Updates – COVID-19

April 30, 2021

We began this webpage on March 25, 2020, as the world we knew began shutting down to slow the spread of COVID-19. For the next several months, we updated this page daily with pandemic news of interest to Texas counties. Then, as the surge of summer 2020 ebbed and hope of the pandemic's end glimmered on the horizon, we began updating this page weekly. 

Today, we start updating this webpage monthly. Once again, there are hopeful signs that life is returning to some degree of normalcy. Yes, if we've learned anything from COVID-19, it's that hope can be an illusion. But unlike last summer, when the even-worse surge of fall and winter had yet to show itself, this time vaccines are widely available. While the coronavirus continues to spread, it's doing so at a much slower rate, and we're no longer simply reacting to the pandemic. The new challenge is one of recovery. Things could still turn; if they do, we'll document them here as often as needed. 

New Mask Guidelines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week published new guidance saying that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks when gathering outside unless they're in a large crowd such as at a concert or sporting event. The CDC also says that people who are unvaccinated can gather safely outside without wearing a mask in some situations. As The Associated Press pointed out, the updated guidelines essentially endorse what many Americans already are doing. 

Vaccine Data. The CDC's mask revisions come as about 26% of all Texans and 30% of all Americans are fully vaccinated, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) and the CDC's COVID Data Tracker

Vaccine Demand Slows Down. Rising numbers of people are getting vaccinated. The bad news is vaccination rates have slowed in recent weeks, CDC data show, worrying public health experts that the country will fall far short of attaining herd immunity, which could allow vaccine-resistant variants to emerge. 

In Texas, most large urban and suburban counties, as well as many counties along the border, are above the overall state rate in terms of the percentage of people who have received at least one vaccine dose, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported this week. But the vaccination rates are much lower in small rural counties. 

Vaccine hesitancy helps explains why the nation's vaccination rate has fallen in the past few weeks. The federal government's April 13 decision to temporarily stop the use of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine because of a blood clot risk may have made it more difficult to persuade some people to get vaccinated even though the risk is exceedingly rare — about 15 cases out of nearly 8 million shots given have been identified. 

Where's the Surge? Despite some criticism that the decision was premature, Texas hasn't seen a surge in the number of COVID-19 cases since Gov. Greg Abbott lifted the state's mask mandate and ended business restrictions on March 2. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram explored some of the reasons why

The Legislature and the Pandemic. Not surprisingly, COVID-19 has prompted state lawmakers to propose a plethora of pandemic-related bills, from those that would curb the governor's power during a disaster emergency to those that would require the state to stockpile an adequate supply of personal protective equipment and expand virtual learning options, to everything in between and beyond. Some proposals constitute meaningful reform; others could leave the state worse off when another infectious disease outbreak happens, public health and public policy experts told The Texas Tribune. The legislative session ends May 31. 

COVID-19 in Texas. DSHS reported 2,404 new coronavirus cases Thursday and 67 new deaths. Since March 4, 2020, when the first case of COVID-19 in Texas was confirmed, 2,467,456 Texans have tested positive for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 and 49,158 have died. 

Texas has averaged 2,791 new cases and 47 new deaths each day over the past seven days, according to the CDC, down 119 cases and eight deaths compared with the previous seven-day period. 

According to DSHS, 2,745 COVID-19 patients were in Texas hospitals on Wednesday. With one exception (April 12), the number of daily COVID-19 hospitalizations has remained below 3,000 since March 31. In January, daily hospitalizations were consistently above 12,000, peaking at more than 14,000 on Jan. 11. 

Meanwhile, the percentage of Texans testing positive for COVID-19 was 5.4% as of Wednesday. A positivity rate of 5% or less indicates the virus is contained. In May 2020, the World Health Organization recommended that the rate should remain below 5% for at least 14 days before regions reopen. The last time it was below 5% in Texas was on March 13, 2020. 

