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. 

Mayor Morgan: In COVID-19, Round Rock finds the helpers

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


Mayor Craig Morgan

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” — Mr. Rogers

As Round Rock and other cities across Texas begin to ease into reopening the economy, many in our community are preparing our minds for a shift in life as we’ve known it for the past month.

You may be preparing for a return to working in person, reopening a business, ordering masks before leaving your home or planning a visit to see family or friends for the first time in a while. Even as we move forward, many in our community continue to face hardships caused by COVID-19. In true Round Rock fashion, several organizations and groups have come together to help those in need.

The Community Organizations Active in Disaster (COAD), made up of local non-profits in Williamson County, have set up drop-off donation sites for non-medical items to be delivered to vulnerable populations and elderly residents.

Round Rock Area Serving Center has been running a modified food pantry by delivering groceries curbside to families in need. In its first three weeks of the program, the Center served more than 3,000 people, 35 percent of whom had been personally impacted by COVID-19. Thousands of dollars have also been provided in direct relief to families in need. All of this has been with 12 to 15 volunteers and six staff members. Several in our community have stepped up to donate food, money and recycled grocery bags to assist.

Opportunities for Williamson and Burnet Counties, probably best known for running Meals on Wheels and Head Start, is working to provide basic items to their clients who are unable to visit the store for their needs, even in the best of times. Their work is not done as many of their program participants continue to shelter in place, and they are still seeking donations of money as well as basic needs, from food to toiletries.

Our local school districts have banded together to provide mental health support to students and families who have been facing difficulties as a result of COVID-19. Round Rock ISD has a plethora of resources on its website, roundrockisd.org, that could benefit all in our community, even if you don’t have a school-aged child.

One of the causes closest to my heart has been Round Rock Cares. We announced Round Rock Cares in conjunction with the Round Rock Chamber, Dell Technologies and the Greater Round Rock Community Foundation to help our small businesses in Round Rock by allocating financial resources as quickly and as directly as possible in their greatest time of need. In the first round of fundraising, we were able to raise nearly $400,000 as a community to help 160 small businesses in need. I have been so proud of our community coming together to lift up the entrepreneurs who make our city such a special place to live.

Although these are all established organizations in our community, several others have come together in less formal ways to provide for those in need. So many of our residents have helped by making masks, picking up necessary items and groceries for neighbors and coming up with creative ways to lift each other up.

There are other non-profits in our community who may not directly feed or provide money to those in need, but still do important work that we should support. Arts and culture is an area that has been especially hit hard as events have had to cancel. In Round Rock, we are missing events such as Sculptfest, Music on Main and Artist Pop-Up Shows that feed our own desire for entertainment while helping support local artists. Try not to forget the various groups around town who need to survive so we can look forward to creative experiences on the other side of this.

I am so proud of Round Rock staying true to ourselves in supporting each other. As we move forward, we will continue to face these challenges together. It’s important that we continue to lift up not only our residents and businesses, but the organizations that are supporting them. In the midst of these times, always look for the helpers, and ask if you could be one yourself. To learn more about giving or receiving assistance, visit roundrocktexas.gov/coronavirus.

Resident concerns about Coronavirus shift in key areas

Round Rock residents remained concerned about the economic impact on the community of the COVID-19 pandemic, but fewer are worried about the impact to their households, according to a second online survey conducted by the City of Round Rock. 

More than 800 residents completed the survey April 10-13. The City’s first survey featuring similar questions was conducted March 23-25, just before a Stay Home order was issued for Williamson and Travis Counties.

As in the first survey, respondents frequently expressed their displeasure with those hoarding toilet paper, hand sanitizer and bleach wipes. While staying at home is the top answer to the question of how to help others, there are growing numbers saying the economy should be opened back up.

You can read the full survey results here.

While the local economy remains survey respondents’ primary concern, the ability of households to access goods and services is less worrisome than indicated in the first survey.

