Austin Music Disaster Relief Fund to include production staff who live in the Greater Austin Area and regularly work in local venues, and contribute to Austin being recognized as the Live Music Capital of the World.

City of Austin adds new Key Indicators COVID-19 dashboard

Austin Public Health released a dashboard that illustrates the key indicators for moving between risk stages and is now live at AustinTexas.gov/COVID19.

  • Stage 1 (Green): Zero (0) new COVID-19 hospital admissions in a 7-day period
  • Stage 2 (Blue): Average of less than 5 new COVID-19 hospital admissions in the MSA in 7-day period
  • Stage 3 (Yellow): Average of 5-19 new COVID-19 hospital admissions in the MSA in a 7-day period
  • Stage 4 (Light Orange): Average of 20-70 new COVID-19 hospital admissions in the MSA in a 7-day period
  • Stage 5 (Red): Average of 70 or more new COVID-19 hospital admissions in the MSA in a 7-day period 

The risk stages system created by Austin Public Health (APH) illustrates the regression and progress of several factors, including disease, healthcare, and public health on a seven day moving average. These key indicators will inform recommendations on the tightening or loosening of restrictions on physical distancing, mass gatherings, business operations, and other safety measures in the months ahead.
 
Austin-Travis County is currently in Level 3 – the yellow risk category. At this level, APH recommends individuals at high risk for serious illness shelter-in-place and telecommute or be reassigned to non-public facing roles. Individuals at lower risk for serious infections should minimize their interactions with individuals outside of their household.   
 
At all times and levels, APH continues to urge the community to continue: 

  • Practice social distancing 
  • Wear fabric face coverings in public 
  • Cover coughs and sneezes 
  • Wash hands often 
  • Avoid touching your face 
  • Clean commonly touched surfaces
Gov Abbot Announces Phase 2

Texas enters Phase-2 Re-opening, for better or worse.

Yesterday, on May 18th Gov. Abbott issued the Executive Order moving Texas into Phase 2 of the staggered re-opening. Phase 1 re-opening had occurred almost precisely 3 weeks prior. The primary arguments used in favor of doing so revolve around restoring jobs, hospitalization rates remaining somewhat steady, and percentage positive confirmed tests. They provided state-wide numbers for the last two points.

That last one can be misleading though, as state testing volume overall has continued to increase, a decline in the positive “ratio” is definitely going to occur, even if daily positive tests are actually increasing! Daily positive rates would have to OUTPACE any increase in testing volume before this “ratio” metric would trend any direction but down, and no testing volume per day data was provided as part of the governor’s chart seen below.

Cases as a ratio of total daily tests to positive daily tests.

The validity of this metric and trend is highly dependent upon how many tests are being administered per day and the health status of people seeking those tests. Being that testing is not yet widespread, free, or public in Texas, it is hard to make an argument that those tested equates to a representative sample of the population yet.

Also worth noting is that on May 12th, the state disaster declaration was extended for all Texas counties.

Some noteworthy local exceptions were illuminated in the Phase 2 plans, including the Amarillo area, whom are experiencing a surge in cases, a hot-spot likely originating from the struggling meat processing plants

Notably this includes scheduled re-open dates between May 18th and May 31st, and additional language for things like:

  • Bars
  • Restaurants (further capacity)
  • Massages
  • Tattoo Parlors
  • Gyms
  • Sporting Clubs
  • Youth Clubs
  • Childcare Facilities
  • Youth Camps
  • Youth Sports
  • Professional Sports (without spectators)

It remains a unclear how local counties and municipalities are going to be allowed to handle their own case surges, if and when an additional waves of COVID-19 cases mount up. So far, the State has been adamant about how the order at the state level over-rules any local ordinance or orders, and Austin has been actively adjusting it’s guidance to comply with state rules.

Deadlines, Claims, and COBRA from the IATSE-NBF

The following is from an email notice via the IATSE National Benefits Fund Office.

Important Information Regarding Extensions of Deadlines Related to Benefit Claims and Appeals, Special Enrollment and COBRA

Due to the various challenges that individuals are facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S Department of Labor (DOL) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) jointly issued rules that extend certain deadlines for individuals who participate in employee benefit plans. These rules apply to the IATSE National Benefit Funds. 

In accordance with the DOL/IRS rules, the “outbreak period” will not be counted when the Funds (or their claims administrators and benefit providers) calculate certain deadlines. The “outbreak period” is defined as the period from March 1, 2020 until 60 days after the COVID-19 National Emergency ends as determined by the federal government (or such other date as the DOL/IRS announce, which may be specific to different states or geographic regions).

