Biden Gets to Work On First Day in Office

Jan. 20, 2021 (Updated Jan. 22)

By Terrance Turner

President Joe Biden got right down to brass tacks after his inauguration today. After the shortened inaugural parade on Jan. 20, the new president went to his office and got to work. “There is no time to waste when it comes to tackling the crises we face,” Biden said. “That’s why today, I am heading to the Oval Office to get right to work delivering bold action and immediate relief for American families.”

On his first day in office, President Biden signed 17 executive orders. The orders cover a wide range — from DACA to the border wall to COVID-19. Wearing a mask at the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, Biden issued a mask mandate in federal buildings. The executive order requires masks to be worn on federal land and in federal buildings. The order applies to any federal employee or contractor working in these locations and facilities, according to Business Insider.

Since Biden does not have the legal authority to require every American to wear a mask, his order instead challenges the public to wear masks for 100 days. He has called on governors, mayors, and public-health officials to support him in the mission.

President Biden also created a COVID-19 “response coordinator” who will report to the president on vaccines, testing and personal protective equipment production, supply, and distribution, per CBS News. On Wednesday, Biden rejoined the World Health Organization. He put a stop to the US withdrawal process started under Trump. Biden also tapped Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to represent the US at WHO’s annual meetings this week.

Biden also rejoined the Paris Climate Accord, which the previous president had withdrawn from. The international agreement calls for dramatically reducing global greenhouse gas emissions heating the planet. Countries set their own goals to try to curb global temperature rise, with a collective aim to stay well below 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, according to The Independent.

Biden revoked the previous president’s “Muslim ban” — which prohibited immigration from majority-Muslim countries — and abolished the so-called “extreme vetting” practices that were hard on immigrants and led to rejected visa applications. The order also instructed the State Department to restore fairness in visa processing and remedy harms caused by the previous bans, according to Forbes.

Biden also directed an immediate halt to construction of the border wall along the U.S. Mexican border and called for a review of the legality of funding and contracting methods used by the previous administration. The order terminated the “national emergency” declaration used to justify the wall. (The U.S.-Mexico border spans over 1,900 miles; the Trump administration added merely 80 new miles of barrier fencing along the border.)

Another executive order directed the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice to take appropriate measures to fortify Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and ensure that “Dreamers” be protected from deportation. Biden also revoked the prior administration’s orders to exclude undocumented individuals from the census.

Furthermore, Biden signed an order calling for an eviction moratorium until the end of February. He also requested that student loans be paused and that interest rates be set at zero percent. According to the Huffington Post, Biden has extended the pause on student loan payments until September 2021. Borrowers may defer payments without penalty.

President Biden also issued an executive order addressing workplace discrimination against LGBTQ people. Titled “Executive Order on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation”, it is written in Biden’s voice. The order begins: “By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1.  Policy.  Every person should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear, no matter who they are or whom they love.  Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports.  Adults should be able to earn a living and pursue a vocation knowing that they will not be fired, demoted, or mistreated because of whom they go home to or because how they dress does not conform to sex-based stereotypes.  People should be able to access healthcare and secure a roof over their heads without being subjected to sex discrimination.  All persons should receive equal treatment under the law, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation.

These principles are reflected in the Constitution, which promises equal protection of the laws.  These principles are also enshrined in our Nation’s anti-discrimination laws, among them Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” Biden writes. “It is the policy of my administration to prevent and combat discrimination on the basis of gedner identity and sexual orientation,” he goes on.

The order mandates that the head of each agency shall review its order, regulations, programs, policies, etc. that may be inconsistent with Section 1. The head of each agency must then also consider whether to revise, suspend, or rescind such agency actions, or to effect new agency actions, in compliance with this. (He or she must also determine whether that policy was administered under Title II.)

The Human Rights Campaign called Biden’s order the “most substantive, wide-ranging LGBTQ order in U.S. history.”

UPDATE (Jan. 25, 2021): President Biden has signed an executive order reversing Donald Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the U.S. military.

Pandemic Pandemonium: FDA Approves Vaccine As Cases, Deaths Soar

Photo courtesy of Agence France-Presse.

By Terrance Turner

Dec. 11, 2020 (UPDATED: Dec. 17)

Tonight, the COVID-19 pandemic hit new, disturbing highs. The New York Times reports: “The nation set single-day records on Wednesday for reported deaths, with more than 3,600, and for newly reported cases, more than 245,000.” The Times added: “Three times as many more people in the United States are dying each day now than three months ago, and the number of new cases is six times what it was then.” ABC News confirmed this disturbing case count, adding that the U.S. has broken hospitalization records each day for the past 11 days.

The Times also revealed: “In the past week, just over 30 percent of the nation’s coronavirus-related deaths were reported in the South, and nearly 30 percent in the Midwest.” The pandemic’s toll is also ravaging the West. California, the nation’s most populous state, is facing a deluge of cases. NPR states: “California reported 52,281 new daily confirmed coronavirus cases and 379 new virus-related deaths, according to state data. This brings the state’s total number of cases to more than 1.7 million, with 21,860 deaths since the pandemic began.”

