Gov. Greg Abbott Announces Texas Will Open “100 Percent”

Featured

Photo courtesy of Twitter.

By Terrance Turner

March 2, 2021 (UPDATED March 3)

Today, Texas Governor Greg Abbott made a game-changing announcement.

In remarks delivered live from Lubbock, Gov. Abbott touted the state’s economy: “If Texas were its own country, it would still have the ninth largest economy in the world.” But due to the pandemic, he said, the economy has suffered. “Too many Texans have been sidelined from employment opportunities. too many small business owners have struggled to pay their bills. This must end,” Gov. Abbott said. And then, he said:

“It is now time to open Texas 100 percent.”

“Everybody who wants to work should have that opportunity. Every business that wants to be open should be open,” the governor declared, adding that “we are in a completely different position” than when he issued an executive order last March. Back then, Texans didn’t even know what PPE was, he said. He highlighted the tests and therapeutics that have become available over the past year, as well as the protective measures citizens have adopted. “Texans have mastered the daily habits to avoid getting COVID. But most importantly,” he said, “in Texas and across the country, we now have vaccines — vaccines to protect Texans from COVID.” More than 5.7 million vaccine shots have been administered in Texas, he claimed.

Gov. Abbott further promised that “by the end of this month, every senior who wants a vaccine shot will be able to get a vaccine shot.” Hospitalizations in Texas are the lowest they’ve been in four months. The same goes for the positivity rate, he said. (According to the Associated Press, “the seven-day rolling average of positive tests has dropped to about 7,600 cases, down from more than 10,000 in mid-February.”) The number of active COVID cases are the lowest they’ve been since November, the governor claimed.

Gov. Abbott cautioned that the virus has not disappeared. But state mandates are no longer needed, he says. Today, he is issuing an executive order that rescinds most of the previous orders he issued. And Gov. Abbott took his already bold pronouncement one step further: “Effective next Wednesday, all businesses, of any type, are allowed to open 100 percent. That includes any type of entity in Texas. Also, I am ending the statewide mask mandate.”

Abbott stressed that personal responsibility is still necessary regarding the spread of COVID-19. Personal vigilance is crucial, he stated: “Each person has their own role to play in their own personal safety, as well as in the safety of others.” Nevertheless, he asserted that the statewide mandates are no longer necessary. Businesses are free to continue capacity limits for safety, he said, but the governor added that “people and businesses don’t need the state telling them how to operate.”

Abbott tempered his bold order with one caveat: if the positivity rate of counties and cities rises above 15% for seven straight days, a county judge may take action of mitigation strategies like a mask mandate. (Though it remains under 15%, the positivity rate is up 63% from October 2020: from 8.3% on Oct. 7 to 13.5% today, on March 2). However, nobody can be arrested, fined, or otherwise penalized for breaking rules on masks.

Texas is the latest (and largest) of the states to ease COVID-19 restrictions, as cases and hospitalizations drop. (North Dakota, Montana and Iowa have also lifted mask orders in recent weeks.) But the AP reports that only California and New York have reported more COVID-19 deaths than Texas. According to the New York Times, Texas has been averaging about 7,600 new cases a day recently, a figure that rebounded after a drop in February when testing was disrupted by a severe winter storm. It is among the top 10 states in recent spread, relative to the size of its population.

Significantly, Gov. Abbott delivered his remarks from a Mexican restaurant — on the 185th anniversary of Texas declaring independence from Mexico in 1836.

As you might have guessed, the move is sparking a lot of reaction. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo issued a statement that reads, in part: “Taking away critical public health interventions that we know are working won’t make our community safer, nor will it hasten our return to normalcy. Quite the opposite: every time public health measures have been pulled back, we’ve seen a spike in hospitalizations […] With the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines, we’re inching closer to the finish line of this pandemic – now is not the time to reverse the gains we’ve worked so hard to achieve. At best, today’s decision is wishful thinking. At worst, it is a cynical attempt to distract Texans from the failures of state oversight of our power grid.”

