CDC offers guidance for Thanksgiving activities

Gatherings during the upcoming holidays can be an opportunity to reconnect with family and friends. This holiday season, consider how your holiday plans can be modified to reduce the spread of COVID-19 to keep your friends, families and communities healthy and safe. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention is offering ideas for alternative ways to participate in Thanksgiving this year and recommending that you avoid higher risk activities.

Lower risk activities

  • Having a small dinner with only people who live in your household
  • Preparing traditional family recipes for family and neighbors, especially those at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19, and delivering them in a way that doesn’t involve contact with others
  • Having a virtual dinner and sharing recipes with friends and family
  • Shopping online rather than in person on the day after Thanksgiving or the next Monday (don’t forget to Shop the Rock!)
  • Watching sports events, parades, and movies from home

Moderate risk activities

  • Having a small outdoor dinner with family and friends who live in your community
  • Visiting pumpkin patches or orchards where people use hand sanitizer before touching pumpkins or picking apples, wearing masks is encouraged or enforced, and people are able to maintain social distancing
  • Attending a small outdoor sports events with safety precautions in place

Higher risk activities

Avoid these higher risk activities to help prevent the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19:

  • Going shopping in crowded stores just before, on, or after Thanksgiving
  • Participating or being a spectator at a crowded race
  • Attending crowded parades
  • Attending large indoor gatherings with people from outside of your household
  • Using alcohol or drugs that may alter judgment and make it more difficult to practice COVID-19 safety measures.

Considerations for hosting or attending a gathering

  • Check the COVID-19 infection rates in areas where attendees live on state, local, territorial, or tribal health department websites. Based on the current status of the pandemic, consider if it is safe to hold or attend the gathering on the proposed date.
  • Limit the number of attendees as much as possible to allow people from different households to remain at least 6 feet apart at all times. Guests should avoid direct contact, including handshakes and hugs, with others not from their household.
  • Host outdoor rather than indoor gatherings as much as possible. Even outdoors, require guests to wear masks when not eating or drinking.
  • Avoid holding gatherings in crowded, poorly ventilated spaces with persons who are not in your household.
  • Increase ventilation by opening windows and doors to the extent that is safe and feasible based on the weather, or by placing central air and heating on continuous circulation.
    • For additional information on increasing ventilation, visit CDC’s information on Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Home.
    • Winter weather can be cold, wet, and unpredictable. Inclement weather makes it difficult to increase ventilation by opening windows or to hold an event outdoors.
  • If setting up outdoor seating under a pop-up open air tent, ensure guests are still seated with physical distancing in mind. Enclosed 4-wall tents will have less air circulation than open air tents. If outdoor temperature or weather forces you to put up the tent sidewalls, consider leaving one or more sides open or rolling up the bottom 12” of each sidewall to enhance ventilation while still providing a wind break.
  • Require guests to wear masks. At gatherings that include persons of different households, everyone should always wear a mask that covers both the mouth and nose, except when eating or drinking. It is also important to stay at least 6 feet away from people who are not in your household at all times.
  • Encourage guests to avoid singing or shouting, especially indoors. Keep music levels down so people don’t have to shout or speak loudly to be heard.
  • Encourage attendees to wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not readily available, use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Provide guests information about any COVID-19 safety guidelines and steps that will be in place at the gathering to prevent the spread of the virus.
  • Provide and/or encourage attendees to bring supplies to help everyone to stay healthy. These include extra masks (do not share or swap with others), hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol, and tissues. Stock bathrooms with enough hand soap and single use towels.
  • Limit contact with commonly touched surfaces or shared items such as serving utensils.
  • Clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces and any shared items between use when feasible. Use EPA-approved disinfectantsexternal icon.
  • Use touchless garbage cans if available. Use gloves when removing garbage bags or handling and disposing of trash. Wash hands after removing gloves.
  • Plan ahead and ask guests to avoid contact with people outside of their households for 14 days before the gathering.
  • Treat pets as you would other human family members – do not let pets interact with people outside the household.

The more of these prevention measures that you put in place, the safer your gathering will be. No one measure is enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Food and drinks at small holiday gatherings

Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that handling food or eating is associated with directly spreading COVID-19. It is possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object, including food, food packaging, or utensils that have the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. However, this is not thought to be the main way that the virus is spread. Remember, it is always important to follow food safety practices to reduce the risk of illness from common foodborne germs.