When asked, “What are your household’s concerns right now regarding COVID-19?” the No. 1 response at 72 percent was, “Economic impact on my community.” Respondents concerned about the economic impact on their households declined to 53 percent from 63 percent. Concerns about access to medical services, having enough supplies and having enough food also showed significant decreases from the first survey. “Emotional health of household,” cited by 52 percent, now ranks higher than concerns over supplies and medical treatment.

COVID 19 Household concerns chart

The increasing concern for the local economy may be reflected in the generosity of residents and businesses who have donated to Round Rock Cares, an initiative conceived by Mayor Craig Morgan and managed by the Greater Round Rock Community Foundation. More than $350,000 has been raised following the March 25 announcement by the City, Dell Technologies, the Round Rock Chamber and the Community Foundation, which donated a combined $100,000 to establish Round Rock Cares.

Concern that workplaces would be closed for an extended time decreased to 28 percent from 38 percent. Still, many expressed concerns about their financial situation.

“We only have $120.00 left,” wrote a respondent. “Last possible order for food made today. No more money to spend … It’s getting financially dicey now. Praying for our state of Texas. And TY for allowing me to stressfully whine. I am very aware that MANY have the same concerns. Thank you for what you do. We’re grateful but REALLY SCARED.”

A number of retirees also responded to this question, and expressed concern over a volatile stock market.

“As a retired senior, managing my 401k so it continues to grow is my job now,” one wrote.

The No. 1 response to the employment challenges question was “Not Applicable/Other,” so we created a tag cloud to give you a sense of what we heard in the comments.

employment tag cloud

When asked, “What kind of information would help your household most regarding COVID-19?” the top response remained, “The geographic areas that have higher outbreak rates,” at 52 percent. We’re pleased to report we are working to receive more specific location information on Round Rock positive cases from the Williamson County and Cities Health District (WCCHD).

Some respondents also wanted information on how people are catching COVID-19. The WCCHD is now including that information in its Coronavirus (COVID-19) dashboard. Below are the results from April 16. Note: Community Transmission is light orange, Contact with Case is yellow, and Travel Acquired is red.

Round Rock COVID-19 Dashboard

As in the first survey, respondents said they are taking multiple steps to be prepared for COVID-19. Here are the top responses:

  1. Washed my hands more frequently with soap or hand sanitizer, 95 percent
  2. Not shaking hands or touching people in public places, 93 percent
  3. Kept space between myself and others while out, 90 percent
  4. Avoided crowds, 90 percent
  5. Stayed home more frequently, 89 percent

Not included in the first survey was the step of wearing a mask. Since then, the CDC has recommended people wear masks in public. In this survey, 61 percent reported wearing a mask when leaving home.

When asked what steps they have taken to assist the community, 88 percent responded, “Stayed in my home except to take part in essential activities.” That step had not been included in the first survey, which concluded prior to the Stay Home orders.

There were nearly 1,000 responses to the question, “Do you have other ideas on how residents can help others in the community relating to COVID-19?” Here’s a tag cloud of the top comments:

 

We’d like to thank all who took the time to let us know how they are doing and feeling in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. We, as your local government, can respond better to your changing needs when we have a clearer picture of what those are.

Mayor Morgan: Round Rock finds a new normal in midst of COVID-19

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


MAYOR CRAIG MORGAN

It’s hard to believe that just one month ago, school was in session, spring break was around the corner and life was business as usual.

Now, the days blur together from news conference to news conference, and the weeks feel like months. Such is life in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the City of Round Rock, we’ve had to make tough decisions to protect the health of our citizens while balancing the need to continue doing business and keep our community moving forward in the right direction. The City’s business is essential — from our first responders and the employees who keep our water running, to those who ensure roads are being built and development doesn’t stall.

And as we all know, medical personnel, restaurateurs, grocery store employees and so many others have stepped up to meet our community’s needs in this uncertain time.

Our community has largely remained calm through this storm and, while we might have grabbed an extra pack of toilet paper from the grocery store just in case it’s not there the next time, we have not allowed ourselves to be driven or taken over by fear and panic.

