Daily Updates – COVID-19

April 7, 2020

Gov. Greg Abbott ordered state parks and historic sites to close today until further notice. "Social distancing is our best tool to curb the spread of COVID-19 and save lives," Abbott said in a statement. The governor also announced an emergency rule that will allow end-stage renal disease facilities to practice better physical distancing by treating dialysis patients at off-site locations.

Abbott provided an update on the state's coronavirus response Monday, announcing that more than 1,000 Texans were now hospitalized with COVID-19. The governor said that Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, had told him that Texas was "getting close to beginning to bend the curve." But, Abbott said, Birx also made it clear "that if we let up now, all of our efforts that have led to this point will have been for nothing."

Abbott issued an executive order on March 31 that directs Texans to minimize social gatherings and in-person contact with people who are in the same household unless taking part in an essential service or activity. The order is in effect through April 30.

Texas is currently reporting 8,262 cases of COVID-19, with 154 deaths – an increase of 986 cases and 14 deaths from Monday. At least one COVID-19 case has been confirmed in 161 of Texas' 254 counties, up from 157 counties the day before.

The Texas Association of Counties Legal Services offers updated COVID-19 guidance on government orders and protocols and information for county officials. TAC also maintains a list of counties that have enacted COVID-19 disaster declarations and orders. A legislative brief by the National Association of Counties outlines key COVID-19 issues and resources.

The Texas Justice Court Training Center at Texas State University updates coronavirus-related developments and lists best practices and other resources for the state's justice courts.

Researchers Revise Their COVID-19 Model. Researchers with the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation have revised their coronavirus forecasting model and are now predicting fewer COVID-19 deaths and less-severe hospital equipment shortages than previously projected, assuming social distancing continues through May. The White House based its estimate that COVID-19 would kill 100,000 to 240,000 people nationwide in part on the institute's projections. The revised figures estimate 81,766 deaths nationwide by Aug. 4, ranging from 49,431 deaths on the low end to 136,401 deaths worst-case. The model predicts that the number of deaths per day will peak on April 14.

Statistical models are used in everything from weather forecasting to anticipating supermarket supplies and are essential tools for planning and preparedness. They are only as good as the data they use, however. Uncertainty is a defining characteristic, The Associated Press notes in an article looking at how models work and why different models can differ dramatically in their forecasts. But as University of Texas scientist Lauren Meyer tells AP, even with all of the uncertainty, "it's much better than shooting from the hip. Data-driven models are the best evidence we have."

More than 12,000 people in the United States have died from COVID-19. Total coronavirus cases currently number 374,329 nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


April 6, 2020

With the number of COVID-19 deaths expected to surge in the days ahead, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams warned Sunday that this week "is going to be the hardest and saddest week of most Americans' lives." More than 9,600 people have died of the coronavirus in the United States, with the number of confirmed cases approaching 350,000.

UT Study Calculates COVID-19 Risk. Rural counties with no confirmed COVID-19 cases shouldn't be lulled into thinking they're immune to the coronavirus pandemic. That's the message of a new analysis of COVID-19 data by University of Texas researchers, which finds that even in counties with no reported cases, there is a 9% chance an undetected outbreak is occurring. The chance a county is experiencing undetected but sustained community transmission increases to 51% in counties with just one reported case, 69% in counties with two cases and 79% in counties with three cases, according to the study.

"COVID-19 is largely spreading undetected, because of the high proportion of asymptomatic and mild infections and limited laboratory testing capacity," the study's authors write.

Titled "Probability of current COVID-19 outbreaks in all US counties," the study finds that 72% of all counties in the United States, containing 94% of the national population, have a more than 50% chance of ongoing COVID-19 transmission. In Texas, the data suggest 56% of counties containing 97% of the state's population have a more than 50% chance of ongoing COVID-19 transmission.

At least one COVID-19 case has been confirmed in 157 of Texas' 254 counties. Texas is currently reporting 7,276 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 140 deaths – an increase of 464 cases and 13 deaths from Sunday.

Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order on March 31 that directs Texans to minimize social gatherings and in-person contact with people who are in the same household unless taking part in an essential service or activity. The order is in effect through April 30.

The Texas Association of Counties Legal Services offers updated COVID-19 guidance on government orders and protocols and information for county officials. TAC also maintains a list of counties that have enacted COVID-19 disaster declarations and orders. A legislative brief by the National Association of Counties outlines key COVID-19 issues and resources.

Governor's News Conference. Gov. Abbott is scheduled to talk about the state's efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 at 2 p.m. today from a Texas Department of Public Safety facility in Austin. Austin’s KXAN-TV will stream the governor's news conference live.

DPS set up road checkpoints Sunday along the Louisiana border to enforce Abbott's March 30 executive order requiring anyone entering Texas from Louisiana to self-quarantine for 14 days or the length of their stay in Texas, whichever is shorter. The order requires drivers to fill out a form designating a quarantine location in Texas.


April 3, 2020

Texas' director of elections, Keith Ingram, on Thursday instructed local election officials who have not already done so to postpone their May 2 elections to November, The Texas Tribune reported. "If you don't move your May 2nd election, you are subjecting voters to health risks and potential criminal violations," Ingram wrote. "Failure to postpone your election will put your election at severe risk for an election contest."

A March 18 proclamation by Gov. Greg Abbott allowed local officials to postpone their May 2 municipal elections to Nov. 3. On Tuesday, Abbott issued an executive order that directs Texans to minimize social gatherings and in-person contact with people who are not in the same household unless taking part in an essential service or activity.

In an advisory also sent to local election officials Thursday, Ingram provided guidance on voting and election procedures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including possibly allowing voters affected by the pandemic to be eligible to vote by mail.

Texas is currently reporting 5,330 cases of COVID-19, with 90 deaths – an increase of 661 cases and 20 deaths from the day before. Of Texas' 254 counties, 145 are reporting COVID-19 cases. Six counties are reporting more than 250 cases each: Harris (955), Dallas (831), Travis (351), Tarrant (325), Bexar (254) and Denton (254).

The Texas Association of Counties Legal Services offers updated COVID-19 guidance on government orders and protocols and information for county officials. TAC also maintains a list of counties that have enacted COVID-19 disaster declarations and orders. A legislative brief by the National Association of Counties outlines key COVID-19 issues and resources.

COVID-19 and Rural Hospitals. "It is easier to social distance in rural America," Lorenzo Serrano, chief executive officer of the 19-bed Winkler County Memorial Hospital in West Texas, told the Los Angeles Times for a story published today about how rural hospitals are preparing and bracing for the COVID-19 crisis despite the favorable advantage of additional elbow room noted by Serrano. About 2,000 rural hospitals serve more than 45 million Americans.

Gov. Abbott is scheduled to talk at 2:30 p.m. today about how Texas hospitals are responding to COVID-19. You can watch the governor's address here.


April 2, 2020

The U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday that 6.65 million Americans had applied for unemployment benefits for the week ending March 28, an increase of 3.3 million from the previous week. The number of Texans filing unemployment claims reached 275,597, according to the Labor Department; 155,426 Texans has applied for unemployment during the previous week.

Like other state offices that process unemployment benefits, the Texas Workforce Commission is grappling with meeting the need of tens of thousands of Texans trying to file unemployment insurance claims. A spokesperson for the commission told The Texas Tribune that the commission received more than 1.5 million calls in a 24-hour period last week; the commission usually averages between 13,000 and 20,000 calls a day.

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar recently told Texas Standard that he anticipates sources used by his office soon will be forecasting a state unemployment rate "in the low double digits." According to a report by The Texas Tribune, Texas cities are projecting decreases in sales tax revenue as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. How deeply the threat of an economic recession will affect local government budgets will depend on how long the COVID-19 pandemic lasts.