  • Encourage guests to bring food and drinks for themselves and for members of their own household only; avoid potluck-style gatherings.
  • Wear a mask while preparing food for or serving food to others who don’t live in your household.
  • All attendees should have a plan for where to store their mask while eating and drinking. Keep it in a dry, breathable bag (like a paper or mesh fabric bag) to keep it clean between uses.
  • Limit people going in and out of the areas where food is being prepared or handled, such as in the kitchen or around the grill, if possible.
  • Have one person who is wearing a mask serve all the food so that multiple people are not handling the serving utensils.
  • Use single-use options or identify one person to serve sharable items, like salad dressings, food containers, plates and utensils, and condiments.
  • Make sure everyone washes their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before and after preparing, serving, and eating food and after taking trash out. Use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
  • Designate a space for guests to wash hands after handling or eating food.
  • Limit crowding in areas where food is served by having one person dispense food individually to plates, always keeping a minimum of a 6-foot distance from the person whom they are serving. Avoid crowded buffet and drink stations. Change and launder linen items (e.g., seating covers, tablecloths, linen napkins) immediately following the event.
  • Offer no-touch trash cans for guests to easily throw away food items.
  • Wash dishes in the dishwasher or with hot soapy water immediately following the gathering.

For more information, visit cdc.gov.

Mayor Morgan: Council continues to evolve while moving community forward

Mayor Craig Morgan writes a monthly column for the Round Rock Leader.


Mayor Craig Morgan

As the country was glued to TVs and computers last week, waiting for national election results, I found myself reflecting on a framed picture of my first City Council as mayor that hangs on my wall.

Four of the seven members I served with on that council have all moved on, making way for newcomers who brought new ideas and perspectives. Each new face along the way has changed our discussions based on the various backgrounds they brought to the table.

We will soon welcome two new Council Members, Michelle Ly and Frank Ortega, who were elected by Round Rock voters in the Nov. 3 election. I was proud to see the races for both available seats on our council this year were run with honesty and integrity, and we are ready to work with our newest members to lead our community through its continued growth.

Becoming a City Council member is a little bit like drinking water from a firehose. Before their swearing in next month, our newest council members will go through an orientation process, meeting staff members and learning more about the city’s departments and operations, which include public safety, parks, utilities and environmental services, transportation, sports tourism, finance and much more. Before each meeting, council members will be given a packet of information to go over so they have questions and comments ready for staff at our packet briefings.

The seven members of Round Rock City Council serve three-year terms, with races on the ballot every year. With the potential of new council members on an annual basis, it’s important that we have a strong yet flexible framework that guides our community forward through our continued growth.

One of the keys to smooth transitions over the years has been our strategic plan, which is comprised of six goals that create a foundation for long-term city initiatives. We have an annual retreat that occurs at the beginning of each calendar year that allows us time to update and reprioritize the plan.

We’ve seen success through this long-term planning and vision casting, and must continue to do so in the coming years and decades to maintain and grow our hard-earned reputation for success. This is not to say change doesn’t happen or isn’t encouraged; growth and change are built into Round Rock’s DNA. However, it provides a level of stability that ensures we don’t lose our focus on the long-term health of our community while also taking care of more immediate needs.

I would be remiss not to mention the incredible service and dedication of our outgoing council members, Will Peckham and Tammy Young. They always came prepared to every council meeting with thoughtful questions, and they truly love this community. Their servant leadership started well before their time on the council, and they will no doubt continue to be actively involved in making our community a better place to live.

During her time on the council, Tammy served on the board of the Round Rock Chamber, the Executive Committee of the Capital Area Council of Governments, the Capital Area Economic Development District, the Clean Air Coalition and as executive liaison to the Aging Advisory Council. She has been a Round Rock school district teacher and previously led a nonprofit for children with ADHD in New Mexico to provide resources to under-served children.

During his time on the council, Will served on the Round Rock Transportation and Economic Development Corporation board of directors, the Round Rock Chamber Board of Directors, the Williamson County A&M Foundation and Whitlow Task Force for Capitol IDEA. He also previously served the city through our Ethics Review Commission, the Planning and Zoning Commission and the 2013 Williamson County Bond Advisory Committee.