For those of us involved in essential services, the worry is always there — we wonder if we’ve come into contact with someone with COVID-19, and if we are bringing it into our homes. I urge you, for the sake of those working hard to keep our community safe and functioning, to continue to follow the orders and guidelines being administered at the state and federal level to help slow the spread of this virus to avoid overburdening our systems.

It pains me to think that things might never quite be the same. So many of our neighbors have lost jobs, and our businesses have suffered losses that will be difficult to overcome. Our schools have had to adjust to new circumstances, and our local restaurants and grocery stores have changed their way of doing business to meet our community’s needs.

As I drive through our downtown on my way to City Hall, I still feel a sense of shock at how empty the streets are. This virus is a stark reminder the only constant in life is change, and the future isn’t always quite what we pictured it to be.

The good news is this — we have the power to decide how we enter this new normal, and all signs point to Round Rock responding in the only way we know how, which is to help our fellow neighbor.

I find hope in a new initiative we’ve created for small local businesses called Round Rock Cares. To establish this fund, the City of Round Rock, the Greater Round Rock Community Foundation, the Round Rock Chamber and Dell Technologies each donated $25,000. Our total raised to date, as of the end of the week of March 29, was approximately $150,000.

We were fortunate to have Nyle Maxwell, chairman of the Greater Round Rock Community Foundation, and his wife, Nancy, match the first $10,000 of donations dollar for dollar, and Emerson Automation Systems announced they will match the next $10,000. Our own Round Rock Police Foundation also stepped up to give $1,000.

At the end of last week, we had requests from 140 plus applicants with needs over $900,000. And while that amount may seem like an impossible number, let’s put it into perspective: if half of our residents each gave $30, together we could raise $1.5 million dollars to help meet all the needs of our small businesses.

I encourage you to consider participating by visiting roundrockcares.org.

There are many other ways people in our community are stepping up to take care of each other. Local sewing clubs are making masks for our first responders and medical personnel to use in the field. Round Rock Area Serving Center, Opportunities for Williamson and Burnet Counties and the Round Rock ISD are distributing food to those in need.

Our City departments that offer quality of life services, such as Parks and Recreation, Sports Management and Tourism, and the public Library, have found creative ways to keep our minds and bodies active in this uncertain time, even from inside our homes.

We encourage you to not only stay up to date on information about COVID-19 but see all the ways you can help others at roundrocktexas.gov/coronavirus. Be sure to visit our resources page for an interactive tool to find resources available in Williamson County by ZIP code.

Round Rock helping Round Rock is what we have done for years and we are counting on you to help again and make a difference. We’re in this together, and we will come out stronger than before. That’s who we are as Texans, and that’s the Round Rock way.

Cervantes: Library ready to serve in times of crisis

Library Director Michelle Cervantes writes a regular column for the Round Rock Leader. This one appeared online on March 30.


Michelle Cervantes
Library Director

Thursday morning, I emptied the outside book return at the library, and there were only a few items to quarantine. Not enough to fill one shelf on the book cart.

This time last year we were recovering from one of our busiest spring break seasons on record. This year is completely different.

In the book return, there was a copy of the Leader. A front page caption read, “The Round Rock Public Library has closed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.”

I still can’t believe it. In my long career in public service, I’ve never experienced anything like this.

After a long week of stressful situations and difficult decisions, I went home, sat in my backyard to soak up the sunshine and sent my sister an Instagram message, “Livin’ la COVIDA loca.”

We are living in a crazy time right now. But serving during a time of crisis is nothing new to public libraries. We were there to help survivors after Hurricane Katrina and after 9/11, when the New York libraries opened mobile units.

The library has always been a refuge. This time is different, because we had to close our doors to the public. Once I got over the shock of that reality, it was time to figure out how to serve in a completely virtual world.

The next challenge we are preparing for is how to handle returned items. Whenever we reopen, we will have a wave of materials coming back to the library. Our plan is to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to quarantine materials for the recommended period of time.

We understand the concerns that many people have about virus spread from contact with contaminated surfaces or objects. The quarantine plan is a precautionary measure, and unless materials were directly exposed to the virus, they are not contaminated.

