By The Texas Tribune
Wednesday’s biggest developments:
- Texas gets federal disaster declaration
- Cases near 1,000
- Southwest Airlines cutting back flights
- Dallas County Jail inmate tests positive
Fort Bliss steps up health protection condition levels
Fort Bliss, the U.S. Army post headquartered in El Paso, upped its health protection condition levels to “HP Con Charlie,” signaling a “substantial risk” of community spread of the new coronavirus.
According to KVIA.com, four members of a reserve unit at the post have tested positive for COVID-19, prompting military officials to elevate the post’s risk level. Officials said they will begin screening individuals as they enter Fort Bliss and begin restricting travel, gatherings and access to certain supplies. El Paso enacted a “Stay Home, Work Safe” order earlier this week. The city had reported more than 20 coronavirus cases as of Wednesday. — Raga Justin
Unemployment claims in Texas reach 30,000 a day
[4:09 p.m.] The Texas Workforce Commission is taking sweeping action to address the influx of Texans applying for unemployment benefits in the wake of layoffs due to the coronavirus pandemic, TWC Executive Director Ed Serna said in Facebook Live Q&A Wednesday.
The commission is hiring temporary call center staff and increasing server capacity to accommodate the spike in recent claims, which are now approaching 30,000 a day, he said. Currently, about 75% of TWC staff are working from home.
“I assure you that we will help everyone that needs help,” Serna said. “I know it is hard to hear this, but I ask that you have just a little bit of patience with us.”
There are enough funds for everyone who needs them, he said later in the interview, and as those funds are depleted, the state can turn to other sources, including federal assistance.
While the TWC has eliminated the work search requirement and the waiting period, the 26 weeks during which people can receive benefits can’t be extended without federal government action, and self-employed individuals and contractors are still ineligible for unemployment benefits under current law. However, the stimulus bill currently working its way through Congress may address these issues, Serna said. – Naomi Andu
Texas gets federal disaster declaration
[2:15 p.m.] The Trump administration on Wednesday declared a major disaster in Texas and ordered federal assistance “to supplement State and local recovery efforts” in coronavirus-affected areas, per a statement from the White House press secretary’s office.
The declaration would allow funds to be disbursed to eligible state and local governments as well as private nonprofit organizations for “emergency protective measures.” The assistance would also fund crisis counseling for affected individuals statewide.
The regional administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Region VI — which encompasses Texas along with Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma — will oversee the recovery operations. It’s unclear how much federal aid Texas will receive as a result of the declaration. – Naomi Andu
Texas reports 995 cases and 12 deaths
On Wednesday, Texas reported 995 cases of the new coronavirus and 12 deaths. Dallas County had the most cases with 169 and the most deaths with five. But statewide, 82 counties so far have had at least one positive case, and eight counties have had at least one death. This represents a 35% increase in cases from Tuesday, when the state reported 736 cases.
The case data is gathered from counties by the Texas Department of State Health Services. The information is current as of 8 p.m. Tuesday. On Tuesday, the agency said it changed its reporting system to track case counts directly from counties instead of relying on official case forms, which come in later and were causing the state’s official count to lag behind other tallies by hundreds. — Darla Cameron
Southwest Airlines cuts 40% of flights
[12:24 p.m.] Southwest Airlines, headquartered in Dallas, said Wednesday it will cut 1,500 daily flights starting Friday due to increased cancellations related to the coronavirus outbreak.
The decision slashes Southwest flights by nearly 40%. The airline typically runs 4,000 each day. The cut is a more drastic measure than what the company announced Sunday, when it said it would be cutting just 1,000 flights daily.
“We’ll implement the cancellations on a rolling, multiple-day basis to provide customers with advance notice of changes and alternate flight options,” a Southwest spokesperson said in a statement. — Naomi Andu
Dallas County Jail reports inmate with coronavirus
[11:46 a.m.] The Dallas County Jail has reported its first inmate who tested positive for the new coronavirus. It’s the first positive case reported in a Texas county jail, according to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.
In a news release sent Wednesday morning, the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office said the person is not currently in the jail but did not provide any more information. A spokesperson said more details would be available later. The report came one day after the Texas prison system reported its first prisoner with the virus. — Jolie McCullough
Austin mayor says city does not have enough tests or medical equipment
[8:49 a.m.] Austin Mayor Steve Adler sat down this morning for a one-one-one with The Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith. A few highlights:
- Adler said the city was able to “successfully reduce physical interactions by 50%, which is pretty monumental,” but part of the reason for the citywide shelter-in-place order is because “the modelers tell us we need to be closer to 90%,” Adler said.
- Asked whether President Donald Trump has done a good or bad job managing the public health crisis, Adler said he’s “very disappointed in our federal response to this. … We do not have the tests that we need. We do not have the ventilators or respirators,” Adler said.
- On Gov. Greg Abbott, meanwhile, Adler said that while he wished the governor were “stronger” and would issue a statewide shelter-in-place order, he praised the governor for “not joining Trump in suggesting this is not serious.”