At the city of Round Rock, we aim to be an example of how to do things right in government. We are fortunate to have such amazing people in our community willing to step up and guide us through more years of growth and positive change. It’s not an easy job, but it’s one of the most rewarding ways to give back to our city. I am grateful to those who have chosen the same calling in years and decades past, and look forward to seeing what we will accomplish in the future.

CDC offers guidance for Halloween activities

When the weather cools off, it’s a good sign that holiday season is coming soon to Round Rock. In true 2020 fashion, holidays — including Halloween — will most likely look a little different from previous years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many traditional Halloween activities, in particular, can be high-risk for spreading viruses, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The federal agency is offering ideas for several safer, alternative ways to participate in Halloween this year.

The City of Round Rock does not set a specific day or time for trick-or-treating. If you may have COVID-19 or you may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, you should not participate in in-person Halloween festivities and should not give out candy to trick-or-treaters.

Lower risk activities

These lower risk activities are listed as the safest alternatives to traditional trick-or-treating:

  • Carving or decorating pumpkins with members of your household and displaying them
  • Carving or decorating pumpkins outside, at a safe distance, with neighbors or friends
  • Decorating your house, apartment, or living space
  • Doing a Halloween scavenger hunt where children are given lists of Halloween-themed things to look for while they walk outdoors from house to house admiring Halloween decorations at a distance
  • Having a virtual Halloween costume contest
  • Having a Halloween movie night with people you live with
  • Having a scavenger hunt-style trick-or-treat search with your household members in or around your home rather than going house to house

Moderate risk activities

  • Participating in one-way trick-or-treating where individually wrapped goodie bags are lined up for families to grab and go while continuing to social distance (such as at the end of a driveway or at the edge of a yard)
    • If you are preparing goodie bags, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 second before and after preparing the bags.
  • Having a small group, outdoor, open-air costume parade where people are distanced more than 6 feet apart
  • Attending a costume party held outdoors where protective masks are used and people can remain more than 6 feet apart
    • A costume mask (such as for Halloween) is not a substitute for a cloth mask. A costume mask should not be used unless it is made of two or more layers of breathable fabric that covers the mouth and nose and doesn’t leave gaps around the face.
    • Do not wear a costume mask over a protective cloth mask because it can be dangerous if the costume mask makes it hard to breathe. Instead, consider using a Halloween-themed cloth mask.
  • Going to an open-air, one-way, walk-through haunted forest where appropriate mask use is enforced, and people can remain more than 6 feet apart
    • If screaming will likely occur, greater distancing is advised. The greater the distance, the lower the risk of spreading a respiratory virus.
  • Visiting pumpkin patches or orchards where people use hand sanitizer before touching pumpkins or picking apples, wearing masks is encouraged or enforced, and people are able to maintain social distancing
  • Having an outdoor Halloween movie night with local family friends with people spaced at least 6 feet apart
    • If screaming will likely occur, greater distancing is advised. The greater the distance, the lower the risk of spreading a respiratory virus.
    • Lower your risk by following CDC’s recommendations on hosting gatherings or cook-outs.

Higher risk activities

Avoid these higher risk activities to help prevent the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19:

  • Participating in traditional trick-or-treating where treats are handed to children who go door to door
  • Having trunk-or-treat where treats are handed out from trunks of cars lined up in large parking lots
  • Attending crowded costume parties held indoors
  • Going to an indoor haunted house where people may be crowded together and screaming
  • Going on hayrides or tractor rides with people who are not in your household
  • Using alcohol or drugs, which can cloud judgement and increase risky behaviors
  • Traveling to a rural fall festival that is not in your community if you live in an area with community spread of COVID-19

Learn more at cdc.gov

Teen coalition hosts drive through voter registration event at RRHS on Sunday, Oct. 4

Zach Moser and Mainur Khan, Round Rock High students and members of the Austin Teen Coalition, give a thumbs up to voter registration.

Zach Moser and Mainur Khan, Round Rock High students and members of the Austin Teen Coalition, give a thumbs up to voter registration.