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner agreed, tweeting today: “Is the Governor’s statement today an attempt to deflect from the winter storm systemwide state leadership failure? Yes.” He made his feelings even clearer when speaking with reporters today. “I don’t feel defeated. I feel disappointed about the governor’s decision,” Turner said. He expressed frustration with the move, writing on Twitter: “Every time we start moving in the right direction the Governor steps in and sets us back and makes all of our jobs harder. He minimizes the sacrifices of people and businesses. I just don’t get it.” He also tweeted the following:

Mayor Turner and Judge Hidalgo sent Gov. Abbott a letter today that reads, in part: “Supported by our public health professionals, we believe it would be premature and harmful to lose adoptions of this preventative measure [mask-wearing]. Scientific studies have shown repeatedly that the widespread wearing of face masks slows down the spread of the virus.” The letter includes mask wearing as one of several activities (frequent handwashing and keeping physical distances of at least six feet) that can reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The COVID-19 cases in Texas have dropped dramatically since last month, according to ABC 13 Houston. However, hospitalizations for the virus have jumped by 59% (from 3,519 cases on Oct. 7 to 5,611 today). Deaths from COVID-19 have nearly doubled: from 119 on Oct. 7 to 227 deaths today. Tonight, on his show, journalist Anderson Cooper revealed that Texas has only vaccinated 6.8% of its citizens — one of the lowest rates in the country. (By contrast, neighboring New Mexico has vaccinated over 12% of the residents there.) Over 40,000 Texans have died from COVID-19, according to the AP.

Tonight, Dr. Peter Hotez appeared on Anderson Cooper 360 to discuss the problem. (Dr. Hotez is the Professor of Pediatrics and Molecular Virology & Microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine, where he is also Director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development.) When asked about the governor’s actions, Dr. Hotez didn’t mince words: “We’ve got some rough sledding ahead of us.” Dr. Hotez pointed out that the UK variant of COVID-19 is “accelerating” (and one of five variants in Texas, per ABC), meaning potentially greater transmission and mortality.

When Cooper asked why the vaccination rate is so low, Dr. Hotez noted that “we lost a week” due to the winter storm in February. But the doctor also pointed out that Texas is a massive state, with 30 million residents (some of whom live in remote areas, making them hard to reach). He also expressed confusion about the urgency behind Gov. Abbott’s decision. When asked directly by Cooper why Abbott made the decision, Dr. Hotez admitted he didn’t know. “I don’t understand the urgency,” he said, in part.

UPDATE (March 3, 2021): Reaction continues to pour in, and the governor’s decision was discussed today on The View. co-host Sara Haines pointed out that Texas has one of the worst vaccination rates in the country — trailed by only two other states. She questioned why Abbott insisted on both opening businesses and removing mask mandates.

On ABC’s “Eyewitness News” at 11 am, anchor Art Rascon highlighted the fact that, though the state mask mandate is gone, President Biden’s federal mandate remains in place. That means that anyone on federal property (including airports) is still required to wear masks. Furthernore, several Texas businesses reserve the right to require masks and refuse service to those who don’t comply. Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo added that failure to comploy may incur criminal charges:

BREAKING: President Joe Biden has offered his first public comments on Gov. Abbott’s decision. “I think it’s a big mistake,” Biden said. “Masks make a difference … The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking.”

AOC Flies To Houston, Helps Raise $3 Million For Texas

Photo by KPRC.

By Terrance Turner

Feb. 20, 2021

While Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) faces backlash for his trip to Cancun amid Texas winter storms, one of his political rivals is doing his job for him. House Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) flew to Houston last night, joining Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX) to help out struggling Texans. On Thursday, Ocasio-Cortez (known as AOC) launched a fundraiser to help millions facing freezing temperatures without heat, lights, or water as a result of the storm (and Texas’ failure of an energy grid). The fundraiser was a rousing success.

“Wow. We officially raised $1 million for Texas relief at 9:17pm.,” she tweeted Thursday night. “Thank you all so much.” By Friday, she tweeted, that figure had risen to $2 million. She announced she would fly to Houston to join with Texas Rep. Sylvia Garcia to distribute supplies. Ocasio-Cortez is using Act Blue to fundraise, a Democratic fundraising tool that helps her build an email “listserv” as she receives donations, according to CNN.

This morning, AOC partnered with two Texas lawmakers to continue relief work. AOC joined Garcia and Shelia Jackson-Lee of Texas on Saturday morning. According to KPRC, the elected officials met at the Houston Food Bank to pack boxes of meals and share their plan to help Texans hit hard by this week’s deadly weather event. Today, at 11:42 am, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez announced that she helped to raise $3.2 million.

