Daily life changes with COVID-19 pandemic

H-E-B shoppers form a line before the store opens at 8 a.m. on March 18. MELISSA HARRIS

By LYNETTE HAALAND, Four Points News

Melissa Harris was about 30th line at the Four Points H-E-B one recent Wednesday morning, some 20 minutes before it opened at 8 a.m., the new hours the grocery store has in place to help restock shelves during the coronavirus pandemic.

Grocery shopping has changed since the COVID-19 outbreak and so has many other routine parts of life including: the suspension of school and UIL sanctioned events; restaurants can only offer takeout or delivery; policing is scaled back; club sports are on hold; church services are going online; and gatherings of 10 or more are prohibited across the state until April 3.

On March 24, the city of Austin issued an order for residents to stay at home except to do essential activities to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. The order entitled “Stay Home— Work Safe” went into effect March 24 at midnight and lasts until at least April 13.

March 31, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an order limiting Texans to nonessential activity through April 30 to limit the spread of COVID-19. The order mandates Texas schools will remain closed until at least May 4.

In Harris’ case when she went grocery shopping that morning a couple of weeks ago, she made it to the entrance of H-E-B shortly after it opened where she was greeted by a security guard — a first in her 18 years of living in the Four Points community. 

Shoppers moved forward in an orderly fashion, some were wearing masks, and many were wearing gloves, she said. A few shoppers walked quickly in the direction of the toilet paper section.

There were lots of H-E-B staff throughout the store, more than usual. The checkout stations were wide open and Harris, who didn’t need much for her household of four, was on her way 15 minutes later.

There was a sense of cooperation by everyone, she noted, “that we’re all in this together.” 

Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order on Thursday afternoon to increase social distancing to help slow the spread of coronavirus.

“Everyone in Texas shall avoid groups of more than 10. Gyms are closed, no dining or drinking in restaurants and bars,” he said during a news conference. 

The order, which also states not to visit nursing homes temporarily, is to go into effect March 20 through April 3. 

As of March 19, there were over 140 cases in Texas of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, and Austin and Travis County had 23 of those confirmed cases, Austin Public Health officials reported.

In Texas, 3 coronavirus-related deaths were confirmed on March 19, including two in North Texas and an elderly man from Matagorda County, 80 miles southwest of Houston, Gov. Abbott said.

As of that Thursday, more than 1,900 people were being monitored for the possibility of having the virus. COVID-19 symptoms are fever, cough and shortness of breath. 

Law enforcement has scaled back some of its services because of COVID-19. For example, the Austin Police Department will not change response to critical calls, but they’ll no longer be sending officers out to some calls that can be handled online or over the phone – including property crime incidents. Officers will not respond to crashes in which both vehicles can drive away from the scene of a crash.

Some government offices and courts are affected as well.

Leander ISD shared with families on March 18 its plans for “continuation of learning while buildings are closed”. The district suspended normal school operations after spring break, from March 23 through April 5. LISD awaits guidance from outside entities, including the Texas Education Agency regarding some specific details. 

Next week, LISD will set up to teach virtually and use such tools as Google Classroom. “During the planned suspension… students will not submit assignments for graded work,” stated LISD’s release on March 18. 

Charlie Little, Vandegrift High School principal, has never experienced such an event but says he and his staff of some 200 are preparing with “energized spirit and sense of purpose.” 

“As the potential for this event increased rapidly, we took time to gauge our current understanding and preparedness related to a quarantine scenario or extended closure,” Little stated in a message to the VHS community. “I was encouraged to discover that most of our staff already incorporate powerful learning tools in their routine that could easily be adapted to a remote learning event.”

Little mentioned that as some of the significant senior traditions like prom, senior awards and graduation “weigh heavily on the minds of our students, please know that it is still too early to know the expected duration and full impact of this (coronaviru) event.” 

“Our VHS team will work hard to make sure the COVID-19 virus does not come to define the class of 2020,” he added. 

In addition to classes, school events including games, plays and competitions are all on pause right now. 

Extracurricular clubs, classes and meetings of all kinds are also postponed at least for several weeks. 

Local small businesses including restaurants, bars and gyms are all affected by the social distancing rules. 

Local churches are shifting gears as well and accommodating the mandates by offering services through online streaming and some are having virtual meetings so members can stay connected.