- On the data discrepancies: “We don’t have enough tests to test the population indiscriminately,” Adler said. “We have so few tests relative to the need. We have to have enough tests for people on the front lines and for the people who are more susceptible to the illness.”
- Adler said he’s in favor of closing schools for the rest of the year but noted he doesn’t have the authority to implement such measures. — Alex Samuels
Disclosure: Southwest Airlines and Steve Adler, a former Texas Tribune board chairman, have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/03/25/coronavirus-updates-texas-austin-mayor-says-city-needs-more-tests/.
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Texas expands travel restrictions, launches pop-up hospital as coronavirus spreads
By Patrick Svitek, The Texas Tribune
Abbott said he was dramatically expanding a previous executive order that requires a 14-day self-quarantine for anyone flying into Texas from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut or New Orleans. Now, the state is also mandating a 14-day self-quarantine for anyone driving into Texas from anywhere in Louisiana and for those flying in from Miami, Atlanta, Detroit and Chicago, as well as anywhere in California and Washington.
In Texas, Abbott said the state’s first ad hoc health care facility to respond to the pandemic will be the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas, an original hotspot for the outbreak at the state level. The convention center has the capacity for 250 beds “with plenty of room to massively expand that number if needed,” Abbott said.
At the same time, Abbott said there is “plenty of hospital capacity” to deal with the outbreak statewide and existing hospitals remain the “primary location” for treatment. He said the number of hospital beds available for coronavirus patients statewide more than doubled in the past week, with over 16,000 beds free as of Thursday. Most of those beds became available after he issued an executive order a week ago banning non essential surgeries in the state.
Elaborating on the new Louisiana travel restrictions, Abbott said they will be enforced by the Texas Department of Public Safety “at and near entry points from Louisiana.” The restrictions do “not apply to travel related to commercial activities, military service, emergency response, health response or critical infrastructure functions,” Abbott said.
Abbott’s order comes as state and local officials continue to battle over whether to release as many as thousands of inmates awaiting trial from the Harris County Jail, where at least one inmate has tested positive for the new coronavirus and some 30 others are showing symptoms.
Advocates have fought for as many inmates as possible to be released from county jails, citing the increased risk of spread given close quarters and poor sanitary conditions. Abbott and Texas Attorney General Paxton on Sunday asked to intervene in a federal lawsuit in Harris County in which a federal judge is weighing whether and how to release Harris County Jail inmates.
According to the Houston Chronicle, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo had been drafting an executive order for compassionate releases of inmates on no-cost bonds before trial, but shelved it over concerns that Paxton’s office would halt it.
There are, as of Sunday, at least 2,552 coronavirus cases in Texas, including 34 deaths, according to the latest figures from Texas Department of State Health Services. Almost half of Texas’ 254 counties — 118 — are reporting cases.
There have been 25,483 tests done in the state, according to the DSHS numbers.
Abbott said 176 Texans have been hospitalized due to the coronavirus, which Abbott emphasized is still a small fraction of those who have contracted the disease.
The growing spread of coronavirus throughout Texas comes as Abbott continues to resist calls to issue a statewide shelter-in-place order, a move that many of the state’s biggest counties and cities have already taken. Asked Sunday about the possibility of further statewide action, Abbott said he was waiting to see new federal guidance that is expected to be issued this week. Later in the afternoon, President Donald Trump announced that national social distancing guidelines would extend through April 30.
Emma Platoff and Jolie McCullough contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/03/29/texas-expands-travel-restrictions-coronavirus-spreads/.
Country music legend Joe Diffie passes away from Coronavirus COVID-19 complications
NASHVILLE, Tenn — Country music legend and GRAMMY®-winner Joe Diffie passed away Sunday from complications due to Coronavirus COVID-19.
Just Friday, Joe made a statement that said, “I am under the care of medical professionals and currently receiving treatment after testing positive for coronavirus (COVID-19).”
“My family and I are asking for privacy at this time. We want to remind the public and all my fans to be vigilant, cautious and careful during this pandemic.”
Joe had postponed his concert that was scheduled for March 21st in Tifton, GA, stating that his number one priority was the health and well-being of everyone in attendance.
Joe Diffie was 61 years old and had 17 top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot Country charts in the 1990’s.
Boerne City Hall votes to extend Mayor Handren’s Emergency Health Declaration for 30 days
BOERNE, Texas — By unanimous vote, Boerne City Council has voted to extend Mayor Handren’s emergency health declaration for 30 days, according to the City of Boerne.
This was during the first City Council meeting in the new chambers. There was just essential staff and the building was physically closed to the public, with some council members joining remotely.
The Council also requested any and all ways the city can help our residents in the come weeks and months who might face economic hardship.
“We know these are tough times, one that few could’ve predicted at the beginning of the new year. If we stick together, neighbor helping neighbor, we will come out of this a stronger community,” said a Facebook post from the City of Boerne.
“We can’t wait to re-open all our city facilities to you, our residents; and we can’t wait for you to see your home for city government, in action, working daily for the people of Boerne.”
While COVID-19 was the main topic, Boerne City Council also talked about other issues the city is facing during the meeting other than the COVID-19 epidemic, like sidewalk repairs/expansions, etc.
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