Updates – COVID-19

September 18, 2020

Gov. Greg Abbott announced on Thursday that he was easing coronavirus restrictions on most businesses. Starting Monday, restaurants, retail stores, gyms, office buildings, manufacturing facilities, museums and libraries can move from 50% capacity to 75%. Bars, however, will remain closed indefinitely because they "are nationally recognized as COVID-spreading locations," Abbott said during a news conference at the Capitol in Austin.

The governor's expanded occupancy measure does not include businesses in three of the state's 22 Trauma Service Areas – the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Laredo and Victoria -- where COVID-19 hospitalizations remain higher than 15% of total hospitalizations. Abbott called hospitalizations the "most important" coronavirus metric. Statewide hospitalizations have declined steadily since peaking near 11,000 on July 22 and were down to 3,246 on Thursday, their lowest point since June 19.

In addition, Abbott announced that elective surgeries can resume in most parts of the state. And nursing homes and other long-term care facilities can reopen for visitations on Sept. 24 as long as they follow certain safety guidelines and have no current COVID-19 outbreak.

"All the metrics show that Texas is moving in the right direction," thanks to Texans wearing masks, practicing social distancing and washing hands, Abbott said.

"The fact is COVID still exists and most Texans are still susceptible," he added. "But we are now armed with the personal safety standards and some medical advancements that can ensure we can continue to contain COVID until more treatments and vaccines become available."

Another Data Revamp. The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) has changed the way it calculates another key coronavirus metric. On Monday, the agency announced that from now on, it would base the state's positivity rate on the date a coronavirus test is given rather than when the test result is reported. State officials said the change would provide a more accurate accounting of the percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19.

The change shows that the positivity rate in May and June was higher than state health officials reported at the time, and peaked at nearly 21% on July 8, the Austin American-Statesman reported. DSHS continues to display the "legacy method" of determining the positivity rate as part of its daily COVID-19 case count along with the new measure, which is known as the "specimen collection date." A third method, the "lab test reported date," is also shown, but it is not considered as accurate as basing the rate on the date a person was tested.

The new measure was 7% as of Wednesday. It has been below 10% -- a rate Gov. Abbott considers a red flag warning -- since Aug. 21.

A high positivity rate suggests the state is only testing the sickest people and failing to capture a complete picture of where the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is spreading. The World Health Organization considers it safe to reopen schools and businesses if the positivity rate remains below 5% for at least two weeks.

Confusion and Frustration. The state's change in calculating the positivity rate follows other major adjustments and swings in Texas' COVID-19 counts that have clouded the picture of the pandemic's statewide trajectory and sown frustration among residents and local officials, The New York Times reported last weekend. The inconsistencies and problems, occasionally exacerbated by the attempts to correct them, have even been large enough to affect national trends, The Times reported.

COVID-19 Case Counts. DSHS reported an additional 3,518 COVID-19 cases on Thursday, bringing the state's total number of confirmed cases to 678,819 since the agency reported Texas' first positive case on March 4. Another 112 newly reported deaths Thursday pushed the total number of fatalities statewide to 14,590.

The state has reported 29,010 new cases and 737 additional deaths over the past seven days, an increase of 4,548 cases and a decrease of 25 deaths from the previous seven days. At least three cases of COVID-19 have been reported in 251 of Texas’ 254 counties (three counties – sparsely populated Borden, King and Loving counties – haven't reported any cases) and 225 counties have reported at least one death.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the nation's first case of COVID-19 on Jan. 20 in Washington state. Since then, 6,656,799 people in the United States have tested positive for the coronavirus as of Friday and 197,116 have died, an increase of 276,151 cases and 6,854 deaths from the week before, according to the CDC.

The global count of COVID-19 cases climbed past 30.2 million this week, with almost 950,000 confirmed deaths as of Friday, according to Johns Hopkins University. The United States, India and Brazil account for 54% of the known cases worldwide.

Jobless Claims. The U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday that 49,644 Texans filed for unemployment during the week ending Sept. 12, a decrease of 15,647 applications from the week before. Nationwide, the number of laid-off workers who applied for unemployment benefits was 860,000, down 33,000 claims from the previous week but still a historically high figure that far exceeds the number of claims filed during the depths of the Great Recession.

New Voter Registrations Plummet. New voter registrations in Texas fell sharply this spring because the coronavirus pandemic stalled traditional in-person outreach efforts, The Texas Tribune reported Thursday. As a result, the number of Texans who registered to vote from January through July fell 24% compared with the same period in 2016. Texas is one of only nine states that doesn't allow residents to register to vote online.