On the bright side, this has been a great opportunity to share all of our digital resources with you. We don’t have to worry about having to quarantine ebooks.

The staff have been working diligently on projects such as moving the fiction collection, cleaning, inventory, virtual programs, virtual training, answering phone calls and emails, checking and posting on social media, updating the website and assisting other City departments.

Remember, the Round Rock Public Library is here to serve our community through tough times:

  • Virtual library services remain available at all times, and we are expanding the digital collection.
  • The book return is closed. Keep any items you’ve borrowed until we reopen or announce other options.
  • We are waiving all late fees accrued during the closure.
  • Staff are available to take your calls and emails, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday.

Thank you for your patience as we navigate these unprecedented challenges. Stay home, stay safe and hope to see you soon!

Local COVID-19 response survey: what we heard, what we’re doing

Thank you to the 1,200-plus residents who completed the COVID-19 online survey we published March 23-25. Your participation really helps. Information is power, particularly in slowing down the spread of the Coronavirus because there is much individuals can do. We, as your local government, can respond better to your needs when we have a clearer picture of what those are.

Below are top-line results to each question asked, and what the City has been doing. Here’s a link to the complete survey results, with names (and a couple of profanities) redacted. Spoiler alert: There’s some serious shade thrown at TP hoarders.

How knowledgeable do you feel about COVID-19?

What we heard: Over 90 percent of respondents say they are “very knowledgeable” or “somewhat knowledgeable” about COVID-19. 

What we’re doing: We asked the question to confirm our assumption that Round Rockers have a good handle on the basics of this global pandemic. Looks like you do. Still, we’ve been sharing links to trusted information sources like the Centers for Diseases Control (CDC) as well as state and local public health authorities. 

Where do you get up-to-date information on COVID-19?

What we heard: The top two sources are national news, cited by 71 percent, and Centers for Disease Control (CDC), at 67 percent. Local TV news was third at 56 percent. In the comments, lots of folks said they wanted to know where there are local cases.

What we’re doing: We created roundrocktexas.gov/coronavirus to share as much local information as possible. We’ve got the latest data from the local health district, links to state and local emergency orders, a list of closures and changes to City facilities and functions, as well as links to local resources for healthbusiness, and schools.

Fewer than 30 percent cited two local outlets as the source of their information on COVID-19, so bookmark these for future reference: the Williamson County and Cities Health District, our local public health authority, and the State Health Department, formally known as the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Which, if any, have you done to be more prepared for COVID-19?

What we heard: Here are the top responses …

  1. Washed my hands more frequently, 95 percent
  2. Not shaking hands or touching people in public places, 90 percent
  3. Avoided crowds, 88 percent
  4. Stayed up to date on news for information on the virus, 88 percent
  5. Stayed home more frequently, 87 percent
  6. Kept space between myself and others while out, 85 percent
  7. Avoided close contact with anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms, 78 percent

You guys are doing what it takes to flatten the curve. Way to go!

What we’re doing: Encouraging the entire community to keep it up! We’ve taken data provided by the Williamson County and Cities Health District to show exactly what the curve looks like in our corner of the world.

What are your household’s concerns right now regarding COVID-19?

  1. Economic impact on my community, 69 percent
  2. The safety of my community as the pandemic continues, 65 percent
  3. Members of my household becoming infected, 64 percent
  4. Economic impact on my household, 63 percent

What we heard: It sure looks the ancient wisdom of “Love thy neighbor as thyself” is being lived out here in Round Rock. Respondents care as much if not more about the well-being of the community as your their own family. 

What we’re doing: We sharing as much information as possible about how to support local businesses, including the Round Rock Cares fundraising effort, and what you can do to prevent becoming infected.

Which of these employment challenges are you or someone in your household facing (or likely to face) due to COVID-19?