Texas is currently reporting 4,669 cases of COVID-19, with 70 deaths – a 12-person increase from the day before. The number of COVID-19 cases increased by 672. Of Texas' 254 counties, 143 are now reporting COVID-19 cases.

The number of state-issued stay-at-home orders has increased to cover more than two-thirds of Americans. On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott signed an executive order telling Texans to stay home unless they're using or engaging in "essential services and activities."

The Texas Association of Counties Legal Services offers updated COVID-19 guidance on government orders and protocols and information for county officials. TAC also maintains a list of counties that have enacted COVID-19 disaster declarations and orders. A legislative brief by the National Association of Counties outlines key COVID-19 issues and resources.

Governor Suspends EMS Regulations to Boost COVID-19 Response. As part of the state's COVID-19 response, Gov. Abbott announced on Thursday that he was suspending regulations for Emergency Medical Services providers and other requirements to increase the number of EMS personnel and first responders. Abbott's action will allow qualified individuals who aren't formally certified "to provide emergency response services for patients treated and transported" by a licensed EMS provider, according to a press release from the Governor’s Office.


April 1, 2020

Counties and cities across Texas — Taylor County, El Paso and Midland among them — a have extended their disaster declarations through April 30 or announced new guidelines for COVID-19 testing and other actions related to the coronavirus. The city of Eastland extended its disaster order until May 18. Social distancing measures include limiting gatherings to no more than 10 people and the number of customers stores can allow in at any one time.

Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order on Tuesday establishing enhanced statewide protocols for "essential services and activities." Abbott also announced that schools will remain closed until at least May 4. The governor didn't describe his order as a stay-at-home directive during a news conference Tuesday but in a later interview he said that stay-at-home policies issued by other states "are very close to ours, which is, if you had to put a label on it, it would be 'essential services and activities only.' If you're not engaged in an essential service or activity, then you need to be at home for the purpose of slowing the spread of COVID-19."

The Texas Association of Counties Legal Services offers updated COVID-19 guidance on government orders and protocols and information for county officials. TAC also maintains a list of counties that have enacted COVID-19 disaster declarations and orders. A legislative brief by the National Association of Counties outlines key COVID-19 issues and resources.

Social media and printable communication resources to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 are also available from the Texas Department of Health and Human Services.

Texas is currently reporting 3,997 cases of COVID-19, with 58 deaths.

Job Reductions. As a sign of how the COVID-19 crisis is affecting businesses and workers in the state, the Texas Workforce Commission released information Tuesday on major layoff notices received from 34 companies operating in the state and affecting more than 4,400 workers, the Austin American-Statesman reported. Only companies planning to lay off a certain number or percentage of employees are required by the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act to file so-called WARN letters with the Texas Workforce Commission. More than 150,000 Texans filed for unemployment relief during the week ending March 21.


March 31, 2020

Gov. Greg Abbott extended the state's social distancing requirements through April to curb the spread of COVID-19. Exceptions apply for essential activities and services based on guidance provided by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The governor also announced that Texas schools would remain closed for in-person attendance through at least May 4. Abbott declined to issue a statewide stay-at-home order, leaving it to individual counties and cities to decide whether to order residents to shelter in place.

The Texas Association of Counties has compiled a list of counties that have enacted COVID-19 disaster declarations and orders. TAC Legal Services provides updated guidance, including information on county disaster declarations.

Social media and printable communication resources to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 are also available from the Texas Department of Health and Human Services.

Texas is currently reporting 3,266 cases of COVID-19, with 41 deaths.

Medical Cost-Sharing Waived. Gov. Abbott waived cost-sharing provisions on Monday to ensure that public safety employees who become ill with COVID-19 are reimbursed for "reasonable medical expenses" related to their treatment, according to a press release by the Governor's Office. "Texas' public safety employees are vital to our COVID-19 response," Abbott said. "These brave men and women are on the front lines and risking potential exposure to keep our communities safe. By waiving these regulations, Texas will ensure that those who may contract COVID-19 will have the support they need to pay for medical expenses."

COVID-19 Projections. Statistical modeling by the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates there could be more than 82,000 COVID-19 deaths nationwide by August, with almost 4,200 deaths in Texas. The research, which prompted President Donald Trump on Sunday to extend federal mitigation guidelines through April, assumes the federal government and states maintain social distancing measures through May. The modeling does not account for local policies that could lower the projections. The model predicts the peak number of resources used in hospitals nationally will occur on April 15. The predicted peak for Texas is May 2.


March 30, 2020

As the number of coronavirus cases continues to increase nationally, President Donald Trump on Sunday extended federal guidelines on avoiding nonessential travel and gatherings of more than 10 people through April. On Friday, FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor sent a letter listing seven steps state and local emergency managers can take to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus. FEMA's coronavirus resources include information on emergency declarations, best practices and assistance measures.

Trump signed the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act into law Friday. On Monday, members of Congress and administration officials were talking about the possibility of another relief package to help state and local governments cope with the COVID-19 crisis.

COVID-19 developments evolve rapidly. The Texas Association of Counties Legal Services provides updated guidance, including information on county disaster declarations. TAC also has compiled a list of county COVID-19 disaster declarations.

Texas is currently reporting 2,877 cases of COVID-19, with 38 deaths. Almost half of Texas' 254 counties – 124 – are now reporting coronavirus cases; Harris (526 cases), Dallas (488) and Travis (200) are the hardest hit thus far.

Social media and printable communication resources to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 are also available from the Texas Department of Health and Human Services.

Self-Quarantine Order. Gov. Greg Abbott has expanded a mandatory quarantine order for travelers entering Texas. Anyone entering the state by road from Louisiana must self-quarantine for 14 days while in Texas, or the length of their stay in Texas, whichever is shortest. An earlier order by Abbott required air travelers from New Orleans to self-quarantine. The governor also expanded his previous air travel quarantine to include anyone flying from Miami, Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago and any airport in California and Washington state.

Release of Jail Inmates. Abbott also has ordered jails not to release inmates charged or previously convicted of violent crimes on bail-free personal bonds. COVID-19 cases in the Harris and Dallas county jails have prompted some local officials to try to find ways to keep inmate populations at a minimum to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in their jails, where implementing precautionary measures such as social distancing are next to impossible.

The Texas Association of Counties Risk Management Services lists policies and protocols to help reduce the risk of COVID-19 for law enforcement and jail staff and inmates. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards also provides several technical assistance memorandums related to COVID-19.


March 27, 2020

With 367 confirmed COVID-19 cases thus far, Dallas County is the Texas county hardest hit by the coronavirus outbreak. During a news conference Thursday evening, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said the county is planning to open a 250-bed mobile hospital and call in doctors and nurses from the National Guard to help. Jenkins also called on all counties in the Dallas-Fort Worth area to enact stay-at-home orders. Neighboring Collin County has asked its residents to stay home but has allowed most businesses to stay open as long as they follow statewide limits on gatherings.

Stimulus Bill. The U.S. House of Representatives sent the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act to President Trump for his signature Friday. In addition to providing assistance to workers and businesses, the act sets aside $150 billion for state and local governments.

Census Disruptions. Restrictions on movement, limits on public gatherings and requirements to maintain a safe distance from one another are disrupting plans to conduct the census, especially in some of Texas’ poorest areas. The Texas Tribune looked at the improvisational steps organizers in Hidalgo County are taking to ensure an accurate count.

Emergency Declarations. Jefferson, Hardin, Orange, Jasper, Newton and Tyler counties on Friday joined the list of Texas counties issuing stay-at-home orders. On Thursday, Taylor County added to the number of Texas counties that have announced disaster declarations aimed at implementing protective measures against the COVID-19 virus. The Texas Association of Counties has compiled a list of county COVID-19 disaster declarations.

FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor sent a letter to state and local emergency managers on Friday sharing seven steps needed “to respond proactively and aggressively” to the COVID-19 virus. The letter includes communication resources for emergency managers.

Texas is currently reporting 1,731 cases of COVID-19, with 23 deaths.

Social media and printable communication resources to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 are available from the Texas Department of Health and Human Services.


March 26, 2020

The U.S. Senate passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus package late Wednesday to alleviate the economic harm from the COVID-19 crisis. In addition to sending checks directly to most Americans, expanding unemployment benefits and providing $350 billion in loans for small businesses, the highlights of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act include:

  • $150 billion for states and local governments, with $8 billion set aside for local governments.
  • $100 billion for hospitals.
  • $25 billion in food assistance.
  • $24 billion for farmers and ranchers.
  • $3.5 billion in child care subsidies for emergency personnel and essential workers.
  • $1.3 billion for community health centers.
  • $400 million for elections assistance.

The U.S. House is expected pass the bill Friday and send it to President Trump for his signature. A "phase four" congressional relief package is possible and could include additional federal funding to help state and local governments confront the COVID-19 outbreak and ease the health and economic burdens associated with the virus.

Texas is currently reporting 1,396 confirmed cases of COVID-19, a 40 percent increase from Wednesday’s 995 cases, with 18 deaths. Dallas County reports the most cases at 303.

The Texas Association of Counties is tracking county responses to the COVID-19 virus and has compiled a list of county COVID-19 disaster declarations.

Social media and printable communication resources to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 are available from the Texas Department of Health and Human Services.

Jail Inmates Test Positive for COVID-19. Five Dallas County jail inmates have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, county officials say. Self-quarantines and increasing social distancing between inmates, detention officers and health care workers is a daunting challenge. As a result, the Houston Chronicle reports that Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo is drafting an order that would allow the compassionate release of some jail inmates to limit the number of people in the Harris County jail.


March 25, 2020

Senate negotiators and the White House reached agreement on a $2 trillion economic rescue package Wednesday. The measure awaits a vote in the House and Senate. If it passes it will send a one-time cash payment to most Americans, expand unemployment benefits, provide emergency aid to small businesses and hospitals, establish a $150 billion relief fund for state and local governments, and offer subsidized loans to distressed industries.

The Texas Association of Counties Risk Management Pool (TAC RMP) has highlighted key points related to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, one of two emergency measures previously signed into law. TAC RMP also linked to a required Department of Labor notice county employers must post today, March 25. The Families First Act includes provisions governing paid leave and insurance coverage of COVID-19 testing. It takes effect April 1.

Because counties have their hands full responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, TAC has extended its deadline to May 15 for counties to nominate their program or service for a 2020 County Best Practices Award.

Disaster Declaration. President Trump issued a major disaster declaration for Texas on Wednesday as the state deals with a growing number of COVID-19 cases. The declaration will provide direct federal assistance for all 254 Texas counties. Texas reported 995 confirmed coronavirus cases as of Wednesday.

Stay-at-Home Orders. The number of Texas counties directing residents to stay home to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus continues to increase. Harris, Tarrant and Travis counties issued stay-at home orders Tuesday, a day after Bell, Bexar and Dallas announced similar orders. By the end of the day Tuesday, counties where some 17 million Texans live had announced similar directives.

Many counties describe their orders as "Stay Home, Work Safe" orders. Generally, the directives require non-essential businesses to either close or have their employees work from home and will remain in effect for various lengths of time. The directives allow exemptions for medical and other essential businesses such as grocery stores, gas stations and banks. Restaurants must close their dining rooms but can provide takeout or delivery.

TAC has compiled a list of county COVID-19 disaster declarations.

A Stricter Statewide Response? Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered schools, bars and restaurant dining rooms to close and limited gatherings of more than 10. At the time, Abbott left it up to city and county officials to decide whether a stay-at-home order was warranted. During a news conference in Austin on Tuesday, however, Abbott hinted that he might be open to taking more stringent steps statewide if Texas fails to achieve “the level of compliance that is needed” to curb the COVID-19 virus.