The following deadlines are extended by the rules:  

  1. The Funds’ deadlines for filing a benefit claim or an appeal of a denied claim (or other adverse benefit determination), and the period for requesting an external review (or perfecting a request for external review) of a health benefit claim.
                                                         
  2. The 60-day period to request special enrollment in the Health & Welfare Fund after acquiring a new dependent due to birth, marriage, adoption or placement for adoption, or after losing other health coverage (or becoming eligible for health coverage assistance under Medicaid or CHIP). 
  3. The 60-day COBRA election period and the 60-day period for notifying the Health Fund of a COBRA qualifying event or Social Security disability determination.
  4. The 45-day and 30-day deadlines for paying initial and monthly COBRA premiums.

For example, if the National Emergency ends on June 29, then the outbreak period would end on August 28 (60 days later), and the period from March 1 through August 28 would not count toward any of the above periods that would ordinarily expire between March 1 and August 28. Those periods would re-start on August 29, with the remaining days left in the applicable period. Please refer to the Summary Plan Descriptions and the Funds’ website for additional details regarding the various plan deadlines, and email  if you have any questions regarding how these rules may apply to you. Please note that only the four deadlines listed above are extended. Any other deadlines under the Plans (such as the due date for making any required CAPP payments) remain in place.

Please also note that, in conjunction with the above relief, the DOL stated that it recognizes that employee benefit plans (like the Funds) also face challenges and disruptions that make it difficult to communicate with participants by the usual methods and in as timely a manner during the outbreak period. In addition, the DOL/IRS rules specifically provide for the outbreak period to be disregarded in calculating the deadline for the Fund Office to provide COBRA election notices to qualified beneficiaries

Austin Rental Assistance, Apply May 4th-6th

Neighborhood Housing Department Issues $1.2M in Rental Assistance to Be Administered by Austin Housing Authority
Fri, 05/01/2020 – 09:56

Applicants must apply 9:00 a.m. May 4th through 11:59 p.m. May 6th

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 www.atxrenthelp.org starting May 4th at 9:00 a.m. and ending at 11:59 p.m. on May 6th.  More information is available www.atxrenthelpinfo.org.
 
“Funding for this emergency rental assistance is being accessed from the City’s local funds.  In this time of pandemic and economic uncertainty, Austin families need the security of safe and stable housing,” said Rosie Truelove, Director of NHCD. 
 
“While we recognize that $1.2 million can only go so far, we are committed to our ongoing efforts to identify and access additional help for these families as soon as we possibly can. Providing this rental assistance is something we can do right now,” Truelove said.
 
HACA will manage the intake and processing of applications, determine applicant eligibility, and—upon approval—direct payments to landlords to help cover tenants’ rent obligations. 
 
“The RENT Program is expected to help more than 1,000 families in our community stay in their homes during this difficult time,” said Michael Gerber, CEO of the Housing Authority of the City of Austin.  “We applaud the Mayor and City Council providing critical funds for this emergency rental assistance program.  While the needs in our community will likely far exceed the rent help available, HACA is committed to moving funds quickly to help as many Austin families as possible.”
 
Applicants not selected in the lottery will receive written notification from HACA, with a list of additional potential alternative resources.  Should additional funding become available, all eligible Austin renters would be able to apply for subsequent lotteries or programs to ensure the broadest distribution of rental assistance possible. 
 
Eligibility for Rental Assistance
 
Eligibility is limited to City of Austin households that are at or below 80 percent of the Median Family Income (see table below) who can document both a financial impact by COVID-19 and need of rent relief (e.g., paystubs, unemployment notice, notice of rent due, etc.).  Applicants must also demonstrate that they are party to an existing lease agreement and are not recipients of other rental assistance programs. 

 
Amount of Assistance Available

The amount of rental assistance will be determined either by the number of bedrooms in the apartment OR the actual  monthly rent amount (per the current lease), whichever is LOWEST minus the 30 percent of the household’s gross monthly income (see table below).
  

 City of Austin Mayor Steve Adler praised the collaborative nature of the program.
 
“With so many out of work, the cries for rent relief are loud and they are being heard.  Thank you to the Housing Authority and the Austin Apartment Association for helping to rapidly deploy the RENT relief program for those in greatest need.  This is our community coming together to get crucial work done,” said Adler.
 