The link included in her tweet (Support relief efforts in Texas — Donate via AB Charities (actblue.com) brings together groups that assist homeless, hungry and elderly Texans. (When you click on the link, you’re taken to a page that requests donations. Your contribution will be split evenly between 12 organizations, including the Central Texas Food Bank, The Bridge Homeless Recovery Center, Family Eldercare, ECHO (Ending Community Homelessness Coalition), Southeast Texas Food Bank, Feeding Texas, and the Houston Food Bank — the largest food bank in the United States.) The chosen organizations either provide food support, elder care, or shelter assistance.

The congresswomen then made a stop to Texas’ 29th District, Garcia’s district, to knock on doors and talk to families impacted. As AOC noted, those impacted were already on the margins to begin with, struggling to make ends meet. “Disasters don’t strike everyone equally,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “When you already have so many families across the state and country, that are on the brink, that can’t even afford and emergency to begin with, when you have a disaster like this, it can set people back for years, not just days.”

UPDATE: The total amount has now reached $4 million, according to AOC.

Sen. Ted Cruz Flies To Cancun As Texas Freezes (UPDATED)

Featured

Photo courtesy of Reuters.

By Terrance Turner

Feb. 18, 2021

On Monday, a historic winter storm blanketed the state of Texas. A mix of rain, snow and sleet fell on the ground in Texas as temperatures reached historic lows. By Tuesday morning, the temperature was 9 degrees, as opposed to the normal low of 47 degrees. Texas had 4.3 million power outages that morning — more than any other state, according to ABC 13. (By 12:15 pm Tuesday, 4.5 million Texans — 35% of state residents — had lost power, according to the New York Times.)

The extreme weather disrupted water service for more than 12 million residents, per MSN, forcing many of the more than 680 water systems in Texas to issue boil water notices. Pipes began to burst, flooding the homes of Texas residents. That further exacerbated the situation for Texans, already without wifi, lights or heating. Without power or heat, some Texans posted videos on social media of them burning old furniture to stay warm. Others shared images of flooding caused by burst pipes and collapsed ceilings.

The New York Times revealed that burst pipes even extended to a Dallas domestic violence center. “The power had been out for two days when the waterlogged ceiling caved in at the Family Place, a domestic violence shelter in Dallas, unleashing a freezing waterfall onto the 120 women and children seeking refuge there on Tuesday,” the Times reported. The clothes of vulnerable women and children were soaked, their important legal documents ruined.

“They lost basically everything,” said Shelbi Driver, a resident advocate at the shelter. The Times added that three other shelters in the area had to be evacuated due to burst pipes. Here in Houston, pipe-bursting cold was a problem for residents, too. I know this problem all too well.

On Tuesday morning, I noticed dripping water coming from a light fixture in my laundry room. The dripping rapidly intensified into a heavy downpour. Though I tried to absorb the water by placing laundry baskets under the leak, the leak became a deluge. Within minutes, the roof had collapsed, destroying the layers of sheet rock that used to be my roof.

My pipes burst. (Photo courtesy of the author.)

While water flooded the homes of Texas residents, the drinking water remained unsafe to drink or even cook with. According to the Associated Press, “Texas officials ordered 7 million people — one-quarter of the population of the nation’s second-largest state — to boil tap water before drinking the water, after days of record low temperatures that damaged infrastructure and froze pipes.”

While his city froze, Texas Senator Ted Cruz hopped on a flight to Cancun.

Sen. Cruz flew to Cancun, Mexico for a family vacation on Wednesday, as thousands of his constituents were literally freezing in their homes. Photos emerged of Cruz at Bush Intercontinental Airport (which canceled flights earlier this week, due to ice on the roads. The airport was also under a boil water notice, per ABC 13). Then cameras caught him on board a flight to Mexico. (The CDC has advised that individuals “should avoid all travel to Mexico” due to the coronavirus pandemic.)

Yet there Cruz was, on a flight to Mexico. His staff reached out to the Houston Police Department to confirm the senator’s arrival at the airport, according to HPD spokeswoman Jodi Silva. She said that the officers were present to “monitor” Cruz’s movements as he prepared to fly away. (By the time pictures of Cruz surfaced on Wednesday night, blackouts in Texas had affected 1.8 million customers Wednesday night, according to tracking website poweroutage.us. That number was down to just over 511,000 as of 11:28 a.m. local time, the site said.)

In Houston, more than 1 million people remained without power Wednesday, Mayor Sylvester Turner said, adding that service would not be restored fully for another couple of days. The city has been under a boil water notice since Wednesday morning. It is not clear whether Cruz knew (or cared) about any of this when he jet-setted to Cancun.