Pandemic Prompts New Anti-Litter Message. To counter a surge of discarded face masks, gloves and disinfectant wipes in parking lots and on the sides of roads and highways, the Texas Department of Transportation has brought in some of the state's biggest celebrities for a series of new "Don't Mess With Texas" videos. Matthew McConaughey, Eva Longoria and George Strait are among those who will be reminding Texans to properly dispose of their used personal protective equipment.

Resources and Guidance. The Texas Association of Counties' Legal Services offers updated COVID-19 information to help members respond to COVID-19. Updated graphics by the National Association of Counties show how the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases have spread across U.S. counties, the top 10 U.S. counties by confirmed COVID-19 cases and the one-week case increase in counties with the highest number of COVID-19 cases.

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.


September 11, 2020

Coronavirus Vaccine Trials. The CEOs of nine pharmaceutical companies issued a joint pledge Tuesday saying they would not submit the coronavirus vaccines they are developing to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approval until they’re confident the vaccines are safe and effective. The Trump administration has pushed for a vaccine to be ready by Nov. 1, generating concerns that clinical trials will be cut short to meet the pre-election deadline.
 
On the same day the CEOs released their shared statement, one of the companies, AstraZeneca, paused clinical trials of the vaccine it’s developing after a recipient developed inflammation in her spinal cord. AstraZeneca’s vaccine is one of three just now starting Phase 3 trials. The other vaccines are by Moderna and Pfizer.
 
Voting by Mail. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that Texas could continue to restrict voting by mail to people aged 65 and over, the Austin American-Statesman reported. The court rejected, 2-1, a challenge by Texas Democrats that the state’s age requirement on mail-in ballots violated the U.S. Constitution's 26th Amendment, which says that states can’t deny or abridge the right to vote for anyone 18 and older.
 
The appeals court, however, returned the case to U.S. district court for additional proceedings on other constitutional issues, including whether Texas' rules on mail-in voting violate equal protection rights.
 
Jobless claims. The U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday that 66,330 Texans filed for unemployment during the week ending Sept. 5, an increase of 9,657 applications from the week before. Nationwide, the number of laid-off workers who applied for unemployment benefits was 884,000, unchanged from the previous week.
 
The roughly 1.8 million Texans who currently get an additional $300 in weekly unemployment payments as part of an executive order signed by President Donald Trump on Aug. 8 will no longer receive the temporary extra help after claims from last week are paid, The Texas Tribune reported, citing the Texas Workforce Commission. The chances of Congress passing a new coronavirus relief package currently look doubtful.
 
Disaster Declaration Extended. Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday issued a proclamation extending his disaster declaration for all Texas counties in response to COVID-19. The declaration, originally issued March 13, provides the state a variety of resources to continue to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
 
An Earlier Arrival, Possibly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the nation’s first case of COVID-19 on Jan. 20 in Washington state. But a new examination of more than 10 million medical records going back five years challenges that timeline.
 
Researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles found a sharp increase, compared to previous years, in the number of patients with respiratory complaints seeking treatment at UCLA clinics, emergency rooms and hospitals starting the week of Dec. 22. The records suggest that the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 reached the West Coast at least a month before the first case in the United States was officially diagnosed.
 
Labor Day Surge? Labor Day has come and gone. For health officials, the question is whether a surge of new COVID-19 cases will follow in the long weekend's wake, the way cases spiked after the Memorial Day and Fourth of July weekends. Or maybe people generally heeded the advice of health officials and kept this year’s gatherings small and low-key. The consequences of people getting together for the holiday combined with schools and universities reopening will become evident soon enough.
 
COVID-19 Case Counts. The Texas Department of State Health Services reported an additional 3,852 COVID-19 cases on Thursday, bringing the state's total number of confirmed cases to 649,809 since the health agency reported Texas' first positive case on March 4. Another 161 newly reported deaths Thursday pushed the total number of fatalities statewide to 13,853.
 
The state has reported 24,462 new cases and 762 additional deaths over the past seven days, down from 27,610 cases and 1,021 deaths over the previous seven-day period. At least one case of COVID-19 has been reported in 251 of Texas' 254 counties and 224 counties have reported at least one death.
 
The rate at which people test positive for the coronavirus was 7.8% as of Wednesday. The positivity rate has been below 10% since Sept. 1 after staying above that level for more than two months. The World Health Organization considers it safe to reopen schools and businesses if the positivity rate remains below 5% for at least two weeks. Gov. Abbott has said he considers a rate above 10% a red flag warning.
 
Statewide hospitalizations, meanwhile, were down to 3,575 on Thursday, their lowest point since June 21.
 