Beyond Texas. Since the CDC diagnosed the nation's first case of COVID-19 on Jan. 20, 2020, in Washington state, more than 32 million Americans have been infected with the coronavirus and 571,297 have died. The CDC reported 53,051 new cases on Thursday and 876 new deaths. The CDC has reported an average of 52,528 new cases and 628 new deaths each day over the past seven days, down 10,124 cases and 56 deaths compared with the previous seven-day period. 

Globally, more than 150.6 million people have contracted the coronavirus and about 3.2 million have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. The United States, with about 4% of the world's total population, accounts for 21.4% of the world's known cases and 18.2% of its known deaths. 

But as cases and deaths in the United States decline, new infections around the world have never been higher, with much of the increase in India. Meanwhile, Brazil on Thursday became only the second country after the United States to surpass 400,000 COVID-19 deaths, AP reported. Variants and low vaccination rates are being blamed for the outbreaks in both countries. Less than 2% of Indians and less than 6% of Brazilians have been fully vaccinated. 

Jobless Claims and the Economy. The U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday that 26,668 Texans filed for unemployment during the week ending April 24, a decrease of 19,848 applications from the week before. Nationwide, 553,000 laid-off workers applied for unemployment benefits, down 13,000 from the previous week and a new pandemic low for the third week in a row. 

The U.S. economy grew at a 6.4% annual rate during the January-March quarter. Second-quarter growth is expected to be even more impressive, economists told AP

Resources and Guidance. We've created a webpage to help answer your questions about the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which President Joe Biden signed into law on March 11. The act provides $65.1 billion in direct aid to all counties nationwide. Texas counties are expected to receive more than $5.6 billion based on preliminary estimates

The COVID-19 Recovery Clearinghouse by the National Association of Counties features a collection of critical resources for counties. 

The Texas Public Health Vaccine Scheduler helps people find available vaccination appointments. People who do not have access to the internet can call (833) 832-7067 to schedule an appointment. 

The Associated Press has compiled answers to commonly asked questions about the coronavirus pandemic. AP updates the file regularly.


April 9, 2021

Gov. Greg Abbott announced an executive order Tuesday that prohibits state agencies, counties, cities and any entity that receives public money from requiring so-called vaccine passports. "As I've said all along, these vaccines are always voluntary and never forced," Abbott said in a written statement. "Government should not require any Texan to show proof of vaccination and reveal private health information just to go about their daily lives."

The Biden administration doesn't support requiring Americans to carry COVID-19 vaccine passports, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday. Such proof of vaccination is being debated by businesses, universities and organizations as a way to keep employees, customers, students and others safe from COVID-19.

COVID-19 in Texas. The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) reported 2,445 new coronavirus cases Thursday and 92 new deaths. Since March 4, 2020, when the first case of COVID-19 in Texas was confirmed, 2,415,822 Texans have tested positive for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 and 48,013 have died.

The state confirmed 17,994 new cases and 491 new deaths over the past seven days — 2,559 fewer cases and 163 fewer deaths than were confirmed during the previous seven-day period. An average of 2,571 Texans contracted the coronavirus each day over the past week; an average of 70 died.

According to DSHS, 2,856 COVID-19 patients were in Texas hospitals on Thursday, 98 fewer than the week before. Meanwhile, the percentage of Texans testing positive for COVID-19 was 5.7% as of April 6. In May 2020, the World Health Organization recommended that the rate should remain below 5% for at least 14 days before regions reopen. The last time it was below 5% in Texas was on March 13, 2020.

Beyond Texas. Since the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention diagnosed the nation's first case of COVID-19 on Jan. 20, 2020, in Washington state, more than 30.7 million Americans have been infected with the coronavirus and 556,106 have died, according to the CDC, which reported 74,860 new cases on Thursday and 871 new deaths. The CDC has reported an average of 64,151 new cases and 710 new deaths each day over the past seven days, up 1,282 cases and down 340 deaths compared with the previous seven-day period.

Globally, more than 134.1 million people have contracted the coronavirus and more than 2.9 million have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. The United States, with about 4% of the world's total population, accounts for 23.2% of the world's known cases and 19.3% of its known deaths.

Vaccine Data. As of Thursday, 5,063,173 Texans, or about 17.5% of the state's total population, have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, DSHS reported. About 66.2 million Americans — about 19.9% of the nation's total population — have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC's COVID Data Tracker.

Jobless Claims. The U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday that 79,279 Texans filed for unemployment during the week ending April 3, a decrease of 8,034 applications from the week before. Nationwide, 744,000 laid-off workers applied for unemployment benefits, up 16,000 from the previous week. Before the pandemic, weekly jobless claims typically remained below 220,000.

Resources and Guidance. The National Association of Counties has created a COVID-19 Recovery Clearinghouse where critical resources for counties can be found. The clearinghouse includes county-by-county allocation estimates from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

The Texas Department of State Health Services has created the Texas Public Health Vaccine Scheduler to help people find available vaccination appointments in their area. People who do not have access to the internet can call (833) 832-7067 to schedule an appointment.

The CDC has issued public health recommendations for what people who are fully vaccinated can safely do. Among them: Fully vaccinated people can safely visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing.

The Associated Press has compiled answers to commonly asked questions about the coronavirus pandemic. AP updates the file regularly.


March 26, 2021

Texas will make COVID-19 vaccines available to anyone 16 and older starting Monday, March 29, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) announced this week. DSHS is still asking providers to give priority to people who are 80 and older. On Thursday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced a partnership between the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and the Texas Employee Retirement System, the Texas Teachers Retirement System, AARP and Medicare health plans to strengthen the state's Save Our Seniors vaccination program.

Vaccine demand greatly exceeds supply and getting a vaccine appointment can take time. The state plans to launch a website next week for people to sign up for vaccines at public health centers and state-run clinics, The Texas Tribune reported. The state also plans to set up a hotline for phone appointments for people who don't have internet access.

Vaccine Data. As of Thursday, 3,345,895 Texans, or about 12% of the state's total population, have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, DSHS reported. About 47.4 million Americans — 14.3% of the nation's total population — have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC's COVID Data Tracker.

A Year of Updates. TAC's COVID-19 update made its first appearance on county.org one year ago this week, on March 25, 2020. Initially published daily, we've been producing it weekly since August.

At the time of the update's first appearance, Texas had recorded just under 1,000 cases and about two dozen people had died. Congress was a couple of days away from passing the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act and Bell, Bexar, Dallas, Harris, Tarrant and Travis counties were among the growing number of Texas counties issuing "Stay Home, Work Safe" orders.

COVID-19 in Texas. DSHS reported 2,167 new coronavirus cases Thursday and 132 new deaths. Since March 4, 2020, when the first case of COVID-19 in Texas was confirmed, 2,377,275 Texans have tested positive for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 and 46,868 have died.

The state confirmed 17,719 new cases and 791 new deaths over the past seven days. An average of 2,531 Texans contracted the coronavirus each day over the past week; an average of 113 died.

According to DSHS, 3,410 COVID-19 patients were in Texas hospitals on Thursday, 435 fewer than the week before and the fewest since Oct. 5. Meanwhile, the percentage of Texans testing positive for COVID-19 was 5.7% as of Wednesday. The state's positivity rate fell below 6% this week for the first time since May.

Beyond Texas. Since the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention diagnosed the nation's first case of COVID-19 on Jan. 20, 2020, in Washington state, more than 29.8 million Americans have been infected with the coronavirus and 542,584 have died, according to the CDC, which reported 65,083 new cases on Thursday and 1,287 new deaths. The CDC has reported an average of 57,249 new cases and 1,040 new deaths each day over the past seven days, up 3,571 cases and down 15 deaths compared with the previous seven-day period.

Globally, more than 125.6 million people have contracted the coronavirus and 2.76 million have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. The United States, with about 4% of the world's total population, accounts for 23.9% of the world's known cases and 19.8% of its known deaths.

Jobless Claims. The U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday that 80,392 Texans filed for unemployment during the week ending March 20, an increase of 6,534 applications from the week before. Nationwide, 684,000 laid-off workers applied for unemployment benefits, down 97,000 from the previous week. It's the first time weekly jobless claims have fallen below 700,000 since pandemic shutdowns began last March. Before the pandemic, weekly jobless claims typically numbered about 225,000.

Resources and Guidance. The National Association of Counties has created a COVID-19 Recovery Clearinghouse where critical resources for counties can be found. The clearinghouse includes county-by-county allocation estimates from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

The CDC has issued public health recommendations for what people who are fully vaccinated can safely do. Among them: Fully vaccinated people can safely visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing.


March 19, 2021

It was one year ago this week that Texas reported its first known coronavirus death. To mark the somber occasion, The Texas Tribune created a timeline that tracks the state's growing death toll over the past year and the policy decisions made in response to the pandemic. The timeline also includes stories of some of the more than 46,000 Texans who have died of COVID-19.

COVID-19 in Texas. The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) reported 3,757 new cases Thursday and 198 new deaths. Since March 4, 2020, when the first case of COVID-19 in Texas was confirmed, 2,359,556 Texans have tested positive for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 and 46,077 have died.

Average daily new cases over the past seven days increased by 145 cases compared with the previous seven-day average. Average daily new deaths over the past seven days were down 36 deaths compared with the seven-day average a week ago.

According to DSHS, 3,846 COVID-19 patients were in Texas hospitals on Thursday, the fewest since Oct. 10. Meanwhile, the percentage of Texans testing positive for COVID-19 was 6.5% as of Wednesday. Last May, the World Health Organization recommended that the positivity rate should remain below 5% for at least 14 days before regions reopen. The last time it was below 5% in Texas was on March 13, 2020.

Beyond Texas. Since the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention diagnosed the nation's first case of COVID-19 on Jan. 20, 2020, in Washington state, more than 29.4 million Americans have been infected with the coronavirus and 535,217 have died, according to the CDC, which reported 56,900 new cases on Thursday and 1,118 new deaths. The CDC has reported an average of 53,772 new cases and 1,052 new deaths each day over the past seven days, down 13,576 cases and 474 deaths compared with the previous seven-day period.

Globally, more than 121.9 million people have contracted the coronavirus and about 2.7 million have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. The United States, with about 4% of the world's total population, accounts for 24.3% of the world's known cases and 20% of its known deaths.

Vaccine Data. As of Thursday, 2,990,796 Texans, or about 10.3% of the state's total population, have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, DSHS reported. About 41 million Americans — 12.3% of the nation's total population — have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC's COVID Data Tracker.

Texas trails most states in the percentage of residents either receiving at least one vaccine dose or who are fully vaccinated, according to a USA Today analysis of CDC data. In neighboring New Mexico, for example, 18% of people have been fully vaccinated. In Oklahoma, it's 14%. February's winter storms only partly explains why Texas lags behind all but a handful of states, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

Jobless Claims. The U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday that 70,369 Texans filed for unemployment during the week ending March 13, an increase of 21,003 applications from the week before. Nationwide, 770,000 laid-off workers applied for unemployment benefits, up 45,000 from the previous week. The four-week average of claims was 746,000, the lowest since late November, according to The Associated Press. Before the pandemic, weekly jobless claims typically numbered about 225,000.

Resources and Guidance. The National Association of Counties has created a COVID-19 Recovery Clearinghouse where critical resources for counties can be found. The clearinghouse includes county-by-county allocation estimates from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

The CDC has issued public health recommendations for people who are fully vaccinated. Among the things fully vaccinated people can do safely is visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing.