Worse yet, the number of hospitalizations in California has broken records every day for 18 consecutive days. The impact on hospitals is particularly grave in Southern California: there are 0 ICU beds available, per ABC News. NPR confirms that no intensive care unit beds are available

BREAKING (Dec. 11, 8:26 pm): The FDA has approved the Pfizer vaccine for emergency use. An initial shipment of about 2.9 million doses will be sent around the United States over the next week, according to the New York Times. The first week’s batch will be delivered to health care workers and nursing home residents as quickly as possible, all while keeping the vaccine at ultracold temperatures.

This news comes after White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn, to consider looking for his next job if he didn’t get the emergency approval done Friday, according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity since he was not authorized to discuss the matter. Dr. Hahn ordered vaccine regulators at the agency to do it by the end of the day.

This rapid turnaround comes after the New York Times reported the White House turned down an offer of vaccine doses months ago. Pfizer sold the U.S. government 100 million doses, purchased by the Health and Human Services Dept. In July, the government was given the option to request 100 million to 500 million additional doses. But despite repeated warnings from Pfizer officials that demand could vastly outstrip supply and urges to pre-order more doses, the Trump administration turned down the offer. The Washington Post cited an official who cited pending FDA approval as the reason for the rejection. But by the time FDA approval was granted and federal officials reached back out, Pfizer had committed doses to other countries, the Post says.

The United States reported 107,248 hospitalizations of COVID-19 yesterday — a new record high. According to CNN, Dec. 10 is the ninth consecutive day that the U.S. has had more than 100,000 hospitalizations. The death toll topped 3,000 yesterday for the first time, according to Johns Hopkins University. (CNN’s Anderson Cooper said tonight that an additional 2,700 deaths were reported nationwide today.) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention forecasts up to 362,000 deaths in the U.S. by Jan. 2. That’s almost the entire population of Cleveland.

At this point, the United States has recorded 291,754 deaths from COVID-19 — more than the number of Americans killed during World War II. That was the bloodiest war in human history, according to Business Insider. (Interestingly, this week marked the 79th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, which caused the U.S. to enter the war. Much like Dec. 7, 1941, Dec. 10, 2020 is a day that may well “live in infamy”.)

But the vaccine’s approval today (Dec. 11) marks a historic development. The FDA announced the news in a press release tonight that explained how the vaccine works. “The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine contains messenger RNA (mRNA), which is genetic material. The vaccine contains a small piece of the SARS-CoV-2 virus’s mRNA that instructs cells in the body to make the virus’s distinctive “spike” protein. When a person receives this vaccine, their body produces copies of the spike protein, which does not cause disease, but triggers the immune system to learn to react defensively, producing an immune response against SARS-CoV-2.”  

Yesterday, the Food and Drug Administration voted 17-4 in favor of an emergency use authorization for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. The dissidents were concerned about the effects of the vaccine on 16- and 17-year-olds, according to NBC News. They also have concerns about the impact on pregnant women. Still, the majority of the FDA commission voted yes.

The vaccine “measures reducing symptomatic illness”, thus keeping patients from becoming gravely ill, according to CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen. But she added that it is not clear yet whether the vaccine prevents one from contracting the virus. She told Anderson Cooper that people should still be vigilant: “They should still be wearing a mask. They should still be social distancing.”

While the virus continues to rage, the president of the United States is working overtime to win an election he lost (when he’s not hosting holiday parties). Today, the Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit filed by Texas’ attorney general that sought to invalidate some 20 million votes. The Houston Chronicle reports: “In a one-page ruling, the justices said Texas lacked standing to bring the case and therefore they would not consider it. The suit, brought by Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton, targeted Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and alleged that changes made to election policies without state legislature approval were unconstitutional and allowed voter fraud to occur, though he did not offer evidence of that.”

“The State of Texas’s motion for leave to file a bill of complaint is denied for lack of standing under Article III of the Constitution,” the Court said. The Supreme Court — stacked with three justices personally appointed by President Trump — rejected his bid to undo the election. And so ends a monthlong effort, involving some 30 lawsuits, to overrule the will of the people.

Mark Meadows Tests Positive for COVID-19

By Terrance Turner

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows has tested positive for coronavirus. The news was announced by CNN roughly half an hour ago, just minutes after Joe Biden delivered a speech ahead of his almost-certain victory in the presidential race. CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins noted that Meadows was at an election night party at the White House on Tuesday — with no mask. Notably, he was also in attendance at a Wednesday morning speech by the president:

Also worth noting: Meadows was involved in a combative exchange with reporters regarding that very issue, just weeks ago. Meadows was asked by reporters to keep the mask on. Meadows claimed he was distanced “ten feet away” and refused to do so. “I’m not going to talk through a mask,” Meadows said, before turning and walking away.

Bloomberg, which broke the story, added that Meadows told a close circle of associates about his diagnosis. Bloomberg added: “A Trump campaign aide, Nick Trainer, is also infected, according to two people familiar with the matter. He and campaign spokespeople declined to comment.”

Significantly, today was the worst day for coronavirus since the pandemic began. There were more than 125,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 today. Reuters reports that there were at least 129,606 news cases on Friday. Reuters reporter Anurag Mann added that Friday is the third straight day that at least 100,000 cases have been reported. Twenty of the 50 U.S. states reported record increases on Friday, the same as Thursday when the national daily total crossed 120,000 for the first time.