What we heard: Note: This question was asked prior to the Stay Home Stay Safe orders from Williamson and Travis counties went into effect. The top response, at 38 percent, was “Workplace closed for an extended period.” Other top responses were “Job is ‘essential’ making COVID risk higher (e.g. first responders, health care providers, etc.)”, “Reduction in hours I can work” and “Self-employed with a decrease in business activity.”

What we’re doing: The City has partnered with the Round Rock Chamber, Dell Technologies and the Greater Round Rock Community Foundation to create Round Rock Cares, which will provide direct support to small businesses impacted the pandemic. We’re also encouraging residents to Shop the Rock to support our local businesses. The City is encouraging businesses to seek information and support from the Round Rock Chamber, and have created a Business Resources page on our website.

What kind of information would help your household the most in preparing for COVID-19?

What we heard: The No. 1 answer, from 50 percent of respondents, was “The geographic areas that have higher outbreak rates.” The No. 2 answer, at 44 percent, was “What to do if someone in my household shows signs of the virus?” No. 3, at 43 percent, was “How to access and make needed food and supplies last.”

What we’re doing: The Health District has been providing more detailed information on the location of Williamson County cases as the number of confirmed cases has grown. We have taken that data and created this dashboard so our residents can see which cities have confirmed cases, as well as other information on Williamson County cases being released. 

On what to do if someone shows signs of the virus, we’re directing residents to the CDC’s new “Self-Checker” which can be found on its What To Do If You Are Sick page. We reached out to H-E-B on the question of food and supplies, and created this video. The largest grocer in Texas says there’s no need to panic buy or hoard items.

What actions have you taken to assist your community with potential impacts and/or risk of COVID-19?

What we heard: The most common response, at 87 percent, was “Stayed remotely connected with family and friends,” followed by “Stayed educated on the virus and helped spread accurate information,” at 78 percent. Sixty percent reported supporting small businesses. 

It was the “Other” responses that are truly inspiring, but not all that surprising in big-hearted Round Rock. Here is a representative sample of the responses:

  • “Brought supplies to a family who couldn’t find anything that they needed”
  • “Babysitting a single dad’s daughter so he can go to work”
  • “Avoided hoarding to allow more people access to essential products”
  • “My whole family is at increased risk group and voluntarily sheltered in place to protect ourselves”
  • “Donated masks to St David’s”
  • “Provided financial assistance to extended family members whose jobs are affected by COVID-19.”

What we’re doing: Cheering on our amazing community of givers! It’s worth checking out the complete survey results just to read through this list, as well as the answers to our next question…

Do you have other ideas on how residents can help others in the community relating to COVID-19?

What we heard: There were 23 pages of ideas shared. Wow! 

Here’s where we saw lots of venting about hoarders. Too many to list, but here may be the most, um, direct: “Stop being a selfish, dirtbag, hoarder!”

What we’re doing: The most common idea was to develop programs to help connect those willing to help others with those who need help. Lots of neighborhoods are using NextDoor to accomplish this, but many are not or may not be on that app. To contact the City about donations, send an email to covid-19donations@roundrocktexas.gov or call 512-218-5419.

Thanks again for taking the time to communicate with us. As Mayor Craig Morgan said in his video message to the community when the Stay Home Stay Safe order went into effect, “Friendswe’re in this together. And we will come out stronger than before. That’s who we are as Texans, and that’s the Round Rock way.”

Mayor Morgan: State of the City is well-positioned for the future

Mayor Craig Morgan writes a monthly column for the Round Rock Leader. This is a repost of his most recent feature.


MAYOR CRAIG MORGAN

Last month, I delivered the annual State of the City address at an event at the United Heritage Center at Dell Diamond. While we had a packed house for the event, thanks to the Round Rock Chamber, I want to share with you the news that the State of our City is well-positioned for the future.

The City excels at master planning and has for many years. Our plans don’t sit on a shelf, gathering dust — they get done. That’s why our quality of life is so high and why we make so many “Best of” lists. We know we’re going to have an ultimate population of 250,000, so we’re making decisions today with that future population in mind.