The Austin Teen Coalition, Round Rock ISD and Youth Service America will conduct a drive through voter registration event from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 4, at Round Rock High School. Oct. 5 is the last day to register to vote for the Nov. 3 election.

The registration will take place at the front entrance of the “new” building, 201 Deepwood Drive. Those who register will get a snack from Chick-fil-A and be entered to win a $100 Amazon gift card.

City of Round Rock elections will be held on Nov. 3 this year instead of May

The ballot will include three City Council seats and seven proposed amendments to the City Charter. Voters will cast ballots for Mayor, Place 1 and Place 4 on the City Council. Mayor Morgan will run unopposed. Michelle Ly and Tina Steiner are running for Place 1. Current Place 1 Councilmember Tammy Young is not seeking re-election. Place 4 Councilmember Will Peckham is seeking re-election. He will be challenged by Frank Ortega. 

Election information

You can find information on City of Round Rock elections here

Early voting is currently scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 13 to Friday, Oct. 30. For more information, including information about ballot by mail, visit the Williamson County Elections Department’s and Travis County Elections Department’s websites.

Community Foundation honors Round Rock citizens for philanthropy

The Greater Round Rock Community Foundation presented three philanthropy awards Sept. 23 at its second annual Legacy Luncheon. The event spotlights the non-profit community of Williamson County and the good work being done by those organizations, their volunteers and the businesses who generously support them.

The Unsung Hero Award — which recognizes quiet volunteers who give of their time, talent or treasure — was presented to the Citizens of Round Rock for their generous contributions as a community to the Round Rock Cares fund. Their donations provided over $400,000 in financial assistance to the small businesses of Round Rock in the early days of the pandemic. Round Rock Mayor Craig Morgan was a driving force behind the creation of Round Rock Cares, which provided needed funds to local businesses before federal aid became available.

Dell Technologies was presented with the Nancy Rabb Legacy Award which recognizes a business who has made a difference by giving back to their community. Dell Technologies was honored for its leadership with Round Rock Cares and their commendable corporate culture of giving.

The last award, the Impact Award, is given to a local non-profit that is changing our community in an impactful way. The YMCA of Williamson County was selected this year for not only the incredible programs and services that have served the community for decades, but also for stepping up this year to provide camps and childcare for the children of first responders and essential workers during the COVID 19 pandemic.

Mayor Morgan: City’s economic indicators show promise

Mayor Craig Morgan writes a monthly column for the Round Rock Leader.


Mayor Craig Morgan

Any athlete knows that endurance is important. However, as we enter the sixth month of COVID-19′s presence in Central Texas, it’s still unclear how far the finish line lies ahead.

In a survey distributed by the city of Round Rock in April about the effects of COVID-19, 72 percent of respondents said the economic impact of the pandemic on our local community was a primary concern of theirs. We’ve continued monitoring economic conditions and have recently been able to obtain better and more localized data. I’m happy to report the economic decline has not been as deep as we originally prepared ourselves for — however, we still do not completely understand the duration, or how long these conditions will continue to impact our community. In general, Round Rock has fared better than we expected.

While unemployment was still in double digits nationally in July, our local unemployment rate stood at 6.5 percent, down from 10.7 percent in April. However, that’s still triple the percentage it was at the beginning of this year. We are fortunate to have a diverse economy, especially one that is not dependent on oil, as many of our neighbors across Texas are.

Strong sales tax revenues are a big reason that our property tax rate in Round Rock compares favorably to cities around us and across the state, but sales tax is also a volatile revenue source that can drop in times of economic distress. At the start of the pandemic, the city had collected $1.4 million above this year’s expected sales tax revenues. At that time, we thought we might be able to have a surplus of $3 to $4 million by the end of the year that could be used to free up funding for more projects. While we haven’t gained the ground we expected, we haven’t seen a loss in the ground we already had gained. We saw a surge in sales tax revenues in March and April from one specific business – Dell Technologies – and the reopening of retail establishments in June helped re-establish local spending. Most of our major retailers have reopened – IKEA, Round Rock Premium Outlets, movie theaters and some of our big box retailers. Many restaurants have also been able to remain open. However, entertainment venues have suffered a tremendous impact. Bars closed again on June 26 based on statewide orders, and Dell Diamond did not have a minor league season. Other businesses have just not been able to weather the economic downturn. The good news is, although we saw a dip in consumer confidence in April, it has bounced back and is trending upward again.