As Microsoft News noted, “Mr. Cruz had been acutely aware of the possible crisis in advance. In a radio interview on Monday, he said the state could see 100 or more deaths this week. ‘So don’t risk it. Keep your family safe and just stay home and hug your kids,’ he said. More recently, in December, Mr. Cruz had attacked a Democrat, Mayor Stephen Adler of Austin, for taking a trip to Cabo while telling constituents to “stay home” during the pandemic.

“Hypocrites,” Mr. Cruz wrote on Twitter. “Complete and utter hypocrites.”

As one might expect, Cruz’s actions were met with opprobrium:

Sen. Cruz issued a statement in response to the reports, claiming that he took the trip per a request from his daughters. The statement reads, in part:

With school cancelled for the week, our girls asked to take a trip with friends. Wanting to be a good dad, I flew down with them last night and am flying back this afternoon. My staff and I are in constant communication with state and local leaders to get to the bottom of what happened in Texas. We want our power back, our water on, and our homes warm. My team and I will continue using all our resources to keep Texans informed and safe.

Sen. Ted Cruz

UPDATE (4:11 pm): Sen. Cruz has now returned to Houston. He was spotted in Bush IAH just minutes ago:

Meanwhile, part of Texas is still under a boil water notice. ABC reporter Steve Campion noted that it is not safe to drink, eat with or cook with the water at this point. The Houston Chronicle noted: “A boil water notice is still in effect for the city of Houston, which means that all water consumed by residents and pets should be boiled to kill potential bacteria. This includes water used for cooking, brushing your teeth, preparing baby formula, preparing food or given to pets for drinking. Even water used for hot beverages, like coffee made with a coffee maker, should be boiled beforehand. It’s also a good idea to throw away any ice that may have been contaminated.”

The Chronicle added: “Once boil water notices are lifted, flush home plumbing systems by running cold water through all faucets for at least five minutes. Residents should also flush out all appliances connected to the water line, such as refrigerators and dishwaters.” 

According to the New York Times, the boil water notices aren’t just limited to Houston. “About 13 million Texans remain under a boil-water advisory, and 797 water providers are reporting problems, Toby Baker, executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said at a news briefing on Thursday.” The Times added that the state capital of Austin is also under a “boil water” notice.

Houston and Galveston remain under a “hard freeze” warning from midnight through 9 am on Friday. Lows are broadcast in the mid-20s for at least the next two days, KTRK says.

At least 25 deaths have been attributed to the storm. 11 of the victims were from Texas, according to CBS News. Widespread outages left over 3 million without power this week, although most had been restored. More than 500,000 residents were still without power as of Thursday afternoon. As the sun goes down and the struggles continue, Cruz tried to do damage control today with some inelegant spin.

“I certainly regret that this has become a distraction,” Cruz said today, about a distraction that he created. “I started having second thoughts almost the moment I sat down on the plane.” He stressed that “leaving when so many Texans were hurting didn’t feel right,” which prompted his return to Houston today.

In his statement issued earlier today, Cruz said his daughters wanted to take a trip; he said he and his wife flew to Cancun, dropped them off, and flew back to Texas. In an interview with KTRK, he admitted that he had, in fact, planned to stay through the weekend. Beyond that obvious contradiction lay a seamy report. Cruz said his intention wasn’t to abandon constituents: “My intention was to take care of my family,” he insisted. But that explanation rang especially hollow after some bombshell reporting by the Times.

“Text messages sent from Ms. Cruz to friends and Houston neighbors on Wednesday revealed a hastily planned trip. Their house was ‘FREEZING,’ as Ms. Cruz put it — and she proposed a getaway until Sunday,” wrote Times reporters Shane Goldmacher and Nicholas Fandos. “Ms. Cruz invited others to join them at the Ritz-Carlton in Cancún, where they had stayed ‘many times,’ noting the room price this week ($309 per night) and its good security. The text messages were provided to The New York Times and confirmed by a second person on the thread, who declined to be identified because of the private nature of the texts.”

Goldmacher appeared on CNN’s AC360 to detail the report further. He claimed that Mrs. Cruz’s texts did not mention their daughters’ wishes. “This is a multilayered issue for Ted Cruz,” Goldmacher said, noting the obvious issue with Cruz leaving in the middle of this crisis in Texas and the additional issue that we are still in a pandemic. He echoed Cooper’s sentiment about the CDC’s warning against travel to Mexico.