Today, we are poised to address our most pressing strategic priority — improving our transportation system — in a big way. The City Council approved a five-year, $240-million roadway improvement program last year as the first major step to implementing our $1.2 billion Transportation Master Plan. You can expect to see several of these projects underway in the coming year as part of our “Driving Progress” campaign. In order to pay for this program, the Council has adopted roadway impact fees, which will be paid by developers, to create a more fair and dependable funding source for new road capacity. Second, we issued the first round of property-tax backed bonds to help pay for the aggressive road-building program. We continue to see the value of partnerships with entities like Williamson County and the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO), which have committed funding to several major road projects planned for Round Rock.

But it’s not all about new roads. The City continues to invest millions of dollars in a comprehensive street maintenance program to make sure our neighborhood and arterial roadways stay in top condition.

Progress on two other major projects will ensure the state of our City’s infrastructure will remain viable for years to come. We’ve recently completed significant improvements at the Brushy Creek Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant at a cost $700,000 below the anticipated budget, and we started design on Phase 2 of the Brushy Creek Regional Utility Authority project, which will draw water from Lake Travis to meet our long-term water needs.

Enhancing our historic Downtown district is another major strategic priority. In 2019 we made further strides to improving our one-of-a-kind Downtown. We completed a structural rehabilitation and added new lighting to our iconic water tower, adding character to the district at night. We purchased land for a new, expanded Library, which will enhance Downtown for years to come. Our art gallery on Main Street re-opened with a focus on more interactive programming, and residents can expect the continuation of great events like Music on Main, Beaujolais Nights, Christmas Family Night, Dia de los Muertos, the Fourth of July Parade and more.

Our tourism program continues to grow and succeed, and we have expanded its focus to include non-sports tourism as the Kalahari Resorts project nears completion. In 2019, we had more reason than ever to cheer Go Round Rock! We hosted three national championship events and received $78,000 in reimbursements from the Texas Events Trust Fund, and announced that Round Rock will host the Big 12 women’s soccer championship this coming fall, and for two years after that. Forest Creek Golf Club exceeded all expectations in its first year after a major renovation and finished in the black financially despite one of the wetter springs in recent memory.

Round Rock has a well-earned reputation for being one of America’s Safest Cities, and a number of initiatives in 2019 ensured we’ll maintain that status. Having the right tools and trained personnel in our Round Rock Fire Department allowed us to beat the national average for cardiac arrest survival rate by 4.6 percent. Our Community Risk Reduction program is a proactive approach  to find people in need before they have to call 9-1-1. We began construction of Fire Station No. 3 in La Frontera, which will improve response times in south Round Rock. Our outstanding Police Department made arrests in all three homicides we saw in 2019, and we successfully concluded our first independently operated Police Academy at our world-class Public Safety Training Center, graduating eight cadets who were sworn in as officers for our force.

Round Rock also has a reputation for being one of America’s most livable cities as well. There were a number of projects in 2019 that improved the quality of life we enjoy here even more. We completed a new section of the Brushy Creek East Trail between A.W. Grimes Boulevard and Georgetown Street. We increased our Neighborhood Services offerings to the community, helping neighbors to come together in meaningful ways. We successfully transitioned our hugely popular Chalk Walk event to a larger venue at Dell Diamond.

Following a public engagement process, the City Council approved an amended noise ordinance which has led to a better balance between businesses and residents in Downtown. Speaking of public engagement, we successfully interacted with our residents in the 2019-20 budget approval process and saw hundreds participate in a series of public meetings as we developed our long-term Comprehensive Plan, Round Rock 2030.

I could go on and on, but will wrap up this look back at 2019 by remembering two significant anniversaries we celebrated last year. The Round Rock Express played ball for a 20th season at the Dell Diamond, and Dell Technologies marked its 25th year in Round Rock. Both the Express and Dell Technologies came to Round Rock, in part, because of our strong planning. They both knew investing in Round Rock would pay off long term. It was a strength of our community two decades ago, and we’re even stronger and more well-positioned today to face whatever comes our way.

The future looks bright in Round Rock, and we know 2020 will be another successful year as we continue our tradition of putting our plans into action.