Occupancy in local hotels is also increasing after a drop in April. Our peak season for tourism is March through June, which saw the biggest impact from COVID-19-related closures. These revenues, which support local tourism efforts and our Sports Capital of Texas initiatives, were down 28 percent for that peak period compared to last year.

 

Overall, development is strong. Although some businesses have not been able to survive the current economic conditions, many of our businesses are using this moment to pivot and thrive. Our local and small businesses are a huge part of our community, because they are owned and supported by people right here in Round Rock. One of my biggest sources of hope through this pandemic was Round Rock Cares, a local fund that was established to support these types of businesses, which raised $419,500 that helped 241 small businesses. I hope we continue that spirit of supporting our local businesses moving forward.

As we take a brief moment to reflect on the positive indicators we are seeing, we know that we cannot let our guard down. We all must continue to follow state and CDC guidelines to suppress the spread of COVID-19 so that our economy can continue to thrive and residents can continue to make a living. By remaining diligent in our health practices and supporting each other, we will continue to get through this together.

Halley: Library’s statewide award shows dedication to service

Geeta Halley, our Round Rock Library Assistant Director, pens a monthly column for the Round Rock Leader. This is a repost of her most recent feature.


As Round Rock Public Library Director Michelle Cervantes mentioned in the last month’s column, I’m honored to take over this space.

My name is Geeta Halley, and I have been with the library for 12 years in the roles of cataloger, public services manager and now assistant director. I’ve already seen the library go through many changes and have been proud of the services we offer and the dedication of the staff.

I’m excited to announce that for the second year in a row, the Round Rock Public Library’s commitment to service earned us the 2019 Achievement of Library Excellence Award from the Texas Municipal Library Director’s Association, an affiliate of the Texas Municipal League. There are 571 public libraries in Texas. Of those libraries, only 53 received this year’s award, placing the Round Rock Public Library in the top 10% of libraries in the state in terms of excellence of services, programs, marketing and staff training during the 2019 calendar year.

To receive the Achievement of Library Excellence Award, a library must exhibit excellence in the following areas: providing services to underserved and special populations; enhancing current services; marketing programs and services in innovative ways; promoting cultural, topical and educational programming; providing literacy support; providing summer reading clubs; pursuing collaborative efforts; supporting workforce development; providing for digital inclusion and comprehensively training staff.

While this is not a competitive award, applying for it allows us to benchmark with other libraries in the state. Meeting the criteria in each of the 10 categories allows us to celebrate the hard work and success of our library staff.

As we strive to maintain the highest standard of service excellence during this uniquely difficult pandemic time, one challenge we face is how to adjust our hugely popular summer reading program in response to the new COVID-19 reality. Planning for this annual program normally begins in January. Little did we know that in mid-March, we would be required to innovate.

After several discussions and consultations with other libraries across the state, we have adapted our summer reading for this new socially distanced era.

The Round Rock Public Library’s Community Reading Challenge runs June 1 through Aug. 1. In lieu of big in-person events, we have scheduled virtual programs for all ages. Visit roundrocktexas.gov/summerreading for registration, events schedule and more information.

We will track the point total for our reading community, and if we achieve 1 million points, the Friends of Round Rock Public Library will donate $500 to be split between the Round Rock Area Serving Center and the Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter.

The Friends of the Library will also purchase gift cards to be used for individual prizes from some of our local small businesses who have been long-time supporters of the Summer Reading Program. These gift cards will be distributed through a prize drawing. And readers who earn 1,000 points will receive a Book Nook Book Buck to purchase an item in the Friends’ ongoing book sale when the library is open.

It is a strange time to celebrate our 2019 Achievement of Library Excellence Award and we will not rest on our laurels. The award reminds us that our same innovative, service-oriented and motivated staff will continue to create safe solutions in response to the needs of our community. Our summer reading program, transformed for this new era of social distancing, supports efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19. Please join us in reading and safeguarding our community together.

Mayor Morgan: Planning puts Round Rock in solid financial position

Mayor Craig Morgan writes a monthly column for the Round Rock Leader.