Speaking of states, Texas (which accounts for over 10% of U.S. cases) reported about 9,000 infections and is on the verge of becoming the first state to exceed 1 million cumulative COVID-19 cases. Governor Greg Abbott said the U.S. Department of Defense has deployed three U.S. Air Force Medical Specialty Teams to El Paso. KHOU reports that those 20 military medical providers will support three El Paso hospitals. Significantly, hospitalizations have risen in this country for the 12th consecutive day.

Texas Hits New Record Highs in COVID Cases, Hospitalizations, Deaths

Graph of daily COVID-19 cases since June 30. (Graph by Terrance Turner, made with Google Slides)

By Terrance Turner

Today was Texas’ deadliest day ever for the coronavirus.

Today, the state reported 60 new deaths from the virus — and a startling rise in new positive cases. The 10,026 new cases are the most since July 4, when there were roughly 8,260 cases. It is the first time that COVID-19 cases in Texas have topped 10,000 in a single day. The 60 new deaths are also a record high.

Also hitting record highs is the number of hospitalizations in Texas. According to Houston Chronicle reporter Jeremy Wallace, 9,286 people are in Texas hospitals with coronavirus. That’s up 588 since just yesterday. Hospitalizations have risen 42% since last Tuesday, and COVID-19 hospitalizations in Texas are up 515% since Memorial Day.

Somehow, Texas is still reporting 1,148 available hospital beds. But CBS News quoted Austin Mayor Steve Adler today as saying that hospitals risk becoming “overwhelmed” in the next 7-10 days. In fact, Austin hit Stage 5 today, meaning that conditions there qualify for a citywide lockdown. The daily hospitalization rate has hit 74, according to editor Matt Largey.

In Houston, officials said hospitals are exceeding base capacity in intensive care units. Houston is located within Harris County, which consistently leads the state in COVID-19 cases. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo appeared on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday to discuss the pandemic. “What we need right now is to do what works, which is a stay-home order,” Hidalgo said. “We don’t have time for incrementalism.” Hidalgo, whose county has seen the most coronavirus cases of any county in Texas, said she needed to take further action: “I need the authority to issue an enforceable stay home order. That is the only way we are going to stop ping-ponging between open and closed.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott lashed out in an interview with Beaumont television station KFDM today. He criticized “county judges or mayors who are asking for more authority to take action or to really shut things down completely back into lockdown mode that really force Texans into poverty.” The governor added: “They need to show up, enforce the law as it is before they’re given any further authority. They ask for more and more, but they do absolutely nothing.”

Former presidential candidate and Texas Senator Beto O’Rourke took note of the fray. His response was simple and characteristically blunt:

All of this comes as the Texas Education Agency is announcing guidelines for back-to-school procedures. Today, the TEA announced that students should be able to return to school for the 2020-21 school year. Their guidelines include the following:

  • Daily on-campus learning will be available to all parents who would like their students to learn in school each day.
  • In addition, all parents will have the option to choose remote learning for their children, initially, or at any point that year.
  • Parents who choose remote instruction for their children may be asked to commit to remote instruction for a full grading period (e.g. six or nine weeks).
  • But parents will not have to make that commitment more than two weeks in advance (that way, they can make a decision based on the latest public health information).
  • Schools can phase in on-campus learning.
  • Schools will also conduct screenings (i.e. temperature checks) on every child who attends.

UPDATE (July 8): Today was the deadliest day to date in Texas. 98 deaths from coronavirus were reported by the Texas DSHS. Today’s 9,610 lab-confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations are also a new record high (again). 9,979 new positive cases of the virus were also reported today — down only slightly from the 10,000 cases yesterday.

The rise in coronavirus cases has led to the cancellation of a Texas GOP convention. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner instructed the Houston First Corporation to cancel the event, which was supposed to take place in Houston next week. The planned venue was the George R. Brown Convention Center. Asked why he waited so long to make the request, Turner said he hoped the Texas Republican Party would do so on its own.

“No one wanted this to even appear to be political,” Turner said at a press conference today. “This is a political convention, and the last thing you want to do in the midst of a pandemic is to politicize or make it seem like you are going out of your way to close the door.”

UPDATE (July 9): 105 new deaths from COVID-19 were reported today. The state of Texas added another 9,782 new positive cases of the virus. Hospitalizations currently number 9,689 in Texas. Those lab-confirmed hospitalizations now take up 16.7% of Texas’ hospital beds, per the Texas Tribune. The positivity rate, which had hovered around 13% at one point, is now 15.6%. According to the Texas Dept. of State Health Services, there are now 2,918 total fatalities from COVID-19 in the state. There are now 230,346 total cases in Texas.

Harris County reported 495 cases and 7 deaths. That leaves the county with a total of 40,000 cases (which leads the state) and 411 deaths, per the Texas Tribune. The City of Houston reports 412 new cases and 5 new deaths — all of them either black or Hispanic patients, according to ABC 13 Houston. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner warned today in a press conference that the next 14 days will be critical if the virus is to be brought under control.

Texas’ Coronavirus Cases Hit New High (AGAIN)

By Terrance Turner

June 25, 2020

Texas reported another 5,996 cases of COVID-19 today. That’s a new record, and the 47 deaths reported today are the most in five weeks. As if that weren’t enough, the state is also reporting a record 4,739 lab-confirmed hospitalizations from coronavirus. This news comes as the Texas Medical Center today said 100% of its ICU beds are full. (About 30% of those beds are held by patients with COVID-19.) The hospital can convert other beds to ICU status, but that may or may not be enough: hospitalizations are up by 350 since yesterday.