UPDATE (Feb, 19, 2021): There are now 22 confirmed deaths from the winter storm in Texas. One of them was a local Vietnam War vet with COPD. He relied on an electric oxygen tank to live. But the lack of electricity — then a water main break — led to Mr. Anderson going to his truck in search of power. He died from hypothermia. “He’s gonna be missed terribly,” sobbed his widow in an interview with KTRK.

UPDATE (Feb. 26): While President Joe Biden is heading to Houston to survey the damage, Ted Cruz is in Orlando, Florida, speaking at the CPAC conference. Cruz made light of his trip to Cancun before the crowd. “I gotta say, Orlando is awesome. It’s not as nice as Cancun, but it’s nice,” Cruz quipped in his speech, titled “Bill of Rights, Liberty, and Cancel Culture.”

Cruz also criticized physicians who recommend mask-wearing: “This is just dumb,” Cruz said, downplaying the importance of wearing a mask to curtail the spread of COVID-19. “We’re gonna wear masks for the next 300 years. And by the way, not just one mask—two, three, four—you can’t have too many masks! How much virtue do you wanna signal?”

As if that weren’t enough, Cruz also took aim at Black Lives Matter, a favorite target of conservatives: “In Houston where I live, I have to tell you: there weren’t any rioters because let’s be very clear, if there had been, they would discover what the state of Texas thinks about the 2nd amendment right to keep and bear arms.” Cruz appeared not to remember the 60,000 protesters who gathered in Houston (peacefully) to march for George Floyd.

He also conveniently forgot to mention that 93% of Black Lives Matter demonstrations were peaceful — yet Black people were still assailed as “violent thugs” on the right and met with tear gas and hand-to-hand combat by police officers. A report by the Armed Conflict Location and Data Project found that police “disproportionately used force while intervening in demonstrations associated with the BLM movement, relative to other types of demonstrations.” That seems not to matter to Cruz or Rand Paul or Jim Jordan — all of whom took special care to cast aspersions on Black Lives Matter during (and after) the impeachment trial.

Bow Wow Performs at Packed Houston Club As COVID Cases Spike

By Terrance Turner

Jan. 16, 2021

Last night, rapper Bow Wow performed at (and hosted) an event at Cle Nightclub in Houston. Cle, located downtown at 2301 Main St, was packed. Hundreds of people hit the club, in the middle of a pandemic, to see Bow Wow — for what reason, we don’t know. What we do know is that videos on social media show him rapping maskless in front of a largely maskless crowd.

The news comes amid a dramatic spike in COVID-19 cases. Harris County, which contains the city of Houston, reported more than 3,000 new cases of COVID-19 today. As of today, there are 281,422 total confirmed cases of coronavirus in Harris County and 2,763 deaths, according to the Harris County Public Health Department. The positivity rate is 20.3%. It has climbed every day since January 11.

Harris County has reported 36,557 new cases in just the past 14 days, according to the Texas Tribune. During the first week of January, Houston set hospitalization records every day for seven straight days. For a week straight, more than 15% of patients in local hospitals were being treated for coronavirus. That should’ve triggered mandatory rollbacks laid out in an order by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Under that order, Houston bars must close indoor service, and Houston restaurants must reduce capacity to 50%.

Mayor Turner said today that clubs are masquerading as restaurants, and he’s calling on TABC to start crackdowns. “I’m still getting some disturbing pictures of people hanging out in clubs that have been recategorized as restaurants,” he said. “And let me tell you, they are not restaurants.” KTRK reported that he and his staff will be reviewing those restaurants tonight. “When you look at these pictures, there’s no food on the table,” Turner said. “That is crazy. I am calling on the state to review their policies.”

Harris County consistently leads the state in case counts and deaths. But the statewide tale is even more grim. Statewide, 26,334 new cases were reported today, along with 400 deaths. (A record-high 426 deaths reported on Thursday.) There are now 13,953 patients with COVID-19 in Texas hospitals, per the Dallas Morning News. Texas now has a total of 2,072,903 coronavirus cases. That’s the most for any state besides California, according to Complex. During the first week of January, the state reached record highs for both case counts and deaths.

But Bow Wow appears to not know any of that. After waking up at around 2 pm today….