Adler’s remarks were echoed by Austin Council Member for District 4 and Chair of the City of Austin Housing and Planning Committee Greg Casar. 
 
“Addressing the crisis is a community issue.  No one should lose their home because of the COVID crisis,” said Casar.  “The City is here to help with the RENT program to provide Austinites the support they need paying May rent. For us to protect everyone’s housing stability, we also need landlords in the community to look for ways to offer additional relief through decreased rents and relaxed rules.”
 
Similar agreement was expressed by Austin Apartment Association Executive Vice President Emily Blair. 
 
“Austin Apartment Association member staffs are working closely with families in their communities to help connect people with resources and meet immediate needs, so we know many people who need these funds,” said Austin Apartment Association Executive Vice President Emily Blair.
 
“Our property managers will be eager to share this rental assistance source with their residents in need. On behalf of the hundreds of thousands of residents in our communities, we thank the City of Austin for helping Austin renters remain safe in their homes and helping keep the City’s housing supply stable,” Blair said.
 
For more information about the RENT program, call or text the HACA RENT Call Center phone number at (512) 400-4275.  Visit www.atxrenthelpinfo.org or www.austintexas.gov/RENT for more information.

Volunteer Opportunities

The following is from a communication from the office of Texas Congressman Lloyd Doggett:

So many of our neighbors have sought ways to help others as we work together to reach the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic. Being a light for others is certainly a meaningful way to get through these difficult times. Understanding the challenges facing the many with lost jobs or weakened businesses, I include below some ways you can help that do not require contributing money.

Working with so many nonprofits, myself, I know a number, which continue doing so much good, have been forced to cancel fundraising events and suffer reduced donations.  For those still fortunate enough to be able to offer financial support, I have collected some seeking your help here

Food Banks
You have seen the lines of cars waiting for help. With so much demand, more volunteers are needed.

Central Texas Food Bank
Central Texas Food Bank is seeking volunteers. Visit the website here. Volunteer shifts have been adjusted to include fewer people and maximize social distancing and have even implemented a touch-free volunteer check-in system. Additional precautionary hygiene measures are in place to maintain the health and wellness of volunteer workforce as well as those that receive our food. Learn more about their safety measures here.

Hays County Food Bank
Hays County Food Bank has opportunities for people with cars. In order to determine if you can volunteer, you must first answer a few screening questions. Learn more here

Senior Access and Drive a Senior Central Texas
Both programs seek volunteers for their Senior Buddy programs, in an effort to get essential goods and services to senior citizens who are at greater risk from the virus. Senior Access can be reached at its website here. Drive a Senior can be reached at its website here

Aspire to Age
Aspire to Age is in need of volunteers for 20-minute virtual phone check-ins with seniors. Their volunteer form can be found here. You can learn more about Aspire to Age and their services by visiting their website here.

We Are Blood
A blood donation group with ongoing donor centers.

  • The North Lamar Location is located at 4300 N. Lamar Blvd, Austin.
  • The Round Rock Location is located at 2132 N. Mays, Suite 900.
  • The South Austin Location is located at 3100 W. Slaughter Lane.

They can all be reached at (512) 206-1266.

Additionally, they are collecting convalescent plasma donations from fully recovered COVID-19 individuals. This plasma is being used to treat patients currently fighting COVID-19. If you are a fully recovered COVID-19 patient and want to be considered as a convalescent plasma donor, learn more here.

Face Shield Project
This Austin based volunteer organization is building improvised face shields by the thousands in partnership with the City of Austin, UT Dell Medical School and local companies. They provide all the tools, materials, training and a safe, physically distanced and hygienically supervised production space. Learn more about how to volunteer here.

Translators without Borders
If you are fluent in at least one language other than your native language and would like to translate medical texts or translate for crisis response, complete the Translator Application Form here.

Generation Serve 
They have put a list of kid-simple activities for volunteering at home. See more here.

  1. Make birthday cards for Pop-Up Birthday for children and teens in foster care – The cards can be simple or embellished. Write a small message inside and when you’re finished, mail them to Pop-Up Birthday at 101 Westlake Dr. Ste. 210, Austin, TX 78746.
  2. Marbridge Foundation offers safe residential care for adults with cognitive disabilities. The residents typically have very active day-to-day lives and frequent visitors, but they have had to shelter in place without visitors recently. Please write up-lifting cards, filled with jokes and pictures, and send them to the residents of Marbridge, c/o Becca McPherson, PO Box 2250, Manchaca, TX 78652. 

Nextdoor
To help one’s nearby neighbors, an app I have seen recommended is Nextdoor. It has added a feature to help people coordinate offers of help. The Help Map, lets people say where they are and whether they need or can offer help, such as picking up groceries or taking a dog for a walk for an elderly neighbor. Sign up, address verification for Nextdoor’s community security. You can learn more here.

Let me know if you see a local resource missing about which I should be aware.  Also, I continue to update my website coronavirus page website with helpful links, which you can view here.

We will get to the other side of this crisis, together.

Sincerely, 
Lloyd Doggett

Action: Top Priorities for Entertainment Workers in Subsequent COVID-19 Legislation

Letter writing campaign, contact your representatives now. Personalize your letter for better effect. The following goals are from the IATSE C.A.R.E.S. announcement.

Congress has begun to pursue additional federal legislation in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The entertainment industry will continue to be disproportionately impacted by this health crisis and we need to ensure that that subsequent COVID-19 legislation puts workers first. We must act now and urge our representatives to include the following priorities in any subsequent legislation:

· Make sure workers in all states have access to COVID-19 relief by demanding that states ramp up and improve their unemployment claim processing.

· Preserve workers’ healthcare and ensure that no-one loses their benefits by passing a 100 percent COBRA premium subsidy to keep families insured on their job-based healthcare plan and extend eligibility to 36 months.

· Extend the “CARES” Act’s unemployment insurance provisions for as long as the health crisis persists.

· Allow all nonprofits fair access to the government economic support in the Paycheck Protection Program – including labor unions, the staffs of which are providing vital assistance to members around the clock and face the same hardships that small businesses face.

· Protect the healthy pension plans and earned pension checks of entertainment workers by allowing multiemployer plans to implement policies that safeguarded pensions after the Great Recession, such as freezing zone status, smoothing investment losses, and doing no harm to healthy pension plans.

· Update the Qualified Performing Artist tax deduction, allowing creative professionals to keep more of our hard-earned money by deducting necessary business expenses from their taxes, now due in July.

· Provide direct economic support for organizations in the arts, entertainment, and media industries with appropriate workforce restoration requirements to get people back to work when it is safe to do so.

· And finally, we must protect entertainment workers still performing essential work in news media and converting facilities into temporary field hospitals by requiring the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard.

Start writing your letter.

COVID-19 Public Testing in Austin!

Brothers and Sisters, 

Austin Public Health has launched an online Enrollment Form for COVID-19 testing. The new public testing form will allow people to take an assessment to determine eligibility and schedule testing without a referral from a healthcare provider. The enrollment form is available at AustinTexas.gov/COVID19.  

To access the form, click on the “Take Self-Assessment” button to create an account and complete a questionnaire listing your symptoms. If you meet the criteria you will be referred to testing. Completion of the online assessment will not guarantee referral to testing. Austin Public Health will continue to prioritize healthcare workers, first responders and people at higher risk for developing severe symptoms. Testing continues to be by appointment-only and tests at the APH testing sites are FREE. At first, the enrollment form will be available in English and Spanish with additional languages coming later.

How the Online Form Works:

  • Individuals must create an account at AustinTexas.gov/COVID19.
  • The form asks several questions to determine the patient’s eligibility for a test. A person can fill out the form for someone who cannot do it themselves. This information is HIPAA-protected.
  • If an individual is approved for a test, the portal will allow them to schedule the location, date and time for their drive-through testing appointment. Patients will only be seen in a vehicle.
  • The patient will receive a confirmation via phone, email or text with a QR code and instructions for the testing site within the same day. They will need to present an ID or the confirmation at testing.
  • If the patient does not meet testing criteria, they will be able to complete the form at any time to try again (e.g. if their symptoms change the following days).
  • Results will be available online in 3-4 days.

Those Who Have Difficulty Accessing or Completing the Form:

  • Have another trusted person fill out the form.
  • Those who do not have computer or internet access can call the nursing hotline at 512-972-5560 for assistance.

Those Who Don’t Have Transportation:

  • The public testing sites are set up for drive-through only. People without access to personal transportation should contact the nursing hotline at 512-972-5560 for assistance.

Additional Resources for Testing from Community Partners:

  • CommUnityCare has additional testing resources in eastern Travis County. You can call their hotline at 512-978-8775.

Please share with others. All flyers and information to share in Spanish are attached. Thank you for your support and cooperation.  

-Austin Public Health 

Rachel Magee, 
President.