The number of daily cases has surpassed 5,000 for the third straight day. On June 24, Texas reported 5,551 cases of COVID-19, according to Houston Chronicle reporter Jeremy Wallace. That same day, the Texas Medical Center — the largest medical center in the world — hit crisis mode. 97% of hospital beds in the Medical Center’s intensive care unit (ICU) were reported as full. At roughly the same time yesterday, news broke that Trump is ending federal funding for coronavirus testing at the end of this month. (WHY?!?)

On June 23, the state of Texas had 5,489 new cases of COVID-19, according to the Texas Medical Center. 28 deaths were reported. As of June 23, there have been 120,370 total cases in Texas state, and 2,220 Texans had died. Today, of course, those numbers have already increased dramatically.

The Texas Tribune uses data from the Texas Department of State Health Services to track the number of daily positive tests. Today, the Tribune revealed that some 32,066 positive cases have emerged in Texas over just the past week. Predictably, Harris County and Dallas County have seen the largest number of both positive cases and deaths. They’ve led the state in those categories for months.

But cases and deaths aren’t the only categories in which there’s cause for alarm. Texas Governor Greg Abbott often cites the positive testing rate and hospitalization rate in Texas to justify reopening Texas. Gov. Abbott has spoken encouragingly about them in press conferences, and he’s even displayed charts of the numbers. Admittedly, both metrics were relatively low. At least at first. From April to June, the hospitalization rate held steady below 2,000. But beginning around June 10, the cases began to climb. Within days, they broke 3,000, according to the Tribune. Today, the number of hospitalizations reached a new high of 4,092.

After weeks of rising numbers, the reality of the situation seems to have finally hit Gov. Greg Abbott. In an interview with KBTX News, he urged Texans to stay home. “Because the spread is so rampant right now, there is never a reason for you to have to leave your home unless you do need to go out,” he said. “The safest place for you is at your home.”

Yet when he was asked whether he’d consider another lockdown, Abbott said that was a “last option”. Why? And the president said today that he was in favor of “slowing down” testing. WHY? Cases in several states are beginning to surge, and in Texas, the situation has gotten dire: Texas Children’s Hospital is now accepting adults because of a lack of hospital bed capacity.

In response to this stunning rise, Gov. Abbott has authored an executive order banning elective surgeries in Harris, Dallas, Travis, and Bexar counties. To his credit, he also moved to limit the spread among children. The governor’s office also is working with the Texas Department of State Health Services to create stricter safety standards for child care centers during the pandemic, according to the Texas Medical Center’s website.

Gov. Abbott even ordered a “pause” on reopening Texas. In a statement, he said: “This temporary pause will help our state corral the spread until we can safely enter the next phase of opening our state for business.” But returning to a lockdown is apparently out of the question: “The last thing we want to do as a state is go backwards and close down businesses,” he said.

Given the rapid, continuous pace at which Texas reopened and the governor’s refusal to resume lockdown, frustrations with his leadership are growing. Earlier this week, ABC 13 reported that 16,000 users on Twitter had called for Abbott to resign. Today, local station CW 39 conducted a Twitter poll on Abbott’s leadership. The results speak for themselves:

Texas COVID Cases Reach New High (Again)

Greg Abbott speaks at a press conference on Tuesday.

By Terrance Turner

Today, 2,622 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Texas. It’s the highest one-day total the state has ever had. According to the Texas Department of Safety and Health Services, an additional 1,476 cases “were previously diagnosed among Texas Department of Criminal Justice inmates, but that had not been reported by local health departments.” (Why?)

That makes for a total of 4,098 positive cases of COVID-19 since yesterday. Houston Chronicle reporter Jeremy Wallace wrote today that Texas is also reporting 46 deaths. That’s the most since May 20. Total deaths from coronavirus in Texas now number over 2,000.

For five consecutive days, hospitalizations for COVID-19 have reached all-time highs, with each day topping the day before. Today, Texas reported 2,518 patients are in hospitals with lab-confirmed coronavirus. That’s a leap of 192 since yesterday and up 67% (!!!) since Memorial Day. Wallace delivered the news earlier today on Twitter:

From Twitter.

As usual, Harris County and Dallas County continue to lead the state in cases. They total 17,282 and 14,537, respectively, at press time. (Data from the Texas DSHS is preliminary and is subject to change.) Thankfully, there are still roughly 15,000 available hospital beds and around 1700 ICU beds, according to The Hill. But hospitalizations in Texas for COVID-19 have risen for six straight days and broken records for five.

Texas reported 2,518 patients with positive coronavirus tests who are hospitalized today. That is a record high. This graph shows the number of current hospitalizations has been trending up in recent days.
Courtesy of the Texas Tribune.

Dallas County reported 306 new COVID-19 cases and 8 deaths today, according to the Dallas Morning News. Hospitalizations are also increasing. (Speaking of hospitalizations, there’s been a shooting at the Dallas Galleria Mall. At least one person has been shot. Dallas police spokeswoman Melinda Gutierrez told CNN that the suspect is still at large, but added: “This is not an active shooter.”)