…the rapper defended himself on Twitter. He insisted that he’d worn a mask in the club:

“Man Texas is open. ATL is open. I can’t help I live in a city where we been open since last spring,” Bow Wow claimed in a series of now-deleted tweets. And then he had the audacity to claim “COVID fatigue”:

The backlash was swift and strong:

UPDATE: Cle is among three Houston clubs that got there liquor licenses suspended. According to ABC 13, “Three Houston businesses have had their liquor permits suspended following Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission investigations, which found violations of state requirements to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

The nightclubs involved are Grooves at 2300 Pierce St., Cle at 2301 Main St. and Spire at 1720 Main St. (Spire had its liquor license suspended in July 2020 and then again in October, per the Houston Chronicle.) In a press release, the TABC said the suspensions are the result of inspections by their agents conducted over the weekend.

“All three businesses are accused of violating Gov. Greg Abbott’s Executive Order GA-32, which requires businesses which sell alcohol for on-premise consumption to comply with capacity limits as well as social distancing and facial covering requirements,” the release stated.

As COVID Cases Soar, HISD Announces New Guidelines

By Terrance Turner

HISD Superintendent Dr. Grenita Lathan during a press conference on July 15. (Photo via Twitter.)

July 15, 2020

Today, HISD unveiled its new guidelines for the 2020-2021 school year. The guidelines were announced at a press conference by HISD Superintendent Grenita Lathan this afternoon. Lathan stressed that the coronavirus has affected her personally as a wife, mother, and leader of HISD. “I’ve had many sleepless nights, even up until this morning, wrestling with this decision,” she said. Still, Lathan delivered a lucid and measured presentation of the news. She said that due to the rise of coronavirus cases in Texas — including dramatic rises in hospitalizations — this school year will be different.

The new HISD school year begins on Sept. 8. There will be only virtual learning until October 16. Then, on Monday, Oct. 19, face-to-face instruction will begin. Children will be able to return to school and be taught by live instructors. However, parents will have the choice to opt out of face-to-face instruction and have their children continue learning online at home. Teachers would deliver instruction via the Internet, computer software, or both.

The first semester of virtual learning runs from Sept. 8 to Jan. 29. Parents have until Aug. 24 to decide whether they want their child to do virtual learning for the entire semester. (Research director Michael van Beek says that in one form of virtual learning, teachers and students communicate via media like online video, online forums, e-mail and instant messaging. Other forms strictly deliver lessons via software.)

The news comes after a dramatic spike in new COVID-19 cases in Texas. Today, there were 10,457 positive cases reported in Texas — down slightly from yesterday’s one-day high of 10,791. (That number beat Tuesday’s record of 10,745.) There were also a record number of deaths today — 129, up from yesterday’s single-day of 110. Hospitalizations from COVID-19 numbered 10,457 today. There were 14 more yesterday (10,471 total). Though hospitalizations in Texas have plateaued after Tuesday’s record high of 10,569, they remain a trouble spot. The number of Texans in the hospital with coronavirus passed 10,000 on July 10 and has remained above that threshold every day this week.

The toll is getting heavier. In San Antonio, refrigerated trucks are being used because there’s not enough space in the local morgues. In Bexar County, where San Antonio is located, only 10% of hospital beds are available, according to San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg. (He says that “schools will not be opening at full speed in August” and that local guidelines could be ordered as soon as next week.)

In Houston, COVID-19 patients account for 45% of ICU beds. While hospitalization numbers seem to have stabilized, less than 10% of ICU beds in the state are available, per Austin affiliate KVUE. The ABC affiliate cited data from the Texas Department of State Health Services, revealing that only 949 ICU beds were available as of Tuesday. 

In a reflection of this uncertainty, HISD announced back-to-school guidelines yesterday that allowed for virtual learning. That will likely be a relief for teachers still uneasy about returning to the classroom. The Houston Independent School District said a recent survey showed only 14% of teachers said they felt safe returning to campus. 

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.

As Texas COVID Hits New Highs, Gov. Abbott Issues Mask Order

Image: Mike Pence
Photo from NBC News.

By Terrance Turner

July 1, 2020

The Texas Department of Safety and Health Services reported 8,076 new cases of COVID-19 today. That’s an all-time high for single-day cases. There were 57 deaths — the highest one-day total since May 14. According to KTRK, 6,904 hospitalizations were reported in the state of Texas. That’s also a record.

UPDATE (July 2):

The Texas Medical Center is now converting other beds into ICU beds because they have hit 100% capacity. They have now entered “Phase 2” of their ICU surge. That means they have 373 beds available, per KTRK. The TMC will certainly need those beds if today’s hospitalization numbers are any indicator.