Mayor Craig Morgan

Each year, the City of Round Rock puts together an annual budget that allows us to take care of our day-to-day needs — from library staffing to street maintenance — while also focusing on the road ahead with transportation projects, facility improvements and public safety. We develop long-term plans for major infrastructure like roads and water, as well as quality of life amenities like parks and recreation and library services.

This year’s budget discussions will no doubt include these same themes, but our conversation will be underscored by the COVID-19 pandemic. The past few months have felt like years at times, and some of our plans for the future have had unexpected obstacles placed in their path.

That said, let’s be honest — as City leaders, we are always dealing with change. Changing economic landscapes and new legislation are familiar territory for us. A pandemic is an unexpected challenge, to say the least, but we’ve created a solid foundation through many years of long-term planning and visioning.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Round Rock had seen recent business recruiting successes, an uptick in sales tax revenue overall and from Dell as well as healthy fund reserves. Round Rock has historically used sales tax to fund the largest portion of our General Fund, which pays for basic services like public safety and parks. Knowing that sales tax is a volatile funding source, we have for years been working toward a more balanced approach to funding these basic services. Currently, the General Fund is comprised of 43 percent sales tax revenue, 35 percent property tax revenue, 22 percent other taxes and fees. By 2023, we project a balance of sales tax and property tax at 40 percent.

Although our past financial planning puts us in a solid position, we have already sharpened our pencils to brace for the impacts of the past few months on our budget. Sales tax, hotel/motel occupancy tax and other revenues are expected to take a significant hit this year due to the actions taken by local and state officials to limit interaction among people to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Our revised total sales tax projected for FY 2020 resulting from revenue losses from COVID-19 is $67.06 million, compared to the original adopted budget of $74.39 million. Our staff proactively worked to cut approximately $8.9 million out of department budgets for the current fiscal year in lieu of across the board reductions, and we made sweeping cuts to travel, training, non-essential overtime and other spending through a budget amendment passed by City Council last month. This gives us a balanced budget through the end of the year that tightens the purse strings while still allowing us to focus on our priorities, without having to dip into our contingency and debt reserves.

We know our local businesses need us more than ever, and it’s important to keep in mind that “Shopping the Rock” helps us fund improvements to our community that make this city such a great place to call home. The sales tax rate in Round Rock is 8.25 percent, with the state of Texas collecting 6.25 percent and the City 2 percent. Of the City’s share, half of those funds go to basic local government services like police, fire protection, parks and the library, one quarter of the funds help reduce property taxes, and the remaining portion funds economic development, primarily construction of major transportation improvements. More than $582 million in transportation projects alone have come to fruition due to this important funding source.

We are still waiting to see exactly how hard our local economy has been hit these last few months, but we maintain a focus on our strategic planning to make decisions that will continue to move us forward in the direction we need to go. The City will continue to focus on community needs and our strategic goals while working within the confines of our current financial conditions. We will do everything we can to ensure that our community continues to be one of the best places to live in the country, and by working together, we will get through this.

UDPATED: What you can do to make Open Texas safe, successful

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday, April 27, released his report to Open Texas, a guide to gradually bring state businesses back to life in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. On Tuesday, May 6, Gov. Abbott announced his intention to expand openings of certain businesses and activities in upcoming phases of the plan. On May 18, Gov. Abbott announced new phases of business and activity openings. 

PROTOCOL CHECKLISTS: View protocol checklists for restaurants, theaters, churches, nail salons, cosmetology/hair salons, gyms and more.

While most of the early attention has been on what businesses can reopen — and which can’t — there is a lot of emphasis in the report about what we as individuals can do to slow the spread of the Coronavirus.

Flattening the curve isn’t about stopping the spread of the virus — that’s pretty much impossible with a virus like this one — it’s about slowing the spread so our healthcare facilities don’t get overwhelmed by those hardest hit by COVID-19. So far, so good on that strategy here in Williamson County. Of the 279 confirmed cases as of April 28, only 35 have ever been hospitalized, according to data from the Williamson County and Cities Health District, the public health authority.

It helps, no doubt, that we are generally healthier than most — Williamson County is ranked No. 6 in health outcomes and No. 4 in health factors in Texas — so residents here are less likely to have comorbidities like diabetes, heart disease and asthma.