All of this is happening as Texas continues to reopen. Restaurants were allowed to open at 75% capacity last week, and on Friday, amusement parks will be allowed to open at 50% capacity — just like nearly every other business in Texas. Phase 3 of reopening began on June 3, a month after Phase 1 commenced on May 1.

But a growing trend is emerging in data: infections are rising among people under 30. Per the Texas Tribune, more 20-to-29-year-olds make up 24% of all cases and 8.3% of the hospitalizations in Travis County and the city of Austin. At a press conference on Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott said that in Lubbock County and Cameron County, a majority of new cases are in people under 30.

He suggested that the results were related to Memorial Day celebrations or bars, that “certain counties where a majority of the people who are testing positive … are under the age of 30, and this typically results from people going to bar-type settings.” (Does he mean the very bars that he ordered to reopen on May 22?)

“It’s hard to tell exactly where those people contracted COVID,” Abbott said. “All we know is that because these people are testing positive at a higher rate who are age 30 and under, it informs us about certain strategies to take to make sure that we are able to reduce the number of people testing positive.”

One strategy that he won’t be using is ordering face masks. The mayors of Austin, Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio, along with five other cities, sent Abbott a letter yesterday. They’re asking him to let these mayors require the use of face masks in their respective cities. But the governor rebuffed their requests. (His executive order bars Texas cities from issuing fines or jail time to those who violate the mask requirement.)

Reopenings Threaten Texans’ Lives. Does Greg Abbott Care?

Gov. Greg Abbott announces modifications to executive order ...
Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a press conference on May 4. (Photo via Click2Houston.)

By Terrance Turner

May 8, 2020

Today, a number of local businesses opened, thanks to an executive order by Texas Governor Greg Abbott. “This Friday, cosmetology salons, barbershops, hair salons, nail salons, and tanning salons are able to open,” Abbott said during a May 5 press conference. Each stylist can only have one customer at a time, he added. This is provided that all establishments follow social distancing of at least six feet. Swimming pools may also reopen, provided that they operate at 25% capacity.

Abbott also announced that wedding venues and churches that conduct weddings may open immediately. Weddings held indoors but outside of a house of worship must only operate at 25% capacity. Wedding receptions must also be at 25% capacity unless they’re outdoors, according to the press release on the governor’s website.

In addition, Gov. Abbott proclaimed that beginning May 18, locker rooms and gyms may also reopen. But locker rooms and shower facilities must remain closed. Gyms, too, must operate at 1/4 of their capacity. The same goes for office workforces and unspecified “manufacturing services” that are allowed to open that day. The press release said that these new rules would go into effect at 12:01 am today.

“Texas is in a position to continue operating parts of our economy because of the efforts and determination of the people of Texas,” the governor said. Certainly, the Texas population (29 million) has largely worked together to help flatten the curve of Covid-19. But is Texas really in a position to reopen? Is it?

Is it?

On April 30, the day before Abbott began reopening the economy, 50 deaths were reported, along with 1000 new cases of coronavirus. But that wasn’t enough to stop Abbott from reopening. Gov. Abbott allowed his stay-at-home order to expire on April 30. The next day, his executive order took effect, allowing restaurants, retail stores, and movie theaters to reopen on May 1.

According to ABC’s Austin affiliate KVUE, Texas health officials reported 2000 new cases between May 2-3. On May 2, CBS station KHOU confirmed that 1,293 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Texas. On Sunday, May 3, the number of COVID-19 cases in Texas passed 1,000 for the fourth consecutive day. (According to the Associated Press, deaths increased by at least 20 that day.) The Austin-American Statesman said that 1,026 fresh cases had been reported on May 3. (It added that the only previous days with more than 1000 cases were April 8 and April 10.) On May 4, 784 new cases were added.

In media appearances, Gov. Abbott has stressed the recovery rate, noting that Texas has among the highest recovery rates in the state. While raw data indicate that Texas is third in the nation for recoveries, that isn’t one of the White House guidelines for reopening.

“Understand that Texas either has the 3rd or 4th best — meaning lowest — death rate in the United States,” Abbott said in a television interview with KVUE. But the highest death counts are in Harris County and Dallas County. On May 4, Harris had 6,967 confirmed cases and more than 130 deaths, according to Dr. Umair A. Shah, executive director for the county’s public health department. Harris County includes the City of Houston, and Houston also experienced a spike.

ABC 13 revealed on May 3 that Houston had 115 new cases of COVID-19. There were also five deaths — the highest single-day death total for Houston since this pandemic started. “In this entire time period, we’ve never reported, in the city of Houston, more than five deaths. So this equals the maximum that we have ever reported of people that passed away on any given day,” Turner said.

Things got worse the next day. The Daily Beast reported on May 4:

“Harris, which includes the city of Houston and is the third-largest county in the United States, had 6,967 confirmed cases on Monday and more than 130 deaths, according to Dr. Umair A. Shah, executive director for the county’s public health department. There were 129 new cases overnight”

From “Texans Brace for a COVID-19 ‘Explosion’ Just Days After Reopening”

In Dallas County, the numbers were similarly bleak. On May 3, the county had its highest number of cases up to that point, with 234 new cases and 11 deaths. The next day, another 237 cases were added. The Dallas County Health and Human Services Department announced 251 cases from COVID-19 on May 7. “Today replaces yesterday as our second-highest day of new positive COVID-19 cases,” said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins. Yesterday, 249 deaths were reported, according to NBC 5. The 10 deaths that day tied a county record.