Today, 7,915 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Texas. There are 44 new deaths. Hospitalizations from COVID-19 have hit a new record high: there were 7,382 lab-confirmed hospitalizations today, up 56% from last Thursday. According to Houston Chronicle reporter Jeremy Wallace, the number of coronavirus hospitalizations is up 389% since Memorial Day.

The dramatic spike forced Gov. Greg Abbott to take action. Today, the governor of Texas issued an executive order “requiring all Texans to wear a face covering over the nose and mouth in public places in counties with 20 or more positive COVID-19 cases, with few exceptions.” Those exceptions include people who are eating, exercising, or driving alone. (Or driving with passengers from one’s own household.)

Those under 10 years of age are also exempted from the order. So are those who have medical conditions that prevent masks. Or those who are voting. Or assisting a voter. Or giving a speech via broadcast or to an audience. Or anyone swimming in a pool…or a lake, or “similar body of water”. Or “any person who is actively providing or obtaining access to religious worship”, per the order.

The governor’s press release noted that the governor is giving mayors and county judges the ability to impose restrictions on some outdoor gatherings of over 10 people. Under the order, people cannot be in groups larger than ten and must maintain six feet of social distancing from others. (That, too, though, includes exceptions.) Penalties entail a verbal warning (for the first offense) and a $250 fine for the second.

The Associated Press reported today that the mask order takes effect Friday. As of Thursday, 176 of the state’s 254 counties had reported more 20 or more confirmed COVID-19 cases; those counties include most of the state’s population. 

Texas Bars Close After Historic Rise in COVID-19 Cases

Image
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo updated Harris County’s threat level to RED amid rising coronavirus numbers. (Photo via Twitter: @LinaHidalgoTX)

By Terrance Turner

June 26, 2020 (Updated June 27)

It’s happy hour somewhere — just not in Texas.

Bars across the state closed at noon today after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order mandating their closure. Restaurants are also affected under the new order, with their capacity lowered from 75% to 50% starting Monday. The move comes in response to a striking surge in cases of coronavirus throughout the state. Texas has topped 5,000 new cases of COVID-19 a day for four consecutive days.

The state of Texas reported 5,707 new cases of COVID-19 today, along with 28 new deaths. Both numbers are down from yesterday’s record highs. But hospitalizations continue to be a problem. Today, a reported 5,102 Texans are in the hospital with lab-confirmed COVID-19 — yet another all-time high. That is particularly worrisome given yesterday’s news that 100% of ICU beds in the Texas Medical Center are full.

Texas reported another 5,996 cases of COVID-19 yesterday, with 47 deaths. On June 24, Texas reported 5,551 cases of COVID-19, according to Houston Chronicle reporter Jeremy Wallace. 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. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, the state now has a total of approximately 137,600 cases. (An estimated 76,000 Texans have recovered.)

As usual, the highest numbers are in Dallas and Harris counties. Dallas County reported back-to-back record highs of 496 cases Friday and 561 on Saturday. (Total numbers hover currently around 19,000.) Harris County continues to lead the state in cases, reporting 1,231 on Thursday and 1,238 on Friday. Its total number of cases is now over 28,000. Judge Lina Hidalgo announced a “threat level” of red today, indicating the most severe level of danger from COVID-19 in the county.

“Whichever angle you look at it from, our situation is far worse today than when we issued the first stay-home order in Harris County, and when the state issued their first stay-home order,” Hidalgo said at a Friday press conference. She encouraged residents to stay home unless they need to go to the grocery store for food and medicine. Hidalgo also urged them to cancel or avoid any gatherings, whether indoors or outside.

Gov. Abbott responded to the rise in cases today with an executive order. “All bars and similar establishments that receive more than 51% of their gross receipts from the sale of alcoholic beverages are required to close at 12:00 pm today,” the order reads. “Restaurants may remain open for dine-in service, but at a capacity not to exceed 50%” beginning Monday, June 29.

In an interview with WFAA, Abbott admitted to having regrets about his reopening process. “If I could’ve done anything differently,” he said, “it would’ve been to delay the opening of bars. The opening of bars, if I recall correctly, was around the Memorial Day time period. And in hindsight, that should’ve been delayed. Especially now, knowing how rapidly coronavirus could spread in the bar setting.”

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.)