AUSTIN, Texas — Austin Mayor Steve Adler joined KVUE Daybreak Friday morning to discuss the concern surrounding recent spikes in Central Texas hospitalizations, the Austin City Council vote on police reform and phase three of reopening the Texas economy.
The primary concern regarding hospitalizations is if local hospitals can handle a steady influx of new coronavirus patients. If the area reaches at least 20 new admissions a day for seven straight days, health experts say area hospitals could get overrun. It appears unlikely that Austin’s long-standing stay-home order will be allowed to expire next Monday, according to Adler.
And during a nearly 12-hour council meeting on Thursday, councilmembers voted on several resolutions that lay the groundwork for sweeping changes. The council voted unanimously to ban tear gas and reduce the amount of military equipment “to the greatest extent possible.”
Here is a look at what Adler said on KVUE Daybreak:
Question: You've pointed to the average number of daily hospitalizations as critical data for Austin. The seven-day average is now over 14. You say that number needs to stay below 20. The number is still rising. What's your plan if we get to a seven-day average of 20 or more a day?
Answer: Well, I think we're going to have to start talking to the community about that. You know, the first goal is to try and try not to get to 20, which means people have to do a much better job of wearing face coverings and actually staying six feet apart. What we know is that we will – we'll have a surge in our hospitals if we get above 20 and we don't substantially change what we're doing. A surge in hospitals means that we're going to ultimately have to maybe stand up field hospitals because we won't have any room. We would have beds for people. We have the plans for that. But the care is not the same in a field hospital as it is in a regular hospital. And it's not just for COVID-19 patients. It's for someone who may have a heart attack or being in an automobile accident. So the community is going to have to decide. My hope is that just the way this community rallied before in order to keep this spike down ... my hope is that this community can show the discipline to actually wear the face coverings, maintain that six-foot distancing because we know that that kind of thing works. And people need to do it. We were getting to the place where more and more people were wearing the face coverings, but when I go out now and it's something that you just don't see as much. We have to actually start showing that discipline to separate ourselves.
Question: Mayor, we know the governor's reopening plan is well underway. Now, in fact, we're into phase three as of today. Are you getting any indication from state leaders that they're considering pulling things back a bit in light of the growing number of COVID-19 infections we've seen?
Answer: You know, I'm not sure. But I know that state leaders are hearing from the same kind of same medical professionals, some of them that we're hearing from. And I'm looking at the numbers in Dallas and Houston, and they're seeing things that are similar to what we're seeing. So, I think this is going to be a statewide challenge that we have with new cases that are coming up where we're seeing more new cases now than we have before. And they're increasing at a higher rate than our testing is increasing. So, it's not just a question of more tests and the people who are getting tested have a greater percentage of those are being found to have the virus. Both of those things are not a sign of the situation getting better. It's a sign of the situation getting more intense.
Question: Mayor, I think I saw this week you visiting a testing site. What was that experience?
Answer: I did. I got tested myself. I videotaped it and then showed it on my social media channel. I took, from beginning to end, maybe five, 10 minutes tops. The actual test itself ... it's not fun. Feels a little funny, but it's real fast and it's over quickly. It does not hurt. Right now, the testing is free. I just have to go online, take the assessment and we're urging people to go ahead and do that. Most importantly, if you're not feeling well, you need to stay home.
Question: Mayor, before we let you go, I would like to ask you about the council vote yesterday. You say the city not defunding or abolishing the police force in any way, just changing how policing will work. How will it work? And whose job is it going to be to come up with the plan for how that's going to work?
Answer: Well, we're certainly not going to sacrifice or compromise public safety at all, period. But the question is over time ... and we started to ask our police officers to do things that are more than we should be asking them to do. It shouldn't be our police officers that we use to deal with poverty. Police officers are not social workers. They're not mental health professionals and it's not right to put them in the situation where we expect them to be our mental health professionals. So, it's a question of taking a look at what is the best way to deal with poverty? What is the best way to help people? What is the best way to keep the community safe? And ultimately, that's the responsibility of the city manager and, under him, the police chief and the police department.
Question: Finally, Mayor Adler, when is this going to begin? Is this something that begins immediately? Is this something that's going to be done in phases? How will this play out?
Answer: Well, you know, we didn't take any action yesterday to actually make any changes in the budget. That doesn't happen until August. But what the council did was to ask the manager when he comes back with the financial information in August ... to show us a budget that would start the reimagining of the police department. Maybe find that some of the resources that we're spending in the police department can be moved to mental health teams or to social workers or to that kind of thing. We want to see that in August and we expect to see, I would imagine, that the manager has the ability to give us options or alternatives at that point. So, the action we took yesterday was not to decide the question, but to set this up where we would be able to decide that as part of the budget conversations in August.
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