March 12, 2021

March is a month of COVID-19 first anniversaries. March 4, 2020, marked the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Texas; the state's first known coronavirus death was reported on March 17. This week saw the one-year anniversary of when the country began widespread lockdowns to limit the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

And it was one year ago, on March 11, 2020, that the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. At the time, there were about 125,000 confirmed case of COVID-19 worldwide; deaths were fewer than 5,000. Today, 118.8 million people have contracted the coronavirus and more than 2.6 million have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. The United States leads the world with more than 29 million cases and 528,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Pandemic Relief Package. President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 into law Thursday. The act includes $65.1 billion in direct payments to counties, with Texas counties set to receive more than $5.6 billion. The U.S. Treasury will allocate the money based on population, and will send 50% of the money within the next 60 days and the remaining 50% about a year later. Counties will have until Dec. 31, 2024, to spend the money they receive.

Additional information is available from the National Association of Counties, including an analysis of the act and county-by-county allocation estimates. NACo also has created a COVID-19 Recovery Clearinghouse where critical resources for counties can be found.

Mask Battles and Benefits. Gov. Greg Abbott's March 2 executive order ended the state's mask mandate on Wednesday as well as capacity limits on businesses. The next day, Attorney General Ken Paxton sued Travis County and Austin for continuing to enforce local mask requirements. Travis County Judge Andy Brown and Austin Mayor Steve Adler said they were committed to following the advice of public health officials, "who have consistently said masks save lives," Brown told the Austin American-Statesman.

Wearing masks reduced COVID-19 cases and deaths in counties where states required mask use, according to a new CDC study. The same study found that cases and deaths increased in counties where states allowed on-site restaurant dining.

COVID-19 in Texas. The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) reported 3,032 new cases Thursday and 231 new deaths. More than 2.3 million Texans have tested positive for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19; at least 45,106 have died.

The state confirmed 24,672 new cases and 1,228 deaths over the past seven days — 14,581 fewer cases and 365 fewer deaths than were confirmed during the previous seven-day period. An average of 3,526 Texans contracted the coronavirus each day over the past week; an average of 175 died.

According to DSHS, 4,406 COVID-19 patients were in Texas hospitals on Thursday, the fewest since Oct. 18. Meanwhile, the percentage of Texans testing positive for COVID-19 was 7.1% as of Wednesday. In May, the World Health Organization recommended that the positivity rate should remain below 5% for at least 14 days before regions reopen. The last time it was below 5% in Texas was a year ago, on March 13.

Vaccine Data. As of Thursday, 2,602,278 Texans, or about 9% of the state's total population, have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, DSHS reported. About 33.9 million Americans — 10.2% of the nation's total population — have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC's COVID Data Tracker.

Texans 50 and older become eligible to be vaccinated starting March 15, DSHS announced in a press release Wednesday. Appointments are expected to continue to be hard to find, at least for the next few weeks.

Fully vaccinated people can hold small gatherings indoors without wearing masks or practicing social distancing, according to new guidelines issued by the CDC. The guidelines also include advice on how to visit with unvaccinated people and how to approach isolation, quarantine and testing.

Jobless Claims. The U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday that 45,284 Texans filed for unemployment during the week ending March 6, a decrease of 11,014 applications from the week before. Nationwide, 712,000 laid-off workers applied for unemployment benefits, down 42,000 from the previous week. Before the pandemic, weekly jobless claims typically numbered about 225,000.

A Tale of Two States. California and Florida employed different strategies for countering the pandemic. An examination of each state's stance by the Los Angeles Times found that California, with its use of face masks and shutdowns, generally fared better than Florida, which took a more laissez-faire approach. California's COVID-19 death rate is 11% lower, for example, and the state is looking at a budget windfall while Florida is grappling with a budget deficit. But overall, the differences aren't as dramatic as one might think.

"If I had to do it again, I'd still do it the way California did it. But I do think you do have to come away with some humility," Dr. Robert Wachter, chair of the University of California at San Francisco’s Department of Medicine, told the Times. "One might've expected that the Floridas of the world would've done tremendously worse than the Californias of the world, and they did worse, but modestly worse, and there's something to be learned there."


Updates – COVID-19 Archives