According to the CDC, 6,381,013 people in the United States have tested positive for the virus as of Friday and 191,353 have died, an increase of 248,939 cases and 5,180 deaths from the week before. Globally, more than 28.2 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 911,000 deaths have been confirmed, according to Johns Hopkins University.
 
Resources and Guidance. The Texas Association of Counties' Legal Services offers updated COVID-19 information to help members respond to COVID-19. Updated graphics by the National Association of Counties show how the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases have spread across U.S. counties, the top 10 U.S. counties by confirmed COVID-19 cases and the one-week case increase in counties with the highest number of COVID-19 cases.
 
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.


September 4, 2020

Gov. Greg Abbott wrote this week on Twitter that because of declining COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations, he hoped "to provide updates next week about next steps." The tweet, written in response to a complaint about restrictions on restaurants, raised expectations that Abbott will ease coronavirus restrictions on businesses soon after the three-day Labor Day weekend, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
 
In his tweet, Abbott also reminded followers of his promise "that Texas wouldn’t have any more lockdowns – despite demands from mayors & county judges insisting on lockdowns."
 
The governor's tweet added to concerns by health experts that the holiday weekend combined with the reopening of some school and university classrooms will contribute to a surge in COVID-19 cases similar to the sharp increase that followed the Memorial Day weekend in May.
 
Abbott gradually began reopening Texas in May, but soaring case numbers and hospitalizations in June forced him to reimpose limits on restaurants and close bars. He issued a mask order in early July.
 
COVID-19 Case Counts. Texas has made steady progress in reducing COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths since Abbott rolled back his plans to reopen the state's economy. The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) reported at least 3,122 coronavirus fatalities in August, about half of July’s total. The number of new infections in August declined by roughly a quarter compared with July and statewide hospitalizations were down to 4,075 on Thursday, their lowest point since June 22.
 
DSHS reported an additional 3,899 COVID-19 cases Thursday, bringing the state's total number of confirmed cases to 625,347 since the health agency reported Texas’ first positive case on March 4. Another 221 newly reported deaths Thursday pushed the total number of fatalities statewide past 13,000 to 13,091.
 
The state has reported 27,610 new cases and 1,021 additional deaths over the past seven days, down from 35,178 cases and 1,277 deaths over the previous seven-day period. At least one case of COVID-19 has been reported in 251 of Texas’ 254 counties and 224 counties have reported at least one death.
 
The rate at which people test positive for the coronavirus fell below 10% this week for the first time in more than two months; it was 8.98% as of Wednesday. The World Health Organization considers it safe to reopen schools and businesses if the positivity rate remains below 5% for at least two weeks. Gov. Abbott has said he considers a rate above 10% a red flag warning.
 
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the nation’s first case of COVID-19 on Jan. 20 in Washington state. Since then, 6,132,074 people in the United States have tested positive for the virus as of Friday and 186,173 have died, an increase of 286,198 cases and 6,008 deaths from the week before, according to the CDC.
 
Globally, 26.4 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 870,000 deaths have been confirmed, according to Johns Hopkins University. The United States, Brazil, India and Russia account for 57% of the world’s cases.
 
Sales Tax Revenues. Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced on Tuesday that sales tax collections for August totaled $2.8 billion -- 5.6% below the amount collected last August. Most of the revenue reported for the month is based on sales made in July, when rising COVID-19 infection rates likely suppressed economic activity, Hegar said in a statement.
 
Consumer spending, helped along by federal benefits, boosted the month’s retail sales tax collections, while tax revenue from other major sectors declined compared with 2019, Hegar reported. Those benefits either have expired or been reduced. "Consequently, further declines in sales tax revenue may ensue in the coming months," Hegar said.
 
Total sales tax revenue for the three months ending in August was down 2.7% compared with the same period a year ago. Sales taxes account for 59% of all tax collections in Texas, according to the comptroller’s office.
 
Hegar also announced that general-purpose revenue for the 2020 fiscal year, which ended Aug. 31, totaled just under $57 billion. That amount was down 1.5% from fiscal 2019 but slightly ahead of a revised revenue estimate that Hegar released in July.
 
The Austin American-Statesman gave readers a glimpse of how the fall in tax revenues will affect state services when it obtained a document laying out proposals by state agencies for meeting a 5% budget cut that Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen ordered in May. Altogether, the proposed cuts in a 374-page document compiled by the Legislative Budget Board add up to a little over $1 billion and involve the freezing or elimination of more than 4,000 staff positions, the American-Statesman reported.
 