Currently, there are an estimated 16,670 active cases of COVID-19 in Texas. Per the Texas Dept. of Health, there have been 1,049 fatalities. Today brought even more bad news. According to Houston Chronicle reporter Jeremy Wallace:

This past weekend, Texas surpassed a thousand deaths from COVID-19. But here we are, ready to reopen a slew of other Texas businesses. And Abbott has added insult to injury (literally) by publicly tussling with local authorities.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo issued a controversial order last month requiring all Harris County residents to wear masks in public. Gov. Abbott swiftly moved to undermine the order — and its penalty of $1000 fine for anyone who didn’t comply.

“We strongly recommend that everyone wear a mask,” Abbott said in a press conference. “However, it’s not a mandate. And we make clear that no jurisdictions can impose any type of penalty or fine.” He then announced that his executive order would supersede local orders — effectively nullifying Hidalgo’s order. (She later amended her order to conform to his.)

In a May 6 proclamation posted on the Texas Governor’s website, Abbott called for fines and even jail time for those who violated his executive orders:

WHEREAS, under Section 418.173, failure to comply with any executive order issued during the COVID-19 disaster is an offense punishable by a fine not to exceed $1,000, confinement in jail for a term not to exceed 180 days, or both fine and confinement.

“Governor Abbott Issues Executive Order To Expand Openings Of Certain Businesses and Activities” (

But after Dallas salon owner Shelley Luther was jailed for violating a stay-home order (and refusing to apologize to a judge), Abbott did a 180. In a Fox News interview, Abbott spoke out against Houston enforcing HIS order. “In Houston, they were issuing fines and potential jail time for anybody who refused to wear a mask,” Abbott told host Sean Hannity. “Wearing a mask is the best practice. However, no one should forfeit their liberty and be sent to jail for not wearing a mask.”

He then went even further. The Chronicle quotes him as saying, in a written statement to the media: “Throwing Texans in jail who have had their businesses shut down through no fault of their own is nonsensical, and I will not allow it to happen.” But that’s exactly what Abbott did allow, by issuing his executive order.

On May 8, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo pointed out the obvious contradiction:

Abbott later amended his executive order by striking down the section that introduced fines and potential jail time. But by then, the political damage was already done. And the damage to Texas residents was only just beginning.

UPDATE (May 14, 2020): This week has brought another surge in both new cases and deaths from COVID-19. Gov. Abbott’s order to reopen barbershops and salons took force on May 8. Since then, cases have spiked. According to the Texas Dept. of Health Services, 1,179 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Texas on Tuesday. “Texas, which began to open its businesses at the beginning of May, has reported more than 1,000 new cases of COVID-19 for five consecutive days,” The Hill reported.

Obviously, these positive tests may very well represent infections from two or three weeks ago. Granted, Gov. Abbott cannot be held responsible for the rise in infections or deaths. But he has made himself a convenient target for criticism. Abbott publicly denounced local leaders for enforcing the orders that he himself signed (!). And his conflicting positions on those orders have left many Texans confused about how to proceed.

Continuing to open businesses, even as cases continue to soar, will surely expose more Texans to infection. Yet the deadly spike on the first weekend in May seemed to not affect Abbott at all. He designated several more businesses to reopen just a week later (last Friday, May 8). Coronavirus cases (and deaths) may well keep rising after more state businesses open next week. The question now is whether Gov. Abbott even cares.

Texas Is Reopening Amid Surge In COVID-19 Cases.

Texas reopening leaves some workers with tough decision | The ...
Gov. Greg Abbott at his Monday press conference. Photo courtesy of the Texas Tribune.

By Terrance Turner

Texas begins reopening tomorrow.

At an April 27 press conference, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott laid out a plan to reopen businesses in Texas. Abbott said that the COVID-19 infection rate “has been on the decline over the past 17 days”. He further claimed that hospitalization rate has held steady and that hospital capacity has remained abundant. (Both apparently true.)

“At the same time, we must not forget those who have lost their lives due to COVID-19,” Abbott said. “Every life lost is a tragedy. But the fact is, the tragedies in Texas have been far fewer than in most states in the United States. And I’m proud to say that Texas has the third-most recoveries from COVID-19 in America. In fact, the number of people who have recovered from COVID-19 will soon exceed the number of active cases.” (For the record, Texas reported 50 new deaths from COVID-19 today — the most in one day since mid-March. The state also reported more than 1,000 new cases. That’s the biggest one-day jump in infections since April 10, according to the Houston Chronicle. Furthermore, KPRC reporter Tulsi Kamath said today that Houston-area cases have now topped 10,000.)

“The lives saved are priceless,” Abbott continued, “but the price has been steep. Many have lost jobs; others have lost businesses. Many are struggling to pay their bills. I want those Texans to know they are not alone in this fight. Just as we united as one state to slow COVID-19, we must also come together to begin rebuilding the lives of the livelihood of our fellow Texans.”

Gov. Abbott said that the Texas Workforce Commission staff has been tripled to more than 2000. Abbott claimed 1.9 million unemployment claims have been filed, and 1.6 million have been processed. $2 billion in benefits have been paid out.