So we need to keep ourselves healthy by following the protocols in the Open Texas report. Take a minute to familiarize yourself with the list below. We all need to be familiar with symptoms of COVID-19 so we are less likely catch or spread the virus as we begin to resume life in the new normal.

Health protocols for individuals

  • Maintain at least 6 feet separation from other individuals not within the same household. If such distancing is not feasible, other measures such as face covering, hand hygiene, cough etiquette, cleanliness and sanitation should be rigorously practiced.
  • Self-screen before going into a business for any of the following new or worsening signs or symptoms of possible COVID-19
    • Cough
    • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
    • Chills
    • Repeated shaking with chills
    • Muscle pain
    • Headache
    • Sore throat
    • Loss of taste or smell
    • Diarrhea
    • Feeling feverish or a measured temperature greater than or equal to 100.0 degrees Fahrenheit
    • Known close contact with a person who is lab confirmed to have COVID-19
  • Wash or disinfect hands upon entering a business and after any interaction with employees, other customers, or items in the business
  • Consider wearing cloth face coverings over the nose and mouth when entering a business, or when within 6 feet of another person who is not a member of your household. If available, individuals should consider wearing non-medical grade face masks. 

Testing, contact tracing

It’s important to remember that as we adhere to these protocols, it is likely case counts will increase as more testing becomes available. Stepping up testing and contact tracing are integral parts of the Open Texas plan. Gov. Abbott said increased positive tests are less of a factor than healthcare system capacity and fatality rates in deciding whether to move on to Phase II of Open Texas, currently scheduled for May 18.

COVID 19 testing tracing graphic

The report emphasizes the need to protect the most vulnerable population to COVID-19: Texans over 65. They make up 76 percent of COVID-19 fatalities in Texas, through April 26. In fact, the first set of protocols listed in the report are to protect this segment of the population.

Special guidance for Texans over 65

  1. Stay Home If You Can
  • Minimize face-to-face contact with others. Avoid young children.
  • If someone is assisting you, you and your family members or caretaker should wear cloth face masks. Remember a family member or caretaker can give you the virus even if they don’t appear to have symptoms.
  • Try grocery or restaurant delivery, mail order prescriptions, and phone appointments with your doctor. Call 2-1-1 if you need help with essentials.
  • Reach out to friends, family, or neighbors who can deliver essential items.
  1. Help Save Lives
  • If you must go out, wear a cloth face mask, and stay six feet away from others.
  • Wash your hands often and for at least 20 seconds, or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Disinfect surfaces, buttons, handles, knobs, and other places touched often
  • Do not share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, or eating utensils with others
  • If you have mild symptoms (difficulty breathing, or a rapidly worsening cough or fever), call your healthcare provider. If symptoms are severe, call 9-1-1.
  1. Check In
  • Check in regularly with neighbors, friends, and family by calling, texting, emailing, video chatting, or even writing letters.
  • Walking, gardening, digital books, games, and online religious services are great ways to stay active and connected.

Protocol checklists

The Open Texas Plan features a series for checklists for individuals and organizations to follow to allow the state to open back up in phases and slow the spread of COVID-19.

New, In Effect May 31, 2020

New, In Effect May 22, 2020

New, Now in Effect as of May 18, 2020

Effective May 18, 2020

Effective May 8, 2020

Effective May 5, 2020

From the Texas Education Agency

DELAYED: Air Force Thunderbirds to fly over Round Rock, salute of frontline responders

UPDATE: The flight has been delayed until 3:40 p.m., Wednesday, May 13.


The U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds, will honor frontline COVID-19 responders and essential workers with formation flights over Austin and surrounding areas, including Round Rock, on Wednesday, May 13.

A formation of 6 F-16C/D Fighting Falcons will conduct these flyovers as a salute to healthcare workers, first responders, military, and other essential personnel on the frontlines during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Flyovers in Austin will start at 2:40 P.M. (CDT) and last approximately 25 minutes. The date and times are subject to change due to weather and operational requirements.

Residents along the flight path can expect a few moments of jet noise as the aircraft pass overhead and are asked to avoid gathering in large groups to view the salute.