Jobs and Jobless Claims. Employers added 1.4 million jobs in August, down from 1.7 million added in July, the U.S. Buruea of Labor Statistics reported Friday. The unemployment rate, meanwhile, fell from 10.2% in July to 8.4% in August.
 
The U.S. has recovered about 11 million of the 22 million jobs lost to the coronavirus pandemic but many of the remaining job losses might prove permanent, The Associated Press reported. And while record numbers of layoffs have slowed, they are continuing. The U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday that another 881,000 Americans applied for unemployment benefits during the week ending Aug. 29. The latest number of jobless claims was down 130,000 from the week before and represented the fewest number of claims since the pandemic began shutting down the economy in mid-March, but it was still historically high.
 
In Texas, 56,759 laid-off workers filed for unemployment during the week ending Aug. 29, an increase of 4,607 applications from the week before.
 
Mail-In Voting. The Texas Supreme Court on Wednesday temporarily blocked Harris County from sending mail ballot applications to all 2.4 million of its registered voters ahead of November’s general election, the Houston Chronicle reported. However, before the court weighed in on the matter, Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins already had said his office would only send mail-in ballots to county residents 65 and older because of a separate legal challenge from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.
 
Texas voters who are at least 65, have a disability, are out of the county or are jailed but otherwise eligible during the voting period automatically qualify for a mail-in ballot.
 
In another mail-in balloting case, Texas Democrats argued before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday that by allowing only Texans 65 and older to request an absentee ballot without an excuse, Texas is violating the 26th Amendment, the Austin American-Statesman reported. The 26th Amendment says the right to vote cannot be denied or abridged for citizens 18 and older.
 
Early voting for the Nov. 3 election begins Oct. 13 and runs through Oct. 30.
 
Coronavirus Vaccine. The CDC has told governors to get their states ready to distribute a coronavirus vaccine by Nov. 1, The Associated Press reported Wednesday. Public health experts told AP the timeline is out of step with clinical trials of experimental vaccines and appears driven by political considerations.
 
"It gives the appearance of a stunt rather than an expression of public health concern," Peter Hotez, a dean at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, said.
 
Resources and Guidance. The Texas Association of Counties' Legal Services offers updated COVID-19 information to help members respond to COVID-19. Updated graphics by the National Association of Counties show how the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases have spread across U.S. counties, the top 10 U.S. counties by confirmed COVID-19 cases and the one-week case increase in counties with the highest number of COVID-19 cases.
 
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.


August 28, 2020

The Pandemic's Toll on Mental Health. Forty-four percent of Texas adults, on average, have experienced high, clinical levels of anxiety and depression during the coronavirus pandemic, according to data collected from weekly surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau from late April through late July. More than 41% of adults nationwide reported feeling depressed or experiencing uncontrollable worry for at least several days in the previous week compared with just 11% last year.
 
Jobless Claims. Much of the emotional harm wreaked by the coronavirus can be attributed to the pandemic’s economic damage. The U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday that 52,318 Texans filed for unemployment during the week ending Aug. 22, a decrease of 9,082 applications from the week before. Nationwide, the number of laid-off workers who applied for unemployment benefits decreased 98,000 from the week before, to just over 1 million.
 
Texas has received federal money for a $300 weekly supplemental unemployment benefit as part of an executive order President Donald Trump signed Aug. 8. However, about 350,000 of the 1.7 million Texans currently collecting unemployment are not eligible for the new benefit because they receive less than $100 in weekly payments, WFAA-TV in Dallas reported.
 
A Grim Distinction. Bexar County has reported more COVID-19 deaths per capita than any other large urban county in Texas, according to an analysis of state and federal data by the San Antonio Express-News. The reason, experts say, is a majority Latino population that’s older and more likely to suffer from underlying conditions that increase the risk of dying from COVID-19.
 
The disease has killed 50.7 people per 100,000 residents in Bexar County, compared with 44 deaths per 100,000 residents in Harris County, 34.1 in Dallas County, 27.1 in Tarrant County and 26.5 in Travis County. As of Thursday, COVID-19 had killed 1,046 people in Bexar County, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS).
 
Infections Among Children. During the two weeks from Aug. 6 to Aug. 20, coronavirus infections among children increased by 74,160 new cases, from 358,469 to 432,629, according to a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association. The report excluded Texas from some figures because the state reported age distribution for only 8% of all cases. The report doesn't explore why cases in children jumped nearly 21% in two weeks.
 
Reopening Universities. Twelve of the top 15 U.S. universities reporting the highest number of COVID-19 cases are in the South, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported, citing a database maintained by The New York Times. Three are in Texas, with Texas A&M reporting 500 cases, The University of Texas at Austin reporting 483 and Texas Christian reporting 384. About 20,000 positive cases have been reported on university and college campuses nationwide since late July.
 
COVID-19 Case Counts. The DSHS reported an additional 5,059 COVID-19 cases Thursday, bringing the state's total number of confirmed cases to 597,737 since the state health agency reported Texas’ first positive case on March 4. Another 265 newly reported deaths Thursday pushed the total number of fatalities statewide past 12,000 to 12,070.
 
The state has reported 35,178 new cases and 1,277 additional deaths over the past seven days. At least one case of COVID-19 has been reported in 251 of Texas' 254 counties and 219 counties have reported at least one death.
 
Statewide, 4,489 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Thursday, the fewest number of hospitalized patients since June 24. Hospitalizations have decreased almost 60% since peaking near 11,000 on July 29.
 
The rate at which people test positive for the coronavirus was 13% as of Wednesday. A high rate might indicate that Texas is testing only people who seek treatment for COVID-19 and thus is failing to capture an accurate snapshot of the coronavirus' spread.
 
The World Health Organization considers it safe to reopen schools and businesses if the positivity rate remains below 5% for at least two weeks. Gov. Greg Abbott has said he considers a rate above 10% a red flag warning. The state's positivity rate has been above 10% since June 23.
 
This month, state officials disclosed a backlog of more than 850,000 coronavirus tests. The backlog has distorted metrics, such as the positivity rate, that are used to measure the spread of COVID-19 in Texas. The backlog and other data collection issues have left some local officials and Texas lawmakers frustrated with the state's public accounting of the pandemic. The Texas Tribune asked five health experts about the backlog's impact and what the state can expect as schools and universities reopen and the three-day Labor Day weekend approaches.
 
The first case of COVID-19 in the United States was reported on Jan. 20 in Washington state. Since then, 5,845,876 people in the United States have tested positive for the virus as of Friday and 180,165 have died, an increase of 294,083 cases and 6,675 deaths from the week before, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
 
Globally, 24.6 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 833,000 deaths have been confirmed, according to Johns Hopkins University. The United States, Brazil, India and Russia account for 57% of the world's cases.
 
Resources and Guidance. The Texas Association of Counties' Legal Services offers updated COVID-19 information to help members respond to COVID-19. Updated graphics by the National Association of Counties show how the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases have spread across U.S. counties, the top 10 U.S. counties by confirmed COVID-19 cases and the one-week case increase in counties with the highest number of COVID-19 cases.
 
The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston has created a COVID-19 tracking tool and forecast model that can help Texans better understand coronavirus trends in their counties and regions.
 
Editor's Note: We’re now publishing our COVID-19 update weekly rather than daily, though we will publish more often as events necessitate.


August 21,2020

The unemployment rate fell in July in 30 states, including in Texas, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday. However, because of the pandemic, all 50 states saw their jobless rates increase from a year earlier, the bureau said.
 
Texas' unemployment rate was 8% in July, a slight improvement from June, when 8.4% of Texans were jobless, but a sharp change from the state’s 3.5% unemployment rate in July 2019. Nationally, the unemployment rate in July was 10.2% -- 0.9 percentage points lower than June’s rate but 6.5 points higher than the rate in July 2019.
 
New Reporting Rules for Schools. State Education Commissioner Mike Morath told public school superintendents Thursday that Texas schools will be required to report confirmed COVID-19 cases daily to the state, the Austin American-Statesman reported. Morath said he will release details about the reporting requirements and process next week. The goal is to make it easier for families and schools to track the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 in their communities.
 
"This is necessary to inform policymakers but also just parents, school leadership, really everybody on the number of COVID-19 cases that are happening on campus, and what the implications of those COVID-19 cases are," Morath said.
 
Child Care Centers. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission published a spreadsheet on Thursday showing COVID-19 cases in 1,867 child care facilities, summer camps, and before- and after-school programs in 127 counties, The Texas Tribune reported. The decision to start posting some data on coronavirus cases at child care centers on its website marks a shift for the state health agency, which had refused to release the information last month.
 
Child care facilities have reported 1,120 COVID-19 cases in children since March and 2,200 in employees. But according to The Texas Tribune, because the state doesn't track how many children or staff are in Texas child care centers, it's near impossible to know the magnitude of the reported infections.
 
COVID-19 Case Counts. The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) reported 4,923 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, bringing the state's total number of confirmed cases to 562,559 since DSHS reported Texas' first positive case on March 4. Another 234 newly reported deaths broug