“Now our goal, of course, is to get those Texans back to work, and that is what today is all about. My executive order to stay at home,” Abbott said, “is set to expire on April 30th. That executive order has done its job to slow the growth of COVID-19, and I will let it expire as scheduled. Now it’s time to set a new course — a course that responsibly opens business in Texas. We will open in a way that uses safe standards […] standards based upon data and on doctors.”

Abbott cited reports of countries that reopened only to face new outbreaks. “So we’re not just going to open up and hope for the best. Instead, we will put measures in place that will help businesses open, while also containing the virus and keeping Texans safe […] opening Texas must occur in phases. Obviously, not all businesses can open all at once. A more strategic approach is required to ensure that we don’t reopen only to have to close down again. So, consistent with CDC guidelines, and based on advice from infectious disease specialists, we will open Texas businesses in phases.” Phase 1 begins tomorrow: Friday, May 1st.

“If we can contain the spread of COVID-19 during that time period, we can move to phase two as early as May 18th,” Abbott said. “We need to see two weeks of data to confirm no flare-up of COVID-19. That is exactly why, now more than ever, Texans must continue safe distancing practices.”

Gov. Abbott declared that “with my new executive order, all retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters, and malls can reopen May the 1st. Now, to minimize the spread of COVID-19 during phase 1 — on the advice of doctors — I am limiting occupancy to no more than 25%. This is a proven business strategy that’s exactly the type of practice successfully used by HEB and Home Depot. The extent to which this order opens up businesses in Texas supersedes all local orders. If Phase One works while containing COVID-19 days to expand that occupancy to 50%. Further increases will be allowed in the future so long as COVID-19 remains contained.”

Abbott later said: “Now there are some businesses that I want to open, that Texans want open, that the doctors advised were simply not safe enough to open at this particular time. They include barber shops and hair salons, bars and gyms. We are working with our medical team as well as working with the members of the industry sectors to open these businesses as soon as possible. My hope is that they will open on, or no later than, mid-May.”

But some of the businesses Abbott mentioned may not open tomorrow. Cinemark, Alamo Drafthouse, and non-Texas-based chains AMC and Regal ALL told Texas Monthly that they will not yet be opening. This is hardly surprising, as studios have not released a new film to theatres since March

Abbott emphasized that the order is voluntary. “Something important to remember: this order allows businesses to reopen. It does not require them to do so. If a business owner feels unsafe opening at this time, or for other reasons doesn’t want to reopen, there’s no requirement to do so. (However, a Texas Workforce Commission spokesman says that those who do not return to work risk losing unemployment benefits. AND a new report from KPRC says that the TWC is encouraging employers to report employees who don’t return to their jobs.)

Mercifully, Abbott today announced new guidelines for the TWC in regards to those who cannot return to work.

Governor Greg Abbott: (42:34)

“Additionally, all museums and libraries can open under the same 25% capacity. However, interactive areas of museums with hands-on exhibits must remain closed at this time. Again, this is permission to open, not a requirement. Some libraries and museums are operated privately, or by local governments or universities. It is up to them to decide if they are able to open. The state will work to open its libraries and museums by May 1, or soon thereafter.”

Now, a lot of business in Texas is done by sole proprietors. They can safely return to work now. The guidance in this book, and online, provides safe standards for sole practitioners.”

Places of worship were kept open under Abbott’s existing executive order, but effective by the 1st, they will be able to expand their capacity even more. “We do, however, emphasize the importance of safe distancing practices to ensure that church members remain protected from COVID-19.” (No word on whether those who have lost relatives to COVID-19 will be allowed to hold funerals or pay respects to their loved ones.)

“Outdoor sports are also allowed at this time. So long, however, as it involves no more than four participants playing together at any one particular time, and so long as certain distancing practices are followed. Examples of this would be things like golf, and tennis,” Abbott explained. If COVID-19 can be contained in phase one, sporting events can expand the number of participants in Phase Two.

Governor Greg Abbott: (44:36)

“Doctors, nurses, and dentists: they need to get back to work. Even more importantly, patients need to get in to see those doctors, nurses, and dentists…. so all licensed healthcare professionals are allowed to return to work with few restrictions. However, all licensed hospitals still must reserve 15% of capacity for COVID-19 patients.” (Those hospital beds will be needed. According to Business Insider, On April 28, the state reported 42 deaths, up from 26 the week prior and 11 at the beginning of the month.)

Abbott touted a “robust testing and tracing program” that would also have three phases. “When you aggregate all of the tests run by the state and local governments with the rapidly increasing number of tests run by the private sector, we should easily exceed our goal of 25,000 tests per day,” he said. (The Texas Tribune reports: “The state has been adding an average about 14,000 tests per day over the past week, according to figures from the Texas Department of State Health Services. Still, the total number of tests done as of Monday — 290,517 — remained about 1% of Texas’ nearly 29 million people.”)

Texas Monthly added in an article published today that Texas ranks 46th in the nation in testing per capita.

I’m dedicating this piece to my godbrother, who died of complications from COVID-19 today.

Calls Mount for End to White House Briefings After Trump’s Tantrum

By Terrance Turner

The President of the United States held a press briefing on Thursday to update the public on the coronavirus. During the briefing, he touted the drug hydroxychloroquine, used to treat malaria and arthritis, as a potential treatment for COVID-19. Preliminary tests had shown promise for the drug. Trump called it a “game-changer” that could help thousands. He added that the drug would be made available “almost immediately” with a prescription. Trump even said people would have access to the drug “literally within a few days.” But the Food and Drug Administration begged to differ. That same day, the FDA released a statement saying that “there are no FDA-approved therapeutics or drugs to treat, prevent, or cure COVID-19”.

The next day, at another briefing, Dr. Anthony Fauci (the head of the White House coronavirus task force) was asked if hydroxychloroquine could be used as a “prophylaxis” against the virus. “The answer is no,” Fauci said plainly. “The evidence you’re talking about, John, is anecdotal evidence,” he continued, addressing the reporter by name. “But the information that you’re referring to specifically is anecdotal. It was not done in a controlled, clinical trial.”

Trump stepped to the mic, conceding that “what the doctor said is 100% correct.” He added. “We’ll see. We’re going to know soon.”

NBC News correspondent Peter Alexander pointed out that the president’s own words had painted a different picture. “Yesterday, Mr. President, you said that they were for, quote, ‘immediate delivery’.”

“Yes, we have millions of units ordered,” the president responded. “I am a man that comes from a very positive school when it comes to — in particular — one of these drugs. And we’ll see how it works out, Peter. I’m not saying it will, but I think people may be surprised. By the way, that would be a game-changer.”

“Dr. Fauci said that there’s no magic drug for coronavirus right now, which you would agree—”

“Well, I think we only disagree a little bit”, the president interrupted. (Crosstalk ensued.) “I disagree,” he said. Maybe, and maybe not. Maybe there is; maybe there isn’t. We’ll have to see.”

“Is it possible that your impulse to put a positive spin on things may be giving Americans a false sense of hope?” Alexander asked.

“No, I don’t think so,” Trump answered. “Such a lovely question,” he said sarcastically. “Look — it may work, and it may not work. And I agree with the doctor, what he said. . .. I feel good about it. That’s all it is, just a feeling. I’m, you know, a smart guy.”

Alexander’s next question set off a powder keg. “What do you say to the people who are scared, though? Nearly 200 dead. 14,000 who are sick [in the U.S.]. Millions, as you’ve witnessed, who are scared right now? What do you say to Americans, who are watching you right now, who are scared?”

“I say that you’re a terrible reporter, that’s what I say,” Trump fumed. “I think that’s a very nasty question and I think it’s a very bad signal that you’re putting out to the American people. The American people are looking for answers and they’re looking for hope. And you’re doing sensationalism and the same with NBC and Comcast. I don’t call it Comcast, I call it ‘Concast.’” He wasn’t done: “That’s really bad reporting, you ought to get back to reporting instead of sensationalism. Let’s see if it works. It might and it might not. I happen to feel good about it, but who knows? I’ve been right a lot.”

Watch the full exchange below:

This morning, the White House held another briefing. While Trump was talking about unity in our “beautiful, big American family”, his campaign was sending emails to supporters that further attacked Alexander. The Hill reported earlier today on the email’s contents: “President Trump was in the middle of delivering a positive, uplifting message to Americans who may be afraid, and Peter Alexander was triggered by it,” the email claims. “Perhaps if Alexander hadn’t been so determined to undermine the President’s message, he would have heard it.”

As for the briefing itself? This time, things unfolded rather smoothly, with the president deferring to experts and generally behaving himself. But the damage was already done. After yesterday’s exchange, many called for networks to end live coverage of Trump’s briefings. MSNBC host Rachel Maddow explicitly called for the practice to end last night on The Rachel Maddow Show.

She has been joined by a chorus of voices who say that the president lies so frequently that it does a disservice to viewers:

The Influencer, Revisited

By Terrance Turner

If you’re reading this, chances are that you’re reading it from home. COVID-19 — which today surpassed 16,000 U.S. cases, according to the New York Times — has forced us inside. To limit the spread of the virus, both local and national government officials are urging people to stay home. Like many other cities, Houston has closed bars, clubs, gyms, restaurants, and other businesses to prevent viral transmission. Those businesses employ thousands of workers, who have been laid off or simply sent home. As a result, numerous jobs have been lost.

According to the Texas Workforce Commission, 16,000 Texans filed for unemployment benefits last week — a 38% jump from this time last year. Those who are still employed are almost invariably working from home. Those that aren’t may have trouble paying their bills. If you’re looking for a way to earn some extra money while at home, a new affiliate marketing program can help you. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the “Influencer” program, a digital media course that teaches people to become well-known and influential. Today, I’m writing to inform you of the opportunity to earn some extra cash and a few big prizes.

You can serve as an “affiliate marketer” for “The Influencer” and make money without even having a product of your own. Once you sign up for the program, you receive your own unique hyperlink. Those who click on the link and purchase the course generate a commission for you. That’s right: you can make a 50% commission on every click that leads to a sale. Better yet, the top sellers can attain amazing prizes (pictured above). The 3rd-place seller will win an iPhone 11; 2nd place wins a one-year supply of groceries. 1st place will win you $5000 in cash.

I know what you’re thinking, but let me be clear: THIS IS NOT A SCAM. I am currently taking the course myself, and it’s legit: a $47 course with 17 instructional videos. Each video teaches you a lesson on how to reach a wider audience and build an online following. To learn more about the program, click this link: