April 7, 2020

State Stories

Dallas Morning News - April 6, 2020

Dallas Morning News parent company taps cash reserves, cuts worker pay to blunt virus impact

The parent company of The Dallas Morning News is responding to a significant loss of advertising during the coronavirus pandemic with cost cuts that include pay reductions of 3% to 17% and the halving of its quarterly dividend. There will be no immediate layoffs or furloughs, A. H. Belo Corp. said in a regulatory filing Monday that outlined the company’s actions. It’s also tapping its cash reserves for $8 million to blunt the impact of lost revenue.

Robert W. Decherd, chairman, president and chief executive officer of A. H. Belo, said the company started the year with $48.6 million in cash — a cushion shared by few other news organizations. “This gives our board choices to prioritize the long-term health of this great enterprise and support its reason for being — that is, to provide invaluable news and information to the people who depend on us and to the communities The Dallas Morning News has served for nearly 135 years,” Decherd said in a statement. The $8 million will be used “to maintain operations, continue paying a dividend and fund progress toward becoming sustainably profitable in a digital world,” Decherd said. The 50% dividend reduction saves the company an additional $3.5 million.

Dallas Morning News - April 6, 2020

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ‘more confident than ever’ about supply of protective gear for the state

Gov. Greg Abbott said Monday that he was bullish about the state’s ability to acquire and distribute much-needed personal protective equipment, like surgical masks and gowns, to healthcare workers and first responders. “I feel more confident now than I ever have with regard to access to PPE supplies,” Abbott said in a news conference Monday. Health care professionals have worried about the supply of personal protective equipment for their staff in recent weeks but Abbott said the state has “more than enough for now” and additional supplies are coming in.

In the past week, the state distributed more than 1.6 million masks, 209,000 masks, 2.7 million gloves, 169,000 gowns and 7,594 medical gowns. By the end of the week, the state will have acquired an additional 5 million masks to distribute. The state’s emergency support region covered by DFW got nearly 370,000 masks, 56,600 face shields, 681,00 gloves, 53,000 gowns and 1,900 coveralls. The state is prioritizing delivering the supplies to healthcare professionals treating those at high risk, workers at long-term care facilities and first responders. As of Monday, 85,357 Texans had been tested for COVID-19. Of those, 7,319 had tested positive and 1,153 of those had been hospitalized. Abbott, a Republican, said more than 100,000 Texans will have been tested by the end of the week. While sounding confident about the state’s ability to procure protective gears for those on the front line of the war against the virus, Abbott reminded the public that the most difficult times are still on the horizon.

Dallas Morning News - April 6, 2020

Dallas County official to Texas governor’s aide: Call, don’t write if you have a problem

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said Monday in a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott’s chief of staff that he has every intention of using a pop-up hospital at Dallas’ downtown convention center in the region’s fight against the coronavirus. Jenkins also used the letter to echo comments he made Sunday, urging the governor’s staff to call the next time they have a question. “We do not appear to have open lines of communication between the County and the Governor’s office during this critical time,” Jenkins wrote. “Instead of drafting letters, I ask that you utilize the telephone for communication and coordination.”

In a Monday conference, Abbott said he'd had "multiple and very meaningful" conversations with county judges from Tarrant, Denton and Bexar, as well as the mayors of San Antonio, Dallas and other cities in the metroplex. But he said he'd never heard from Jenkins. "I checked and according to my office, we've had zero inquiries or phone calls from the Dallas County Judge - ever - with regards to COVID-19," he said. "Bottom line, I've never heard from him. He has attempted to communicate through social media and I communicated through a form of a letter." Abbott said that a major general with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had told his office that Jenkins had said he would not use the federal facility planned for the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center. If it wasn't used, the major general told Abbott, federal officials would move it elsewhere. "That was the reason behind why I sent that letter to Judge Jenkins," Abbott said. Abbott said that the decision on relocating the facility wasn't his and he did not know where it would potentially be moved to.

Dallas Morning News - April 6, 2020

Built in tensions, rocky past fuel Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins’ spat with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott

Gov. Greg Abbott and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins’ weekend clash over Dallas County’s plans for using a military pop-up hospital brought into sharp focus the built-in tensions in the two leaders’ roles. Abbott is managing provisions for a sprawling state where the coronavirus infection rate seems to vary widely, at least given testing constraints. Jenkins wears the cap of emergency manager for an urban county that for a time had the most confirmed cases of COVID-19, though more recently, Harris County has overtaken Dallas for that unwanted distinction.

Jenkins is cautious about opening a 250-bed hospital that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers erected in the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in downtown Dallas last week, saying it shouldn’t happen before local hospitals reel from soaring patient loads caused by the virus. He prefers to see it used as a transitional facility, for people who no longer need critical care at an emergency room, but are not yet well enough to go home. Before the social and economic turmoil caused by a pandemic raised the stakes, though, Abbott and Jenkins had at best a fraught relationship. At the Legislature, they’d clashed over local control, constraints on local property taxes, voter ID. Jenkins has been a big Obamacare proponent, while Abbott and his predecessor Rick Perry were not.

Dallas Morning News - April 6, 2020

Supreme Court of Texas extends suspension on evictions until April 30

The Supreme Court of Texas extended its moratorium on evictions Monday, announcing that the suspension will continue until April 30. The extension adds 11 days to its original moratorium, which began March 19. Locally, some counties suspended evictions for a longer time period. Dallas County’s suspension of evictions runs through May 18. Tarrant County’s is indefinite, for the time being.

The suspension doesn’t stop landlords from collecting rent due in April. It just means that no evictions will be processed in courts across the state, unless a tenant poses a physical threat or is suspected of criminal activity. This decision comes when unemployment claims across the state have skyrocketed. As of last week, the Texas Workforce Commission said in a news release that claims “rose to the millions within a week.” The moratorium extension will give tenants more time to come up with funds that might not have been readily available for rent at the start of the month. Still, eventually the moratorium will end and evictions can be processed if rent payments aren’t made.

Dallas Morning News - April 6, 2020

Texas Sen. John Cornyn says more coronavirus relief needed as officials fix glitches in current package

Sen. John Cornyn said Monday that Congress would have to take additional steps to deal with the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. But he stressed that lawmakers and business leaders needed to maximize the $2.2 trillion relief package already approved and signed into law. “I have no doubt there will continue to be a need for Congress to respond,” Cornyn said during a virtual panel discussion sponsored by The Dallas Regional Chamber and The Dallas Morning News. “I think initially my hope is we focus on implementation of what we’ve already done, because this is unprecedented both in the size in the dollar amount of money that we are spending.”

The emergency coronavirus relief legislation marks the largest rescue package in American history. Its programs include direct payments to Americans, an expansion of unemployment insurance, billions of dollars in aid to large and small businesses, assistance to the airline and other travel industries and more funding for health care. Millions of Americans are depending on the package to provide relief from the mass unemployment that’s occurred as businesses have had to lay off employees. Small businesses, the engine of thriving economies, have also felt the blow from the coronavirus. There have been reports of residents in need having trouble getting potential grants and loans on tap. Cornyn hopes that changes fast. “We know there’s going to be some glitches and some unintended consequences and some gaps in coverage,” Cornyn told Dallas Regional Chamber President Dale Petroskey. “I’ve already heard a number of concerns expressed, but we’ve also been able to get some further refinements in the guidance being provided both by Treasury and SBA (Small Business Administration) in the implementation of this program.”

San Antonio Express-News - April 6, 2020

Whataburger trimming workforce in corporate office, field support

Whataburger is laying off or furloughing an unspecified number of employees due to the coronavirus pandemic. The reduction affects workers at the San Antonio fast food chain’s corporate offices and in field support across the 10 states where it operates restaurants. The company’s dining rooms remain closed but it is still filling drive-thru and pickup orders.

“Like many companies, Whataburger is managing the best it can through this global pandemic,” president Ed Nelson said in a statement. “We call our employees family members, and we have built a very caring culture here — so the decision was not easy. It is, however, essential to streamline in a way that best positions us to make it through this current crisis and help ensure long-term success for our restaurants and brand.”

San Antonio Express-News - April 6, 2020

They make $10.50 an hour to care for the Texans most susceptible to coronavirus

Florenstine Johnson had heard that a global pandemic was spreading. But the 76-year-old also had a funeral to get to. She flew back from Maryland to Texas in late March, to a state under siege. Now Johnson is praying the decision to go won’t cost her a paycheck, let alone her well-being. “I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ but also wisdom,” she said, “so I’m using hand sanitizer.”

Johnson is one of about 70,000 home health aides across the state, men and women who earn little above minimum wage to care for the elderly and those living with disabilities, among the most vulnerable to severe or fatal reactions to the new coronavirus. They are not trained medical professionals but handle essential tasks such as cooking, cleaning, bathing and picking up groceries and prescriptions. Sometimes they are the only people a client sees all day. With the virus starting to ravage cities across Texas, including San Antonio, many aides, their employers and the people they care for are struggling with questions such as whether they should continue working, whether they can afford not to and how heir clients would get by without them.

San Antonio Express-News - April 6, 2020

Texas is behind the curve on releasing timely information on the coronavirus. Here’s why.

Texas is bracing for a pandemic that is projected to kill tens of thousands of people across the U.S., but health officials and state leaders are struggling to provide the public with timely updates on how many people are infected and how many hospital beds and ventilators are available for the critically ill. Other states across the country have been providing coronavirus hospitalization figures for weeks. On Friday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that 827 people have been hospitalized in Texas. But the true number of cases is likely far higher than the official tally due to a shortage of reliable tests and delays in delivering results, which can take up to 10 days.

Even with the limited number of confirmed positives, Harris County’s top epidemiologist says it feels like her team is constantly behind. “It’s become overwhelming,” said Dr. Dana Beckham, director of the county’s Office of Science, Surveillance and Technology, which traces the steps of people who test positive for COVID-19 to determine how they got the disease and who they may have infected. “We’re always behind the eight ball.” The county’s epidemiologists were pulling 12-to-16-hour days, seven days a week and they still couldn’t keep up, Beckham said. They brought in more workers — roping in other county government employees and hiring outside contractors — to prevent burnout and alleviate stress, tripling the number of people working in the unit to about 65. It’s still not enough, she said.

San Antonio Express-News - April 6, 2020

Mexico’s slow response to coronavirus has implications for Texas, US

As its neighbors close borders, shut down their economies and order millions of people to stay at home, Mexico has responded far more slowly to the coronavirus pandemic, its leaders reluctant to put economic constraints on a society in which nearly half the people live in poverty. As recently as March 15, some 40,000 concert goers crowded into the Foro Sor venue for the popular Vive Latino music festival. Tourists from Europe and the United States were able to enter the country without any restrictions until late last week. Restaurants, airports, subways and grocery stores remain open in Mexico City, though churches and large markets have closed. The rapid spread of the coronavirus, however, has begun to increase the urgency of the government’s response. Mexican health authorities reported on March 16 that the country had 82 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Two weeks later, the number swelled to nearly 1,000, including 20 deaths.

Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez Gatell, who two weeks ago dismissed social distancing restrictions as “an extreme tactic” is now urging citizens to “stay at home, stay at home, stay at home.” Mexico’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has implications for both the United States and Texas, which shares 1,200 of the 2,000-mile U.S. border with Mexico. In normal years, millions of people and $600 billion of goods flow across the U.S. border, with Texas accounting for about one-third of that commerce. Lopez Obrador has placed restrictions on border travel between the U.S. and Mexico, limiting tourism, but his government still allows people going to work or students going to school to cross the border. The Lopez Obrador administration also has no plan for the migrant camps near the U.S. border, where conditions are crowded and sanitation a challenge. “The Mexico US border is one of the most intensely crossed borders,” said Dwight Dyer, who recently joined Mexico’s Health Ministry as a health security intelligence specialist. “The fact of the matter is that there has been an increase of kids in California and Texas testing positive. If Mexico were to react to those developments, it should have done so already

Houston Chronicle - April 6, 2020

A disaster was brewing for the Texas electricity market. It's been staved off — for now.

A disaster was brewing last month in the Texas electricity market. The coronavirus pandemic was spreading, stores and offices were closing and people were losing their jobs. Texas consumers were flooding the phone lines at the Public Utility Commission complaining their power was getting shut off because they couldn’t pay their bills.

The commissioners called an emergency meeting in mid-March and praised utilities for suspending service disconnections for non-payment. But it turned out the disconnection moratorium exacerbated the problem facing the Texas power market because electricity sellers had no way to force customers to pay their bills. Something had to be done, or the big Texas experiment of electricity deregulation that started two decades ago couldn’t withstand the financial strain as hundreds of thousands of Texans lost their jobs and couldn’t pay their bills.

Houston Chronicle - April 6, 2020

Houston-based oil company Halliburton lays off 350 workers

Houston oilfield service giant Halliburton on Monday laid off 350 workers at an office in Duncan, Okla., as the oil industry continues to contract during a brutal downturn.

The job cuts were revealed in a filing with the Oklahoma Office of Workforce Development. Halliburton's move follows a December decision to close a similar facility in El Reno, Okla., and cut 800 jobs. Some employees from the El Reno center found new jobs at the Duncan facility.

Charlotte Observer - April 6, 2020

Charlotte Observer Editorial Board: Ted Cruz isn’t just wrong about an NC abortion protest and COVID-19 rules. He’s shameless

Charlotte abortion protesters David and Jason Benham got a surprise surge of publicity this weekend, thanks to a U.S. Senator who selfishly decided that a moment of political opportunity was more important than a message of public health. The Benham brothers were among a group of 50 abortion clinic protesters that Charlotte-Mecklenburg police attempted to disperse Saturday because they were in violation of COVID-19 restrictions. Eight members were arrested when they declined multiple orders to leave the gathering outside A Preferred Women’s Health Center on Latrobe Drive, according to police.

The arrests weren’t the first for Love Life, the Charlotte-based group that opposes abortion. On March 25, four members were arrested in Greensboro for similarly violating coronavirus restrictions of that city and Guilford County. This time, however, a U.S. senator took notice. “This is an unconstitutional arrest,” tweeted Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas who was runner-up for the Republican presidential nomination in the 2016 election. “@BenhamBrothers exercising core First Amendment rights. PEACEFULLY. In a way fully consistent w/ public safety. Because elected Dems are pro-abortion, they are abusing their power—in a one-sided way—to silence pregnancy counselors.”

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - April 6, 2020

Why Dallas County saw a big drop in newly confirmed coronavirus cases Monday

Dallas County confirmed 43 additional coronavirus cases Monday morning, a major drop-off in new cases after a rough several days that included multiple 100-case days, several deaths and 97 new cases on Sunday. There are a total of 1,155 known COVID-19 cases in the county, including recovered patients and 18 deaths.

“While today’s positive case count is encouraging, I caution about reading too much into this number as several private labs were closed on Sunday,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a news release Monday. “Having said that, the hospital systems are seeing evidence that the Dallas County Safer at Home executive order enacted on March 22nd is working to flatten the curve. Please continue adherence to the Safer at Home order to help save lives.”

ProPublica - April 3, 2020

Along the border, the population is high risk for coronavirus, but testing is in short supply

On Monday afternoon, paramedic Theresa Fitzpatrick inched her Dodge Dart through a brand new drive-in testing center for COVID-19 in the small South Texas border city of Edinburg, a dozen miles from the Rio Grande. She had been wracked for a week with a dry, hacking cough ever since picking up a patient who had just crossed the international bridge with similar symptoms. But she hadn’t been able to get a test since seeing her doctor last week, until a local university opened up drive-thru testing sites in her home county on Monday. “They haven’t been testing people, that’s the problem,” said Fitzpatrick, a mother of four who earns $16 an hour as a paramedic for a private EMS company. “It just seems like the forgotten man down here.”

Hours earlier, Dr. Martin Garza, a pediatrician and former president of the Hidalgo-Starr County Medical Society, spent his lunch break drafting a plea to border-area lawmakers for help finding more testing kits. Garza noted that at-risk areas such as South Texas, with lower numbers of confirmed cases, are precisely where enhanced testing is needed to detect and prevent a fatal spread of the virus, as is unfolding in New York City, New Orleans and smaller cities like Athens, Georgia. “We have all heard, ‘If (only) we had been able to test sooner,’” he wrote. “Well the ‘sooner’ is still available in our community.” While many places across the country are struggling to get enough testing, the problems are magnified in the Rio Grande Valley. It has among the highest poverty rates in the state, nearly half of its residents don’t have health insurance and chronic health conditions are rife. Two weeks ago, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott promised that all those who need a coronavirus test “will get one,” but public health officials, politicians and doctors up and down the Rio Grande say that hasn’t happened and they are scrambling to assemble sufficient testing kits. Hidalgo County, the largest in the Valley, is only able to process 20 government tests a day, officials said this week.

Vox - April 4, 2020

Texas’s election law could disenfranchise millions during a pandemic

Texas has one of the most restrictive absentee ballot laws in the country. Even under ordinary circumstances, this means many Texans will have a tougher time casting a ballot than voters in most other states. During a pandemic that could prevent millions of voters from venturing to the polls, however, Texas’s law could wind up disenfranchising much of the state. The law only allows Texas voters to obtain an absentee ballot under a very limited list of circumstances. Voters may obtain an absentee ballot if they plan to be absent from their home county on Election Day, if they have a “sickness or physical condition” that prevents them from voting in person, if they are over the age of 65, or if they are jailed.

It is far from clear that a healthy person who remains at home to avoid contracting coronavirus may obtain an absentee ballot. Texas Democratic Party v. Hughs, a lawsuit filed by the state Democratic Party, seeks to fix this law — or, at least, to interpret the law in a way that will ensure healthy people can still vote. But the lawsuit potentially faces an uphill battle in a state court system dominated by conservative judges. All nine members of the state Supreme Court are Republicans, and Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a motion seeking to intervene in the lawsuit — a sign that he intends to resist efforts to prevent this law from disenfranchising voters. The stakes in this case are astoundingly high. As Texas Democrats note in their complaint, voters are “now heavily discouraged” from even leaving their homes “by various government orders and are being discouraged in an enormous public education campaign.” Even if the pandemic were to end by July 14, when the state plans to hold several runoff elections, “certain populations will feel the need and/or be required to continue social distancing.” Millions of voters could potentially be forced to choose between losing their right to vote and risking contracting a deadly disease.

KXAN - April 6, 2020

Amid COVID-19, unemployment spike highest since 1975

Across the country and in Texas, unemployment continues to spike as COVID-19 grapples with economic output.

According to March 2020 data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics Friday, the nationwide unemployment rate is 4.4% with more than 7 million people unemployed. That’s the highest one-month increase since January 1975.

City Stories

Cross Timbers Gazette - April 3, 2020

UP Ministry making a difference for at-risk youth

In 2013, Argyle’s Jennifer Lillis and Lantana’s Kelly Hawkins worked on what they thought was a one-time school supply drive through Argyle United Methodist Church (AUMC). Their plan was to raise what they could, distribute the items and move on to some other worthy cause. Trouble was, their efforts proved so successful, they ended up with such a large surplus of supplies and monetary donations they didn’t know what do with them. “Because we were the ones in charge, we knew we had to figure out who else we could help,” Lillis said. “Through some of my other volunteer activities, I knew about (Denton’s) Borman Elementary, which is a Title 1 elementary school [large concentrations of low-income students]. I thought maybe they could use some extra supplies.

“This was a week before school started. So, Kelly and I took a drive up the road and asked to talk to the principal. We told him the situation and asked if they have a need and he said ‘you have no idea what an answered prayer this is.’” The principal connected Lillis and Hawkins to the Communities in Schools of North Texas representative, who said she was worried they wouldn’t have enough items. So, the duo took about $2,000 in cash and bought some clothes at Old Navy and delivered them to the school, thinking their work was done. Not so fast, said AUMC Pastor Chris Schoolcraft. “He said ‘what else are you thinking about doing now that the school supply is over and you know the needs? This school needs help,’ ” Lillis said. “We both had jobs at the time and we said ‘no, we’re done with this project.’ He said ‘think about what else might come to your hearts.’ “Over the next few months Borman reached out a couple of times for things it needed and we were able to help. That’s when we realized the need was greater than just Borman. We talked to Communities in Schools to find out the scope of what they faced at the schools they served and a ministry was founded.” They called it UP Ministry and within a year quit their jobs to help at-risk students year-round. Plus, it provided their own children a chance to see what serving others was like. “We live in a very affluent area, so I think it’s good for kids to see everybody doesn’t look the same,” said Lillis, who parents sons Conor, 15, and Seth, 11, with husband Brian. “Family and friends get pulled-in to help.

Filter - March 31, 2020

San Antonio’s war on street-level sex workers

On a late August afternoon, a woman with shoulder-length brown hair asked a passing driver on the west side of San Antonio, Texas for a ride. They had driven for just one block, passing clap-board houses wrapped by wire fences, when a police officer stopped them and searched the car. In the span of 15 minutes, she went from standing near a taqueria to being hit with prostitution charges—one of which was a felony and carries up to two years in state jail and a fine of up to $10,000. “He wanted head and I said I would do it. We never exchanged any money but he offered twenty,” Alicia, a 30-year-old Latina whose name has been changed to protect her privacy, told the San Antonio Police Department (SAPD) officer, according to the arrest report.

The man requesting a blowjob was a plain-clothes cop in an operation “investigating suspected prostitution activity in the area,” as the police report described—an area that’s almost-entirely Latinx. As an undercover agent, he “contacts suspected prostitutes,” while the officer who eventually arrested Alicia “monitor[s] his activities. Alicia seems to have been one of the first victims of SAPD’s renewed crackdown on street-level sex workers, which began a few months after the spring 2018 deplatforming of major sites used by sex workers to safely find and screen their clients. Beginning in August 2018 and continuing through at least June 2019, SAPD arrested more people per month on prostitution-related loitering charges than they had in the years since October 2015, according to SAPD arrest data obtained by Filter. The arrests disproportionately involved San Antonians of color.

National Stories

Rasmussen Reports - April 6, 2020

Cuomo ties Biden for presidential nomination among Democrats

Joe Biden may be sweeping the traditional primary system, but Democrats are evenly divided when asked if New York Governor Andrew Cuomo would make a better challenger against President Trump in November.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey finds that 46% of Likely Democratic Voters still believe Biden would make a better presidential candidate for their party this fall. But just as many (45%) opt for Cuomo instead, even though he isn’t even in the race. Nine percent (9%) are undecided. Among all likely voters, it’s Biden 38%, Cuomo 38%, with 24% not sure. Fifty-three percent (53%) have a favorable opinion of Cuomo, who has been in the news battling the coronavirus’ devastating hit on New York State. Just 33% view him unfavorably. This includes 25% with a Very Favorable opinion and 14% with a Very Unfavorable one. Another 14% don’t know enough about Cuomo to venture any kind of opinion of him.

Wall Street Journal - April 6, 2020

Wisconsin's Supreme Court orders the state's Tuesday primary election to proceed, voiding the governor's order to postpone the contest

Wisconsin’s Supreme Court ordered that the state’s election proceed on Tuesday, voiding an order by the governor to delay the vote because of concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. The court was divided 4-2, along ideological lines, with the conservative majority ruling against the executive order issued Monday by Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, suspending in-person voting on April 7 and setting a new election date of June 9.

“I cannot in good conscience stand by and do nothing,” Mr. Evers said in a statement. “The bottom line is that I have an obligation to keep people safe, and that’s why I signed this executive order today.” State Republican leaders quickly challenged the governor’s executive order in Wisconsin’s Supreme Court. “Just last week a federal judge said he did not have the power to cancel the election, and Gov. Evers doesn’t either,” Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said in a statement. “Gov. Evers can’t unilaterally run the state.” While more than a dozen other states have postponed spring election dates to avoid conflicting with public-health orders to minimize crowds and public gatherings, Wisconsin has been engaged in a fight over how to proceed with its vote.

April 6, 2020

Lead Stories

Wall Street Journal - April 6, 2020

‘There’s no avoiding this one’: Texas gets double punch from coronavirus and oil shock.

Texas had one of the best economic records of any U.S. state after the 2008 financial crisis. In this crisis, it faces the prospect of a deep and prolonged downturn. The Lone Star State is exposed to many of the pandemic and shutdown’s economic ill consequences, with three cities—Austin, Houston and Dallas—home to an abundance of service-sector jobs, especially at risk. A downturn in the oil industry and other businesses big in Texas, including airlines and ports, will likely amplify its pain. Industry analysts expect the oil downturn to outlast the current viral outbreak. Oil prices surged late last week on hopes of a global pact involving Russia, Saudi Arabia and possibly the U.S. to cut crude output. But the prospects are uncertain, and even sizable oil production cuts would fall short of making up for the enormous drop in demand for fuels caused by coronavirus. Prices remain below $30, at levels where most Texas producers cannot make money.

Initial claims for unemployment benefits rose by 259,652 in Texas during the two weeks ended March 28, non-seasonally adjusted Labor Department data released Thursday show. Layoffs hit a broad range of businesses including accommodation and food services, transportation, health care, oil and gas, manufacturing, retail, real estate and construction, the data showed. Two major shale producers are asking Texas regulators to consider curtailing crude output for the first time since the 1970s. For Texas, “there’s no avoiding this one,” said James Gaines, chief economist at the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University. From his job at a Houston machine shop, Kenny Istre saw customers withdrawing orders and demanding discounts for drilling equipment at Taylor Oilfield Manufacturing Inc. even before U.S. crude prices plunged. Prices were about $28 a barrel Friday, down about 54% from the year’s start.

Austin American-Statesman - April 5, 2020

Former Travis County DA Ronnie Earle has died

Ronnie Earle, who served as Travis County district attorney for more than 30 years and was best known for prosecuting some of Texas’ top politicians and for championing the community justice system, died Sunday after a long illness. He was 78. “He was a great guy,” said friend and former Austin Mayor Bruce Todd. “He always wanted to get things right and he had a good sense of what was right for community. That was what he always wanted to be the goal and objective.” Todd said Earle’s health has been declining for some time.

Through the county’s Public Integrity Unit, which he founded, Earle prosecuted some of the state’s top politicians — including then-Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox, then-U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and then-U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay — with mixed success. A jury acquitted Mattox and the case against Hutchison became a high-profile failure when charges were dismissed. DeLay was convicted of a money laundering charge, but that conviction was later overturned by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. But closest to Earle’s heart were his efforts at the forefront of community justice, a catchall name for programs that had caught on in prosecutors’ offices nationwide that aim to attack crime by, in his words, “engaging the community in its own protection.” Earle established programs for crime prevention, alternative sentencing and the reintegration of former offenders into society. He also brought officials from a range of fields together.

D Magazine - April 5, 2020

The bizarre case and uncertain future of Dallas County’s pop-up COVID-19 hospital

On Sunday afternoon, members of the media were alerted to a letter sent from Gov. Greg Abbott’s chief of staff to County Judge Clay Jenkins. It threatened to relocate to another county the planned pop-up hospital at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, which Jenkins had said would be activated once hospital capacity takes a hit from cases of COVID-19. The confusion apparently started when Maj. Gen. Mike Stone left a voice mail on Saturday night for Nim Kidd, the chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, which he then relayed to Abbott’s office. “We had a call with Judge Clay Jenkins; his team … has no intention of moving patients into the convention center and the Department of Defense is confused,” Stone said in the message.

That triggered the letter. Luis Saenz, the governor’s chief of staff, wrote, “I have been informed by federal government officials that if you cannot make clear the acceptance of these facilities by 5:00 on Monday, April 6th, the federal government may be forced to relocate these healthcare facilities to other regions.” From there, the confusion spread. Allow me to break it down as best I can. That phrasing—”make clear the acceptance of these facilities”—is what doesn’t make sense. Because Jenkins has made the county’s intentions clear for the past week: this was to be a “step-down” facility for patients recovering from COVID-19, to free up beds at the hospitals for patients needing critical services. The county was working in tandem with the National Guard to get the hospital ready. But we aren’t there yet. Jenkins says he found out about the letter from a reporter, before seeing it in an email from the governor’s office. He’s been operating under the belief that the county would get the pop-up hospital ready to go and activate it only when capacity at other hospitals was threatened. It was never planned to happen immediately. Lauren Trimble, Jenkins’ chief of staff, says the county has been “operating under ‘use it when needed’ and have been working under this assumption with city, state, and federal partners.” Currently, capacity at Dallas County’s hospitals is hovering around 50 percent, Jenkins says, not enough to activate the pop-up hospital.

Houston Chronicle - April 5, 2020

Feds could cut 25% of Houston’s FEMA funding for coronavirus test sites

Federal authorities are expected to slash 25 percent of Houston’s funding to administer the city’s coronavirus testing sites and relocate six site workers. Mayor Sylvester Turner and U.S. Rep. Al Green, D-Houston, both warned about the cuts at press conferences Sunday. Turner acknowledged Sunday he was disappointed by the abrupt removal of six federal health care workers from city testing sites. But he remained resolute. “We’re going to just assume that we are going to have to rely on the resources we have,” Turner told the Chronicle. “It’s like what happened after (Hurricane) Harvey; we can’t just wait on the cavalry to come.”

The health care workers to be pulled from the city’s testing sites are in advisory roles that help monitor supply levels of such things as infection control, personal protection equipment and processing, Turner said. They are expected to depart April 10. The mayor said he had been in talks with federal authorities over the past week and knew there was a possibility “that they might be leaving us,” but it was not confirmed. Although the sites are locally managed, they rely on the federal government for testing supplies and additional medical personnel. Officials have not heard where the funding would be diverted or additional details on where the workers would go.

State Stories

Houston Public Media - April 3, 2020

Amid a pandemic, criminal justice reform takes center stage — even if just for a moment

In recent weeks a push to free up space in jails across Texas has become a major topic of discussion. Last week, Travis County started allowing automatic release for people charged with low-level felonies. And Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo signed her own order this week allowing for the release of certain non-violent offenders in the Harris County jail. But with that push came some backlash: The Houston Police Officers’ Union called Hidalgo’s order “illogical and ill-timed.” Republican State Sen. Paul Bettencourt called it “an overreach,” and predicted “a crime wave” in coming weeks.

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo made clear he would only support a plan that excluded what he called “habitual offenders”, whether or not they were accused of nonviolent crimes. “History will not forget if we make decisions based on political dogma, and not based on the best interests of the people of Harris County,” he said. “And by the people of Harris County, I start with victims, and I start with law-abiding citizens, and I end with people that are committing criminal offenses.” Tricia Forbes is exactly the kind of person Acevedo is worried about. A survivor of violent crime, Forbes was sexually assaulted both as a teenager in college and as a young adult.

Houston Public Media - April 3, 2020

Oil companies under pressure as price remains low, attorney says

With Texas oil hovering around $20 per barrel, some experts say bankruptcies and layoffs in the oil and gas industry could be ahead. Already the industry has seen furloughs, and companies are looking for solutions as the coronavirus and international supply disputes negatively impact the energy industry. Attorney Bill Wallander focuses on restructuring and reorganization. He’s with the Houston-based firm Vinson & Elkins, which works with oil and gas companies. He spoke to energy reporter Kyra Buckley. (This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)

In terms of the oil and gas industry, have you seen an increase in inquiries about bankruptcy or restructuring? There’s certainly been an increase in the inquiries, yes. And there’s also been issues in cases that are currently pending that were already dealing with the drop in oil prices. What qualities make a company ready to weather something like this? Liquidity drives it. When the price falls this far, the company has a liquidity issue to the extent that they’ve not hedged their production, so that they can have a buffer from the hedges that they have in place and the hedges they put in through the futures markets to assure cash flow and get cash flow off of the hedges if the price falls.

Houston Public Media - April 3, 2020

Domestic violence spikes in the wake of COVID-19, advocates say

Texas nonprofits are reporting an uptick in domestic violence amid COVID-19. As stay-at-home orders are extended and unemployment has skyrocketed, victims may be forced to stay home with their abusers for weeks on end. The life-threatening situation has advocates concerned about the months to come.

The increase in domestic violence has been captured by various organizations and nonprofits across the state. Maisha Colter, CEO of Houston-based nonprofit Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse a Houston-based nonprofit, said that the group averaged around 950 calls a day in February. On March 16, as one example, the group fielded more than 1,000. “We are in a sanctioned isolation situation,” Colter said. “For most victims, they’re being told to stay home. That means staying home with their children and their abuser. Perpetrators tend to use isolation to assert power and control over their victims.” Montgomery County reported a 35% increase in domestic violence in March 2020, compared to the same month in 2019.

Austin American-Statesman - April 6, 2020

Coronavirus creeping undetected through Texas and U.S., researchers write

For the 102 Texas counties that, as of Sunday, have not yet reported a confirmed case of COVID-19, there exists a 9% chance that an outbreak of the disease is already underway, according to an analysis of the disease’s spread by a group of University of Texas researchers. Calculating the risk that there already is sustained community transmission that has not yet been detected, the researchers found the disease is likely spreading in 74% of all counties in the U.S., containing 95% of the national population.

“Without a coordinated state or federal response to COVID-19 across the United States, counties are left to weigh the potentially large yet unseen threat of COVID-19 with the economic and societal costs of enacting strict social distancing measures,” the UT researchers — graduate student Emily Javan, research associate Spencer Fox and professor Lauren Ancel Meyers — wrote. “The immediate and long-term risk of the virus can be difficult to grasp, given the lack of historical precedent and that many cases go undetected.” The findings come as governors across the country have grappled with the appropriate level of lockdown to contain the virus. Gov. Greg Abbott bowed to pressure from Democrats and some Republicans last week in ordering Texans to stay at home with the exception of trips to the grocery store, pharmacy or other errands considered essential, or do work deemed essential.

Austin American-Statesman - April 3, 2020

Amid the plague, the view from Cleburne with Jim Hogan

I got a call from Jim Hogan on Friday to see how I was faring amid what he called “the plague,” and we talked for about an hour. I called Hogan, 69, for the first time in 2014, when he finished first in the Democratic primary for agriculture commissioner ahead of Kinky Friedman and Hugh Asa Fitzimons III, and went on to beat Kinky in the runoff. Hogan ran his shoestring campaign out of the public library in Cleburne because the internet connection on his farm was dial-up.

He lost to Republican Sid Miller in the general election, but, with no campaigning or money spent, he did about as well as other Democrats running statewide, and he made his mark as a Texas original. Four years later, he placed second in the Republican primary against Miller. He may call it the plague, but the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t seem to have fazed Hogan. He was the 10th born in his family. “My dad was born in 1911,” Hogan said. “That would have made him 7 years old during the Spanish flu pandemic, which killed as many as 50 to 100 million people worldwide.” But he and his father (a blacksmith), mother and three older siblings all survived. “I’ve heard about that flu all my life,” Hogan said. “My dad was a stickler for washing your hands, very religious on washing your hands. “That put the mark on him. He told all us kids, ‘You go in there and wash your hands,’?” Hogan said. “I’m not as bad as him, but I wash my hands with soap, and I rub real good.”

Austin American-Statesman - April 3, 2020

Fact-check: Does Texas have one of the lowest coronavirus death rates?

During a coronavirus briefing Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said the state has one of the lowest coronavirus death rates in the country — a trend he said he hopes will continue through April. “If you look at the death rate in Texas, per capita of 29 million people, we’re one of the lowest in the country,” he said. “But we need to continue that for the rest of April. And even be better at that.” The first issue here is that Patrick is conflating two calculations in his statement: the death rate for the coronavirus and the number of coronavirus deaths per capita in Texas. The death rate of a particular illness or disease is calculated by dividing the number of fatalities by the number of confirmed cases of the illness. A geography’s total population isn’t a factor.

It is possible to look at the number of coronavirus deaths per capita, but it says less about the danger posed by the virus than the death rate. To give Patrick a fair shake, we’ll take a look at both of these figures and how Texas compares to other states. Patrick did not return a request for comment seeking clarification on his statement. “The death rate is generally a function of the number of people infected,” said Dr. Myron Cohen, director of the Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in an email. “We are often unsure of this because this depends on sampling, and the tests deployed.” For this reason, we’ll also look at the number of tests administered by each state. As more tests are administered and more cases are identified, the death rate for the virus will change. Given that the number of cases and fatalities is constantly changing, this fact-check will use data from Tuesday — the day Patrick made his statement. Along these lines, it is important to remember that the death rate at this point in time is just a snapshot.

Dallas Morning News - April 5, 2020

Michael Judge: Trust in government is key to beating coronavirus. That trust has long been unraveling

Minutes before I’m due to give her a call at her Brooklyn home, Laurie Garrett, the author of The Coming Plague and Betrayal of Trust and by far journalism’s most celebrated writer and reporter on epidemics, pandemics and government readiness, sends me a one-word email: “Waiting.” If she sounds like she’s on deadline, that’s because she is. The only writer ever to win all three of the Big “Ps” of journalism, the Peabody Award in Broadcasting (1977), the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism (1996), and the Polk Award for Foreign Reporting (1997, 2000), Garrett is at the epicenter of the story she’s been researching her entire career: a global pandemic that could claim between 100,00 and 240,000 U.S lives and has already forced much of the world, including her beloved New York City, into lockdown.

What’s clear right now, Garrett tells me, is that both parties, Democrats and Republicans, are going to have to reinvent the way they think about the remaining primaries, their national conventions this summer, and the general election in November. Even President Donald Trump, who often campaigns in sports arenas, understands that “this is not the time to hold a giant rally,” she says. “The question is, to what degree are they still clinging to the hope of their conventions? And how are we going to go forward with any voting process in the remaining primary states, particularly here in New York, where we are now at the epicenter of the pandemic?” “How in the world can we vote?” Garrett asks rhetorically. “Obviously, it’s going to have to be through the mail and online. But how are they going to pull that together on this short of notice? I had hoped, and I wrote a column for Foreign Policy on this back on March 11, that by now they would be on a crash program coming up with alternatives and new schemes for voting. But it seems everything is still very much up in the air.”

Dallas Morning News - April 6, 2020

Coronavirus pandemic has halted economy, but not political fundraising in Texas

Last week millions of Americans lost their jobs — and many lost loved ones — as the coronavirus wreaked havoc across the country. The week also brought the 2020 first quarter fundraising deadline for political candidates. And despite the crisis, most of them approached voters with hat in hand, making pointed appeals for money that many Americans can’t spare. Unlike the nation’s economy, politics doesn’t shut down.

“I know that many Texans are hurting right now and worried about how they’re going to cover life’s expenses. They have been laid off, had their hours cut, or are employers who are struggling to make payroll,” said Congressional District 32 candidate Genevieve Collins, R-Dallas. “Please only contribute to my campaign’s end of quarter efforts if you feel that you are in a comfortable enough financial position to do so. You and your family come first.” Incumbent Democrat Colin Allred of Dallas, Collins’ opponent in the November general election, was also raising money during the quarter. Most candidates on runoff or general election ballots were either sending fundraising emails or making calls to prospective donors.

San Antonio Express-News - April 6, 2020

‘That is killing us financially’: Pandemic threatens rural Texans access to health care

A rural hospital closure crisis for years has been creeping across undeveloped swaths of Texas, leaving thousands of Texans without easy access to health care. The coronavirus pandemic could make it even worse. No matter how the spread of the coronavirus unfolds — whether it infects large numbers of people or leaves communities relatively unscathed — health executives say the pandemic could wreak havoc on rural hospitals. Already struggling to recruit staff, some of the hospitals may not have enough nurses and doctors to care for a massive influx of patients.

The pandemic also has threatened their financial well-being, With elective procedures postponed, revenue is plunging and hospitals are hemorrhaging cash to keep the doors open. And, even as more and more counties are reporting cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, some hospitals have been forced to send staff home and cut their hours. “The problem we're having is not the surges, it’s the complete opposite: we have no patients,” said John Graves, the CEO of Dimmit Regional Hospital in South Texas. “Everybody is doing the right thing — they're staying home, which is what we want — but it's a major disruption to health care in general in rural communities.” Across the nation, about one-fourth of all rural hospitals are considered vulnerable to closure. The crisis is particularly acute in Texas: In the 1960s, there were 300 hospitals in rural Texas, according to the Texas Organization of Rural and Community Hospitals. Today, that number is 158. More than a dozen are located in rural counties near San Antonio. Over the last decade, Texas has seen the highest number of closures out of all U.S. states, a trend blamed on declining reimbursements from government insurers; rising operating costs; shrinking populations in rural communities; and a growing number of medical bills that patients can’t afford to pay.

The Hill - April 3, 2020

Candace Valenzuela, running for open Congressional seat, picks up steam

The only Hispanic challenger for a Texas House seat in 2020 broke her district's single-quarter fundraising record for a Democrat, surpassing a high achieved 15 years ago, according to preliminary numbers from the campaign. Candace Valenzuela, a local school board member, is facing a July runoff election against fellow Democrat Kim Olson, a retired Air Force colonel, in the race to replace retiring Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-Texas).

The winner of that runoff will face off in November against Republican Beth Van Duyne, a former mayor and Trump administration official seeking to keep the now-swing district red. Valenzuela, who forced a runoff against Olson in the March 3 primary, says her campaign raised more than $305,000 between January and March. The once-homeless Valenzuela has also racked up big-name endorsements, including former Housing Secretary and presidential candidate Julián Castro, Bold PAC, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) campaign arm, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) and EMILY's List, an influential pro-choice political advocacy group.

Houston Chronicle - April 4, 2020

Gov. Greg Abbott keeps calm in COVID-19 crisis. Too calm, some say.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s cautious, dispassionate response to the coronavirus pandemic has frustrated Texans looking for more urgency as the state faces its biggest public health crisis since smallpox a century ago. While other governors hold daily briefings for the public, with details on everything from the number of hospital beds and ventilators to heart-rending accounts of those who have died from the disease, Abbott’s public addresses are fewer and shorter. He keeps his emotions firmly in check when talking about Texans who have been “lost” to COVID-19. Through it all, Abbott has never lost the steady, calm veneer he developed over two decades in the judiciary — first as a trial judge in Houston, then as a justice on the Texas Supreme Court and as attorney general.

“He plays defensively instead of offensively,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University. The Texas Democratic Party, meanwhile, is trumpeting that Abbott “continues to mismanage the coronavirus crisis every single day.” The party says Abbott was too slow in closing restaurants and bars and in issuing a statewide order to get people to stay home. “Texas Republicans continue to downplay and mismanage the coronavirus pandemic,” party spokesman Abhi Rahman said. “Texans deserve thoughtful leaders that are ready to do whatever it takes to keep us safe.” After weeks of stalling, Abbott issued a statewide stay-at-home order Tuesday, behind 30 other states. Friday, he disclosed that Texas has 8,700 ventilators for acute patients — again, weeks after that count was made public in other states. He still hasn’t said how many ventilators Texas might need.

Victoria Advocate - April 5, 2020

Corpus Christi Caller-Times Editorial: Here's why Texas is infected with non-coronavirus political agendas

At the personal level, you might be using the coronavirus as an excuse to avoid people you wanted to avoid. It’s only human. But avoiding already unwanted social contact is no comparison to what is happening at the state and national levels. Your government officials are using coronavirus as a cover to pursue political and personal agendas that are doing people harm. For example, the Trump administration has stopped enforcing environmental regulations against companies because, you know, the virus, the economy and all that jazz. That’s right: After about 50 years of advancement in protecting your environment, your federal government up and decided it’s OK for an industry to pollute illegally if the industry thinks it’s too expensive to stop polluting illegally.

The thing is, those industries think it’s too expensive in the best of times. Ask yourself: When is it ever OK to pollute? (Hint: That’s a rhetorical question.) This decision is going to be especially harmful environmentally to Texas with its huge oil industry. That includes East Texas, West Texas, North Texas and South Texas. If you’re in Texas, you can’t escape it. Even if you live way out in the country where there are no factories or car traffic, the fumes from the gas wells on your neighbor’s property are headed your way. The cost of doing things right is never too high. If the economy is all that matters to you, look at it this way: A clean environment is a highly marketable commodity and a dirty one is an economic liability. What’s that old saying? Don’t ax-murder the golden goose. We recognize that Texas is dependent on its oil economy and that many Texans probably cheer at the enforcement rollback. But even if you are and always were for less environmental regulation, using coronavirus as a guise for Trump to do opportunistically what Trump already wanted to do is an insult to your sense of honesty and fair play. That’s assuming – as we do – that you have a sense of honesty and fair play.

Spectrum News - April 3, 2020

Group representing Texas freestanding ERs seeks to change regulations amid COVID-19 pandemic

As hospitals across the country brace for the surge of COVID-19 patients, a Texas organization representing freestanding emergency centers is hoping to ease that burden. Doing so would require changes to state and federal law. The 81st Texas Legislature first approved freestanding emergency departments in 2009, and currently there are about 200 freestanding emergency departments in Texas. Altogether that is about 1,500 beds.

These facilities are structurally separate and not affiliated with hospitals, and under federal law, these independent operators are not eligible for Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Texas Association of Freestanding Emergency Centers wants to change that. Dr. Daniel Roe, the medical director for Complete Care emergency departments in Austin, said there are generally no wait times at their facilities, and they are able to see patients immediately in comfortable settings. Complete Care has locations across Texas, including San Antonio and Dallas, as well as Colorado. “We provide a lot of emergency and critical care on a daily basis, and so that doesn't change at all in this situation. We're ready to participate and we want to make the most strategic and important contribution possible,” Roe said.

New York Times - April 4, 2020

Can you lead in a pandemic without picking sides? Greg Abbott is trying

On Thursday, in a public service announcement filmed in his wood-paneled office, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas gestured toward his most recent executive order propped up in front of him, one that Democrats, health care professionals, and a growing number of Republicans in the state had been clamoring for. Beginning that day, he said, all Texans were required to “stay at home, except to provide essential services or do essential things, like going to the grocery store.” Just don’t call it a stay-at-home order. “That obviously is not what we have articulated here,” Mr. Abbott stressed when first unveiling the directive on Tuesday. “This is a standard that is based on essential services and essential activities.”

As the coronavirus spreads across the United States, officials like Mr. Abbott, a Republican who was re-elected to a second term in 2018, have been forced to weigh the preventive value of wide-reaching public-health mandates against the economic cost they will inevitably wring. That debate is especially fraught in Texas, where increased calls for collective action find themselves at odds with an abiding ethos of “don’t tread on me.” It’s a big moment for governors, who, along with having crises to manage, may see their crisis management as a springboard beyond the state capitol. In New York, Andrew Cuomo’s appointment-viewing televised briefings have sparked calls for a presidential run. Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer already sports a T-shirt emblazoned with President Trump’s coronavirus coinage for her, “That woman from Michigan.” But unlike many governors, Mr. Abbott’s task is not so much building national political clout from scratch as maintaining the regard he already has. And in Texas, competing passions for how to approach the virus — of which there are currently 5,330 confirmed cases and 90 deaths — are high. So Mr. Abbott, rather than drive a stake down, has focused his energies where he often does: placating all sides.

Corpus Christi Caller-Times - April 3, 2020

John Moritz: There's another coronavirus crisis that's about to hit Texas

Even as state leaders grapple with the still-uphill task of containing the spread of coronavirus in Texas, they know full well another crisis caused by the virus lurks just around the bend. Comptroller Glenn Hegar, the state's chief financial officer, issued on Thursday what sounded like an upbeat report on the fiscal health of Texas. "State Sales Tax Revenue Totaled $2.7 Billion in March" touted the headline. That was almost 3 percent more than the state collected in March 2019. But in the paragraphs below painted a more detailed picture, and those details were bedeviling.

“We expect that future sales tax revenue will be drastically affected because much of the economy has been shut down to combat the coronavirus pandemic and because of the negative impact of a global oil price war,” Hegar said in his news release. The economic shutdowns forced by the nationwide effort to smother the virus have dominated the headlines almost as much as the the ever-rising number of cases, and the ever-rising number of deaths. And that could mean that the $250 billion budget Texas lawmakers passed last year to guide the state's spending through August 2021 might have to be dramatically revised if tax collections and other state revenue sources dry up because of a moribund economy. In the latest figures from the Texas Workforce Commission shows claims for unemployment compensation skyrocketed some 1,600 percent in just two weeks. In past economic slowdowns, state leaders have issued directives to agency heads to dramatically scale back spending, even though the Legislature may have authorized it. Look for that to happen again.

County Stories

Dallas Morning News - April 6, 2020

Coronavirus cases climb to 30 at west Oak Cliff nursing home, Dallas County officials say

It has been a month since Norma Barrientos has seen or spoken to her mother. Since then, her window into her mother’s world is through phone calls to the staff at Skyline Nursing Center in west Oak Cliff, where officials announced Sunday 30 coronavirus cases have been identified. “They say she's fine, but down deep inside of me, I know she's not always fine,” Barrientos said Sunday. Barrientos’ mother, 79-year-old Mary Sifuentes, has lived at Skyline for almost a year and a half. She has dementia and partial blindness, and struggles to walk on her own, Barrientos said.

She fears that her mother and the other residents at the nursing center may be too weak to fight off COVID-19. “For somebody older, it’s just harder for them to battle what’s coming to them,” she said. “This virus would be so much worse. … I feel like I may never see my mother again if this doesn’t stop.” Dr. Phil Huang, director of Dallas County’s health department, announced new cases Sunday at several Dallas-area long-term care facilities. Skyline had the most. Huang did not specify whether staff members were among the 30 confirmed cases there. The nursing center's administrator declined to comment Sunday evening but provided a written statement from the center’s management that said the facility had been aggressively monitoring its staff and residents for signs of the virus.

City Stories

San Antonio Express-News - April 6, 2020

Planning for the worst, hoping for the best: San Antonio hospitals brace for surge of coronavirus patients

Across the city, health care workers, first responders and local officials are gearing up for a surge of coronavirus patients that could overwhelm area hospitals. Tents and trailers have been placed outside emergency rooms, staffers are being trained and reassigned from their normal duties, and facilities are being overhauled for COVID-19 patients. At Freeman Coliseum, a space normally used for concerts and events, hundreds of cots await possible overflow from hospitals.

For local health care systems, preparations for the coronavirus began months ago, when they were faced with the prospect of treating evacuees quarantined at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. But that was nothing compared to what they confront now: a public health disaster unlike any in recent memory. Hospitals in New York, Louisiana and Washington state have offered grim previews of what health care leaders here are seeking to avoid: too many critically ill patients all at once, and a steep rise in deaths. But for now, San Antonio’s hospitals are quieter than usual. Elective and nonessential surgeries have been postponed, stay-at-home orders have curbed car crashes and the public has been asked to seek hospital care only if necessary. The number of available beds changes by the day, and hospitals have the ability to quickly convert beds into spaces appropriate for intensive care patients as needed.

San Antonio Express-News - April 6, 2020

San Antonio educators: our best efforts can’t stop coronavirus closures from hurting students

Amid the uncertain long-term effects of school closures forced by the coronavirus pandemic, local education leaders know one thing: despite their best efforts, the remote learning plans they put together are generally inferior to teaching in classrooms — especially for students whose home life puts them at a disadvantage. The Texas Education Agency will not assign letter grades this year to schools. Committees can recommend graduation for high school seniors who need another chance to pass standardized tests. But academic damage will be evident, top administrators say, on the first day students return to reopened schools — whenever that is.

Some are beginning to consider “recovery” efforts that could involve lengthening the next school year, or blending this school year into next through summer school. Schools in Bexar County will be shuttered for a minimum of two months. To combat the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, Gov. Greg Abbott last week ordered all schools in Texas to remain closed until May 4. Even if schools reopen on the earliest date possible, under current calendars they’d be in session for a month at most before closing again for the summer, when the well-documented learning loss called “summer slide” takes place. “We would actually be experiencing a double slide,” said Victor Raga, director of the bilingual and English as a Second Language department in Northside Independent School District. “We would have COVID slide and then summer slide.” School administrators say the remote education plans they’ve enacted should help, but distance learning can’t make up for everything students are losing during the shutdown.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - April 6, 2020

Risk infection or violate probation? Residents face dilemma at Fort Worth rehab center

Until last week, Brittney Cardenas was one of about 150 residents at Fort Worth’s Cenikor complex, an addiction rehabilitation center that treats its residents through what it calls work therapy. It’s in a low-slung brick building in an industrialized area just south of John Peter Smith Hosptial. The residents, many of whom are ordered by the court system to stay there, live in dorms that house about 30 people in bunk beds. They eat community meals in a cafeteria and pile into vans to attend jobs throughout Dallas-Fort Worth.

As soon as Cardenas started hearing reports about the spread of coronavirus in the news last month, she became concerned about the living situation: What if a resident contracted COVID-19? They could infect other residents and potentially carry the disease to other workers at their job sites. Because most Cenikor residents work in warehouse settings their jobs are considered essential. Cardenas said that although Cenikor took people’s temperatures at the door and set up a hand sanitizing station, it did nothing to keep residents apart from each other, either at the facility or in the vans on the way to work. When Cardenas described Cenikor’s lack of response to her attorney, Raymond Sanders, he said she needed to leave immediately, even though she risked violating the terms of her probation. Cardenas’s mother, Dawn Traylor, picked her up from Cenikor on March 27 and brought her home to Mexia. Traylor said that while she waited a group of residents were getting into a van and another line of people were standing at the door. “Realistically you cannot socially distance yourself when living with 150 people,” she said.

National Stories

ABC News - April 5, 2020

George W. Bush in 2005: 'If we wait for a pandemic to appear, it will be too late to prepare'

In the summer of 2005, President George W. Bush was on vacation at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, when he began flipping through an advance reading copy of a new book about the 1918 flu pandemic. He couldn't put it down. When he returned to Washington, he called his top homeland security adviser into the Oval Office and gave her the galley of historian John M. Barry's "The Great Influenza," which told the chilling tale of the mysterious plague that "would kill more people than the outbreak of any other disease in human history." "You've got to read this," Fran Townsend remembers the president telling her. "He said, 'Look, this happens every 100 years. We need a national strategy.'"

Thus was born the nation's most comprehensive pandemic plan -- a playbook that included diagrams for a global early warning system, funding to develop new, rapid vaccine technology, and a robust national stockpile of critical supplies, such as face masks and ventilators, Townsend said. The effort was intense over the ensuing three years, including exercises where cabinet officials gamed out their responses, but it was not sustained. Large swaths of the ambitious plan were either not fully realized or entirely shelved as other priorities and crises took hold. But elements of that effort have formed the foundation for the national response to the coronavirus pandemic underway right now. "Despite politics, despite changes, when a crisis hits, you pull what you've got off the shelf and work from there," Townsend said.

Financial Times - April 3, 2020

Financial Times Editorial: Virus lays bare the frailty of the social contract

Please use the sharing tools found via the share button at the top or side of articles. Copying articles to share with others is a breach of FT.com T&Cs and Copyright Policy. Email licensing@ft.com to buy additional rights. Subscribers may share up to 10 or 20 articles per month using the gift article service. More information can be found at https://www.ft.com/tour. https://www.ft.com/content/7eff769a-74dd-11ea-95fe-fcd274e920ca If there is a silver lining to the Covid-19 pandemic, it is that it has injected a sense of togetherness into polarised societies. But the virus, and the economic lockdowns needed to combat it, also shine a glaring light on existing inequalities — and even create new ones. Beyond defeating the disease, the great test all countries will soon face is whether current feelings of common purpose will shape society after the crisis. As western leaders learnt in the Great Depression, and after the second world war, to demand collective sacrifice you must offer a social contract that benefits everyone. Today’s crisis is laying bare how far many rich societies fall short of this ideal. Much as the struggle to contain the pandemic has exposed the unpreparedness of health systems, so the brittleness of many countries’ economies has been exposed, as governments scramble to stave off mass bankruptcies and cope with mass unemployment.

Please use the sharing tools found via the share button at the top or side of articles. Copying articles to share with others is a breach of FT.com T&Cs and Copyright Policy. Email licensing@ft.com to buy additional rights. Subscribers may share up to 10 or 20 articles per month using the gift article service. More information can be found at https://www.ft.com/tour. https://www.ft.com/content/7eff769a-74dd-11ea-95fe-fcd274e920ca The economic lockdowns are imposing the greatest cost on those already worst off. Overnight millions of jobs and livelihoods have been lost in hospitality, leisure and related sectors, while better paid knowledge workers often face only the nuisance of working from home. Worse, those in low-wage jobs who can still work are often risking their lives — as carers and healthcare support workers, but also as shelf stackers, delivery drivers and cleaners. Governments’ extraordinary budget support for the economy, while necessary, will in some ways make matters worse. Countries that have allowed the emergence of an irregular and precarious labour market are finding it particularly hard to channel financial help to workers with such insecure employment. Meanwhile, vast monetary loosening by central banks will help the asset-rich. Behind it all, underfunded public services are creaking under the burden of applying crisis policies. The way we wage war on the virus benefits some at the expense of others. The victims of Covid-19 are overwhelmingly the old. But the biggest victims of the lockdowns are the young and active, who are asked to suspend their education and forgo precious income. Sacrifices are inevitable, but every society must demonstrate how it will offer restitution to those who bear the heaviest burden of national efforts.

Reuters - April 6, 2020

Italy starts to look ahead to 'phase two' as COVID-19 death toll slows

Italy reported its lowest daily COVID-19 death toll for more than two weeks on Sunday as authorities began to look ahead to a second phase of the battle against the new coronavirus once the lockdown imposed almost a month ago is eventually eased.

The toll from the world’s deadliest outbreak reached 15,887, almost a quarter of the global death total, but the rise of 525 from a day earlier was the smallest daily increase since March 19, while the number of patients in badly stretched intensive care units fell for a second day running. “The curve has reached a plateau and begun to descend,” said Silvio Brusaferro, head of the Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Italy’s top health institute. “It is a result that we have to achieve day after day.” “If this is confirmed, we need to start thinking about the second phase and keep down the spread of this disease.”

Fox News - April 6, 2020

Mark Cuban says coronavirus changes 'everything' in US -- so leaders should 'step up'

The coronavirus relief plan that President Trump signed into law is "a good program," Mark Cuban says, but he would have done things differently. Cuban, the billionaire owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks, shared his views during an appearance on Fox News' "Watters' World" on Saturday night. "I would have set up overdraft protections for every single business," Cuban told host Jesse Watters. "The way we're doing it now, and trying to have everybody apply for a loan, that just adds friction to the process.

"And the same with the $1,200 stimulus checks," Cuban continued. "It's not that it's a bad program. It's a good program at this time. But if I would have done a little bit different. So effectively, if you have a small- or medium-sized business, we would just cover all your checks and then the Fed would reimburse your local bank for anything that you bounce. "That way, you could keep all your employees employed, pay all your bills, pay your mortgage, pay your rent and utilities, and things can continue, somewhat at least, as normal," Cuban said. Watters asked Cuban what aspects of U.S. life he expects to see altered as a result of the pandemic. "Everything," Cuban said.

Governing - April 3, 2020

Normally a contact sport, lobbying goes virtual

A Minneapolis-based company called Wilderness Inquiry has been leading kids on educational recreation trips for more than 40 years. The company wants children who have been missing school to receive credit for the experiences. Despite the current circumstances — or maybe because of them — the idea has resonated with a bipartisan group of lawmakers looking for ways to keep kids engaged with learning. “People are excited about it,” says Nancy Hylden, who lobbies for Wilderness Inquiry. “There are a lot of kids who are at risk of not doing well and we have to find creative ways of keeping them up to speed, not just making it the chore of doing worksheets.” Getting lawmakers to sign on to a bill to create a pilot program has been a challenge, however. Not because of any opposition, but due to the physical limitations of lobbying right now.

In Minnesota, legislation is processed on paper. Typically, Hylden would hand over a bill jacket for a sponsor to sign, then walk around the capitol collecting signatures from cosponsors before filing the bill at the clerk’s office. She can’t do any of that now. She’s not even allowed into the capitol, so she had to mail the bill jacket to Rep. Jim Davnie and count on him to handle the paperwork. With capitols closed to the public, the mechanics of lobbying have changed for everybody. Most legislatures are not in session. Those that are still meeting are only allowing in legislators, staff and members of the media. Legislators themselves are trying to keep their distance from one another. On Wednesday, the Kentucky House voted to approve a one-year state budget. Most members texted or emailed leadership to record their votes from outside the chamber or even outside the capitol. Under the circumstances, it’s very hard for lobbyists to make their voices heard. The throngs of lobbyists and interested parties who normally hang around outside legislative chambers, hoping to buttonhole lawmakers, have disappeared. “I do think there’s some level of frustration about not being able to know in real time what the discussions are that are being held,” Hylden says. Being barred from the building doesn’t mean lobbyists aren’t trying to make their case.

Washington Post - April 5, 2020

Coronavirus death toll: Americans are almost certainly dying of COVID-19 but being left out of the official count

The fast-spreading novel coronavirus is almost certainly killing Americans who are not included in the nation's growing death toll, according to public health experts and government officials involved in the tally. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention counts only deaths in which the presence of the coronavirus is confirmed in a laboratory test. "We know that it is an underestimation," agency spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund said.

A widespread lack of access to testing in the early weeks of the U.S. outbreak means people with respiratory illnesses died without being counted, epidemiologists say. Even now, some people who die at home or in overburdened nursing homes are not being tested, according to funeral directors, medical examiners and nursing home representatives. Postmortem testing by medical examiners varies widely across the country, and some officials say testing the dead is a misuse of scarce resources that could be used on the living. In addition, some people who have the virus test negative, experts say. As a result, public health officials and government leaders lack a complete view of the pandemic's death toll as they assess its course and scramble to respond. Scientists who analyze mortality statistics from influenza and other respiratory illnesses say it is too early to estimate how many fatalities have gone unrecorded. For a disease with common symptoms such as covid-19, they said, deaths with positive results almost certainly represent only a fraction of the total caused by the disease.

Associated Press - April 5, 2020

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson hospitalized with virus

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was diagnosed with the new coronavirus more than a week ago, was admitted to a hospital Sunday for tests. Johnson's office said he was hospitalized because he still has symptoms 10 days after testing positive for the virus. His admission to an undisclosed hospital in London wasn't an emergency. Downing St. said it was a "precautionary step" and Johnson remains in charge of the government.

Johnson, 55, has been quarantined in his Downing St. residence since being diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 26. Johnson has continued to chair daily meetings on Britain's response to the outbreak, and has released several video messages during his 10 days in isolation. In a message on Friday, he said he was feeling better but still had a fever. The virus causes mild to moderate symptoms in most people, but for some, especially older adults and the infirm, it can cause pneumonia and lead to death. Johnson has received medical advice by phone during his illness, but going to a hospital means doctors can see him in person. Johnson's fiancee Carrie Symonds, 32, revealed Saturday that she spent a week with coronavirus symptoms, though she wasn't tested. Symonds, who is pregnant, said she was now "on the mend."

New York Times - April 3, 2020

The NRA sees a threat, and an opportunity, in COVID-19

Faced with budget pressures and an invigorated gun control movement, the National Rifle Association has found a new cause amid the pandemic — fighting to keep gun stores open as its fundraising appeals depict the government’s coronavirus response as a threat to Second Amendment rights. On Thursday, the group sued the state of New York over its decision to include gun retailers among the many businesses that have been forced to close during the crisis. The NRA had already filed two suits against California, where the governor had left the decision to counties.

The suits come as the NRA and other gun groups have successfully lobbied the White House to get the Department of Homeland Security to add firearms vendors to its list of essential businesses. That prompted states like New Jersey to reverse course and allow such stores to remain open. But New York, the epicenter of the outbreak in the United States, has resisted, viewing the shutdown of businesses across the state as a vital safety measure. “There isn’t a single person who has ever used a gun in self-defense who would consider it nonessential,” the NRA’s chief executive, Wayne LaPierre, said in a statement, calling the shutdown of gun stores an assault “on our Second Amendment freedoms.” Letitia James, attorney general of New York, said in a statement that “everyone — including the NRA — must follow the law and all executive orders of New York.” “We will aggressively defend the state against yet another legal assault by the NRA,” she added.

April 5, 2020

Lead Stories

Wall Street Journal - April 5, 2020

Henry Kissinger: The coronavirus pandemic will forever alter the World Order

The surreal atmosphere of the Covid-19 pandemic calls to mind how I felt as a young man in the 84th Infantry Division during the Battle of the Bulge. Now, as in late 1944, there is a sense of inchoate danger, aimed not at any particular person, but striking randomly and with devastation. But there is an important difference between that faraway time and ours. American endurance then was fortified by an ultimate national purpose. Now, in a divided country, efficient and farsighted government is necessary to overcome obstacles unprecedented in magnitude and global scope. Sustaining the public trust is crucial to social solidarity, to the relation of societies with each other, and to international peace and stability.

Nations cohere and flourish on the belief that their institutions can foresee calamity, arrest its impact and restore stability. When the Covid-19 pandemic is over, many countries’ institutions will be perceived as having failed. Whether this judgment is objectively fair is irrelevant. The reality is the world will never be the same after the coronavirus. To argue now about the past only makes it harder to do what has to be done. The coronavirus has struck with unprecedented scale and ferocity. Its spread is exponential: U.S. cases are doubling every fifth day. At this writing, there is no cure. Medical supplies are insufficient to cope with the widening waves of cases. Intensive-care units are on the verge, and beyond, of being overwhelmed. Testing is inadequate to the task of identifying the extent of infection, much less reversing its spread. A successful vaccine could be 12 to 18 months away. The U.S. administration has done a solid job in avoiding immediate catastrophe. The ultimate test will be whether the virus’s spread can be arrested and then reversed in a manner and at a scale that maintains public confidence in Americans’ ability to govern themselves. The crisis effort, however vast and necessary, must not crowd out the urgent task of launching a parallel enterprise for the transition to the post-coronavirus order.

Austin American-Statesman - April 4, 2020

How Abbott’s muddled coronavirus message resonated in a diverse state

At a grave moment in history, Gov. Greg Abbott buried the lede. “This is not a stay-at-home strategy, because a stay-at-home strategy would mean that you have to stay home, you cannot leave home under any circumstances,” the governor said in explaining the order he had just issued at a Tuesday afternoon Capitol press conference. By Wednesday afternoon he was branding with the hashtag #stayhomeTexas, the “o” in “home” replaced by a map of the Lone Star State.

With the coronavirus spreading and claiming more Texan lives every day, and as Democrats were calling for a stay-at-home order along the lines of the edicts most other governors had already issued, Abbott took action. But in announcing what amounted to strict new social distancing rules, he said they were neither orders to stay at home nor shelter in place, the short-hand names for the sort of restrictions put in place by dozens of local leaders in Texas and governors across the country. “The text (of the order) made it clear, but the leadership from his rhetoric was a little more opaque,” said University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus. “These are not the times for opaqueness,” Rottinghaus said. “People want direct answers and a very cold assessment of what’s happening. So he may have done himself a disservice by being less than clear.” In parsing his words, Abbott turned the bully pulpit of his office into a fog machine, undercutting a potentially life-saving message.

KUT - April 3, 2020

Texas officials try to clarify who can vote by mail, but they might not be able to just say everyone

The Texas Secretary of State’s office sent local election officials an advisory Thursday that was meant to give them guidance on how to handle elections during the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, they tried to tackle an issue voting rights groups have flagged since the start of the outbreak: Who qualifies to vote by mail during the pandemic? Texas law currently limits mail-in ballots to people who will be away from their county on Election Day and during early voting, people who are sick or disabled, voters 65 and older, and people in jail who have not been convicted.

Voting groups say the term “disabled” needs to be clarified for local election officials, who ultimately decide whether someone gets a mail-in ballot. In their advisory, state officials said, “the Election Code defines ‘disability’ to include ‘a sickness or physical condition that prevents the voter from appearing at the polling place on election day without a likelihood of needing personal assistance or of injuring the voter's health.’ (Sec. 82.002).” Officials said any voter who meets that definition must be able to apply for ballot by mail. Grace Chimene, president of the League of Women Voters of Texas, said the guidance is a helpful “first step within the confines of the law” in Texas.

Washington Post - April 4, 2020

How Trump’s attempts to win the daily news cycle feed a chaotic coronavirus response

President Trump began the seven-day stretch threatening — and then reneging on — a quarantine of the New York region. He ended it by announcing recommendations for everyone to wear face masks but stressed he would opt against sporting one himself. In the days in between, Trump announced a 30-day extension of stringent social distancing guidelines (March 29), called into a freewheeling “Fox & Friends” gripe-a-thon (Monday), presented a dire assessment of how many Americans are expected to die of the coronavirus (Tuesday), launched a military operation against drug cartels (Wednesday) and stoked a feud with a senior senator from hard-hit New York (Thursday). The novel coronavirus has decimated the economy, turned hospitals into battlefields and upended the daily lives of every American.

But in Trump’s White House, certain symptoms remain: a president who governs as if producing and starring in a reality television show, with each day a new episode and each news cycle his own creation, a successive installment to be conquered. Facing a global pandemic, Trump still seems to lurch from moment to moment, with his methods and messages each day disconnected from — and in some cases contradictory to — the ones just prior. The pattern reveals a commander in chief unsure of how to defeat the “silent enemy,” as he has labeled it. Instead, Trump has focused on his self-image — claiming credit wherever he believes it is owed, attempting to project strength and decisiveness, settling scores with critics, boasting about the ratings of his televised news conferences and striving to win the cable news and social media wars. “You have the president of the United States emceeing these reality TV shows,” said David Lapan, a former Trump administration official now working at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

CNN - April 5, 2020

How job losses could affect Trump and the 2020 election

President Donald Trump has seen his approval ratings tilt upward because of his response to the coronavirus pandemic. Unfortunately, the US economy is in a tailspin because of that same pandemic. A record of nearly 10 million Americans have filed unemployment insurance claims the past two weeks and the country had a net loss of 700,000 jobs in the month of March. If history holds, this downward swing in the economy could wipe out any gains Trump has made in his popularity and put his reelection bid in great peril.

The relationship between the state of the economy and a president's fortunes is one of the clearest in political science. We can see this if we look at raw economic data (such as jobs or gross domestic product), or when we simply ask voters about how they think the economy is doing. Election forecasts based solely on current and projected trends for job growth are bad enough that if history repeats itself, Trump will lose in a blowout unless there's a very strong upswing later in the year. Forecasted changes in GDP are so dire that they are literally off the scale for at least one model (i.e. the model could predict Trump getting a negative number of electoral votes). With a potential black swan event in the making, it might be safest to stick to polling around the economy to understand its potential impact on 2020. The question of "is the economy getting better, worse or staying the same?" has been quite predictive in the final polls of every incumbent election since 1976.

State Stories

Dallas Morning News - April 3, 2020

Left out of government aid programs, unauthorized workers get help during the coronavirus pandemic from grassroots groups

Juan, a 41-year-old unauthorized migrant from San Luis Potosí, Mexico, is used to working up to 10-hour days as a cook at a Dallas restaurant. But during the coronavirus pandemic, his hours have been cut by almost half. His wife, a domestic worker, was told by her employers to stop showing up to the house she normally cleans twice a week. The couple has four kids, ages 3, 9, 14 and 19 years old, and has a mortgage on a house in McKinney. Their 19-year-old son works at an electricity company to help the family.

“I just want my family to have food, water and utilities, so they don’t have to suffer right now,” said Juan, who asked The Dallas Morning News to not use his full name. “It affects you financially, emotionally … It’s something nobody expected.” Workers like Juan who are the backbone of Texas’ service, manufacturing and construction industries have been hit hard by the pandemic. But because of their legal status, they are left out of safety net programs such as unemployment insurance that many laid-off workers can rely on. Instead, an informal network of community organizations has sprung up to help families get through the crisis, whether it’s by paying for a bag of groceries or giving them grants so they can stay at home during the pandemic.

Dallas Morning News - April 4, 2020

Dallas County records 18th death, surpasses 1,000 cases; death tolls reach 9 in Tarrant and 3 in Collin

The number of COVID-19 cases in Dallas County surpassed 1,000 on Saturday as public health officials reported 94 more positive cases, as well as the county’s 18th death. The most recent death was of a Dallas man in his 30’s who had no underlying health conditions, the county said. He had been critically ill in an area hospital.

The new batch brought Dallas County’s total positive cases to 1,015. That doesn’t include people who were tested or treated in the county but live elsewhere. To date, almost three-quarters of patients requiring hospitalization have been over 60 years old or had at least one high-risk health condition. Diabetes has been reported in 28% of all hospitalized patients, health officials said. “April will be critical,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a prepared statement. “The questions and data are coming at all of us fast, so remember: You are #SaferAtHome, and when you venture out for essential trips or exercise, #SocialDistancingSavesLives. Together North Texas, we will #FlattenTheCurve.”

Dallas Morning News - April 3, 2020

Abbott says Texas’ 20,000 hospital beds for coronavirus should help state avoid New York’s situation

The number of Texas hospital beds available for coronavirus patients has more than doubled in 15 days, Gov. Greg Abbott said Friday. Though the peak need remains unknown, the state on Thursday had 19,695 available beds, up from 8,155 on March 18, Abbott said. He attributed the 142% increase to his order that physicians and dentists postpone for three weeks all elective surgeries and procedures not immediately necessary and his rule waiver that allowed hospitals to put two patients in a room.

Increased staffing, assisted by relaxation of licensing requirements on newly trained or retired health care professionals, is another big reason more beds are available, Abbott said. “We are fully prepared for the hospital needs of Texans as we continue to respond to the coronavirus,” he said at a Capitol news briefing. “We have the capacity to add even more beds as are needed in regions that may increase in patient need,” Abbott said. “And our capacity should prevent us from facing the type of situation that New York [City] is having to deal with today.” However, a spokeswoman for the state’s largest hospital trade group said hospitals still lack sufficient personal protective equipment for care staff.

Dallas Morning News - April 5, 2020

Dallas Morning News Editorial: COVID-19 spreads with close contact, so what do we do about those in jail?

In the best of times, those who administer our jail system have a difficult line to walk. They are responsible for public safety, and they need to respect the rights of the accused. Every day judges make decisions about bail that we all hope will appropriately balance these responsibilities. But now, with the onset of a coronavirus that spreads quickly with close human contact, the challenge is amplified. If we retain all the people we typically do in our jails, we may be creating the perfect vector for this virus. A concentrated outbreak could endanger those behind bars and create another path to infect the larger community as guards, contractors and released inmates cycle in and out of the jails. For these reasons, it is right for our officials to assess what can be done to slow the spread of coronavirus in our jails.

Our view is that finding ways to safely reduce the number of people in jail is an appropriate and necessary measure. But the process should never lose sight of the dual responsibility to protect the rights of people arrested as well as to protect the public. Dallas County Sheriff Marian Brown took important steps early to address the virus, including suspending in-person visitation; issuing gloves and masks to officers and staff in intake areas and areas of quarantine; and shifting intake procedures to reduce broad exposure to incoming inmates. The policies have not, and surely cannot, eliminate spread in the jail. At the time of this writing, 20 inmates had tested positive for the virus, along with six detention officers and one deputy. Those inmates are receiving care in a quarantined ward. Meanwhile, Brown, working with Parkland Hospital and judges, has seen the jail population fall from 5,900 to 5,300. That is in part thanks to identifying vulnerable inmates and submitting their names to judges for consideration of whether they can be safely released on a lower bond. Brown has also asked law enforcement to ticket and release certain low-level, non-violent offenders or otherwise pursue charges without arresting and delivering people to the jail.

Dallas Morning News - April 5, 2020

Steven Pedigo: Coronavirus will likely accelerate the urbanization of Texas

With so little reliable data about the short-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, it may seem premature to speculate about what will come after. But one thing is for certain: Texas will be even more urban than it was before, a new normal for a state that prides itself on bluebonnets and its wide-open spaces. Major disruptions tend to accelerate existing trends. Already, 8 out of 10 Texans live in cities and metropolitan areas, which run the gamut from global centers like Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston to startup hubs like Austin, border cities like El Paso, college towns, and oil patches. Our Texas cities will become ever more important, because the same things that made them vulnerable to COVID-19 — their international connectivity, dense living patterns, and gathering spaces — will also make them the engines of our recovery, powered by the cutting-edge industries that cluster in them, like software, fin-tech, tech-driven manufacturing, aerospace and renewables.

To ensure that the state’s recovery is as robust and sustainable as it can be, our local and state governments must forge new partnerships with universities, nonprofits and businesses to help our communities. Our new normal is likely to feature a shift in the state’s political center of gravity, along with a new set of spending priorities. Here’s how I see it: Texas city and county leaders stepped up to lead. There can be no turning back. Before COVID-19, the Texas Legislature moved to strip power from cities. In the heat of the crisis, those cities’ leaders spearheaded the state’s response. Austin’s brave decision to cancel SXSW saved it from being the hot spot that New Orleans is now, a month after the Mardi Gras celebration went on as scheduled. As a Texan, I am grateful to our city and county leaders for standing up as they did. And as a small-c conservative, I am heartened to see that the leaders who are the closest and most accountable to the people made the right decisions. Though America suffered from the lack of a nationally coordinated response to the pandemic, the recovery will work best if it’s orchestrated by its localities. Odessa is different from El Paso; Austin is different from Richardson. Every city has different needs and priorities. If Texas state leaders truly value conservative government, they will allow local leaders to decide where and how they need to invest.

Austin American-Statesman - April 3, 2020

Small schools prepare to deal with NCAA payout reductions

When NCAA officials canceled the big-money men’s basketball tournament in response to the coronavirus outbreak and slashed the upcoming annual revenue distribution to its members, the spotlight shined largely on the impact to high-profile schools in power-five conferences. But the little schools feel the effects, too. The scheduled distribution of $225 million to Division I is $375 million less than originally planned. Division II’s take of $13.9 million will be $30 million less than last year, and Division III’s cut of $10.7 million is $22 million less than last year.

Lubbock Christian University is one of the more than 300 Division II programs. “We’re only going to get about a third of what we normally get,” LCU interim athletics director Scott Larson said this week. “It’s going to impact us. In terms of dollars and cents, it’s not as much as those in the power-five but, at the same time, our margins are a lot slimmer, too. So there will be an effect.” Larson declined to discuss specific dollar amounts. LCU, as a private school, is not obligated to disclose its financial numbers. The university is going through its budgeting process for fiscal year 2021 that starts July 1, and Larson said it’s a little early to know all the ramifications of getting fewer dollars from NCAA payouts. “We’re a tuition-driven school,” he said, “so we’re going to be a lot more impacted by enrollment, whether that increases, decreases or stays the same come fall.” LCU is one of 19 schools in the Lone Star Conference, the largest conference in NCAA Division II.

Austin American-Statesman - April 4, 2020

Why are more young people testing positive for COVID-19 in Austin?

Relatively speaking, more younger people are testing positive for coronavirus in Travis County than in the rest of Texas, according to an analysis of data by the American-Statesman. The finding is in keeping with the demographics of Travis County, which skews slightly younger than the state, but that might not fully explain the discrepancy. Far more people in their 20s in Travis County have tested positive for the virus than people aged 60 or older. About half of Travis County’s positive cases have been people aged 20-39. That age group makes up about 35% of the Travis County population.

A combination of factors probably explains the demographic differences, public health experts say, but the data show that the virus does not discriminate based on age. Statewide, positive COVID-19 results are a little more evenly distributed than in Travis County: Texans aged 50-69 have gotten the greatest share of positive tests — about 37%. That age cohort makes up about 22% of Texans statewide. Individuals 70 and older make up about 7% of those testing positive in Travis County; that age group makes only about 6% of the Travis County population; statewide, they have 11.2% of cases and are 8.2% of the population. It’s not known whether younger people in Travis County are hospitalized due to COVID-19 at greater rates than older people — local health officials aren’t releasing that data. On Friday, Travis County health authorities said 68 of the 430 people who have tested positive in the county are being treated in hospitals. Of the six people who have died of the disease in the county as of Saturday, three were women older than 70, one was a man in his 60s, one was a woman in her 50s, and the other was a man in his 30s, Austin officials said.

Austin American-Statesman - April 3, 2020

Amid pandemic, a rush for wills and end-of-life documents

Prasad Nalluri is a healthy husband, doting father and global businessman. He has bright plans for his life ahead. He and his wife have always planned to see their kids off to college and to teach them to appreciate world travel. Nalluri also wants to keep improving his personal fitness. He’s been so busy planning for his life that he hasn’t put much thought into death. Until now. As COVID-19 cases began spreading across the country, then made its way to Texas and Austin, the 49-year-old started worrying about what would happen to his family if he contracted the virus and died, or worse, if both he and his wife fell victim to the pandemic.

What would happen to their 11-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter? “I see the gravity of this,” said Nalluri, who works in health care product development and commercialization for a startup company. “My wife and I are fearful, and we want to put something in place.” Nalluri began calling Austin estate lawyers. Several said they were too overwhelmed to draft his will. He found one attorney who was willing to handle court documents outlining his children’s care if both their parents were to die. “Forget the stock market. Forget all of that,” Nalluri said. “I’m just nervous about the next few months. And when I look around Austin, I don’t think some people are taking this seriously. This is about the situation around me and the spread.” Travis County lawyers specializing in end-of-life affairs say in the three weeks since Austin reported its first coronavirus case, they have seen a surge in requests for help with wills and end-of-life legal documents.

Austin American-Statesman - April 4, 2020

UT says 211 students went to Mexico, 49 caught COVID-19

Forty-nine students at the University of Texas have tested positive for the coronavirus after traveling to Cabo San Lucas, the school said Friday night. They were among more than 200 students who traveled to the Mexican resort town over spring break. The total number of positive cases might rise in the coming days as more students are tested, UT officials said.

Originally, Austin Public Health officials identified 28 positive cases out of a group of 70. But in a news release Friday, UT said a total of 211 students traveled to Cabo San Lucas. Of those, 178 participated in a trip organized by the travel vendor JusCollege. Thirty-three students made independent arrangements. For students with positive tests, health officials directed self-isolation for a minimum of seven days from symptom onset and at least two days past the resolution of symptoms. “This incident is an urgent reminder of the responsibilities students have to their communities, each other and themselves,” said Soncia Reagins-Lilly, the university’s vice president for student affairs and dean of students. “We are deeply concerned for the health of the students affected and for their broader impact on the communities where they live.”

Houston Chronicle - April 4, 2020

Texas City nursing home at center of coronavirus outbreak recently cited for health inspection violations

The Texas City nursing home where more than 80 residents and employees have tested positive for the coronavirus was recently cited for failing to provide a safe and sanitary environment for its residents and the public. At the Resort at Texas City, 83 residents have been confirmed to be infected with COVID 19 — the apparent largest cluster in the Houston region. The outbreak was traced to March 28, when an employee tested positive for the virus, leading the Galveston County Health District to test 146 residents and employees in partnership with the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

Experts said the Resort’s inspection violations, all of which were deemed “corrected” a month later, are symptomatic of a larger problem when it comes to health and sanitary practices of long-term care facilities, as well as lax regulatory oversight. Infection control failings at nursing homes across the country are remarkably basic — such as staff not properly washing hands, which happens to be the primary way coronavirus spreads, said Richard Mollot, executive director of the Long Term Care Community Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy organization for long-term care facilities. “Things that pretty much every 8-year old knows is what we’re talking about here,” Mollot said. “It really comes down to extremely poor enforcement of those standards. They know they can get away without following the protocols and they do. They’re sent a message by the state and the federal government that those things are OK.”

Houston Chronicle - April 3, 2020

Accident prompts Kinder Morgan to suspend Hill Country pipeline construction

Houston pipeline operator Kinder Morgan has suspended construction on one segment of a controversial pipeline being built through the Texas Hill Country after an drilling accident allegedly sent a mixture of clay and water into nearby wells. The accident happened along the Permian Highway Pipeline route in Blanco County where construction crews experienced an underground drilling fluid loss on Saturday, the company reported. Further investigation revealed that the drilling fluid, a mixture of water and non-toxic bentonite clay, seeped into freshwater drinking wells used by nearby landowners.

"At this time, drilling operations have been suspended while the team evaluates the cause of the loss and determines the best path forward," Company officials said. "We are working with affected landowners to address their needs. We are also consulting with our Karst expert and the local water district manager to determine the best way to mitigate any current and future impacts. All of the appropriate regulatory agencies have been notified." Landowners claim they were not notified about the accident by Kinder Morgan and only learned about the contamination when muddy water came out of their faucets Sunday.

Houston Chronicle - April 5, 2020

Methodist transfuses blood into 2 more COVID-19 patients

Houston Methodist Hospital transfused blood from recovered COVID-19 patients into two additional severely ill patients Friday, the same day the federal government made it easier for people afflicted with the coronavirus to receive the experimental therapy. Doctors offered the therapy to the new patients just before the Food and Drug Administration approved a clinical trial that allows research hospitals to transfuse patients without applying for permission each time, Methodist said in a news release.

Four total patients at Methodist now have received what’s known as convalescent serum therapy, a concept that dates back to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. Methodist appeared to become the nation’s first hospital to try the approach in COVID-19 patients when it transfused the blood plasma of a recovered patient into two patients in critical condition March 28. The hospital Friday said that the patients are still alive, but provided no more detail on their condition. In response to a question on the hospital’s Facebook page, a prominent Methodist doctor not involved in the project said “the trial is working exceptionally well.”

Houston Chronicle - April 4, 2020

Erica Grieder: Abbott’s dithering during coronavirus crisis has done Texans no favors

Gov. Greg Abbott wants you to stay home and practice social distancing. And that’s an order, apparently. The governor on Tuesday announced that he was issuing a new executive order related to the coronavirus pandemic. In a press conference at the Texas Capitol in Austin, Abbott explained that Texans would be required to stay home, unless they’re providing or obtaining “essential” services, through the end of the month. He also closed nonessential businesses for the same duration and announced that public schools will remain closed until May 4.

Was this truly a stay-at-home order? It was impossible to say, according to local officials who began parsing the text. It certainly sounded similar to the stay-home order issued by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, a Democrat, a week earlier. And Abbott’s guidelines are backed by the power of the state: Violations will be subject to fines and up to 180 days in jail. But Abbott himself insisted that this was not a “shelter-in-place” order, the type issued during emergencies such as hurricanes and plant explosions. He also declined to call it a “stay-at-home” order, arguing that to do so would wrongly give the impression that Texans literally can’t leave the house. There are also loopholes built into the order, notably one that concerns churches and other houses of worship. Per Abbott’s executive order, religious services are considered “essential” and may proceed as normal, albeit with attention to extant federal guidelines about sanitation and social distancing. And business owners that consider their businesses essential — or aren’t sure — can contact the Texas Division of Emergency Management for guidance.

Texas Observer - April 3, 2020

COVID-19 is buying time for Gulf Coast towns fighting oil and gas projects

Surfside Beach, a village of 560 people an hour south of Houston, is known for a few things: It has one of the state’s handful of drive-on beaches, attracting droves of families each summer to soak up the sun and the surf; its shoreline is the southern boundary of the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, where birders can catch a glimpse of the brilliant roseate spoonbill; and the beach is a favorite nesting spot of the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, the smallest and rarest sea turtle on the planet. And now, much to the distress of the people who live here, Surfside Beach could soon be known as home to the last onshore leg of the newest crude oil pipeline in Texas.

Melinda Wilhelm, who operates an insurance agency in town, is especially concerned about the pipeline, a joint venture between Houston-based Enterprise Products Partners and Canadian petroleum giant Enbridge. The project proposes running it along the Highway 288 corridor, edging Angleton, Oyster Creek, and Surfside Beach, to an offshore oil platform 30 miles into the Gulf. Wilhelm’s 6-acre tract of beachfront property, which she describes as a “little slice of heaven,” sits squarely in the pipeline’s path. Since learning of the project at a public meeting in February—Wilhelm wasn’t even notified by the companies, she says—she and community leaders have been working with environmental activists to slow it down. City councilors have voted to oppose it. While it’s easy to doubt this tiny town’s chances at winning a fight against two monied oil juggernauts, Wilhelm says the stakes are too high for residents to sit idly by. “Our concern is an oil spill could just devastate us,” she says. “Our livelihood is the tourist industry. … Nobody wants [the pipeline] here.”

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - April 5, 2020

Bud Kennedy: A Hood County official calls Greg Abbott’s order ‘heavy-handed.’ But his idea’s worse

A suburban county attorney is challenging Gov. Greg Abbott, asking the Texas attorney general to stop him from closing businesses or ordering Texans to stay home during the coronavirus pandemic. If, say, a barber or beautician carrying COVID-19 infects every resident in a nursing home, then to Hood County Attorney Matthew Mills of DeCordova, that’s just tough luck. “Freedom always has danger,” Mills said Thursday.

He wants Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to rule Abbott’s order unconstitutional. Look, you’d think Hood County would be the last place anyone would challenge a disease order. More than 15,000 of the 61,000-plus residents are older than 65 and at high risk. And many Texans carrying COVID-19 don’t even know. Yet their elected county attorney would leave public safety to a matter of personal whim. “I don’t believe in the heavy-handed role of government,” said Mills, a self-described “Ron Paul Republican” elected in 2017 and recently named the Hood County Kiwanian of the Year. He’s concerned about life and death. But for businesses. “I don’t see how they can pick and choose which businesses live and which ones die,” he said.

Fort Worth Business Press - April 5, 2020

Benjamin Neuman: What the coronavirus does to your body that makes it so deadly

COVID-19 is caused by a coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. Coronaviruses belong to a group of viruses that infect animals, from peacocks to whales. They’re named for the bulb-tipped spikes that project from the virus’s surface and give the appearance of a corona surrounding it. A coronavirus infection usually plays out one of two ways: as an infection in the lungs that includes some cases of what people would call the common cold, or as an infection in the gut that causes diarrhea. COVID-19 starts out in the lungs like the common cold coronaviruses, but then causes havoc with the immune system that can lead to long-term lung damage or death.

SARS-CoV-2 is genetically very similar to other human respiratory coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV. However, the subtle genetic differences translate to significant differences in how readily a coronavirus infects people and how it makes them sick. SARS-CoV-2 has all the same genetic equipment as the original SARS-CoV, which caused a global outbreak in 2003, but with around 6,000 mutations sprinkled around in the usual places where coronaviruses change. Think whole milk versus skim milk. Compared to other human coronaviruses like MERS-CoV, which emerged in the Middle East in 2012, the new virus has customized versions of the same general equipment for invading cells and copying itself. However, SARS-CoV-2 has a totally different set of genes called accessories, which give this new virus a little advantage in specific situations. For example, MERS has a particular protein that shuts down a cell’s ability to sound the alarm about a viral intruder. SARS-CoV-2 has an unrelated gene with an as-yet unknown function in that position in its genome. Think cow milk versus almond milk.

SE Texas Record - April 1, 2020

Loncar Associates sues attorneys who allegedly absconded with clients, firm now partly owned by Dallas County judge

On March 18, Brian Loncar P.C. (now doing business as Loncar Lyon & Jenkins) filed suit against Matthew and Valeri Malone, along with the Carlson Law Firm. According to the lawsuit, the Malones were former employee lawyers of the Loncar firm and handled a number of vehicle collision and injury lawsuits.

The suit states the Malones had a fiduciary duty to refrain from stealing clients. But despite the obligation, they chose to negotiate with the Carlson Law firm and prepare to leave Loncar with client files. “All the while, Defendants knew these clients, who were being contacted by Matthew and Valeri Malone, were under binding contingent fee contracts with Brian Loncar, P.C.,” the suit states.

County Stories

Austin American-Statesman - April 3, 2020

Austin-area cities, school districts call off May elections amid coronavirus

Austin-area school and city bond elections, as well as council and board seats set for the May 2 ballot, will be postponed leaving critical projects and potential leaders on the back burner. Local municipal and district leaders all over Central Texas have canceled their elections following recommendations from Gov. Greg Abbott in March in response to the ongoing concerns of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Right now, the state’s focus is responding to COVID-19 — including social distancing and avoiding large gatherings. By delaying this election, our local election officials can assist in that effort,” Abbott said during a press conference last month. Abbott said the postponement of elections helps to reduce potential coronavirus exposure to people at polls, but state officials and agencies lacked the authority to call them off. Local leaders had to vote to reschedule the elections. Elections will instead be pushed back to Nov. 3. The decisions leave needed bond projects in the Bastrop and Hays school districts, as well as the cities of Pflugerville and West Lake Hills, in limbo.

City Stories

Read Fort Worth - April 5, 2020

Bright Spots: Mental health services for children in time of crisis

In a time of school closures and social distancing guidelines, servicing the mental health and emotional needs of children is both challenging and necessary. Organizations such as Communities In Schools of Greater Tarrant County and Cook Children’s Medical Center make a difference by supporting children with care and understanding. The mission of Communities In Schools (CIS) is built around empowering students to “stay in school and achieve in life.” In response to COVID-19 public safety concerns, Communities In Schools (CIS) had to rethink its methods in an ever-changing environment.

“Students still need connection to caring adults, those who are part of their ‘village’ outside the home, to provide social emotional and mental health support,” according to Lindsey Garner, President & CEO of CIS of Greater Tarrant County. Normally, CIS partners with local school districts, including Fort Worth ISD, to place licensed social workers and mental health counselors directly on school campuses. They conduct in-depth needs assessments for at-risk students and their families, provide resource referral, social emotional support, and mental health counseling services. CIS also provides community trainings pertaining to social emotional learning, and mental health awareness and response.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - April 4, 2020

Dallas has two drive-through coronavirus test sites. Why doesn’t Fort Worth have any?

While Dallas County has two drive-through coronavirus testing sites, Tarrant County does not have a similar system for widespread public testing. Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley pushed back on any notion that Tarrant County had not advocated strongly enough to acquire one of the two DFW test sites, saying the Federal Emergency Management Agency had ultimately made the decision. Instead it’s a matter of allocating resources where they are most needed, he said. Dallas County has seen nearly twice as many coronavirus cases as Tarrant County, but with two drive-through test sites, health officials there are able to test more people.

At least one Fort Worth councilman said the lack of testing on the western side of the Metroplex has put Tarrant County behind the curve in understanding the local outbreak. At one point, a test site was being planned for Grand Prairie, on the west side of Dallas County and closer to Fort Worth residents, but a site was opened instead in South Dallas. As of Friday afternoon, Dallas County had 921 cases of the novel coronavirus and 17 deaths. That’s more than twice as many cases as Tarrant County, which had 383 confirmed coronavirus patients and seven who have died. During media briefings, Tarrant County Public Health Director Vinny Taneja has not been able to say how many total tests have been done in Tarrant County because private labs only report positive results.

Associated Press - April 4, 2020

Corpus Christi mayor asking tourists to not visit amid virus

Officials in Corpus Christi said they’re looking at ways to discourage vacationers from visiting the popular South Texas city amid the coronavirus outbreak in the state.

The Corpus Christi Caller-Times reported Mayor Joe McComb is looking at possibly restricting residential vacation rentals in his coastal city during the upcoming weeks. “We’re going to be looking at the possibilities of trying to convince them that coming down here is not in their best interest or our best interest,” McComb said. “Because the traveling bug comes with them and we just want to protect our citizens.”

Austin American-Statesman - April 3, 2020

Austin immigrant shelter braces for ripple effects of coronavirus

At the year’s start, Casa Marianella – an emergency and transitional homeless shelter for immigrants – was looking forward to its next chapter. The East Austin nonprofit hoped to boost its housing capacity with its biggest expansion to date. But, as the coronavirus pandemic has affected operations at the shelter, Casa Marianella now faces a hazier future and worries about the ripple effects the crisis could have on current and former residents. “We’re figuring it out as we move along,” said Jennifer Long, the nonprofit’s longtime executive director.

Casa Marianella, typically always buzzing with activity, especially at its main house on Gunter Street, has had to prohibit visitors across its 12 shelters. Three residents who haven’t felt well have been isolating, according to Long. Medically vulnerable and older residents have been moved to other locations. Commonly touched areas are being sanitized regularly and residents have been instructed to social distance, stay home and wash their hands. Some staffers, including Long, have been working from home or reducing the amount of time spent in the shelters. Casa Marianella currently serves about 125 residents who are seeking or have been granted asylum. A stay at one of the nonprofit’s shelters typically lasts about three months until residents get stabilized and can secure safe housing.

Dallas Morning News - April 3, 2020

Sharon Grigsby: In coronavirus isolation, we need leaders like Anna Hill, who keeps her eye on Dolphin Heights neighbors through crisis

Back in the 1990s, Anna Hill walked the streets of the Dolphin Heights neighborhood, looking into the eyes of the drug dealers and prostitutes and telling them, “Y’all need to find something else to do.” Today, armored in a blue mask, protective glasses, gloves and her sleep bonnet underneath an orange gimme cap, she’s just as dogged about admonishing her neighbors to practice social distancing. “Let’s just smile and wave,” she calls out to the people she encounters on her walks — adding, “but I do love each one of you.” One fight prepared her for the next, she said, recalling the days when death lurked in the barrel of a gun rather than an unmuffled sneeze or unprotected handshake.

“What if I had just been scared and stayed in my house then?” she asked. Instead, she looked the scourge in the face — “and under my breath, I was asking God to protect me.” She’s still asking. “Right now, I’m reading in Hebrews and I’m reading about faith,” she said. “Because that is what it is going to take for us to get rid of this.” Which put me in mind of some advice from my former pastor, advice that Anna Hill epitomizes: “Pray, but row the boat.” Ms. Hill — sorry, but I can’t call her anything else — has long been known as the unofficial Mayor of Dolphin Heights. In my book she’s also the poster child for the kind of grass-roots leadership it will take to defeat the coronavirus. At 79, she knows better than most what we’re up against with this novel virus: She spent years working as a lab tech who drew blood, including during the early days of the AIDS epidemic in Dallas. “I thought about that a lot since we’ve been in this,” she said. “You really don’t know what’s what.”

National Stories

Washington Post - April 5, 2020

The US was beset by denial and dysfunction as the coronavirus raged

By the time Donald Trump proclaimed himself a wartime president - and the coronavirus the enemy - the United States was already on course to see more of its people die than in the wars of Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq combined. The country has adopted an array of wartime measures never employed collectively in U.S. history - banning incoming travelers from two continents, bringing commerce to a near-halt, enlisting industry to make emergency medical gear, and confining 230 million Americans to their homes in a desperate bid to survive an attack by an unseen adversary. Despite these and other extreme steps, the United States will likely go down as the country that was supposedly best prepared to fight a pandemic but ended up catastrophically overmatched by the novel coronavirus, sustaining heavier casualties than any other nation.

It did not have to happen this way. Though not perfectly prepared, the United States had more expertise, resources, plans and epidemiological experience than dozens of countries that ultimately fared far better in fending off the virus. The failure has echoes of the period leading up to 9/11: Warnings were sounded, including at the highest levels of government, but the president was deaf to them until the enemy had already struck. The Trump administration received its first formal notification of the outbreak of the coronavirus in China on Jan. 3. Within days, U.S. spy agencies were signaling the seriousness of the threat to Trump by including a warning about the coronavirus - the first of many - in the President's Daily Brief. And yet, it took 70 days from that initial notification for Trump to treat the coronavirus not as a distant threat or harmless flu strain well under control, but as a lethal force that had outflanked America's defenses and was poised to kill tens of thousands of citizens. That more-than-two-month stretch now stands as critical time that was squandered. Trump's baseless assertions in those weeks, including his claim that it would all just "miraculously" go away, sowed significant public confusion and contradicted the urgent messages of public health experts.

Associated Press - April 5, 2020

Trump suggests firing watchdog was payback for impeachment

President Donald Trump suggested that he fired the inspector general for the intelligence community in retaliation for impeachment, saying the official was wrong to provide an anonymous whistleblower complaint to Congress as the law requires. Trump called Michael Atkinson a “disgrace” after informing Congress late Friday night that he intended to fire him. In letters to the House and Senate intelligence committees, Trump wrote that he had lost confidence in Atkinson but gave little detail. A day later, Trump was more blunt, telling reporters at the White House: “I thought he did a terrible job, absolutely terrible.” The president added: “He took a fake report and he took it to Congress with an emergency, OK? Not a big Trump fan, that I can tell you.”

The whistleblower report was not fake, but a detailed complaint written by an anonymous intelligence official who described Trump's pressure on Ukraine to investigate Democrat Joe Biden and his son. Atkinson determined the complaint was urgent and credible and therefore was required by law to disclose it to Congress, but he was overruled for weeks by the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire. After a firestorm sparked by media reports of the complaint, it was turned over and made public. A congressional inquiry led to Trump's impeachment by the House in December. The GOP-led Senate acquitted Trump in February. On Saturday, Trump questioned why Atkinson didn’t speak to him about the complaint, though Atkinson’s role is to provide independent oversight. “Never came in to see me, never requested to see me,” Trump said. He added: “That man is a disgrace to IGs.” Atkinson’s removal is part of a larger shakeup of the intelligence community under Trump, who has always viewed intelligence professionals with skepticism. His ouster came under immediate fire from Democrats and a handful of Republicans. Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican who leads the Finance Committee, said that Congress has been “crystal clear” that written reasons must be given when inspectors general are removed for a lack of confidence.

NPR - April 5, 2020

Trump warns 'one of the toughest weeks' is ahead, says to brace for 'a lot of death'

In a grim assessment of the COVID-19 pandemic, President Trump on Saturday predicted that the coming week would be "one of the toughest weeks" of the outbreak. At the same time, the president expressed frustration with the toll social distancing measures are taking on the economy, saying "we cannot let this continue." With data projecting cases in several regions hitting their peaks within seven days, the president told reporters that the United States could see its deadliest week since the coronavirus outbreak began. "There's going to be a lot of death, unfortunately. There will be a lot of deaths," the president said at a briefing of the White House coronavirus task force.

At least 7,100 Americans have already died in the outbreak. Nationwide, more than 278,000 cases have been confirmed, more than any other country. Asked when the worst day of the outbreak will be, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, talked about the three hotspots being watched most closely: Detroit, Louisiana and New York. She said each are on the upside of their curve of mortality, and that officials anticipate them hitting their peaks in the next six to seven days. The president said that the U.S. military would be sending 1,000 personnel — doctors, nurses, respiratory experts and others — to New York, the current epicenter of the U.S. outbreak. He also touted efforts to assist in building makeshift hospitals there. But Trump soon pivoted to an argument he has made repeatedly, saying "the cure could not be worse than the virus" and that the country should re-open soon. He resisted calls for a nationwide lockdown and expressed his disappointment that he'd be watching Easter services from a laptop.

McClatchy - April 3, 2020

‘An industry on its knees’: Oil CEOs, senators and Trump meet at White House

Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn of Texas joined a White House meeting Thursday afternoon to discuss actions President Donald Trump could take to help buoy oil prices, which have plunged due to the economic fallout of the coronavirus and from a competition between Saudi Arabia and Russia to produce more oil. The meeting was held in the Cabinet Room and included the president, vice president, several senior White House aides, the secretaries of the departments of Energy and Interior, the U.S. trade representative and five members of Congress — Cruz and Cornyn plus Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska, and Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, all Republicans.

They were joined by the CEOs of eight major U.S. oil companies including ExxonMobil, Chevron and Philips 66, as well as Mike Sommers, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s trade organization. Sommers appeared on CNBC’s Squawk Box Thursday morning before the meeting. “What we’re dealing with now is really a demand crisis on top of a supply crisis,” Sommers explained on CNBC. Rep. Jodey Arrington, a West Texas Republican, described the situation driving oil prices down as a “one-two punch.” As Russia and Saudi Arabia produce more and more oil, the price goes down because there’s more available. Meanwhile, as the coronavirus forces an economic slowdown, there’s less of a demand for oil, which also pushes the price down.

NBC News - April 4, 2020

Thousands of applicants, zero loans: Trump's small businesses lending program is a failure to launch

One day after the launch of a $350 billion loan program designed to rescue millions of small businesses pummeled by the coronavirus pandemic, technical glitches continued to cripple the ability of the nation's top lenders to begin processing the loans, throwing into doubt when any of the applicants will start receiving any money. The lending program, which forms part of the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, is a much-needed lifeline for the 30 million small businesses across the country.

It offers loans of up to $10 million to companies who employ fewer than 500 people. Those loans are forgiven as long as the businesses meet certain conditions, such as using the majority of the funds to pay worker salaries for the eight weeks following the loan closing. However, two of the nation's biggest banks say they have only just been able to start processing loans. “We are all waiting on the Small Business Administration,” a Chase senior executive told NBC News. Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase received tens of thousands of applicants within hours of the program's launch on Friday, senior executives at both companies told NBC News.

Wall Street Journal - April 4, 2020

How coronavirus is breaking down along familiar political lines

The moves by state governments to slow the coronavirus outbreak follow the contours of a familiar map, one that traces the lines of the nation’s political divisions. Because the outbreak has hit urban areas harder than less-populated communities, it has been felt less in the nation’s Republican strongholds than in Democratic ones, bringing a partisan tint to views of how the outbreak is being experienced and should be addressed. That has also meant that some Republican elected officials have been hesitant to call for statewide stay-at-home orders for fear of upending rural areas that have yet to record many cases or any at all. As of Thursday, 91% of counties that voted for Hillary Clinton for president in 2016 had at least one case of coronavirus, and 47% had at least one death, a Wall Street Journal analysis of virus data compiled by Johns Hopkins University shows. By contrast, 69% of counties that voted for President Trump had at least one case, and 14% had a death. Those counties on the whole are less densely populated than Clinton counties, and most rural areas tend to lean Republican.

Only about a fifth of the states, all with large rural populations and Republican governors, didn’t have statewide stay-at-home directives in place as of Friday. The GOP governors of Florida, Georgia, Missouri and Tennessee, who had resisted issuing statewide shelter-in-place orders, were among those who reversed course and imposed them this past week. Discrepancies between rural and urban America are creating tensions within states. In Iowa, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors sent a letter this week to Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds asking that she issue a statewide shelter-in-place order. The county, among the most liberal in the state, is home to Iowa City and the University of Iowa. Ms. Reynolds has said she is closely monitoring the severity of the situation, but sees no need for more aggressive restrictions now. Iowa’s schools, the sit-down parts of restaurants, bars and most retail stores, but not food stores, pharmacies and household-goods stores, are closed through the end of the month.

April 3, 2020

Lead Stories

Austin Chronicle - April 2, 2020

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt's long goodbye

On March 10, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt announced she would step down to run for state senator. Two weeks later, March 23, she said she would postpone her official resignation until May 13 – the filing deadline for the July 14 special election to succeed incumbent Sen. Kirk Watson. While the postponement has been welcomed by the County Commissioners, there has also been some public backlash. When Watson announced his resignation to accept a deanship at the University of Houston, his decision evoked a litany of praise for the longtime local official – followed by a scramble of possible successors. Officially, two current officials – House District 51 Rep. Eddie Rodriguez and Eckhardt – have declared themselves candidates for senate. Three other people – Austin City Council Member Greg Casar (who appointed a campaign treasurer) and local attorneys Adam Loewy and Chito Vela – have expressed serious interest.

Shortly after Eckhardt announced her resignation, Gov. Greg Abbott set the SD14 special election (wihich under state law would have been in May) on July 14 due to the COVID-19 pandemic; soon thereafter, the primary run-offs were also moved to that date. That meant the filing deadline for SD14 became May 13 – creating an unusual situation at Travis County Commissioners Court. Under the Texas "resign to run" law, Eckhardt initially (March 10) announced she would step down as judge, to be succeeded on an interim basis by former County Judge Sam Biscoe. In the light of the extended filing period and in the context of the COVID-19 crisis, on March 23 Eckhardt announced she would stay on until the mid-May filing deadline. In the meantime, Biscoe has moved into an advisory role, while Eckhardt focuses primarily on addressing the pandemic. "I didn't 'unresign,'" Eckhardt told the Chronicle. "I just have a job to do."

Texas Monthly - April 2, 2020

Greg Abbott promised to get masks for Texas. But doctors were told they were on their own.

On March 24, Texas governor Greg Abbott spoke behind a podium at a warehouse in Austin to reassure the public, first responders, and medical personnel that he was taking action to protect their health amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Behind Abbott were several pallets of boxed medical masks. They were a made-for-TV image meant to reinforce the governor’s announcement that his “strike force” on procurement had allocated $83 million primarily for PPE, or personal protective equipment, and 100,000 masks would arrive each day in addition to those secured from the rapidly depleting Strategic National Stockpile. The first shipment, the governor said, would arrive by the end of the week.

An hour and a half earlier, at a clandestine location six miles away near the Texas State Cemetery, a lobbyist for family physicians was meeting the driver of a truckload of N95 masks that had been brought across the border from Mexico. The masks were more appropriate for industrial use than medical and weren’t of operating room quality. But for many physicians—solo-practice doctors, group physicians, and doctors serving in small hospitals—the masks were a godsend. As the doctors most likely to first diagnose COVID-19 patients, they were in acute need of PPE. Even when masks do come to the state, the state’s guidelines for distribution of them indicate hospitals are the first priority, EMS workers the second, and only then are first responders and community doctors in line. Moreover, doctors don’t trust that the governor’s strike force is finding PPE in any substantial quantities. Despite Abbott’s announcement, physicians say state officials told them a different story about procurement in a conference call two days later: the strike force is failing to acquire masks in the quantity that Texas will require.

NBC News - April 2, 2020

Navy relieves captain who raised alarm about coronavirus outbreak on aircraft carrier

The Navy announced it has relieved the captain who sounded the alarm about an outbreak of COVID-19 aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt. Capt. Brett Crozier, who commands the Roosevelt, an aircraft carrier with a crew of nearly 5,000, was relieved of his command Thursday, but he will keep his rank and remain in the Navy.

Crozier raised the alarm this week, sending a strongly worded letter to Navy leadership that detailed his concerns about the spread of the virus on the ship. The letter leaked to the media and generated a series of headlines. Speaking at a news conference Thursday evening, Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said Crozier was removed from his post because he sent the letter over "non-secure unclassified email" to a "broad array of people" rather than up the chain of command. "I have no doubt in my mind that Captain Crozier did what he thought was in the best interest of the safety and well-being of his crew," Modly said. "Unfortunately, it did the opposite. It unnecessarily raised the alarm of the families of our sailors and Marines with no plans to address those concerns."

The Hill - April 3, 2020

Fauci says that all states should have stay-at-home orders

Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert and member of the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force, said he doesn’t know why some states still do not have stay-at-home orders in place to stem the spread of the coronavirus. "Whether there should be a federally mandated directive for that or not, I guess that’s more of a political question, but just scientifically, doesn’t everybody have to be on the same page with this stuff?” CNN’s Anderson Cooper asked the physician during an interview on live television Thursday evening.

"I don't understand why that's not happening,” Fauci responded. “If you look at what's going on in this country, I just don't understand why we're not doing that. We really should be." His comments come after dozens of lawmakers have urged President Trump to issue a nationwide stay-at-home order, which has up until now been up to individual states' discretion. More than 30 U.S. states issued their own orders at varying degrees to limit movement and stem the spread of the outbreak. Fauci fell short of directly calling for a nationwide stay-at-home order. He remarked to Cooper that “the tension between federally mandated versus states rights to do what they want is something I don't want to get into,” but noted the virus will be difficult to contain if some states don’t comply by White House guidelines.

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - April 2, 2020

Gov. Greg Abbott’s statewide stay-home order, explained

Gov. Greg Abbott’s statewide order requiring people to stay at home except for “essential” activities took effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, and Texans have questions about how it will work. Even local governments and individual businesses are still figuring out how to interpret the new order. Robert Soard, first assistant at the Harris County Attorney's Office, said Thursday that the county is still working to reconcile differences between the statewide order and the one enacted by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. Abbott’s order closed “non-essential” businesses until the end of the month. Any business that believes it should be allowed to stay open can ask the Texas Department of Emergency Management for guidance.

In general, though, for Harris and Bexar county residents who were already living under countywide stay-at-home orders, not much will change. Here’s everything you need to know about how life will — or, more likely, won’t change — under the statewide order: What is a stay-at-home order, and is Texas now under one? A stay-at-home order generally requires residents of a particular geography to do just that and lays out the exceptions to the rule. Governors have broad authority under state laws to set up their orders however they see fit. And yes, Texas is under a stay-at-home order.

Houston Chronicle - April 2, 2020

$300M coming to aid Southeast Texas transit losses during pandemic

Transit agencies in southeastern Texas are set to receive more than $300 million to stem revenue losses linked to COVID-19, federal officials announced Thursday, most of it coming to Houston. As part of the first round of Congress-approved stimulus funding, $25 billion will go to transit agencies nationwide, doled out by the Federal Transit Administration. The money “will ensure our nation’s public transportation systems can continue to provide services to the millions of Americans who depend on them,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao said in a release.

Money will be distributed by urban areas, with most of Houston’s $258.6 million going to the Metropolitan Transit Authority, which has seen ridership to drop to less than half its normal workday use. Bus and rail ridership Wednesday was 129,000, a 55 percent decline from the same day last year, Metro spokesman Jerome Gray said. Metro is far from alone, with transit agencies nationwide struggling to provide service to transit-dependent workers — many who staff critical jobs at groceries and health care providers — while losing money by the day.

Houston Chronicle - April 2, 2020

‘China poisoned our people,’ says campaign ad from Houston candidate for Congress Kathaleen Wall

Republican congressional candidate Kathaleen Wall is using the coronavirus outbreak as the centerpiece for a new campaign ad airing in the Houston media market. “China poisoned our people,” a narrator says in the ad, which then lauds President Donald Trump for calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus.” “Wall will cut off trade, aid, and support to China,” the narrator says. “China is a criminal enterprise masquerading as a sovereign nation.”

Wall is hardly alone in trying to place blame for the coronavirus outbreak on China. Other Texas Republicans including U.S. Sens John Cornyn and Ted Cruz have pinned blame on China for their mishandling of the virus at the start of the outbreak. “It’s no coincidence China’s been the source of most of these contagions breaking out — SARS, MERS, the swine flu — because of some of the cultural practices there,” Cornyn said in mid-March in which he pinpointed exotic markets in China where bats and snakes are served. Cornyn’s statement was rated False by the independent fact-checking group PolitiFact. During an interview on KFYO radio in Lubbock, Cruz made clear China “bears enormous responsibility” for letting the pandemic get out of control.

Houston Chronicle - April 2, 2020

Texas shop selling CBD oil challenges county shutdown order — and wins

A Central Texas city has reversed its position that a local store selling CBD oil and vaping products did not qualify as an essential business under restrictions intended to keep the COVID-19 virus from spreading. In an email sent Tuesday afternoon, the City of Beverly Hills, a small municipality surrounded by Waco, told Fatty’s Smoke Shop it could reopen so long as its clerks followed social distancing best practices. Beverly Hills police had issued Fatty’s a citation last week after officers disagreed with owner Jesse Singh’s argument that customers use CBD oil to treat various medical ailments so his shop qualifies as an essential health care business.

Despite the ticket, which could bring a fine up to $1,000, Singh remained open, only to have police return and forcibly close the store two days later. In response to a letter from Fatty’s lawyer, however, the city changed its mind. Referencing McLennan County Judge Scott Felton’s March 23 emergency order, City Secretary Angel Nevarez wrote, “After review of the Order that is in place Fatty’s may remain open, however, there will have to be a curbside service. Only workers should be in the store.” Nevarez did not respond to a phone message and email seeking additional comment. The flipflop highlights the difficulty in reconciling competing economic and public safety interests in the country’s response to the novel coronavirus, as officials trying to limit social contact to slow its spread bump up against businesses desperate to stay afloat.

Houston Chronicle - April 2, 2020

Texas census response lags, constrained by coronavirus and lack of state assist

The nonprofit Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston had more than 15 tabling events planned over the next several weeks where volunteers were going to post up at festivals, fairs and other community gatherings and educate people about the value of filling out the census. Then the coronavirus crisis hit. One by one, gatherings were canceled, and Texans increasingly became subject to stay-at-home orders.

“This is a very challenging census,” said Ana Mac Naught, census coordinator of the Houston in Action coalition, a collaboration between the city of Houston, Harris County and more than 50 local organizations, including Interfaith Ministries. “We are focusing on what we’re able to do at this moment.” Local governments and nonprofits knew they already had their work cut out for them when Texas — in keeping with many other Republican-led states — declined to approve funding for grassroots census outreach. Initial returns show Texas is already behind the rest of the nation: The self-response rate statewide is 31.3 percent compared to 36.2 nationally, as of Monday, the most recent data available. Most households have responded online. After the last census in 2010, Texas tied for the 7th lowest response rate in the country at 64.4 percent.

Houston Chronicle - April 2, 2020

Record low oil prices could cost Texas universities $300 million

Record-low oil prices could cost a fund that supports the University of Texas and Texas A&M systems at least $300 million in revenue. State-operated University Lands, a company that oversees oil leases on land owned by Texas, expects to send $700 million to the Permanent University Fund this fiscal year, down from $1 billion in 2019 after oil prices plunged to about $20 per barrel this year during a price war and the coronavirus pandemic. With prices that low, University Lands is not issuing new leases on the 2 million acres in the Permian Basin it manages and is telling the roughly 250 oil companies operating on state leases to delay drilling and wait for higher prices, if they can.

“Our primary strategy right now is to work with operators and, where prudent, to delay new activity,” University Lands CEO Mark Houser said. “We encourage them to delay new activity right now. In our mind, there’s no sense in selling these hydrocarbons at such a low price.” Created by the Legislature in 1876, the Permanent University Fund provides the state’s portion of the budgets for the 21 schools that make up the UT and A&M systems. The fund, which had an estimated $23.3 billion at the beginning of March, is managed by the Austin-based University of Texas/Texas A&M Investment Co., or UTIMCO.

Houston Chronicle - April 2, 2020

Railroad Commission to hold public meeting this month on production cuts

The Railroad Commission of Texas on Thursday said it would meet this month to consider using its authority to implement statewide oil production cuts at a time when crude prices are at 20-year lows. The agency said it will hold a virtual hearing on the topic at 9:30 a.m. April 14. The meeting will be simulcast on the Railroad Commission and AdminMonitor websites with an audio only option available by telephone. The state agency that regulates the oil and gas industry in Texas has the authority to order production cuts but has not used that power since the early 1970s.

With crude oil prices trading below $25 per barrel and storage tanks filling up fast, Pioneer Natural Resources and Parsley Energy filed a petition asking the agency to hold a special meeting to discuss the issue. Opponents say the agency should allow the free market to determine production. Complying with a state order banning public gatherings of ten people or more, the commission will not accept public testimony at the agency's headquarters in downtown Austin.

Dallas Morning News - April 2, 2020

Dallas County reports 100 new coronavirus cases and two deaths for 2nd consecutive day

On Thursday, for the second day in a row, Dallas County reported 100 new positive cases of coronavirus, bringing the county’s total to 831. Thursday’s new-case total ties Wednesday’s mark, which was the highest spike in new cases the county had seen to date. In the last three days, officials have reported 282 new cases – over a third of the county’s total so far. Dallas County also reported Thursday that two more people had died from COVID-19.

One was a woman in her 70s who had been a resident at an unspecified long-term care facility. The other was a woman in her 80s who lived in Dallas. Both were “critically ill,” according to a county news release. The county’s death total from COVID-19 is now 17. The specific number of hospitalizations related to coronavirus wasn’t disclosed, but Dallas County reported that 77 percent of cases have been people above the age of 60 or people who have had “at least one known high-risk chronic health condition.” “We continue to build capacity as we enter the beginning of the curve,” Jenkins said in a written statement. “There are enough beds and ventilators in hospitals at present. The challenge is to continue to build capacity so that the curve doesn’t overtake our resources. Your mission is to make good personal responsibility decisions.”

Dallas Morning News - April 3, 2020

Owen West: If the U.S. if fighting a war against the coronavirus, why aren’t we making more use of the military?

The president has declared that we are at war against the COVID virus. Yet he has not fully employed the military, our nation’s most trusted institution. One use is obvious. Our key vulnerability is not a shortage of hospitals or equipment. It’s a limited pool of medical professionals. Our medical personnel are the frontline troops in this war. They are taking the most risk. When doctors and nurses are exposed, they are isolated from the fight for at least 14 days. The military should prepare to reinforce the pockets of medics in danger of being overrun, as they may be in New York City.

The Defense Department’s No. 1 goal is currently to “protect our forces and their families.” The priority should be helping the citizenry where it is most vulnerable. It has provided the Mercy and the Comfort, which typically deploy on overseas humanitarian missions, deployed Army engineers, and is activating reservists. It can do more. There are approximately 125,000 medical professionals in our military. A quarter of them could be trained as a task force augmented with logistics. Their advantage is mobility. It is impractical to shift doctors and nurses from states like Montana and Kansas to New York City. Military medics, however, can be deployed this week. When we send our troops to combat zones, their pay up to $100,000 is not taxed. Our civilian medical professionals deserve the same treatment. This incentive would bolster morale if exhaustion eventually sets in, as it has in Italy. Their families are at risk, too.

Dallas Morning News - April 3, 2020

Texas DPS asks doctors for face masks, raising questions about coronavirus planning for protective gear

The Department of Public Safety this week requested to buy face masks, hand sanitizer and digital thermometers from a Texas physicians group, raising questions about the state’s efforts to coordinate the distribution of protective gear amid a nationwide shortage. In an email to the Texas Academy of Family Physicians on Tuesday, the agency said it was trying to “secure supplies and equipment necessary to keep our Texas Highway Patrol Troopers around the State of Texas safe and functioning.” It specifically asked about gloves, N95 respirator masks, Clorox wipes, hand sanitizer and Lysol spray.

“Texas DPS will purchase the items from you, we ask if you can please hold the items for us to send a Texas Highway Patrol Trooper to procure the items you have with a purchasing card,” the supervisor wrote in an email sent March 31. “We greatly appreciate your support and efforts through this difficult time.” Late Thursday, a DPS spokeswoman said they do have a supply of protective gear but did not specify what or how much. The agency has been reaching out to retailers and local businesses to see what protective gear is available, but the request to the physicians’ group was “made outside of the scope of the directive,” said spokeswoman Rachael Pierce.

San Antonio Express-News - April 2, 2020

Texas securities regulators fine LendingClub

Texas securities regulators fined LendingClub Corp., an online lending marketplace operator, $400,000 for failing to register to operate in the state. As part of a consent order the Texas State Securities Board announced this week, the San Francisco-based financial technology company is now approved to operate as a registered dealer in Texas. LendingClub neither admitted nor denied the agency’s findings in agreeing to the order.

The publicly traded LendingClub links borrowers with investors who purchase unsecured personal notes. Principal and interest payments made on the loans go to the investors, net of a 1 percent service charge, the consent order says. A LendingClub spokesperson said in an email that the company was pleased to come to an agreement with the state. “Now more than ever, we need our fellow Americans to help one another as we all navigate this pandemic,” the spokesperson said. “In our decade-plus history, our marketplace has connected people looking for lower cost credit with the source of capital. With our diverse investor base, we have funded more than $55 billion in loans to over 3 million people.”

San Antonio Express-News - April 3, 2020

Gilbert Garcia: Abbott’s church exemption validates public-health recklessness

One week after a gunman entered Sutherland Springs’ First Baptist Church and extinguished the lives of 26 congregants in November 2017, more than 500 people gathered under a white tent in a baseball field to attend the church’s next Sunday service. Given the trauma that the shooting inflicted on the small South Texas community, it would have been easy to understand if First Baptist had temporarily suspended services, or if the church’s parishioners determined that the pain was too raw to gather again so soon. But this was how a community healed. After all, if the individuals who met under that tent had simply needed the guidance of scripture, they could have stayed home and read their bibles. If they’d simply desired to commune with their higher power, they could have done so in solitude with a silent prayer.

This gathering, like so many others in this country every Sunday, was about something more than faith. For millions of Americans, church is a place to find fellowship, to nurture a sense of community, to forge your deepest friendships. It’s where faith is not only affirmed, but celebrated and shared. That’s why the closing of in-person church services across the country, as part of a social-distancing response to the infectious spread of the coronavirus, has been painful for many people of faith. They’ve temporarily lost the part of their lives which would best help them cope with the alienation and sadness we’re all wrestling with right now. Of course, a global pandemic doesn’t respect faith and it doesn’t check its destructive intentions at the doors of a house of worship. That’s why it was necessary for San Antonio, and the other major cities in this state, to include, in their recent stay-at-home orders, a temporary requirement that church services only be conducted via video or teleconference calls. It’s also why the statewide order that Gov. Greg Abbott unveiled on Tuesday was disappointing.

San Antonio Express-News - April 3, 2020

Elaine Ayala: Patrick put no value on grandparents raising grandchildren

On the day Terry A. Carmona had time to speak with me, she wasn’t quite done dealing with a plumbing crisis that had fans pointed at her floors and furniture piled up in the living room. Though inconvenient and expensive, it was by no means first, second or even third on her list of concerns, even in a pandemic. Her three priorities remain the same as before the world screeched to a halt, and their names are Milan, Amilla and Dario, ages 21, 11 and 3, respectively. At 71, the San Antonio grandmother has raised all three, so this isn’t new. She and her late husband, Fred, began parenting their oldest grandchild decades ago. Her husband died in 2011.

Even before that traumatic loss, Carmona served as the family’s main breadwinner. Eight months ago, the self-employed marketing and public relations expert effectively retired. The pressures of caring for a toddler ended her full-time contract work in event marketing. She works even harder now to keep her family together. Carmona didn’t have a lot of time to be angry at Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s repugnant remarks suggesting the lives of senior citizens, considered at higher risk of the coronavirus, were expendable. Patrick said their lives could be sacrificed for the sake of reopening the economy, despite clear evidence such a move would endanger people of all ages. At the time, he was on the same page as President Donald Trump, who was touting Easter Sunday as the date to resume business as usual. Since then, he has set a new potential date of April 30. This as experts debate how many months will pass before we can return to anything resembling normal life, or when a majority of the population might become resistant to COVID-19, or a vaccine is developed.

Laredo Morning Times - April 3, 2020

Laredo residents who enter a building that is not their home must cover their nose, mouth

In an effort to further curb any community spread of novel coronavirus, Laredo City Council has mandated that anyone who enters a building that is not their home must cover their mouth and nose with a mask, bandana, scarf or any fabric, or else face of a fine of up to $1,000. This includes offices. The order begins April 2 and continues through April 30. Council had originally voted that anyone who goes outside at all must cover their nose and mouth, but later refined the rule because it was so broad. Now if anyone enters a building, public transit or outdoor gas station, they must cover their nose and mouth.

Council also voted to extend the curfew that originally pertained only to juveniles to all Laredo citizens. Now only people who are working or out for essential services may leave the house between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. or else face a fine of $50 to $1,000. This is an arrestable offense, and will also go into effect from April 2 to April 30. According to Gov. Greg Abbott’s order, Texans can continue to exercise and walk pets on the sidewalk. The city’s curfew does not supersede that order, so Laredoans can walk outdoors after 10 p.m. as long as they’re not in a group, according to the city spokesperson. The city’s Stay at Home Work Safe order, which has closed a range of non-essential businesses, was also extended another 30 days.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - April 2, 2020

Coronavirus means Texas could see unemployment claims for 1 month equal its 2019 total

More than half a million Texans have filed for unemployment benefits in the past 18 days since the novel coronavirus began spreading through the state, prompting officials to shut down nonessential businesses. “If we continue at this pace, we are on track to help the same number of Texans that filed for all of 2019 in just a little over a month’s time, which is over 700,000 claims,” said Cisco Gamez, a spokesman for the Texas Workforce Commission, which oversees unemployment benefits.

Total Texas unemployment claim numbers for March won’t be available until mid-April. Across the country, though, more than 6.6 million Americans — up from 3.3 million the week before — lost their jobs and filed for unemployment, according to numbers released Thursday by the Labor Department. “The outbreak of COVID-19 has caused unprecedented changes to the lives of individuals all across Texas and across the globe,” Gamez said.

Marshall News-Messenger - April 1, 2020

East Texas school districts go above and beyond to meet student, parent needs

East Texas school district faculty and staff have been working overtime, despite schools being closed by executive order of Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott until May 4, to make sure that students still have material to continue their learning and still have access to meals with no cafeteria for them to now visit each day. Almost every East Texas school district is offering free breakfast and lunches to students still needing to eat, even though the school cafeteria is closed to them. The free breakfasts and lunches also help out parents who most likely weren’t prepared to suddenly have enough food at home to feed children who are normally in school and visiting the school lunch line.

Many districts allow students to come to certain campuses, such as Marshall High School and Hallsville’s North Elementary School to get free lunches, while some like Karnack and Hallsville ISDs, as well as others, are loading up their school buses and heading out on bus routes to drop off food. At Marshall ISD, Communities in Schools, a partner organization with the public school, has stepped up to deliver house by house, free breakfasts and hot lunches. On Tuesday at Karnack ISD, faculty and staff filled the cafeteria as they prepared bags of supplies containing learning materials and packets and free food, which was then either picked up by parents or dropped off via bus routes to students who couldn’t travel to the school.

Religion Dispatches - April 2, 2020

David Brockman: New study of Christian Nationalism in Texas should serve as a warning for the whole country

Our [Founding] Fathers intended that this nation should be a Christian nation, not because all who lived in it were Christians, but because it was founded on and would be governed and guided by Christian principles.” ? David Barton, The Myth of Separation This quote from Texas-based amateur historian David Barton encapsulates Christian Americanism (aka Christian nationalism), an ideology that seeks, according to scholar Mark Weldon Whitten, “a socially and governmentally preferred and privileged position…of (some fundamentalist/evangelical) Christianity over other religions and nonreligious citizens.” The “Christian principles” Barton and other Christian Americanists have in mind typically involve opposition to church-state separation, reproductive rights, same-sex marriage, and LGBTQ equality. According to sociologists Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry, Christian Americanist belief was also a strong predictor of support for Donald Trump in 2016.

Barton’s home state (and mine), long a breeding ground for right-wing politics, is also a hotbed of Christian Americanism. Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy recently published my Christian Americanism in Texas Politics since 2008, the first extensive study of the subject. The report profiles the major proponents of Christian Americanism in Texas?politicians and non-governmental activists?and examines the tools they use to promote the ideology. Though focused on Texas, the report has national implications. Several major proponents of Christian Americanism on the national stage make their home in the Lone Star State. Texas-based networks of politicians, activists, and wealthy donors exert influence far beyond the state’s borders. And Texas serves as a case study of what happens when Christian Americanists take the reins of power. Christian Americanist activity in Texas occasionally draws national attention. Readers may recall the “Texas Textbook Massacre” of 2009-10, when a Christian Americanist bloc on the state’s education board pushed through curriculum standards that emphasized Christianity over other religions and fostered an uncritically positive version of Christian history.

County Stories

Houston Chronicle - April 2, 2020

Sleepy barge pilot blamed for March 2019 crash

A barge pilot involved in an allision with a moored barge and another other vessel along the Houston Ship Channel last year fell asleep at the wheel at the end of his 12-hour shift while on an over-the-counter antihistamine, federal officials concluded. The March 15, 2019 crash between the Dixie Vandal towing vessel and the docked Trinity towing vessel and an attached barge spilled a half-gallon of jet fuel into the channel and caused $630,000 in damage, officials with the National Transportation Safety Board said in a report, released Thursday.

As the Dixie Vandal was making its way upstream near a Kinder Morgan terminal in Pasadena, it veered to port and struck the Trinity and a barge. No one was injured in the crash, which received scant attention along the Ship Channel, occurring in the early morning hours, two days before the Intercontinental Terminals Co. fire in Deer Park. In their report, investigators said the pilot “on the Dixie Vandal told investigators that he believed he had dozed off in the seconds before striking the Trinity and was awakened by the impact.”

Dallas Morning News - April 2, 2020

Hobby Lobby, Michaels and Joann argue they’re ‘essential,’ but Clay Jenkins is forcing them to close

Arts and craft retailers Hobby Lobby, Joann Stores and Michaels have continued to operate, independently deciding that they are essential businesses in Texas and other states even as local governments are enforcing stay-at-home and shelter-in-place rules. Asked on Thursday whether he plans to force Hobby Lobby to shut down, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said, “We’re doing it. Yes, we are. Today. Tonight. As we speak.”

Jenkins said his staff communicates with public officials in other states and discovered that “this was a bigger problem than just Dallas.” Other officials shared the cease-and-desist orders they had issued to Hobby Lobby stores. “I just want to make it clear to Hobby Lobby and anybody who is foolish enough to follow in their footsteps, that in Dallas County, the government — and 99.9% of the business community — puts public health over profits,” he said. He advised anyone still working at Hobby Lobby to “go ahead and lock up and leave as soon as possible.” Jenkins also said Thursday that smoke shops are abusing the rules, and he issued a Tweet asking the public to report violators.

City Stories

San Antonio Express-News - April 2, 2020

With shelters full, San Antonio seeks to repair safety net for homeless amid coronavirus spread

All San Antonio homeless shelters have closed their doors to new clients, raising concerns about where and to whom the already struggling population can turn for help as the coronavirus pandemic spreads. City officials are trying to shrink the hole in the safety net with a new hotline and homeless resource hub locations, the City Council heard Thursday. “It is certainly one of our social service emergencies, or the aspects of this emergency, that we are dealing with beyond the public health and the hospitals,” City Manager Erik Walsh said.

Expected to launch Friday or Monday, the hotline is specifically for those seeking homeless services and can help them find the ones that are still available, said Colleen Bridger, the assistant city manager who oversees the Metropolitan Health District. Currently, Bridger said, people must call each shelter to find out where they can go and what services are available there. “Every single shelter in the city has stopped generally accepting homeless individuals,” Bridger said. “(Haven for Hope) does make some exceptions for families and veterans and a couple other categories.” As of the 2019 Point-in-Time Count, there were about 2,900 homeless people in San Antonio, including 622 who were living on the streets.

Dallas Morning News - April 3, 2020

‘Uncharted territory’: How Dallas Police Chief U. Reneé Hall is leading the department during the coronavirus pandemic

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Dallas Police Chief U. Reneé Hall said, the safety of her officers kept her up at night. Now she’s facing an invisible threat — a highly contagious respiratory virus — and the dangers for her 3,100-plus officers seem even more acute. “I’m concerned about whether or not they’ll be exposed,” Hall said in a phone interview with The Dallas Morning News on Wednesday.

“We don’t get to work from home,” she said. “We don’t get to shut down after a certain hour.” Since March 19, at least five Dallas officers have tested positive for the virus. Twenty-three officers as of April 2 had self-quarantined because of potential exposure. County and city officials have tried to slow the spread of the disease but have warned that the number of cases will continue to increase, even with strict stay-at-home orders. This new policing challenge hits close to home for Hall. In Detroit, where she grew up and spent 18 years with the Police Department, at least 500 officers are in quarantine. Detroit Police Chief James Craig tested positive for the virus last week. Hall recently shared on Twitter that she was “saddened over the loss of my dear friend, Detroit Police Captain Jonathan Parnell" and the death of a “beloved” 911 dispatcher.

Houston Chronicle - April 2, 2020

Houston ER nurse lacking proper protection is now fighting for his life

It started last Monday, March 23, with a dragging fatigue and a low-grade fever he just couldn’t shake. The emergency room nurse at HCA Houston Healthcare Northwest had worked nine days straight, testing patients with symptoms of the new coronavirus. He told his wife he only was allowed to test the really sick ones, based on his hospital’s interpretation of Centers for Disease Control and Protection guidelines. And almost always, he said, the deep thrust of the throat swab made patients cough or gag, spewing spit and mucus on him. The 39-year-old, whose name is being withheld to protect his privacy and that of his family, stands 6-feet tall and weighs 350 pounds. The hospital couldn’t find a specialized N-95 protective mask that fit. He was told to wear a looser-fitting, thinner surgical mask instead, his wife said.

By last Tuesday his fever started to rise. The next day it spiked at 102.8 degrees. On Thursday, after calling in sick for the third day, he was told he might want to get tested because some of the patients he had screened had come back positive, his wife said. By Saturday night, March 28, he was barely able to lift his head, coughing up blood, staining the pillowcases. “Even as a physician I was scared to death,” said his wife, who works at another hospital. She knew what was happening. Most everyone in Houston’s health care community had been bracing for the deadly virus that had already circled the globe. Now she was looking it in the face. Yet for weeks, health care workers in Houston and elsewhere in Texas say they have been locked in a second battle, this one with some hospital administrators to get better equipment to protect themselves against a virus that spreads rapidly and in stealth. They worried the virus would not only infect them, but also fellow staff members, patients, and then follow them home at shift’s end. Those pleas, though, have been met with inconsistent and delayed responses, and in some instances, even with hostility. In one Texas case, for instance, an El Paso doctor was suspended for wearing a mask to protect himself without his hospital’s permission. The Chronicle interviewed a half-dozen doctors at four hospitals for this story as well as obtaining internal hospital emails.

National Stories

Wall Street Journal - April 2, 2020

Coronavirus costing Trump properties over $1 million daily in lost revenue

The coronavirus outbreak is costing Trump Organization properties more than a million dollars in lost revenue daily and may have hurt the firm’s chances of earning a record price on the sale of its Washington hotel, according to an analysis of industry data and people familiar with the deal talks. The majority of revenues for President Trump’s family business comes from travel and leisure, which have been hit hard by the forced closures and economic downturn caused by the pandemic. The situation could worsen because golf accounts for about half of the roughly $440 million of income Mr. Trump reported in his latest government financial disclosure.

More than 500 staff at Trump properties in New York, Washington, Las Vegas and Florida have been laid off or furloughed, say people familiar with the matter and federal disclosures. Several Trump hotels have been closed, and those still running have experienced dwindling occupancies. One day in March, the family’s flagship Trump International Hotel in Washington had just 11 guests in its 263 rooms, according to an employee. The outbreak also has derailed the organization’s effort to sell its long-term lease on the Washington hotel, which is in the former Old Post Office building. With extensions, the lease from the federal government runs close to 100 years. The organization was negotiating a deal with two potential buyers for between $320 million and $350 million, according to people briefed on the matter, but those talks have stalled. At least one of the potential buyers was a consortium and both were hotel investors.

Bloomberg - April 3, 2020

An outbreak among farm workers would be catastrophic

There is no evidence that Covid-19 has been transmitted by food or food packaging, according to U.S. federal health agencies. How the virus fares among food workers may be a different story. By law, food manufacturers must prevent anyone who is sick or has a communicable disease from handling, processing or preparing food for human consumption. But much of the food supply chain is staffed by low-wage workers, many of them undocumented immigrants with limited ties to health services.

The Pew Research Center has estimated that about one quarter of U.S. farm workers are undocumented. A U.S. Department of Labor survey estimated that the share of field workers who are undocumented is closer to half. The food processing industry also has high numbers of undocumented workers, as do many of the nation’s smaller grocers and fast-food restaurants. Immigrant farming communities are often close-knit, with laborers living and working in close proximity. As the California-based Western Growers Association states, “Social distancing is difficult or perhaps impossible in certain settings such as harvesting, transport (of workers) and housing.” One California grower told National Public Radio that if the coronavirus penetrates the agricultural community, “it will spread like wildfire.” California, the nation’s largest agricultural state, moved early against the virus. It was the first state to order residents to stay home, on March 19. For now, Covid-19 deaths in California are growing at a slower rate than in New York, doubling every three or four days in California instead of every one or two. But farm workers, like those who work processing chickens or stocking grocery shelves, can’t work from home.

Boston Globe - April 3, 2020

Experts, Trump’s advisers doubt White House’s 240,000 coronavirus deaths estimate

Leading disease forecasters, whose research the White House used to conclude that 100,000 to 240,000 people will die nationwide from the coronavirus, were mystified when they saw the administration's projection this week. Leading disease forecasters, whose research the White House used to conclude that 100,000 to 240,000 people will die nationwide from the coronavirus, were mystified when they saw the administration's projection this week.

Some of President Trump’s top advisers have expressed doubts about the estimate, according to three White House officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. There have been fierce debates inside the White House about its accuracy. At a task force meeting this week, according to two officials with direct knowledge of it, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told others that there are too many variables at play in the pandemic to make the models reliable: "I've looked at all the models. I've spent a lot of time on the models. They don't tell you anything. You can't really rely upon models." Robert Redfield, director of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the vice president's office have similarly voiced doubts about the projections' accuracy, the three officials said.

The Intercept - April 2, 2020

Coronavirus started in China, but Europe became the hub for its global spread

When the coronavirus began to spread, Mongolia took sensible precautions. It halted border crossings from China, with which it shares a 2,877-mile border. Mongolia also imposed travel bans on people from South Korea and Japan, the other epicenters of the pandemic at the time. Yet the virus nonetheless found its way to Mongolia, where the first infected person — known as the “index case” — was a Frenchman who had come to the country from France via Moscow. The story is the same for many other countries that became part of the pandemic due to infected people carrying it from Europe.

South Africa’s first coronavirus cases had gone to northern Italy for a skiing trip. South America’s first case was a Brazilian who had traveled to Italy’s Lombardy region, and Bangladesh’s first cases were Bangladeshis who had also come from Italy. Panama’s index case was imported from Spain, and Nigeria’s first experience with coronavirus was an Italian business traveler. Jordan’s was imported from Italy. As Covid-19 cripples the U.S. and ravages many countries in the world, politicians are battling to craft a narrative of who is to blame for its damage. The virus started in China, of course, but narratives of how it went from epidemic to global pandemic often leave out a crucial element: the role of Europe. European countries have been hit much harder than Asian nations and have spread the virus significantly more than other regions. The Intercept went through news reports of Covid-19 index cases across the world, and the results were startling. Travel from and within Europe preceded the first coronavirus cases in at least 93 countries across all five continents, accounting for more than half of the world’s index cases. Travel from Italy alone preceded index cases in at least 46 countries, compared to 27 countries associated with travel from China.

VICE - April 3, 2020

Leaked Amazon memo details plan to smear fired warehouse organizer: ‘He’s not smart or articulate’

Leaked notes from an internal meeting of Amazon leadership obtained by VICE News reveal company executives discussed a plan to smear fired warehouse employee Christian Smalls, calling him “not smart or articulate” as part of a PR strategy to make him “the face of the entire union/organizing movement.” “He’s not smart, or articulate, and to the extent the press wants to focus on us versus him, we will be in a much stronger PR position than simply explaining for the umpteenth time how we’re trying to protect workers,” wrote Amazon General Counsel David Zapolsky in notes from the meeting forwarded widely in the company.

The discussion took place at a daily meeting, which included CEO Jeff Bezos, to update each other on the coronavirus situation. Amazon SVP of Global Corporate Affairs Jay Carney described the purpose to CNN on Sunday: “We go over the update on what's happening around the world with our employees and with our customers and our businesses. We also spend a significant amount of time just brainstorming about what else we can do” about COVID-19. Zapolsky’s notes also detailed Amazon’s efforts to buy millions of protective masks to protect its workers from the coronavirus, as well as an effort to begin producing and selling its own masks. So far, the company has secured at least 10 million masks for “our operations guys,” with 25 million more coming from a supplier in the next two weeks, Zapolsky wrote. Amazon fired the warehouse worker Smalls on Monday, after he led a walkout of a number of employees at a Staten Island distribution warehouse. Amazon says he was fired for violating a company-imposed 14-day quarantine after he came into contact with an employee who tested positive for the coronavirus.

Associated Press - April 2, 2020

Trump says he expects Russia, Saudis to cut oil production

President Donald Trump said Thursday that he expects Saudi Arabia and Russia will dramatically cut production and end an oil war that sent energy prices to record lows. But the Kremlin disputed part of his tweet, leading to skepticism that a deal was imminent. A global glut in production, coupled with an economy reeling from the coronavirus pandemic, has sent energy prices to lows not seen since 2002. Trump tweeted Thursday that he had spoken with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, just days after talking to Russian President Vladimir Putin about the matter.

Trump tweeted; “I expect & hope that they will be cutting back approximately 10 Million Barrels, and maybe substantially more which, if it happens, will be GREAT for the oil & gas industry!” He also tweeted that Prince Mohammed bin Salman had spoken with Putin, and later tweeted the presumed production cut could be as high as 15 million barrels. But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin and the prince have not spoken recently. "No, there wasn't such a conversation," he said, according to Russian state news agency Tass. Nevertheless, U.S. benchmark crude climbed more than 20% Thursday after Trump's tweet. Even with those gains, prices are down 60% from the start of the year. Saudi Arabia called for an urgent meeting of OPEC and non-OPEC producers Thursday, just weeks after triggering the price war with Russia that sent oil prices plummeting.

April 2, 2020

Lead Stories

CNBC - April 1, 2020

Oil prices could soon turn negative as the world runs out of places to store crude, analysts warn

Global oil storage could reach maximum capacity within weeks, energy analysts have told CNBC, as the coronavirus crisis dramatically reduces consumption and some of the world’s most powerful crude producers start to ramp up their output. The coronavirus pandemic has meant countries have effectively had to shut down, with many governments imposing draconian measures on the daily lives of billions of people. It has created an unprecedented demand shock in energy markets, with storage space – both onshore and offshore – quickly running out.

At the same time, a three-year pact between OPEC and non-OPEC partners to curb oil output ended on Wednesday, paving the way for oil producers to ramp up production. OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia has pledged to hike output to a record high. “Refineries in many places are now losing money for every barrel they process, or they have no place to store their output of oil products,” Bjarne Schieldrop, chief commodities analyst at SEB, told CNBC via email this week. He pointed out that when refineries shut down, many oil producers have nowhere to send their crude if the refinery is also part of the logistical chain to the market. “For land-based or land-locked oil producers, this means only one thing,” Schieldrop continued. “The local oil price or well-head price they receive very quickly goes to zero or even negative, because if they have too much oil, they must pay someone to transport it away until they have managed to shut down their production.”

Houston Chronicle - April 1, 2020

Gov. Abbott clarifies order, saying it ‘requires all Texans to stay at home’

Gov. Greg Abbott released a new video Wednesday clarifying that his executive order issued on Tuesday “requires all Texans to stay at home” except for essential activities. “Now, I know this is a great sacrifice but we must respond to this challenge with strength and with resolve,” Abbott said in the 48-second video. Abbott’s order goes into effect at midnight on Thursday morning

With that, Texas now joins 37 other states that have enacted statewide stay-at-home orders. Mississippi, Georgia and Florida were among those to join that list on Wednesday. On Tuesday, Abbott intentionally avoided using the phrase “stay at home” during a briefing while describing his executive order, leading some to believe he had stopped short of ordering Texans to stay at home. “In short, what this provides is that Texans are expected to limit personal interactions that could lead to the spread of COVID-19, while also still having the freedom to conduct daily activities such as going to the grocery store, so long as you are following the presidential standard of good distance practices," Abbott said Tuesday.

Washington Post - April 1, 2020

Fauci's security is stepped up as doctor and face of U.S. coronavirus response receives threats

Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious-diseases expert and the face of the U.S. response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, is facing growing threats to his personal safety, prompting the government to step up his security, according to people familiar with the matter. The concerns include threats as well as unwelcome communications from fervent admirers, according to people with knowledge of deliberations inside the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice.

Fauci, 79, is the most outspoken member of the administration in favor of sweeping public health guidelines and is among the few officials willing to correct President Donald Trump's misstatements. Along with Deborah Birx, the coordinator for the White House's task force, Fauci has encouraged the president to extend the timeline for social-distancing guidelines, presenting him with grim models about the possible toll of the pandemic. "Now is the time, whenever you're having an effect, not to take your foot off the accelerator and on the brake, but to just press it down on the accelerator," he said Tuesday as the White House's task force made some of those models public, warning of 100,000 to 240,000 deaths in the United States. The exact nature of the threats against him was not clear. Greater exposure has led to more praise for the doctor but also more criticism.

Associated Press - April 1, 2020

Poll on pandemic response: States, local governments doing better job than president, Congress

Americans give high marks to state and local governments for their handling of the fast-moving coronavirus pandemic that has swiftly remade everyday life. But less than half approve of the job done thus far by President Donald Trump and the federal government, according to a new survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Even so, and while he remains deeply polarizing, the poll finds Trump's approval ratings are among the highest of his presidency. Forty-four percent of Americans support Trump's oversight of the pandemic, in line with his overall 43% approval rating. That's at the high end for the Republican president during his more than three years in office.

The coronavirus pandemic, which has already killed more than 4,000 Americans and shut down much of the U.S. economy, is the most urgent and unpredictable crisis of Trump's presidency. The coming weeks will likely shape how Americans view the wisdom of giving him a second term in the November election, where he is likely to face off against former Vice President Joe Biden. Trump initially downplayed the virus, comparing it to the flu. He also suggested restrictions on work and travel could be lifted by mid-April, arguing that the response to the virus shouldn't be worse than the health crisis itself. But the president has shifted his stance again in recent days, and on Tuesday, the White House estimated up to 240,000 Americans could die from coronavirus even if strict social distancing measures are maintained. If those steps aren't taken, the number of deaths seems certain to increase.

State Stories

Dallas Morning News - April 2, 2020

Texas governor, attorney general give guidance on permitted religious services

A day after Gov. Greg Abbott ordered a broad statewide mandate ordering people to stay home except for when attending to “essential” services and activities, Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton issued guidelines for religious services during the coronavirus pandemic. In his executive order on Tuesday, Abbott overrode the “stay-at-home” orders issued by some of Texas’ largest counties, including Dallas, by allowing religious services in houses of worship to continue when some counties had required them to be held by video or teleconference.

But on Wednesday, Abbott and Paxton, essentially defaulted to what counties like Dallas had already ordered, asking providers of religious services to “follow certain mitigation strategies to slow the spread of the virus” during the public health crisis. “Houses of worship must, whenever possible, conduct their activities from home or through remote audio or video services," the joint order read. On Monday, a group of pastors had asked the Texas Supreme Court to issue an order striking down Harris County’s “stay at home” order, arguing that it infringed on the First Amendment by limiting religious services to video and teleconference.

Dallas Morning News - April 2, 2020

Texas launches chatbot named 'Larry’ to help with surge in unemployment claims

The Texas Workforce Commission has launched a virtual assistant that it hopes will help it process a deluge of unemployment claims as the federal coronavirus relief package promises expanded benefits for jobless Texans. The chatbot is named “Larry The Chat Bot” after the Texas agency’s former Executive Director Larry Temple, who died in 2019. The assistant is live today, and can be found in the bottom right-hand corner of the TWC’s website.

The chatbot is capable of answering the 20 most-asked questions about unemployment insurance benefits, according to the agency. “Our top priority is to eliminate the backlog, get Texans registered and on the path to getting the benefits they need,” TWC executive director Ed Serna said in a statement Wednesday. Last week, the state agency responsible for providing unemployment benefits to Texans said more than 800,000 people were swamping the agency’s phone lines attempting to file for unemployment. The agency now says the number of people trying to apply “rose to the millions within a week.”

Dallas Morning News - April 1, 2020

Three men sue Atmos Energy two years after South Dallas natural gas explosion

Three men are suing Atmos Energy after they were injured two years ago in a natural-gas explosion that destroyed a South Dallas duplex. The explosion early April 2, 2018 blew out the side of the building in the 3700 block of Spring Avenue near Fair Park. Kelley McFarland, Wayne Landrum and Willie Rocker Jr. had been asleep in their respective homes when the explosion occurred, the lawsuit says. They suffered a variety of injuries, including third-degree burns.

In addition to Atmos, the lawsuit names Noble Energy, the state of Texas, and the owners and operators of the duplex as defendants, as well as various businesses connected to the owners. The duplex’s manager is a defendant as well. The defendants didn’t appear to have attorney assigned to the lawsuit as of Wednesday, and representatives for them were not immediately available for comment. McFarland, Landrum and Rocker Jr. said in the lawsuit that the defendants “created a condition which poses an unreasonable risk of harm.” Krisi Kastl, an attorney representing the men, said Wednesday that it was the second time the lawsuit was filed because attorneys had decided to gather more information after the initial filing.

Dallas Morning News - April 1, 2020

Think you have what it takes to voice State Fair icon Big Tex? Auditions are open

The State Fair of Texas has officially started looking for the next voice of its 68-year-old, 55-foot-high cowboy, Big Tex. Auditions opened Wednesday in a quest for the perfect drawl to greet millions of fairgoers with “Howdy, folks!” and other friendly scripts.

In announcing the contest, the State Fair noted that the right candidate will embody “traits like friendliness, generosity, loyalty, persistence and commitment.” The deadline for submissions is April 15. Big Tex has been part of the State Fair since 1952, but his last decade has easily been his most tumultuous. Back when Big Tex was 60 in 2012, he briefly resembled Ghost Rider after catching fire due to an electrical short. He eventually burned to the ground in front of a stunned crowd, leaving only a steel frame and the sleeves of his Western shirt behind.

Dallas Morning News - April 1, 2020

Texas reeling into recession from double blows of coronavirus and oil slump, Comptroller Glenn Hegar says

Texas’ usually buoyant economy has just run over two sharp nails — coronavirus and low oil prices — and the resulting slowdown is dramatic, Comptroller Glenn Hegar said Wednesday. “There’s no doubt that Texas is going to be in a recession — just like pretty much the rest of the world,” he said. While data showing the scope of the state’s economic contraction won’t be out for another few weeks, Hegar said early signs from counties that collect sales tax on motor vehicle purchases and rentals showed significant declines for a limited part of last month — all that’s been reported so far.

Other, nongovernmental measures have revealed that lower-income, hourly workers in Dallas and other major Texas cities already have been slammed with layoffs, leaving them vulnerable, he said. In the entertainment sector, movie theater box office receipts nationwide have virtually gone to zero, which hurts another cadre of workers, he said. On and on the trouble goes, and the pain is just becoming fully visible, said Hegar, the state’s chief tax collector and revenue estimator. State recovery probably will be slow, not galloping, he said.

Houston Chronicle - April 1, 2020

As pollution abates and skies clear, coronavirus shutdown gives glimpse of life with less fossil fuel

Around the globe people are noticing something missing in the air. Whether it’s blue skies over Beijing, satellite imagery showing emissions dropping in Milan or air monitors in Houston recording less ozone than normal, mankind’s sudden hunkering down in response to the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in visibly cleaner air with remarkable speed. The primary reason, experts say, is fewer vehicles on the road, which means fewer emissions from the petroleum-based fuels on which so much of the Texas economy relies.

“I’ve been looking at the satellite imagery, and it’s been dramatic,” said Daniel Cohan, an environmental engineering professor at Rice University. “We have satellites observing nitrogen dioxide (a major contributor of smog) every day, and those showed an incredibly steep fall off over the Hubei province and the Wuhan region [where the coronavirus outbreak began]. You can see it in northern Italy, and even over New York and Los Angeles.” The reduction in pollutants such nitrogen dioxide and microscopic particulate matter, not to mention the carbon dioxide that is warming the planet, offers a temporary window on what a world burning less fossil fuel might look like as governments worldwide move to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by mid-century.

Houston Chronicle - April 1, 2020

Domestic violence calls on the rise in the Houston region under stay-at-home orders from coronavirus

Domestic violence victims are reporting abuse cases at a higher rate in the Houston region since COVID-19 stay-at-home orders took effect in area counties last month, advocates and law enforcement officials say. There’s been a significant increase in the number of domestic violence hotline calls and requests for emergency housing since social isolation became Houston’s new normal in early March, shelters in the region are reporting. The number of domestic violence calls for service to the Houston Police Department increased by 6 percent this month compared to last, Chief Art Acevedo said.

“Some will die not from the COVID-19 virus, but instead at the hands of an intimate partner and domestic violence,” said Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez in a statement Tuesday. “Life as we know it, has come to a halt, but domestic violence has not. It will only escalate as people shelter in place, lose jobs and deal with mounting stress. That, of course, is no excuse. That is a huge recipe for some very bad things to happen.” In Harris County, the Houston Area Women’s Center, which works with a network of nearby shelters, reported an “unusually” high number of calls — 175 — on Saturday and Sunday, half of which were requests for shelter. The center’s capacity is capped at 120.

Houston Chronicle - April 1, 2020

Calls in Texas for help with unemployment benefits rose 'to the millions' as result of coronavirus

Calls to the Texas Workforce Commission, which administers unemployment benefits, rose “to the millions” within a week, state officials said, as closures necessary to slow the spread of the virus leave hundreds of thousands of Texans out of a job.

To help relieve pressure on the call centers, Texas launched an automated virtual assistant to help Texans sign up for unemployment insurance. The chatbot can answer common questions about the unemployment benefits process.

Houston Chronicle - April 1, 2020

Pandemic revives hope of federal aid for Texas highways, ports, rural internet

Lawmakers have been talking about striking a deal to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure for years. It might take a pandemic to finally get them to do it, and Texas officials are already working on their wish lists, with ports, highways, high-speed internet and more potentially on the line. There’s growing talk of tackling infrastructure as the next step in Congress to stave off economic collapse from the coronavirus outbreak, following the $2 trillion stimulus package that passed last month.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Wednesday that House Democrats are beginning work now on the next package, including “bold action to renew America’s infrastructure.” President Donald Trump appears to be on board. “With interest rates for the United States being at ZERO, this is the time to do our decades long awaited Infrastructure Bill,” Trump tweeted. “It should be VERY BIG & BOLD, Two Trillion Dollars, and be focused solely on jobs and rebuilding the once great infrastructure of our Country!” In Texas that could mean a massive injection of federal funding to rebuild highways and bridges, expand ports and brace waterways for future floods. The federal push could also expand much-needed broadband — which 2 million Texans don’t have — with many Americans now stuck at home, relying on the internet for work, school, telemedicine and more.

Houston Chronicle - April 2, 2020

Electricity use dropping in Texas, especially in early morning

Electricity use in Texas between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. has been dropping over the past three weeks, a reflection economic activity is slowing statewide as the coronavirus pandemic spreads.

The state's grid manager the Electric Reliability Council of Texas reported this week that early-morning electricity use is currently running about 10 percent less than normal. The report didn't specify whether the drop was attributed to less residential, commercial or industrial use.

Austin American-Statesman - April 1, 2020

Jonathan Tilove: At a grave moment in history, Gov. Abbott buried the lede

At first, and for a little while, Gov. Greg Abbott’s Tuesday afternoon news conference sowed confusion. Under mounting pressure to impose a statewide shelter-in-place or stay-at-home order, the governor issued an executive order, that, on inspection, would reveal itself to be just that, but that he presented at his news conference in such a convoluted manner that it did not appear to be what it was and that, when asked about it after his presentation, he specifically denied being a shelter or stay order.

The governor’s distaste for the language of sheltering-in-place or staying-at-home may have seemed an odd semantic quibble, but, in the absence of a crisp and clear exposition of his order, it made it harder for reporters to immediately report that Abbott was issuing a statewide shelter-in-place or stay-at-home order when he had just gone to great lengths to explain that that was not what he was doing. Meanwhile, early in the news conference he had said he was extending the social distancing requirements of his March 19 executive order and keeping classrooms closed at least through April 4. That was easy to understand and report, and so that’s what I and others did in our initial take on the news conference. After reading the executive order, it seemed apparent that what the governor had issued was, what in COVID-2020 parlance, would be considered a shelter-in-place or stay-at-home order That read was confirmed for me a little before 6 when I reached Gov. Abbott as he was waiting to do a TV news hit, and he was crisply clear about what he had just ordered.

Austin American-Statesman - April 1, 2020

Over half of Texas’ 254 counties report coronavirus cases

More than half of the Lone Star state’s 254 counties have reported positive cases of the coronavirus as the state’s death toll from the disease rose to 58 on Wednesday — a 17-person increase from the day prior, according to new numbers from the Department of State Health Services. The number of fatalities has more than doubled since Saturday.

The number of positive cases of the coronavirus statewide grew by 731, a 22.4% increase from the day before. It was the most new cases reported statewide since the first cases appeared last month. Out of 47,857 tests, there are 3,997 cases of COVID-19, the disease linked to the coronavirus, the agency reported Wednesday afternoon. And 135 counties are now reporting cases of the disease, which makes 13 new counties with cases from the previous day’s tally.

Austin American-Statesman - April 1, 2020

44 UT students returned from Mexico with coronavirus, university officials say

Forty-four University of Texas students who returned to Austin from a spring break trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, have tested positive for the coronavirus, UT officials said Wednesday.

The university had previously confirmed only 28 of those cases. In total, 59 UT students have either tested positive or are presumed positive. However, since most students have returned home after the university shifted its classes online, other students could have contracted the virus without reporting it to school officials, UT spokesman J.B. Bird said.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - April 2, 2020

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: Texas Governor Abbott’s jail bond order is unfair and won’t help fight coronavirus

When it comes to social distancing and other measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus, every location where people gather counts. That especially includes jails, where space is at a premium. Since the pandemic took hold, police departments, courts and sheriffs around Texas and the U.S. have worked to reduce incarceration without endangering the public. It’s a balance best left to experts. So, it’s frustrating that Gov. Greg Abbott stepped in with an ill-timed and poorly conceived order that has created confusion for the criminal justice system.

Abbott’s executive order, issued Sunday, denies release without cash bail to anyone booked into a Texas jail who in the past was “convicted of a crime that involves physical violence or the threat of physical violence,” or any person arrested on suspicion of such a crime. The governor explained that the order was meant to protect Texans from potential violent criminals and preserve resources for the effort to contain COVID-19. And some jurisdictions have seemed a bit too eager to clear out the jails. Abbott’s order creates a stratification of justice based entirely on ability to pay. Release without bail, sometimes known as personal bond, is a way of letting a suspect go free before trial, sometimes in exchange for agreeing to show up for hearings or undergo drug treatment.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - April 1, 2020

Black-owned businesses being hit hard by coronavirus shutdown, may never come back

It was a recent Friday night at Buttons, a popular soul food restaurant that features live bands and a bustling crowd five days a week. The lights were off and there was a sign on the door, indicating that Buttons was closed until further notice. Just a few yards away Mi Cocina, a popular chain restaurant in the area, had a line around the corner waiting on to-go orders in what is the new normal for eateries during the COVID-19 shutdown across the state.

But for small businesses, especially minority own establishments, shutting down is more likely the frightful reality. And that was the case for Buttons who shut down on March 13 well before the shelter-in-place orders were put in place in Fort Worth. They gave all the remaining food to the employees and advised them to file for unemployment. “We do not have take out and delivery,” said owner Curtis Luper, the former TCU co-offensive coordinator who is now at Missouri. “It would not be economically sound. We simply closed and are monitoring the situation.” It’s a situation that Bob Sanders, the public relations director for the Fort Worth Black Chamber of Commerce, expects it to play out on repeat for black businesses due to COVID-19.

Forbes - April 1, 2020

Texas Governor says attending church Is 'essential’ but abortions can wait indefinitely

On the same day that an appeals court allowed Texas state Governor Greg Abbott’s ban on all abortion procedures to remain during COVID-19 emergency measures, the Texas governor declared church services an “essential service” that may continue during the pandemic. The state banned all surgical abortions, and then medication abortions, last week, but a federal district court blocked the ban on Monday in response to a lawsuit filed on behalf of Texas abortion providers by Planned Parenthood, The Center for Reproductive Rights and the Lawyering Project. Then on Tuesday, March 31, an appeals court reversed the district court decision, allowing the abortion ban to remain in place until the case made its way through the courts. Similar lawsuits are pending in other states as Alabama, Iowa, Ohio and Oklahoma attempt to ban abortions as well.

Meanwhile, Abbott issued a disaster proclamation Tuesday that limits residents’ social gatherings and in-person contact only to “essential services,” which includes all services deemed essential by the federal government—plus “religious services conducted in churches, congregations, and houses of worship.” In short: Texas women cannot get abortions, a medical procedure deemed essential by physicians that involves contact with only 2-3 other people, but they can go to church, a setting which has already been linked to multiple “super-spreading” COVID-19 events. Both the free exercise of religion and a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy are constitutionally guaranteed rights. The Texas governor, however, appears willing to accommodate only some rights—at considerable risk to public health—while not accommodating others involving far less risk. Further, since women seeking abortions must travel out of state, the ban encourages greater risk-taking travel in the midst of a pandemic, and women who attempt unsafe abortions on their own may end up in the hospital anyway, experts say.

McAllen Monitor - April 1, 2020

Texas teachers association demands governor close schools for the year

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Texas State Teachers Association is demanding Texas Governor Greg Abbott close all of Texas’ schools for the remainder of the school year. “Disease experts expect this pandemic to get worse, maybe much worse, in Texas before we see any relief, and the governor must take these steps now to protect millions of school children and the adults dedicated to serving and caring for them,” TSTA President Noel Candelaria said in a news release.

“A comprehensive, statewide school closure order is necessary because the outbreak is expanding across the state, and we don’t know which counties it will strike next. Leaving this decision to individual districts creates unnecessary confusion and stress across Texas.” The TSTA referred to neighboring states, such as Oklahoma and New Mexico, as examples of areas that have closed schools for the rest of the semester. In addition to shutting down schools, the TSTA is urging the governor to protect the health and safety of students, educators, their families and communities.

Texas Public Radio - April 1, 2020

Maker movement tries to fill protective gear gap for hospitals, but will it get used?

Drue Placette stares at his three monitors, trying to find the right design for a doctor’s face shield he will print using his fleet of more than a dozen 3D printers. In his office at Canopener Labs, the fabrication studio he runs with Dale Bracey, he is surrounded by piles of paper, computer parts, tools and a hodge podge of his life ranging from carrot seeds to an ammo box spilling over with a belt of large bullets.

He digs through a website of open-source designs, but ultimately can’t find the file he’s looking for. He has to call Thuy Dihn the originator of this particular project and owner of HaniMade studio. Dihn saw the need for personal protective equipment (PPE) — to keep doctors safe from infection — and wanted to help. Little did she know her post on Instagram would garner so much attention leading to support and donations. “Everything is moving so fast,” she said. And now she and a group of two dozen volunteers are printing several hundred a day to give to doctors and hospitals. Dihn’s effort is just one of the hundreds ramping up across the country from people in the so-called maker movement. The COVID-19 crisis has seen a groundswell of community support from 3D printers, fabricators and DIYers.

County Stories

ABC 13 - April 2, 2020

Bonds as low as $10 given to inmates, including some charged with violent crimes

Prosecutors and a victims' advocate are raising concerns over who is getting low bonds and getting out of jail even before the county starts releasing hundreds of inmates. ABC13 found $300, $500 and $10 bonds issued over the last two days to defendants. Some had violent criminal histories. Kelvin Hawthorne, 18, is accused of punching and choking his girlfriend on Monday. Normally, that kind of crime gets a $1000 bond and often times it's a personal recognizance bond, which means release from jail on the promise to return.

On Tuesday, a judge granted Hawthorne a $100 bond. He paid $10, had to agree to bond conditions and was released from jail. Craig Jones, 55, is accused of hitting and choking his wife. He has prior violent convictions. The state requested a $10,000 bond. On Tuesday, a magistrate made it much lower, granting a $300 bond. Timothy Singleton, 21, also has prior convictions. He was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, after being accused of pulling a gun on his aunt's neighbor. Singleton was granted a $500 bond, which means $50 would get him out of jail. Normally bond would be at least $20,000. "Some of the cases I saw today, I almost fell off my chair in hysterical laughter," said Andy Kahan, director of victim services and advocacy at Crime Stoppers of Houston. "Ten dollar bonds? One hundred dollar bonds? In some cases, violent felons are getting bonds I've never seen in my 30 years in the criminal justice system."

Houston Chronicle - April 2, 2020

Montgomery County logs first COVID-19 deaths, total jumps to 110

Montgomery County Public Health officials confirmed 17 new cases of the novel conronavirus Wednesday and the county’s first two deaths. Both deaths were residents of a senior living facility in The Woodlands. The county’s total case count is 110. Of those cases, 93 are still active, 15 remain hospitalized, 15 have recovered and 78 are in self-isolation.

The deaths, both men, one in his 80s and one in his 90s, come just days after Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough ordered the residents of The Conservatory at Alden Bridge to shelter-in-place when 13 cases were confirmed at the facility. The shelter-in-place order expires April 13. According to the order, residents must shelter in place for the duration of the order. Those who leave the facility cannot return to the property until the order expires. Additionally, the order prohibits anyone from entering the property unless it is to provide food service, or are caregivers, medical professionals, law enforcement or someone assisting a resident in leaving under the order.

City Stories

Dallas Morning News - April 1, 2020

Sharon Grigsby: As COVID-19 strains Dallas medical care, this invisible lifesaver keeps the poorest among us out of ERs

Every morning, men and women, their spirits broken and their bodies bone-tired of living the street life, line up at the door of an Oak Cliff nonprofit in hope of finding something different. They are looking for sobriety, for stability, for a path to become themselves again. And because there’s a virus on the streets as dangerous as their own addiction, they are seeking safe haven from COVID-19. For the last 35 years, Homeward Bound has provided addiction and psychiatric crisis treatment — both short-term care and longer residential stays — for the poorest and most desperate residents of Dallas County.

Now, in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, these addicts will almost certainly die without the nonprofit’s help, Homeward Bound executive director Doug Denton told me this week. The people arriving at the center often know nothing about the pandemic swirling around them. They are overwhelmed with their own struggles against the deadly trio of addiction, mental illness and homelessness. “They are in a drug or alcohol haze," Denton said. “Even if they do hear about the coronavirus, they aren’t processing for their own well-being.” But once they get the message, the addicts redouble their commitment to toss off their old lifestyle for good — and to shelter in place with Homeward Bound as long as possible. The threat of COVID-19 has both the clients and the staff spooked.

Dallas Morning News - April 1, 2020

Dallas city employees said they kept coming to work after mayor had ordered residents to stay home

When the city manager sent non-essential employees home last week and offered them paid leave until at least April 2, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson had already implemented a stay-at-home order for the city’s 1.3 million residents. Some employees said it took too long for the city to apply those rules to its roughly 13,000 workers, and they were concerned about being potentially exposed to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, out in the field, in public buildings or at work.

In a response to questions from The Dallas Morning News, Joey Zapata, an assistant city manager, said employees, who were not first responders, have reported they were “positive or presumed positive" for the coronavirus. He declined to provide the number of employees affected or where they worked. He also did not clarify whether those employees tested positive or simply showed symptoms, saying he was withholding those details to protect confidential medical information. City Manager T.C. Broadnax’s order for non-essential employees to go home came more than a day after the county’s stay-at-home order went into effect at 11:59 p.m. March 23. Broadnax and his chief of staff, Kim Tolbert, didn’t grant requests for an interview. But in an email to city employees sent on March 25, Broadnax said the emergency is “an ever-evolving situation, and there is plenty of uncertainty right now.”

Austin American-Statesman - April 1, 2020

Round Rock pilot ‘never had to gave up his wings’ before coronavirus death

Doug Yarbrough never met a stranger. He was the kind of person that could meet someone for the first time and become their best friend in just minutes. “And if you were a stranger, you weren’t going to stay that way for long,” Cody Yarbrough said of his father, Doug. “Even just meeting someone he was able to get people to open up so quickly.” A father, a husband and a native of Louisiana, Yarbrough called Round Rock home after moving to the area with his wife, Sheri, about five years ago.

Family and friends remember him as a man that would “talk your head off.” “It didn’t matter if you were standing in line, he could talk to you on whatever subject you wanted to,” Cody said. “He could just talk and talk.” Yarbrough on March 24 became the first Williamson County resident to die after contracting the coronavirus. As of Wednesday, at least 58 Texans have died from COVID-19, the disease linked to the virus. He was just a few weeks past his 65th birthday when he was diagnosed with COVID-19. It came as a shock, Cody said, because his father was in great health and had recently passed his Federal Aviation Administration flight physical. “He was so healthy that the FAA deemed him healthy enough to fly an aircraft,” Cody said. “All our entire lives we knew him to be healthy as an ox and he was never really sick, nothing until this.”

National Stories

Associated Press - April 2, 2020

Trump’s contradictory views on China shift as crisis grows

President Donald Trump has held an unequivocal position about China and the coronavirus — several of them. Trump initially praised China, then excoriated Beijing after it made unsubstantiated claims that the virus originated in the United States. Now, Trump is back to offering niceties. The diverging messages have generated finger-pointing by both Beijing and Washington that is further destabilizing a critical relationship between countries with the two largest economies and militaries.

There might not be radical shifts in U.S.-China policy during the next several months, but China’s cover-up and disinformation campaign will color the relationship going forward, Dan Blumenthal, director of Asian studies at the American Enterprise Institute, said Wednesday. “It’s very hard to see progress on trade talks after this,” he said. He added that he expects Congress will push to address American dependence on China for medical and other manufacturing supplies. There are calls in Congress to hold China accountable for initially covering up the outbreak. Anticipating a backlash, China’s official Xinhua News Agency last month suggested that Beijing could retaliate against the U.S. by banning the export of medical products that would leave the U.S. stuck in the ”ocean of viruses.” Early in the outbreak, Trump lauded China for its response to COVID-19, tweeting on Jan. 24 that the U.S. appreciated Beijing’s efforts and “transparency,” even though local Chinese officials initially covered up mounting cases in Wuhan, the city where the virus was first reported. In February, as the virus began to spread in Europe, Trump still refrained from blaming China.

Associated Press - April 1, 2020

Gun background checks smash records amid coronavirus fears

Background checks required to buy firearms have spiked to record numbers in the past month, fueled by a run on guns from Americans worried about their safety during the coronavirus crisis. According to figures from the FBI, 3.7 million background checks were done in March — the most for a single month since the system began in 1998. It eclipsed the previous record, set in December 2015, when 3.3 million checks were conducted.

Background checks are the key barometer of gun sales, but the FBI's monthly figures also incorporate checks for firearm permits that are required in some states. Each background check also could be for the sale of more than one gun. The rush has inflamed tensions between Second Amendment advocates and gun control supporters. Pro-gun groups say the long lines seen at gun stores affirm a widespread belief about the right to bear arms. Opponents contend that adding firearms into stressed-out households filled with people cooped up during lockdown orders will lead to increased levels of domestic violence and suicides. “This is overwhelming evidence that Americans value their ability to take responsibility for their own safety in times of uncertainty,” said Mark Oliva, spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which represents gunmakers. “The figures are simply eye-popping.”

National Review - March 31, 2020

The senator who saw the coronavirus coming

While others slept, Tom Cotton was warning anyone who would listen that the coronavirus was coming for America. On January 22, one day before the Chinese government began a quarantine of Wuhan to contain the spread of the virus, the Arkansas senator sent a letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar encouraging the Trump administration to consider banning travel between China and the United States and warning that the Communist regime could be covering up how dangerous the disease really was. That same day, he amplified his warnings on Twitter and in an appearance on the radio program of Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade.

At the time, the Senate impeachment trial was dominating the news cycle. The trial, which lasted from January 16 to February 5, had even blotted out coverage of the Democratic presidential primary in the days leading up to the Iowa caucuses. When the first classified briefing on the virus was held in the Senate on January 24, only 14 senators reportedly showed up. Cotton’s public and private warnings became more urgent that last week of January. In a January 28 letter to the secretaries of state, health and human services, and homeland security, he noted that “no amount of screening [at airports] will identify a contagious-but-asymptomatic person afflicted with the coronavirus” and called for an immediate evacuation of Americans in China and a ban on all commercial flights between China and the United States. Cotton first spoke to President Trump about the virus the next day. The Arkansas Gazette reported that he missed nearly three hours of the impeachment trial while he was discussing the matter with Trump-administration officials. The outbreak was “the biggest and the most important story in the world,” he said in a Senate hearing that week.

Roll Call - April 1, 2020

As oil industry tanks fill, lawmakers press to end glut

The oil industry says it is running out of space to store its product as sheltering-in-place Americans drive less and a production dispute between Russia and Saudi Arabia floods the market, according to oil-state lawmakers. Those lawmakers say they foresee impacts on local economies and jobs, and are scrambling to find ways to help the industry.

There’s an excess of 15 million barrels a day of crude oil right now, according to Richard Joswick, managing director of oil analytics at S&P Global Platts. The problem isn’t just among crude oil producers. Refineries that produce petroleum products like gasoline and diesel are also running out of storage for the excess products they had anticipated selling, as travel advisories keep people away from the gas pump. The EPA has said it will give companies nearly three extra weeks to sell off their winter gasoline before switching to less polluting summer blends on May 20, rather than May 1.

New York Post - April 1, 2020

Sheldon Adelson: I’m paying all my workers for 2 months, so should any business that can

Although the resort hotels of my company, Las Vegas Sands, are shuttered, I’m paying every one of our nearly 10,000 employees as though they were still working. We’re even working to make up for lost tips. I hope to do that right up until the time that we can reopen our businesses. It’s not only the right thing to do — it’s good business. I’ve often said the story of my career would be a true rags-to-riches account, except for the fact that my parents couldn’t even ­afford the rags.

Although the resort hotels of my company, Las Vegas Sands, are shuttered, I’m paying every one of our nearly 10,000 employees as though they were still working. We’re even working to make up for lost tips. I hope to do that right up until the time that we can reopen our businesses. It’s not only the right thing to do — it’s good business. I’ve often said the story of my career would be a true rags-to-riches account, except for the fact that my parents couldn’t even ­afford the rags. To my fellow corporate executives who are looking at spreadsheets and trying to ­determine the impact this crisis will have on sales and share prices, let me say: Our job as business leaders is now as simple as it is challenging. It is to maximize the number of employees and their families that we can help — and help them for as long as possible.

April 1, 2020

Lead Stories

New York Times - March 28, 2020

The last month: How a failure to test blinded the US to avoid COVID-19

Early on, the dozen federal officials charged with defending America against the coronavirus gathered day after day in the White House Situation Room, consumed by crises. They grappled with how to evacuate the United States consulate in Wuhan, China, ban Chinese travelers and extract Americans from the Diamond Princess and other cruise ships. The members of the coronavirus task force typically devoted only five or 10 minutes, often at the end of contentious meetings, to talk about testing, several participants recalled. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, its leaders assured the others, had developed a diagnostic model that would be rolled out quickly as a first step.

But as the deadly virus spread from China with ferocity across the United States between late January and early March, large-scale testing of people who might have been infected did not happen — because of technical flaws, regulatory hurdles, business-as-usual bureaucracies and lack of leadership at multiple levels, according to interviews with more than 50 current and former public health officials, administration officials, senior scientists and company executives. The result was a lost month, when the world’s richest country — armed with some of the most highly trained scientists and infectious disease specialists — squandered its best chance of containing the virus’s spread. Instead, Americans were left largely blind to the scale of a looming public health catastrophe. The absence of robust screening until it was “far too late” revealed failures across the government, said Dr. Thomas Frieden, the former C.D.C. director. Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins, said the Trump administration had “incredibly limited” views of the pathogen’s potential impact. Dr. Margaret Hamburg, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said the lapse enabled “exponential growth of cases.”

Austin American-Statesman - March 31, 2020

Ken Herman: A nation’s needs. A president’s words.

Noticeably missing until Monday in the mixed and mixed-up messaging from the White House were important words, words of comfort and solace. When the words did come, they didn’t come from the man whose functions include comforter-in-chief. And the words of comfort could have been lost in the Rose Garden on Monday as captains of industry and others took turns serving up the words of praise that President Donald Trump seems to need like the rest of us need air. “I’d like to ask Seema to come up and say a few words about what you’re doing and what’s happening and how positive it’s been. I really appreciate it. Come on up, Seema Verma,” Trump said.

Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, then said 753 words. All 753 were important. but perhaps none stood out as much as the first 32: “Thank you, Mr. President,” Verma said. “And let me start by saying I want to convey my deepest sympathies to those that have lost loved ones to the coronavirus. We’re all thinking of you.” At that moment, the U.S. coronavirus-related death toll was approaching 3,000. There will be tens of thousands more. And beyond the deaths are thousands of stories of hardship and horror. Perhaps you’re living one of those stories. It’s easy to cynically scoff when a leader offers “thoughts and prayers” when something horrible happens, perhaps especially when the thoughts and prayers are not accompanied by actions. But it remains important for us to know our leaders feel our pain. In Trump, in these most challenging of times, we have a president who feels his own pain and, in a sadly adolescent way, is willing to share it with us. For him, despite the national suffering, this has become a personal scorecard.

Reuters - April 1, 2020

US emergency medical stockpile nearly out of protective gear as demand rises -officials

An emergency stockpile of medical equipment maintained by the U.S. government has nearly run out of protective gear that could be useful to combat the coronavirus pandemic, according to two officials with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The near-exhausted supply includes masks, respirators, gloves, gowns and face shields, the officials said. A small amount of gear has been set aside for federal first responders, according to one of the officials, both of whom requested anonymity to discuss the matter.

The U.S. Strategic National Stockpile aims to provide medical supplies during emergencies so severe they cause shortages. But states across the country have called on the federal government in recent weeks to send them large quantities of gear to help hospitals deal with surging cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus. The United States leads the world in confirmed coronavirus cases, with more than 188,000 infections and 3,873 deaths, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally. Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont, a Democrat, also said on Tuesday that the stockpile was empty, calling it a "disturbing" development. President Donald Trump contested the idea that the stockpile was "empty" during a White House news conference, saying that equipment was going directly to those in need - a more efficient process. "We're having them brought ideally from the manufacturer directly to the hospital or state where it's going" Trump said.

Houston Chronicle - March 31, 2020

Abbott says churches can open again — but many say they won’t

Hours after Gov. Greg Abbott issued an order that re-opens churches with limitations, many congregations said they will continue to hold services online and abide by social distancing recommendations to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Little has changed, Texas pastors said, in the wake of Abbott’s Tuesday order, which deems churches as “essential” services and supersedes county-level bans such as the one enacted in Harris County. Abbott said religious services should either be conducted remotely or in-person using social distancing guidelines.

He added that “drive-up services,” where congregants would remain in their cars, which some churches plan to use this Easter, would “satisfy the criteria that we’re talking about.” David Duncan, pastor of Houston’s Memorial Church of Christ, said he appreciates Abbott’s recognition of the “importance of religion.” But he added, “The second greatest command is to love our neighbors as ourselves. For me, at this moment, the way I love my neighbor is by giving them physical distance.” Many congregations moved away from in-person gatherings prior to orders by local officials, including one by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo that banned gatherings.

State Stories

Austin American-Statesman - March 31, 2020

Texas coronavirus death toll rises to 41

Forty-one people have died in Texas because of the coronavirus, according to updated numbers from the Department of State Health Services. That’s three more than officials reported Monday. The latest numbers released Tuesday are part of a daily count by the state agency on the number of Texas cases, tests and counties reporting COVID-19 cases.

Out of 42,992 tests, there are 3,266 positive cases of COVID-19. The number of statewide cases grew by more than 12.5% compared to the previous day. Tuesday’s count was released hours before Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order that defined essential services and activities that can remain open. His order also closes schools until May 4. Abbott said 2.4% of the state’s hospital beds available for COVID-19 patients are being occupied.

Austin American-Statesman - March 31, 2020

John Bridges: Now is the time to support local journalism

For the past four weeks, our American-Statesman reporters, photographers and editors have worked tirelessly to chronicle the effects of the coronavirus crisis on Austin. We’ve reported on the many businesses that have scaled back operations and employees coping with lost wages. On Monday, Gannett, the company that owns the American-Statesman, told employees that it too is suffering financially because of the economic slowdown.

Many companies have cut their advertising spending, delayed marketing campaigns or canceled events, all of which have hurt the media business. As a result, Gannett is instituting a series of worker furloughs and executive pay reductions to weather the financial storm. This means that the names and faces you see in the Statesman -- the ones you trust to inform you about this great community of ours -- will each be taking the equivalent of three weeks of unpaid leave over the next three months. I’d say that this was a painful day in our newsroom -- except that our newsroom now exists virtually as we have joined so many others in working remotely in this time of social distancing.

Austin American-Statesman - March 31, 2020

Abbott order limits efforts to prevent coronavirus spread in jails, judges say

Texas judges have been looking for ways to reduce jail and prison populations to protect inmates from the coronavirus pandemic, but in an executive order Sunday, Gov. Greg Abbott instructed them to stop releasing anyone with a violent record, even if the offense for which they are currently charged is non-violent.

Some Travis County judges and officials disagree on just how far the governor’s executive order stretches and even whether Abbott had the authority to issue such a command. Justice of the Peace Nicholas Chu said he will disregard the directive because he does not believe he is legally bound to it. It’s “inconsistent with the U.S. and Texas constitution and does not mitigate the risk of COVID-19 or help promote the safety to the community,” Chu wrote in an email to lawyers. The order — which Abbott issued on the same day the Harris County jail announced its first positive case of COVID-19 — prohibits the release on personal bond of any person previously convicted of a crime that involves physical violence or the threat of it. It also blocks the release of any person currently in custody for such a crime.

Austin American-Statesman - March 31, 2020

Appeals court lets Texas enforce coronavirus-related abortion ban, for now

One day after a federal judge blocked Texas from banning most abortions during the coronavirus emergency, an appeals court put that ruling on hold Tuesday to give its judges time to weigh a challenge filed by state officials. The decision will allow Texas officials to resume enforcing a policy that bans abortions unless a woman’s life or health were at risk, an exception that applies to very few abortions. On Monday, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel barred enforcement of the policy, ruling that it amounted to a ban on abortion in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton quickly appealed, arguing that an emergency order from Gov. Greg Abbott prohibited elective procedures, including abortions, to increase hospital capacity and conserve medical equipment during the pandemic. On Tuesday afternoon, a divided three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily blocked Yeakel’s ruling and gave both sides until 5 p.m. Friday to submit their legal briefs on the matter. Judge James Dennis dissented, saying he opposed delaying Yeakel’s ruling. “A federal judge has already concluded that irreparable harm would flow from allowing the Executive Order to prohibit abortions during this critical time,” wrote Dennis, who was appointed to the court by Democratic President Bill Clinton.

Austin American-Statesman - March 30, 2020

John Young: Who’ll play Dan Patrick’s Hunger Games?

For better or much worse, when the Texas Legislature is in session, the lieutenant governor is arguably the most powerful state official — able to railroad or kill any bill. Right now, however, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is but a clanging cymbal. The cymbal-ic imagery comes to us from I Corinthians and the line about the person who speaks not from love but from politics. That’s only my translation, but it suits so well the words of certain conservative voices – like President Donald Trump’s. From Trump, the current tally of empathetic words a whole month into the COVID-19 crisis has topped out at zero.

And then there’s Patrick. Patrick, who honed his percussive instrument as a Houston talk-show host, got national attention for suggesting we shelve common sense for dollars and cents. Patrick’s suggestion that older Americans should sacrifice their lives for the sake of a back-to-bar-codes-now economy fits so well with the general greed-is-good, business-as-God philosophy. All along free-market fundamentalists have been comfortable with a “Hunger Games” where certain competitors haven’t so much as an arrow. In this case we aren’t talking about the laws of the jungle, market-wise, but the biology of a virus that preys most seriously on compromised systems. Some of the younger and healthier have acted over the last few days like they are apart from the human race. At the moment, fortunately, most of us are relying whole-heartedly on the advice of Dr. Anthony Fauci, a key member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, who has pushed for social distancing and other measures to slow the spread of the virus.

Austin American-Statesman - March 31, 2020

Abbott extends social distancing mandate through April 30

Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday he is extending the state’s social distancing mandate through the end of April and said Texas schools will remain closed through at least May 4. At a news conference at the Capitol Tuesday, Abbott also advised churches to continue to hold services either virtually or while respecting social distancing requirements and suggested drive-in services as an Easter alternative.

Abbott declined to impose a statewide shelter-in-place or stay-at-home order because, he said, taken literally, that would mean people could not leave their homes under any circumstances. He issued a list of essential services that can carry on and essential activities that are permissible. “This is not a stay-at-home strategy,” Abbott said. He said that going to the grocery store and continuing to walk or bike or otherwise get healthful exercise are among permitted activities, but that exercise should be done alone.

Austin American-Statesman - March 31, 2020

28 UT students test positive for coronavirus after returning from spring break trip to Mexico, officials say

The University of Texas says 28 students who returned to Austin from a spring break trip to Cabo San Lucas have tested positive for the coronavirus. Austin Public Health Officials say dozens more are being monitored. Public health officials said Tuesday a group of about 70 people in their 20s departed on a chartered plane about a week and a half ago. Some of the attendees flew back on commercial flights. Four of those who tested positive showed no symptoms. In addition to the 28 who tested positive, a spokesman for the university said it is believed many in the larger group were UT students.

“Austin Public Health and UT Health Austin and University Health Services have made contact with every spring breaker onboard the plane using flight manifests from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The 28 confirmed cases are self-isolating at this time. Others are under quarantine while being monitored and tested. The Department of State Health Services has been notified,” Austin Public Health said. UT spokesman J.B. Bird said the school is working closely with Austin Public Health to assist in contact tracing. “The incident is a reminder of the vital importance of taking seriously the warnings of public health authorities on the risks of becoming infected with COVID-19 and spreading it to others,” Bird said. In total UT says it is aware of 38 students and seven faculty who have tested positive for coronavirus, are presumed positive, or self-reported.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - March 31, 2020

Despite coronavirus, quarterly property tax bills still are due in Texas

Quarterly Tarrant County property tax bills must still be paid on time during the coronavirus pandemic. Tax Assessor Collector Wendy Burgess said her office has received a number of requests for property tax relief as COVID-19, and stay at home orders to prevent its spread, has led to a number of businesses having to temporarily close their doors.

Burgess said the tax office can work with taxpayers on payment options such as partial payments and payment tax installment agreements. “Unfortunately, the Tax Assessor-Collector has no authority in the law to waive amounts due or change due dates,” a statement by Burgess read. “Changes in the law can only be accomplished by the Texas Legislature or by Executive Order of the Governor.” But she said she has reached out to local lawmakers, passing on “taxpayer requests for relief that we have received with an appeal that they be forwarded to the governor.” Burgess said she hopes Texas Gov. Greg Abbott could include property tax assistance in his emergency orders related to coronavirus.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - March 31, 2020

‘Tiger King’ Joe Exotic, being held at a Fort Worth prison, files $94 million lawsuit

Joe Maldonado-Passage, more commonly known as Joe Exotic, filed a lawsuit this month from the Fort Worth prison where he is being held. Maldonado-Passage is the focus of the Netflix documentary series “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness,” which has exploded in popularity since its March 20 release. The 57-year-old former zoo owner is being held at the Fort Worth Federal Medical Center, according to inmate records.

Three days before the series was released, Maldonado-Passage filed a suit in Oklahoma City federal court on claims of false imprisonment, false arrest, discrimination, perjury and entrapment. He is asking for $93,840,000 in relief. Defendants include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of the Interior, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted him and several witnesses in the case, including Jeffrey Lowe, who appears in the series. The mullet-haired Maldonado-Passage claims in his lawsuit that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service placed tigers on the exotic species list not to protect them, but to target people who use tigers in commercial businesses.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - April 1, 2020

Collin County revokes shelter-in-place that allowed non-essential businesses to stay open

Collin County revoked its shelter-in-place order Tuesday that previously allowed all businesses to remain open despite concerns about the spread of the coronavirus. County Judge Chris Hill rescinded the order after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott passed an executive order Tuesday that mandated the closure of non-essential businesses, such as gyms, tattoo and piercing studios, cosmetology salons, and dining-in at restaurants and bars. Services that are not deemed “essential” should operate remotely, according to the order.

Hill’s original order, passed on March 24, allowed all businesses to stay open as long as customers and employees followed rules such as maintaining a 6-foot distance from others and having only 10 people inside a business. On Tuesday evening, Hill issued an executive order revoking the county’s shelter-in-place, saying that Collin County must follow Abbott’s provisions. Collin County’s order has come under fire from residents and officials from other counties. At a press conference on March 26, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins encouraged Collin County commissioners to join the region in issuing consistent shelter-in-place orders that shut down non-essential businesses.

Houston Chronicle - April 1, 2020

Erica Grieder: Republican leaders shouldn’t use pandemic to restrict abortion access

Many leaders have urged Americans to set politics aside as the nation grapples with the coronavirus crisis. Some of Texas’s Republican leaders, unfortunately, didn’t get the memo. Indeed, Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney Gen. Ken Paxton apparently see the pandemic as an opportunity to further restrict access to abortions in Texas without going through the Legislature. Abbott issued an executive order on March 22 stipulating that all surgeries and procedures that are not “immediately medically necessary” be postponed through Apr. 21. Paxton, a fellow Republican, issued a letter the next day clarifying that the health care professionals affected by the letter include abortion providers, and that the surgeries and procedures they’re barred from performing include “any type of abortion that is not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.”

All of us can agree that elective procedures should be deferred, if possible, until a later date. In addition to facing a shortage of personal protective equipment, health care providers are working overtime. But it’s not as if women are seeking abortions as an excuse to get out of the house. Nor do Texans need the state to tell them to postpone their eye exams, for that matter, or routine skin-cancer screenings. But Abbott’s order seems to zero in on abortion. “He's never passed on an opportunity to ban abortion or to put further restrictions on it,” says Dyana Limon-Mercado, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes. State Rep. Donna Howard, an Austin Democrat and nurse by training, agreed. “Since (the) vast majority of abortions are not performed in hospitals, & most require little surgical equipment, this was disingenuous at best,” said state Rep. Donna Howard, an Austin Democrat and nurse by training. It’s hard to argue with that point. But it’s also hard to wrap one’s head around the notion that we have to have this argument at all, given the current situation. We don’t even know the magnitude of the public health crisis in this state, given the relative paucity of testing. And Texas is facing an economic crisis, to boot.

Houston Chronicle - March 31, 2020

Millions of Texans finally get paid sick leave benefits to battle coronavirus — but there's a catch

Employees who can’t work because they’re sick from coronavirus, under quarantine or taking care of children will be eligible for up to two weeks of paid sick leave starting Wednesday, giving millions of Texas workers access to paid leave for the first time. But the emergency sick leave benefit Congress mandated earlier this month and which the federal government will fully subsidize is available only to employees who work for companies with fewer than 500 employees. And it’s not retroactive, meaning that workers can’t claim government-subsidized sick leave benefits from the federal program for time they spent at home either sick, under a quarantine order or providing child care before Wednesday, April 1.

But workers who were sick or under quarantine and whose employers already paid them for their time at home earlier this year because of the coronavirus will be entitled to another two weeks of paid leave under the new legislation beginning April 1, according to the Labor Department. The program will expand the number of workers eligible for paid sick leave, albeit for only one specific disease. About 40 percent of the Texas workforce don’t have the benefit of paid sick leave, according to the Washington research group the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Low-wage and part-time workers are especially unlikely to be covered by paid leave policies in Texas, according to the institute. The legislation will put more money in the pockets of employees when they need it most and employers can claim a payroll tax to pay for it, said one employment expert. “Employers are glad to find any way they can to keep employees connected,” said A. Kevin Troutman, an employment lawyer with Fisher Phillips in Houston.

Houston Chronicle - March 30, 2020

Texas manufacturing collapses, adding to certainty of recession this year

The Texas manufacturing industry has collapsed as the coronavirus upends supply chains, customer demand and oil prices for local manufacturers, a monthly survey the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas shows, The manufacturing sector is considered a leading indicator for the rest of the economy. The sudden, unprecedented plunge in business activity indicated by the survey of Texas manufacturers is another blaring red indicator that the U.S. economy is in real trouble. A recession risk tracker by J.P. Morgan jumped to 96 percent on Monday after the Dallas Fed published the results of the manufacturing index. J.P. Morgan’s model predicts the likelihood of a recession within one year based on economic data.

The Texas manufacturing production index, a measure of the state's manufacturing conditions based on surveys of executives, plummeted from a reading of 16.4 to -35.3 in March; positive readings indicate an expansion and negative readings indicate a contraction. It’s the second-lowest reading recorded since the Dallas Fed’s survey began in June 2004, surpassed only during the worst of the last recession when the reading slid to -37 in Feb. 2009. But this month’s index decline of more than 50 points was “unprecedented,” said Emily Kerr, a Dallas Fed economist.. Survey respondents indicated that some factories had shut down due to either the lack of business or the mandated shutdowns of nonessential businesses. Others remained open, interpreting their business as essential, but expressing fears about nearly every aspect of business, and many forecasting “heavy losses” in the coming months.

San Antonio Express-News - March 31, 2020

San Antonio lawyer again sued by State Bar

For the second time in six months, San Antonio lawyer Phil Ross has been sued in state district court by the State Bar of Texas for alleged serial misconduct in a guardianship case involving an elderly person. According to the bar’s recent suit, Ross’s misbehavior included “habitual and intentional disregard for court orders, misrepresentations to the court, fraud upon the court, conflicts of interest, dishonesty and deceit.” The suit stems from Ross’s role in a high-profile Bexar County case involving Charlie Thrash, 82, the longtime owner of CT Thrash Differential and Axle Service on West Avenue.

In 2017, Thrash was found to be mentally incapacitated and since 2018 he has been in the care of court-appointed guardians. In the last two years, hundreds of thousands of dollars of estate assets have been spent on legal costs as Ross, who sought to overturn the guardianships, has battled a team of lawyers representing the guardians. The earlier suit against Ross, filed in November, pertains to his alleged misconduct in a Comal County guardianship case involving Sybil Sims, an elderly San Antonio woman who died in 2016. That case is set for trial this summer in Bexar County. Ross, 71, who is known for his contrarian and sometimes combative style, plans to represent himself in both cases. “I intend to defend myself and bring to light the truth of what happened to Charlie Thrash. The story is not over,” he said. “I trust that when a jury hears the entire case, not only will I be vindicated but the news will present itself that the claims against me are false.”

San Antonio Express-News - March 31, 2020

Three more coronavirus deaths reported in Bexar County, the steepest daily increase so far

The tone of Tuesday night’s briefing about the coronavirus was grim as Mayor Ron Nirenberg announced the deaths of three more people from COVID-19, the highest announced in one day, raising the total number in Bexar County to nine. Nirenberg requested a communitywide moment of silence at 9 a.m. Thursday for victims of the fast-spreading illness and urged everyone to remain vigilant to help contain it. One victim, a man in his 50s, had underlying health issues, Nirenberg said. Another, a man in his 80s, had underlying health issues had been treated for an unrelated illness before testing positive for the coronavirus. The third victim, a female in her 80s, also had underlying health conditions.

“Our sympathies are with the families of these victims, and we wish them healing during this very difficult time,” Nirenberg said during his daily briefing with Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff. Confirmed cases of coronavirus in Bexar County also shot up Tuesday to 207, up by 39 from Monday. It was the steepest daily increase in new cases since the start of the pandemic. Also for the first time, the number of cases attributed to community spread drew even with travel-related cases, both at 63, with each comprising 30 percent of the cases. Twenty-seven cases are attributed to close contact with someone who is infected, and 54 cases are under investigation. Of the confirmed cases, 69 patients have been hospitalized “because they require acute care,” including 32 in intensive-care units and 28 supported by ventilators, Nirenberg said.

Dallas Morning News - March 31, 2020

McKinney shelter-in-place order stands after judge rejects restraining order, resident says he’ll drop suit

A Collin County judge ruled Tuesday that McKinney’s shelter-in-place order will stand, rejecting a bid for a restraining order that claimed Mayor George Fuller’s order was in conflict with a more relaxed countywide order. The request for a restraining order came in a lawsuit filed against Fuller by McKinney resident Derek Baker. While Collin County’s order claimed that “all workers are essential,” Fuller drafted stronger language that listed only certain businesses as essential and eligible to remain open.

Initially, Baker’s lawyer argued that state law requires that when separate orders from a mayor and the county are in conflict, the county’s order should stand. In a hearing conducted on Zoom, District Judge Jill Willis ruled Tuesday afternoon that because the McKinney City Council later approved Fuller’s mayoral order as a city ordinance, it was no longer in conflict under that statute. “The county judge and the mayor of McKinney in their respective roles have each determined what they believe are the best and most appropriate measures for their jurisdiction,” Willis said. “The judge’s role is to follow the law, not become a policy maker.”

KUT - March 31, 2020

Texas' unemployment benefits system is at a standstill. The state wants people to keep holding.

When Brian Biehl found out Wednesday that he’d been furloughed from his job at a company that makes software for restaurants in Austin, the first thing he did was take his dog for a walk. “You know, [to] kind of assess the situation,” he said. Then Biehl made some calls to see about another job. In the meantime, though, he would apply for unemployment benefits. He started online. But the website for the Texas Workforce Commission, which handles unemployment benefits in the state, told him to call. That wasn’t so easy.

“I’ve tried to at least contact the office for unemployment multiple times a day every day since then,” Biehl said. “You know, you call and if you can even get through [you get] a recording — usually it’s a busy signal.” Biehl is not alone. At least 155,657 Texans filed first-time claims for unemployment during the week ending March 21. The Workforce Commission has declined to give updated numbers since then. The TWC says on a normal day, its four call centers handle a total of about 13,000 calls. That number has ballooned to 1.5 million calls per day. That’s jammed call centers and put a strain on the agency’s website. When I tried calling the TWC hotline, I only got a busy signal. Last week, TWC Executive Director Ed Serna acknowledged the issues people are having. “We know it is very frustrating, and it is also at times very scary for individuals who have been let go from work, oftentimes for the first time let go from work,” he said. “I assure you that we will help everyone that needs help.”

KXAN - March 30, 2020

Criminal justice reform groups speak out against Gov. Abbott’s executive order

Several criminal justice reform groups are objecting to one of Governor Greg Abbott’s executive orders issued on Sunday. The mandate, Abbott said, is to prevent the release of “dangerous criminals” from Texas jails. “Releasing dangerous criminals makes the state even less safe, that also complicates and slows our ability to respond to the disaster,” Abbott said Sunday.

Specifically, the order bans suspects accused of, or previously convicted of, violent crimes from being released on a personal bond. Texas Fair Defense Project executive director Amanda Woog said the governor’s order is too broad, in part because it applies to suspects who have not been convicted yet. “You’re not only looking at what they’ve been charged with, which again, is unproven, but you’re also looking at the criminal history of these people so someone can be brought in on a criminal trespass, who had a terroristic threat conviction 30 years ago,” Woog explained. Woog also added that the order unfairly targets poor suspects, because those with cash can still bond out. “It’s saying that you cannot use personal bonds for this category of offenses, which is kind of vaguely referred to in the order, but all that means is that people who don’t have money stay in jail, whereas people who do have money are able to get out,” Woog said, “It’s really an attack on the movement to get poor people the same legal rights to release as people with money.”

Waco Tribune-Herald - March 30, 2020

John Cornyn: This is no time for politics as usual

The rapid spread of the novel coronavirus has taken a tremendous toll on the physical and financial health of the American people. As the number of cases has soared, medical professionals and leaders at every level have made a single, critical request: Stay home. Social distancing is key to flattening the curve to avoid overwhelming our health-care system. While it’s the most important thing Texans can do right now, that doesn’t mean this shift in our daily routines is without consequence.

Small businesses and schools have closed their doors, restaurants have switched to takeout-only operations and families have canceled travel plans. As a result, millions of workers have lost their jobs and our economic engine has slowed to a sputter. Think about the waiter at your favorite Tex-Mex restaurant, the person who cuts your hair, the housekeeper who cleans rooms at a nearby hotel — a few weeks ago, each of these men and women had a reliable source of income, and today, many have either been laid off or forced to work fewer hours. Texas workers and small businesses have been burdened by this crisis through absolutely no fault of their own, and the U.S. Senate just delivered serious assistance.

D Magazine - March 31, 2020

Why you should not go to the grocery store until April 4

Today is the last day of March. It’s the last day of a month in which we saw the coronavirus bear down on our country and state and cities; in which Dallas reeled and is working hard to right itself in any way it can. Local and state guidelines closed all dine-in restaurant and bar frequentations to slow the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. We are ordered to shelter in our homes. Tomorrow is the first day of a month in which we’ll continue to look to the effects on those who are most vulnerable—and to look, every day, for ways to help. One thing you can do tomorrow is this. Avoid grocery shopping in these early days of the month. And if you go grocery shopping—and by all means avoid it if you can—make sure you don’t buy items with WIC marked on their price tag.

This is where we remind you that WIC funds are disbursed on the first of the month. These are the funds under the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, which the USDA provides for “pregnant, postpartum and breastfeeding women, infants, and children up to age 5” who “meet income guidelines, a state residency requirement, and [are] individually determined to be at ‘nutritional risk’ by a health professional.” You may have seen developments last week regarding SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or food stamp) funds under the aegis of the USDA, which cover staples—produce, proteins, and all sorts of grocery items—but not hot food or restaurant meals.

KERA - March 31, 2020

In rural Texas, school districts are making sure kids get connected at home

Ricardo in South Texas is a tiny blip on the map. There's no grocery store and no traffic light. It does, however, have a school district. Enrollment: 673 students. And just like in many other places right now, kids there have to do their school work at home. “It’s a small rural school district, so the principals and I get in the car and we drive around and drop off homework,” Ricardo Independent School District Superintendend Maria T. Canales said. “We drop off laptops. We’ll do whatever it takes to make sure our students have what they need.”

Canales is a member of the Texas Education Agency’s Rural Schools Task Force. In her part of Texas, she said they still do some things the old-fashioned way. “This has been very eye-opening to all of us – teachers, and administrators – because we’ve never really done online learning. You know?” she said. “I mean, this is a small school, everything is paper, pencil, you know. Our communication is telephone.” Across the country, rural school districts are up against some of the same challenges they’ve always faced. Not all families are digitally connected and for those who are, internet connection can be spotty, or they can’t afford to pay for a stronger connection. In Texas, more than 20% of public schools are located in rural parts of the state. Canales said they have to get creative. These tools and materials have been specially curated for parents and caregivers with school-aged children at home, as well as for educators who are teaching remotely. “It is an issue because when you’re out in the country, there’s dead spots,” she said. “I know that in some places, they are taking school buses and putting a hot spot on the bus and then taking it out into certain areas of the community so that those homes can connect to those hot spots.”

Corpus Christi Caller-Times - March 30, 2020

Liana Petruzzi: Here's why it's critical for Texas to take the Medicaid expansion

Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Legislature have rejected Medicaid expansion even though Texas has the highest rate of uninsured residents in the nation. With the spread of COVID-19 and the threat of health care systems being overwhelmed by this pandemic, the governor should call a special session of the Legislature to expand Medicaid. Medicaid expansion has been an overwhelmingly successful program. It has increased insurance coverage, expanded access to health care services and reduced costs. Medicaid expansion would cost Texas approximately $5.6 billion, but in return, Texas would receive $65.6 billion in federal funding and save $34.3 billion from reduced emergency room or hospital visits from the uninsured.

Medicaid expansion is necessary for diminishing the devastating impact that COVID-19 will have on Texas population health. COVID-19 has proved to be more deadly than the flu, with a death rate of approximately 1%, and more resource-intensive than the flu, with twice the length of hospital stay required for severe cases. There is also a serious concern about medical equipment shortages, from surgical masks to ventilators, because we are all dependent on the same supply chain globally. It has also overwhelmed health care systems across the world. Some have used this as an argument against moving toward universal health care in America. But this argument does not consider how many Americans are at risk of losing their employer-based health insurance due to rising unemployment. Federal officials are predicting unemployment could hit an all-time high of 30%, and 3.3 million Americans have already filed for unemployment. While it may not be feasible to pass Medicare For All anytime soon, Medicaid expansion is something that state legislators could enact right now to expand access to the 1.6 million Texans who are uninsured.

County Stories

Dallas Morning News - March 30, 2020

Dallas County’s latest shelter-in-place revisions lead Dallas ISD to cut meal service to once a week

Despite high demand for free food by its students during the coronavirus crisis, Dallas ISD is cutting its food service to one day a week.

DISD announced Monday afternoon that, starting next week, Thursdays would be the only day parents and students would be able to receive grab-and-go meals at 47 locations throughout the district. Previously, DISD distributed three days’ worth of food Mondays and Thursdays.

City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - April 1, 2020

Mac Engel: Fort Worth could be epicenter of golf with a chance to bag the original Tiger King

Plan at your own risk but The PGA Tour says it is still a go to return on May 21, in Fort Worth. On Tuesday, PGA Tour officials said the plan is for The Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club to be its first tournament back since it went dark on March 13. There is potential that Fort Worth would be the epicenter of golf for four days, a Masters Lite, with the chance to host the original Tiger King.

Tiger Woods’ lone appearance at Colonial was in 1997. With the Charles Schwab Challenge scheduled as the Tour’s first event since it canceled The Players on March 13, the event in Fort Worth would be the chance for all of golf, and its top players, to play again. Until told otherwise, all of this can happen. While the Tour is planning to return to Fort Worth as scheduled, nothing at Colonial says it is moving forward on a normal schedule just yet. Construction of the tents, stands and area temporary structures has yet to begin. In a normal year, construction at the course would have started by now. “We are past that that point,” tournament director Michael Tothe said. “We are still planning like we are going to return to golf on May 18.”

National Stories

Associated Press - April 1, 2020

Coronavirus live updates: US death toll passes 4,000

The U.S. has 189,633 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 4,081 deaths from the disease as of 3:15 a.m. ET Wednesday morning, according to Johns Hopkins University. More than 7,100 people have recovered. At the rate the virus is spreading, it's likely the U.S. will pass the 200,000 mark in confirmed cases sometime Wednesday. It took the U.S. 68 days from the first recorded case on Jan. 19 -- according to the New England Journal of Medicine -- to reach 100,000 last Friday. The second 100,000 will be recorded in five days.

The White House on Tuesday projected that the U.S. could have between 100,000 and 240,000 deaths as long as social distancing measures continue to be followed. Worldwide, there are 860,793 confirmed cases with 42,354 deaths and 178,378 recoveries. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. Russia has sent a planeload of medical aid to the United States amid the growing coronavirus pandemic. A military aircraft loaded with medical equipment and masks took off from Moscow early on Wednesday morning, according to the Defense Ministry.

Associated Press - April 1, 2020

Trump allies warn against feud with swing state governor

President Donald Trump’s allies are trying to contain a politically risky election year fight with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as he struggles to balance presidential politics with a global pandemic in one of the nation’s most important swing states. Both sides have tried to de-escalate the feud this week, although Trump’s supporters in particular sought to downplay tensions that ratcheted up over the weekend when the Republican president unleashed a social media broadside against Whitmer, a Democrat who had been critical of the federal government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Trump has clashed with other Democratic governors as well, but he saved his most aggressive insults for the first-term female governor, who is considered a leading vice presidential prospect for his opponent. “Everyone should be shedding the partisanship and coming together,” Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in an interview when asked about Trump’s attacks, suggesting that some of his criticism had been mischaracterized. “I am rooting for Gov. Whitmer,” said McDaniel, who lives in Michigan. “I think she’s done good things. ... I just didn’t like her trying to lay every problem at the president’s feet.” The backpedaling underscores the nature of the dispute, which comes seven months before Election Day in a state that could make or break Trump’s reelection bid. Michigan is an elite presidential battleground that has historically celebrated bipartisanship and pragmatism while rewarding candidates who rally behind key institutions in crisis.

Bloomberg - March 30, 2020

Trump talks oil prices with Putin as rout continues

President Donald Trump said he’s concerned oil prices have fallen too far and called Vladimir Putin on Monday to discuss Russia’s oil-price war with Saudi Arabia. The leaders, who also talked about the spread of the coronavirus, agreed to discussions on oil between energy officials in the two countries, according to the Kremlin. The White House had no immediate comment and didn’t release a summary of the call. The U.S. president has earlier said he does not want to see the energy sector “wiped out” after Russia and Saudi Arabia “both went crazy” and launched into a conflict that depressed oil prices.

“I never thought I’d be saying that maybe we have to have an oil increase, because we do. The price is so low,” Trump said in an interview on “Fox & Friends.” Crude oil futures tumbled as much as 7.7% in New York, touching an 18-year low. The Trump-Putin call came at the request of the U.S. and was “prolonged,” according to the Kremlin, which didn’t specify how long it lasted. Trump’s view on the the dispute marks a shift from earlier this month, when he likened the plunge in oil prices to a “tax cut” for Americans. The U.S. president spoke to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on March 9 about the dispute. Trump has long argued that improving relations between Washington and Moscow could help solve international disputes. The president said he wanted to discuss trade with Putin, though he said he expected the Russian president to raise objections to U.S. sanctions. State-run Tass quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying that Putin didn’t ask Trump for sanctions relief on the call.

Bloomberg - March 31, 2020

Fed takes on role of world’s central bank by pumping out dollars

The Federal Reserve is acting as central banker to the world by seeking to provide the global financial system with the dollar liquidity it needs to avoid seizing up. In its latest measure to combat the economic fallout from the coronarvirus pandemic, the Fed said Tuesday it was establishing a temporary repurchase agreement facility to allow foreign central banks to swap any Treasury securities they hold for cash. That’s yet another step beyond the actions it took in the 2008 financial crisis. “To the Federal Reserve’s credit, it is playing the role of central banker to the world rather than denying it and trying to ward it off,” said former Fed official Ted Truman, who is now a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

The Fed is trying to prevent a liquidity squeeze amid a worldwide rush into dollars, as the virus wreaks havoc on a global economy that is heavily dependent on the greenback as its linchpin. “A lot of borrowing and commerce and investing is done in dollars,” Julia Coronado, founding partner of MacroPolicy Perspectives in New York and a former Fed economist, said in an interview on Bloomberg Radio. “When you have a dollar crunch, it can turn a recession or contraction in activity into a financial crisis very quickly because the dollar shortage can trigger defaults and deleveraging.” Emerging-market borrowers are especially at risk. Encouraged by low U.S. interest rates, they’ve loaded up on a dollar-denominated debt in recent years. They now face a squeeze as their exports plummet due to economic shutdowns worldwide to combat the coronavirus contagion. A significantly stronger dollar can also hurt the U.S. by tightening financial conditions and making American exports more expensive on world markets.

Washington Post - March 31, 2020

Start-ups struggling during coronavirus worry they won't qualify for new small business loans

Tech start-ups struggling during the coronavirus pandemic say there's broad confusion over whether they qualify for the small business loans made available in the massive stimulus package. Even some companies that could assist with the response to the pandemic say the uncertainty is making it harder for them to keep operating. Justin Bellante, chief executive of health care start-up BioIQ, says his company is looking into delivering in-home coronavirus tests and how its network could assist medical labs.

But he is not sure whether his small company can get a slice of the $350 billion pie, due to Small Business Administration rules that predate the stimulus package that disqualify some companies that take checks from venture capital firms from taking federal loans. “It’s almost schizophrenic,” Bellante told me in an interview. “We have an opportunity and obligation to be part of the solution. But on the other side, we have to play defense because we have to navigate through these rules.” A small business loan, he says, could help the company avoid cost-cutting measures such as cutting contractors or even last-resort layoffs as its corporate customers tighten their belts. The outcry from entrepreneurs has triggered a mad dash in Washington to clarify or waive the rules so that start-ups can take full advantage of the programs.

CNBC - March 31, 2020

Caesars-Eldorado merger moving forward

The coronavirus outbreak has delayed the $17.3 billion deal between casino companies Caesars Entertainment and Eldorado Resorts, but the deal is moving forward, according to a source with firsthand knowledge. Following a report on CNBC, Caesars was halted on the news and reopened up 12%. Indiana, New Jersey and Nevada regulators still need to sign off on the deal but have postponed hearings. The merger also needs the approval of the Federal Trade Commission.

“The board is still investigating,” said Nevada Gaming Commission Chair Tony Alamo. “The merger is going like any other merger. It’s just going through the process, which includes a normal investigation,” he added. Eldorado and Caesars had anticipated closing in mid-April, but multiple sources have told CNBC it now looks more like June. There has been widespread speculation that the coronavirus pandemic will change the ways regulators view the debt associated with this deal. A highly placed source says both companies have the liquidity to last for well over a year. Caesars has $3 billion on its balance sheet and recently sold the Rio in Las Vegas for $460 million. That was an unexpected source of cash and was not factored into the deal. Assuming a $230 million asset sale of two casinos in Mississippi and Missouri to Twin River closes, anticipated in the next 60 days, Eldorado will have roughly $850 million on hand, a source tells CNBC.

San Antonio Express-News - March 31, 2020

Captain of aircraft carrier with growing coronavirus outbreak pleads for help from Navy

The captain of a nuclear aircraft carrier with more than 100 sailors infected with the coronavirus pleaded Monday with U.S. Navy officials for resources to allow isolation of his entire crew and avoid possible deaths in a situation he described as quickly deteriorating. The unusual plea from Capt. Brett Crozier, a Santa Rosa native, came in a letter obtained exclusively by The Chronicle and confirmed by a senior officer on board the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, which has been docked in Guam following a COVID-19 outbreak among the crew of more than 4,000 less than a week ago.

“This will require a political solution but it is the right thing to do,” Crozier wrote. “We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our Sailors.” In the four-page letter to senior military officials, Crozier said only a small contingent of infected sailors have been off-boarded. Most of the crew remain aboard the ship, where following official guidelines for 14-day quarantines and social distancing is impossible. “Due to a warship’s inherent limitations of space, we are not doing this,” Crozier wrote. “The spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating.” He asked for “compliant quarantine rooms” on shore in Guam for his entire crew “as soon as possible.” “Removing the majority of personnel from a deployed U.S. nuclear aircraft carrier and isolating them for two weeks may seem like an extraordinary measure. ... This is a necessary risk,” Crozier wrote. “Keeping over 4,000 young men and women on board the TR is an unnecessary risk and breaks faith with those Sailors entrusted to our care.”

March 31, 2020

Lead Stories

CNBC - March 30, 2020

Coronavirus job losses could total 47 million, unemployment rate may hit 32%, Fed estimates

Millions of Americans already have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus crisis and the worst of the damage is yet to come, according to a Federal Reserve estimate. Economists at the Fed’s St. Louis district project total employment reductions of 47 million, which would translate to a 32.1% unemployment rate, according to a recent analysis of how bad things could get.

The projections are even worse than St. Louis Fed President James Bullard’s much-publicized estimate of 30%. They reflect the high nature of at-risk jobs that ultimately could be lost to a government-induced economic freeze aimed at halting the coronavirus spread. “These are very large numbers by historical standards, but this is a rather unique shock that is unlike any other experienced by the U.S. economy in the last 100 years,” St. Louis Fed economist Miguel Faria-e-Castro wrote in a research paper posted last week. There are a couple of important caveats to what Faria-e-Castro calls “back-of-the-envelope” calculations: They don’t account for workers who may drop out of the labor force, thus bringing down the headline unemployment rate, and they do not estimate the impact of recently passed government stimulus, which will extend unemployment benefits and subsidize companies for not cutting staff.

NBC News - March 26, 2020

Coronavirus challenges states that rejected Medicaid expansion, leaves uninsured with few options

Every six months Penny Wingard's doctor in Charlotte, North Carolina, checks her white blood cell count even though she can't afford the tests. After a brutal round of chemotherapy for stage 2 breast cancer in 2014 left her with chemical burns, Wingard has a compromised immune system and no health insurance. When she lost that coverage, more medical issues followed: She had a brain aneurysm and then the chemo caused Wingard, 56, to go temporarily blind before she underwent cornea surgery. Her medical debt through all this has ballooned to more than $25,000 — an amount she has no hope of ever paying off as a part-time Lyft driver.

"You didn't ask for any of this, and you didn't ask to get sick," Wingard said, as her voice broke and she began to cry. "You know, it's not something that you went out there and said, 'Oh, OK,' you know. You didn't ask for any of it. And it is a burden. It really is a burden." With required doctor visits and medicine, her bills are still adding up and the debt collectors' calls haven't stopped. The drugs she needs also make her more susceptible to the common cold, the flu and now the coronavirus. Wingard is just one of nearly 30 million people in the United States living without insurance, and the stress of being hospitalized because of the pandemic is immense. And like Wingard, many members of the working poor without insurance also make up the workforce now deemed "essential": cashiers, stock clerks, agricultural workers, delivery drivers, elderly caregivers, child care workers, health care workers and gas station clerks.

Austin American-Statesman - March 30, 2020

On coronavirus response, is Abbott leading from behind?

Nearly 9 in 10 Texans are living under orders to stay at home to curb the spread of the coronavirus, increasing pressure on Gov. Greg Abbott to impose a uniform statewide policy. As of close of business Monday, 72 Texas counties had issued some kind of order and in another nine counties without orders, the county seat had issued an order for its residents. That left two-thirds of counties without orders, but Jones said the most consequential “rogues” in terms of population centers are Midland County, Guadalupe County (with the exception of Seguin), Victoria County and Grayson County (with the exception of Denison).

“At this point you have to bring the rogues in line,” said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones. Jones said that by his count — with Abilene, Potter County and its county seat Amarillo all issuing orders Monday — 87% of Texans are living in cities or counties with a shelter-in-place or stay-at-home order. Jones said the state has now reached the point where local officials governing the vast majority of Texans are in agreement that staying at home is the right thing to protect their constituents. The question before Abbott, he said, is “Why not go to the next level and adopt some baseline form of stay-at-home regulation instead of having a patchwork of similar but not identical regulations across the state?” Jones said a statewide order would also push counties like Comal and Collin, which he said have implemented “pretty light regulations,” to tighten their rules. Without a statewide order, Texas is also becoming day by day more of an outlier nationally. As of Monday, 30 of the 50 states had issued stay-in-place orders of some sort.

San Antonio Express-News - March 31, 2020

Pentagon blackout leaves San Antonio in the dark on JBSA’s coronavirus cases

Early Friday evening, Joint Base San Antonio’s coronavirus web page said 28 military personnel, dependents and retirees had tested positive for COVID-19. A little later that night, the number vanished from the page. It wasn’t a computer glitch. Citing national security, Defense Secretary Mark Esper had ordered military installations around the world to stop disclosing the number of novel coronavirus cases to the media and the public. Instead, the Pentagon and individual military services will release only the totals for the department and each branch.

Esper’s order eliminated a way for residents of communities including San Antonio, home to three major military installations, to know how many troops, families and civilians living or working on the bases, along with retirees using base hospitals, have tested positive for COVID-19 or fallen ill. “Cover-up is the worst damn thing you can do when you’re having (the) serious issue that we’re having today with COVID-19,” said.Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, who was surprised when told of the decision. “The bases are part of San Antonio, so understanding what they’re doing, and how many cases they have, is important to our whole community because they’re not isolated on that base. They come into the city, too, so I think it’s important to know that,” he added. Mayor Ron Nirenberg also took issue with Esper’s decision.

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - March 30, 2020

Hotze, pastors ask Texas Supreme Court to rule Harris County stay-at-home order unconstitutional

A hardline conservative power broker and three area pastors filed a petition with the Texas Supreme Court Monday arguing that Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s stay-at-home order violates the Constitution by ordering the closure of churches and failing to define gun shops as “essential” businesses. The emergency petition for a writ of mandamus, filed by anti-LGBTQ Republican activist Steven Hotze and pastors Juan Bustamante, George Garcia and David Valdez, contends Hidalgo’s order undercuts the First Amendment by limiting religious and worship services to video or teleconference calls. Pastors also may minister to congregants individually. Hotze and the pastors argue the order also “severely infringes” on Second Amendment rights by closing gun stores.

The order does not define gun shops as essential businesses, though Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an opinion Friday that stay-at-home orders cannot force gun stores to close or otherwise restrict sales or transfers. Hidalgo’s order, issued March 24, requires most businesses to close and directs residents to stay home unless they are getting groceries, running crucial errands, exercising or going to work at a business deemed essential. The directive is aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus, and it came a day after chief executives at the Texas Medical Center unanimously called for the county to implement a shelter-in-place order.

Houston Chronicle - March 30, 2020

Federal judge suspends Texas abortion ban during coronavirus shutdown

A federal judge on Monday blocked the state's emergency ban on abortions during the coronavirus outbreak. U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel said the ban violates a woman's right to choose as outlined in the 14th Amendment. He granted a temporary restraining order as abortion providers seek a permanent injunction. "Regarding a woman's right to a pre-fetal-viability abortion, the Supreme Court has spoken clearly," Yeakel wrote. "There can be no outright ban on such a procedure."

The decision was issued as abortion providers move to overturn parts of an emergency order from Gov. Greg Abbott postponing non-essential surgeries during the outbreak. Attorney General Ken Paxton, a fellow Republican, had threatened to criminally prosecute health care workers who provided abortions, which he deemed non-essential. Paxton said the measure would free up hospital beds and medical supplies as the state ramps up its response to the virus. Most abortions are not performed in hospitals, but officials said those in freestanding clinics and surgical centers still use protective gear now in high demand. “We are disappointed in the court’s decision,” a spokesman for Paxton said in a statement. “We’ll seek appellate review promptly.” The ruling is the first in a series of lawsuits that abortion providers and advocates have filed in states that have imposed similar temporary restrictions. Earlier on Monday, Planned Parenthood and others announced lawsuits in Ohio, Iowa, Alabama and Oklahoma.

Houston Chronicle - March 30, 2020

Houston Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher tests negative for COVID-19

U.S. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher said on Monday that a coronavirus test she took last week came back negative. Fletcher had been in self-quarantine awaiting coronavirus test results since Thursday after flu-like symptoms, including a 101-degree fever.

She said in a statement she tested positive for a different respiratory illness, but she is now on the mend. Fletcher was the latest House member to self-quarantine in recent days, and at least five representatives have tested positive for coronavirus so far.

Houston Chronicle - March 30, 2020

Texas prison inmates sue for hand sanitizer, social distancing enforcement

Two aging inmates are suing Texas prison officials, accusing staff of failing to protect them against the new coronavirus. The lawsuit says inmates in the Wallace Pack Unit, northwest of Houston, face a high risk of severe illness from exposure to the virus, which is quickly spreading across the state. Some of the lawyers representing the men are the same who sued the Department of Criminal Justice in recent years for subjecting them to sweltering temperatures without air conditioning. The Pack Unit houses prisoners over age 50 or who have pre-existing health conditions. The lawsuit claims agency officials selectively applied guidance from the Center for Disease Control on how to prevent the spread of the virus.

The suit alleges that the agency has not allowed the inmates access to hand sanitizer, though the CDC has recommended it and some inmates are producing it. It also claims the agency has not done enough to limit gatherings, reduce movement and educate inmates on symptoms, as recommended by health officials. "Despite the ticking time bomb that COVID-19 represents, (the agency) has failed to implement necessary or even adequate policies and practices at the Pack Unit," they wrote in the suit, filed Monday. "Plaintiffs have been denied proper and equal access to vital preventative measures to avoid the transmission of COVID-19, in violation of federal law and the United States Constitution."

Houston Chronicle - March 30, 2020

Richard Parker: Big government is back. Texas should embrace the possibilities it brings

Because of the federal and state governments’ lethargic and so-far failing response to the coronavirus crisis, I expect a long period of social distancing with economic impacts — easily three more months, but probably six and even a year. There will be a recession at least; a depression is possible. At best, the impact on the national economy will cost more than 11 million jobs — and 1 million jobs in Texas alone. This period of globalization, crucial to Texas, will come to an end with lasting political consequences, including this one: The era of Big Government is back. By way of context, 91 years ago this spring, just after Hemingway’s novel was published, Texans were happy and confident.

Their farms had expanded from cotton to irrigated citrus groves and vegetable fields. The oil patch boomed and drew an entirely new generation of Texans from far and wide. The population swelled 20 percent. And Texans considered their state big, strong and unique, even impervious, in the union. Even as the stock market crashed on Black Tuesday, Oct. 29, 1929, a false sense of isolation reigned across the Lone Star State. Politicians and newspapers alike engaged in happy talk. Even as the mayor of Houston dismissed hundreds of employees, the Houston Post-Dispatch proclaimed: “Houston is comparatively free of discontent due to economic conditions.” Then, banks collapsed. The price of cotton fell. Unemployment soared, along with foreclosures and layoffs. Strikes and crime followed. If that episode seems eerily familiar, it should: It is strikingly like this one. Two months before Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick went on Fox News to say grandparents should die for the sake of the economy, Gov. Greg Abbott went on Fox News himself to crow.

Dallas Morning News - March 31, 2020

Federal judge stops Dallas from enforcing ordinance that requires paid sick leave

Two days before Dallas’ penalties would begin and in the middle of a pandemic, a federal judge’s injunction has stopped the city from enforcing a new ordinance that requires private employers to offer paid sick leave. In an order filed Monday, U.S. District Judge Sean Jordan granted a preliminary injunction based on state law, which he said prevents cities from enacting their own paid sick leave ordinances. Therefore, the city’s requirements are unenforceable, he said.

“Whether or not paid sick leave requirements should be imposed by government on private employers is an important public policy issue, made even more significant under the challenging circumstances faced by our nation at this moment,” Jordan wrote. “The state of Texas, through its constitutional structure and statutory law, has committed that public policy decision to the Texas Legislature.” Activists say the injunction is a big blow for workers who lack paid sick leave at a time when it’s crucial for sick employees to go home. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research, using U.S. census data, estimated 300,000 workers don’t have access to paid sick leave in Dallas. Ana Gonzalez, policy director of the left-leaning Workers Defense Project advocacy group, said, “Now more than ever, workers need paid sick time.”

Dallas Morning News - March 30, 2020

Dallas mayor requires daily reports on hospital beds, ventilators; more details on Kay Bailey Hutchison pop-up hospital announced

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson on Monday made a third round of changes to the city’s emergency regulations to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Now, he’s asking for daily updates on hospital beds and ventilators. All hospitals in city limits must now report the total number of patient beds and ventilators both available and used by patients, the mayor’s office announced Monday evening in a news release. The city’s stay-at-home regulations have also been updated to reflect the county’s new changes, which include new rules to protect senior residents in long-term care facilities, safety measures for construction workers and a definition of “essential travel.”

The mayor’s new regulations also cancel all board and commission meetings until at least April 29, when the city’s emergency declaration is scheduled to expire. In the news release, city officials said the new reporting requirements will allow Dallas to better prepare for a possible surge in hospitalizations as coronavirus continues to spread. The mayor will hold a news conference at 10 a.m. on Tuesday. “The leaders of hospitals in Dallas have been critically important sounding boards for me in the last few weeks, and we rely heavily on our front-line healthcare workers, including our paramedics, our nurses, and our doctors," Johnson said in the release. “We need them more than ever to get through this, and we will do all we can to help them during these difficult times.” City officials have already required Dallas County, private and hospital labs to report the number of tests conducted for coronavirus. County officials before the requirement had dodged the question when asked by reporters and some council members. The state and federal government already require hospitals to report their bed capacity and number of ventilators. Tristan Hallman, the mayor’s spokesman, said Monday the city also wants the information and so far hasn’t been provided with it from the state. The office also plans to release those numbers to the public, he said.

Dallas Morning News - March 30, 2020

DPS: No checkpoints at Louisiana border to screen road travel during coronavirus

A day after Gov. Greg Abbott ordered travelers from Louisiana to self-quarantine for 14 days when entering Texas by road, the Department of Public Safety said there will be no checkpoints on the state’s eastern border to screen travelers from that state. “While the department will not discuss specifics related to its operational plans regarding enforcement, we can tell you that at this time, DPS will not be establishing checkpoints along the Texas/Louisiana border,” according to a written statement from the department. “However, the department will be increasing our patrols in these areas.”

Abbott’s order said a violation of the self-quarantine is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, up to 180 days in jail, or both. “It’s well-known, well-documented about the massive amount of COVID-19 not just in New Orleans but spreading out across the state of Louisiana,” Abbott said Sunday. The order is the same as an earlier order for air travelers from New Orleans and New York, which has been extended to air travelers from Miami, Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago and any site in California and Washington state. Exceptions to the order include commercial, military, health care providers, first responders and “critical infrastructure” workers.

Dallas Morning News - March 30, 2020

Community spread confirmed in El Paso as outbreak shakes Mexico town and AMLO hobnobs with drug lord’s mom

Community spread of coronavirus was confirmed here Monday as the number of positive cases rose to 40 and health experts vowed to take stricter measures to reduce its reach. The source of the virus is no longer limited to travelers returning from hot spots in Europe or elsewhere in the U.S. “For that reason, I am working with our community leaders to implement stricter orders that we are currently drafting and plan to implement very soon,” said Dr. Hector Ocaranza of the El Paso City/County Health Authority. “I will continue to repeat myself: As there is no cure for this virus at this time , we must all do our part by strictly practicing social distancing, stay at home as ordered and follow the CDC guidelines.”

The infected include a firefighter and a doctor at Las Palmas Medical Center, the first known case of a health care worker in El Paso. Combined with infections at Fort Bliss, there are at least 47 confirmed cases in El Paso County. The latest development in El Paso further fueled anxiety among border residents, whether here in El Paso or across in Ciudad Juarez, whose mayor, Armando Cabada, said the city is preparing for the inevitable spread of the disease. Meanwhile, cities along the border in the states of Nuevo Leon and Coahuila are among the hardest hit so far in Mexico. In Monclova, Coahuila, about 100 miles from the Texas border, a local public hospital - Hospital General de Zona 7 del IMSS - has become ground zero of the coronavirus outbreak after a trucker who is known to routinely travel between Monclova and the border checked himself.

Dallas Morning News - March 30, 2020

Hit by fever and flu-like symptoms after House vote on $2T stimulus, Rep. Ron Wright tests negative for COVID-19

Rep. Ron Wright of Arlington said Monday he developed a high fever the morning after traveling to Washington to vote on the $2 trillion stimulus package, but he has tested negative for COVID-19. The 66-year-old Republican, who announced last July that he has lung cancer, fell ill Saturday morning in Texas with “flu-like symptoms known to be associated with COVID-19.” Wright said he went to the emergency room for further testing, and was later diagnosed with pneumonia, but a COVID-19 test came back negative.

“I never would have thought I’d be happy to hear a positive pneumonia diagnosis,” he said. Wright was in Washington on Friday after a lone Kentucky Republican, Rep. Thomas Massie, forced lawmakers back to Capitol Hill for a vote on the stimulus. Massie refused to go along with a streamlined process allowing unanimous approval with only a handful present. Wright’s announcement of a negative COVID-19 test came shortly after Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., said she's been "diagnosed with presumed coronavirus infection” after she was on the House floor Friday for the vote. Democrats and Republicans alike blasted Massie for forcing members to travel to Washington. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, former chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, called Massie’s tactic “unconscionable” because it put House members at unnecessary risk.

Austin American-Statesman - March 30, 2020

Whole Foods workers call for strike to demand coronavirus protections

Employees at Whole Foods Market stores are planning a strike on Tuesday that calls on workers to engage in a mass sick-out. An online petition by Whole Worker’s National Organizing Committee says the action is necessary to draw attention to the risks workers face amid the coronavirus outbreak. “As this situation has progressed, our fundamental needs as workers have become more urgent,” the petition reads. “COVID-19 poses a very real threat to the safety of our workforce and our customers. We cannot wait for politicians, institutions, or our own management to step in to protect us,” the petition says.

Requests for comment by Whole Foods and Amazon, the online retail giant that owns the Austin-based grocery chain, were not immediately answered on Monday. According to the online post, the sick-out was initially planned to occur on May 1, but has been moved up so employees can take action sooner. Organizers said Whole Foods has temporarily relaxed its attendance policy, which they said means that team members can protest without fear of reprisal. The petition lists a number of demands, including guaranteed paid leave for all workers who isolate or self-quarantine, guaranteed hazard pay in the form of double pay during scheduled hours and implementation of new policies regarding social distancing between workers and customers. It also calls for the immediate shutdown of any location where a worker tests positive for COVID-19, with workers continuing to be paid until the store reopens.

Austin American-Statesman - March 30, 2020

Sports shutdown projected to cost Texas Tech $3.4 million

The cancellation of multiple sports events related to the coronavirus pandemic could wind up costing the Texas Tech athletic department about $3.4 million. That’s based on early projections and assuming the 2020 college football season is played as scheduled in front of normal crowds, said Jonathan Botros, a Tech senior associate athletic director and the department’s chief financial officer.

The $3.4 million is less than 4% of Tech’s annual outlay for sports, based on the current fiscal year budget of $93.6 million, but Botros said it’s a bigger blow than that might seem. “It may be small percentagewise, but I think it’s still substantial,” he said. “Our goal every single year, when we start with all the revenues that we receive, we try to plow all those back into the student-athlete experience and investing in the fan experience. “It’s not our mission, as with any other higher education institution, to maintain a large amount of reserves, or profits, if you will. And so for that reason it’s substantial, because we don’t have additional revenues to offset that amount. So we would have to start looking at expense budget cuts and/or using reserves to cover it.”

Austin American-Statesman - March 30, 2020

UT professor resigns after school says it finds pattern of sexual misconduct

after school officials said they determined he had committed a sustained pattern of verbal and physical sexual harassment towards students. Welcher, a longtime professor of composition, was slated to fully retire in May. The school learned of the allegations following a September article from the online magazine VAN, wherein one of Welcher’s former students accused the instructor of sending consistently lewd messages and forcibly kissing him.

Following the VAN article, UT said it received 11 additional written accounts from current or former students of similarly inappropriate behavior from Welcher. Following the allegations last fall, Welcher was removed from the campus and was prohibited from interacting with students. In early March, following the conclusion of the investigation, UT began the process of terminating Welcher, who then opted to resign on March 2. In an email, Welcher said the allegations range from exaggerated to fabricated, and said he was not given due process by the university during the investigation. “After six months of attempting to clear my name, I resigned from the half-time one-year contract with UT, because it had become evident that I was not going to receive anything remotely resembling due process,” he said. “My conscience is clear.”

San Antonio Express-News - March 30, 2020

Amid coronavirus pandemic, will retired nurses and new nursing grads offset shortage?

Local hospitals are struggling with a shortage of nurses as the number of COVID-19 patients multiplies in Bexar County. That isn’t part of the “new reality” brought on by the coronavirus. Hospitals, clinics and physician practices have had a hard time hiring enough nurses for at least the past two decades. But the strain could get much worse in the weeks ahead, as hospitals rotate nurses and send some into 14 days of quarantine to prevent the spread of the virus. Before the pandemic, state health officials estimated a shortage of nearly 16,000 registered nurses over the next decade.

Yet there’s help on the way. Hospitals are tapping retired RNs, school nurses and nursing instructors, as well as those who assist in elective surgeries. “We are getting calls from retired nurses who want to come back into the workforce and help,” said Cindy Zolnierek, CEO of the Texas Nurses Association. “I think we are going to see redeployments to help fill the gaps. “Now, will that be enough? I don’t know.” Kristen Lemus, chief nursing officer for six area hospitals in the Baptist Health System, said administrators have started to recruit retired nurses. The system, owned by Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare Corp., continues to hire nurses — in addition to its other recruitment efforts — and to pay nurses overtime when necessary to cover shifts. Other local hospitals aren’t ready to sound the alarm. Palmira Arellano, spokesperson for Methodist Healthcare System, said its nine area hospitals are “staffed appropriately right now.”

San Antonio Express-News - March 30, 2020

San Antonio Express-News Editorial: In her legacy, notes of what awaited Selena

She’s been gone longer than she was here. But in the 25 years since Selena Quintanilla’s death at the age of 23, her presence as a cultural and musical icon endures. For those unaware of her phenomenon, her significance and how deeply she was loved among Tejano music fans and the Mexican American community, it became quickly evident on March 31, 1995, that this was more than the premature passing of a popular entertainer. Hours after the Grammy Award-winning singer was shot in Corpus Christi by the president of her fan club, Selena’s music was flowing from vehicles backed up on Broadway and Mulberry Street as people headed to a candlelight vigil at Sunken Garden Theater.

Her boutique, a few blocks away on Broadway, immediate bloomed into a memorial of flowers, photos and messages. The outpouring of emotion in scenes like this was repeated across the country for weeks. In death, Selena became a revelation to people who’d never heard of her or Tejano music and knew little, if anything, about the Mexican American community. She made many Americans aware of the rich veins of culture throughout the country with which they were unfamiliar. Celebrated San Antonio singer Erica Gonzaba has been singing Selena’s songs since she was 10. “Selena’s music has transcended time. She’s legendary,” Gonzaba said. “The impact she’s had on generations of people, especially in the Latin community, is incomparable. She will always be an inspiration and an icon to so many people all over the world.”

Texas Standard - March 30, 2020

John Cornyn praises US COVID-19 response, remains critical of Chinese 'wet markets'

With Congress' passage last week of a $2 trillion aid package to address COVID-19, federal funds are expected to make their way to businesses and individuals who have been hard-hit by the pandemic. In Texas, efforts to contain the virus and treat those affected continue to expand, as the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 rose to 2,500. President Donald Trump has extended social-distancing guidelines through the end of April.

Texas Sen. John Cornyn announced an additional $237 million in federal funds for Texas emergency response efforts. He spoke on Monday with Texas Standard host David Brown. Cornyn says the money will go to first responders, and "to help hospital personnel, primarily." Part of the $2 trillion stimulus package signed by President Trump will provide money for individuals, as well as increased unemployment benefits. "A family of four making up to $150,000 could receive as much as $3.400," Cornyn says. "This is going to be distributed, hopefully, direct-deposited through the IRS." Cornyn says the package also aids small businesses. "We're trying to help them stay alive, so that when we defeat this virus, which we will, there will be jobs available to people on the back end," he says. Cornyn has been critical of China's response to COVID-19, telling Texas Standard that the United States shouldn't depend on China to supply medical equipment that is now in short supply. He praised the U.S. private sector and the federal government for their efforts to provide protective equipment to first responders and health care workers.

KXAN - March 30, 2020

What we know about the 46 deaths, 3,161 coronavirus patients in Texas

There are at least 3,161 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in Texas as of March 30, with 46 deaths reported statewide. The state’s first death was reported March 16 in Matagorda County. Others have since been reported in Bell, Bexar, Brazoria, Brazos, Collin, Comal, Denton, Fort Bend, Hardin, Harris, Johnson, Lubbock, Midland, Oldham, Smith, Tarrant, Travis, Van Zandt, Webb and Williamson Counties.

Travis County reported its first death on March 27. Williamson County reported its first death on March 28. There are now 290 confirmed coronavirus cases in Central Texas, including 206 in Travis County. The cases in the state include confirmed cases and presumptive positive cases, which means a patient has tested positive for the virus at a local public health laboratory, but those results are pending CDC confirmation.

KVUE - March 30, 2020

Coronavirus: Restaurants hoping for change in Gov. Abbott's waiver on alcohol delivery and carryout

By now, you know if you go to a restaurant during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, you can most likely get delivery or take-out if the restaurant is open. But if you're in the mood for a margarita or another cocktail to-go, don't expect to get just a singular glass of that drink. On March 18, Gov. Greg Abbott issued a waiver allowing restaurants with a mixed beverage permit to deliver alcoholic beverages with food. According to a press release from the governor's office, that includes beer, wine and mixed drinks.

The waiver was in response to impacts from COVID-19 which prompted cities, and eventually the state, to close all restaurant dining rooms and bars. On March 19, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) put out an industry notice explaining how the rules work. Under the section "Restrictions on What May Be Picked-Up or Delivered," eligible restaurants may allow pick-up or deliver any number of beers, ales, wines and/or distilled spirits to their customers only when it's accompanied by a food order prepared at the business, alcohol is delivered in the original container sealed by the manufacturer of the beverage and all distilled spirits are delivered in a manufacturer-sealed container that is 375 milliliters or less.

San Antonio Express-News - March 30, 2020

'Tiger King' rival Carole Baskin was born in San Antonio

The Netflix docuseries "Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness" has become a popular distraction for millions nationwide as many are forced to stay home during the cornoavirus pandemic, and there is a local tie. One of the show's subjects Carole Baskin was born in San Antonio. Baskin, who has a big social media following for her "cool cats and kittens," is an animal rights activist and the founder of Big Cat Rescue, an animal sanctuary in Florida.

The show centers on her feud with Joseph Schreibvogel Maldonado-Passage, also known as Joe Exotic, who used to own a private zoo of exotic animals in Wynnewood, Oklahoma as well as others around the country. Being an animal rights activist, Baskin didn't agree with Joe Exotic's practices. The years-long battle between the two started with online jabs and escalated to lawsuits and violence, which are detailed in the wild, seven-episode series. Long before Baskin was the center of failed murder-for-hire plots and memes, she spent time in San Antonio as a little girl. Her popular Facebook page lists San Antonio as her birthplace. She noted June 5, 1961, her birth date, as the day she spoke her first word.

County Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - March 30, 2020

Collin County confirms 26 new coronavirus cases, including nine more in Plano

Collin County confirmed 26 new coronavirus cases Monday, including nine in Plano, seven in McKinney and four in Frisco. The county now has 160 cases with at least 47 patients fully recovered and one death in Plano, which leads the county with 53 confirmed cases.

The new patients on Monday range between a 22-year-old Plano man to an 82-year-old Dallas man, including five people in their 20s, three in their 30s, six in their 40s, four in their 50s, six in their 60s, one in their 70s and one in their 80s.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - March 31, 2020

’The million dollar question’: What makes a business essential in Tarrant County?

While restaurants and boutique shops sit dark, life goes in many of Fort Worth’s workplaces as companies and officials grapple with what being “essential” in the age of the novel coronavirus means. Like most of America, Tarrant County and the city has closed non-essential businesses in attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Last week Fort Worth and Tarrant County ordered residents to stay home unless traveling for essential business.

Tarrant County confirmed 16 new coronavirus cases Monday, bringing the total number to 155. As many as 238 cases may exist in Tarrant County, which had the sixth-highest number of cases in the state. What makes a business essential is “the million dollar question,” said Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley. Dozens of people have inquired with the Star-Telegram through a Google Form about whether their company should remain open. Whitley said his staff is fielding questions about particular businesses daily. Through March 29, the city of Fort Worth’s special COVID-19 hotline, 817-392-8478, has received nearly 3,000 calls. The city and county regulations are enforceable through a $1,000 fine and up to 180 days in jail, but Whitley has said law and code enforcement officers are focused on education, not ticketing.

City Stories

Houston Chronicle - March 30, 2020

Fined by police for staying open, Fatty’s argues CBD oil is essential health care

The police went into Fatty’s Smoke Shop in Beverly Hills, a small city surrounded by Waco, last Wednesday about 10 a.m., owner Jesse Singh recalled. His business, they informed him, is not considered essential under McLennan County’s emergency order, issued the previous day as part of the government’s increasingly restrictive efforts to slow COVID-19, the viral disease racing across the country. “They also told my customers they were illegally out of the house because this wasn’t an essential business,” he said.

Singh balked, noting the county’s emergency order permitted “health care operations” to remain open, and that his shop sold CBD oil, among other products, which many people use to treat a variety of ailments. “My parents use it for arthritis,” he said. The officers left, but returned later that evening, writing Singh a ticket for “violation of the emergency plan” — a fine of up to a $1,000 per day. He remained closed Thursday, but the store was back and open for business on Friday and Saturday, with strict social distancing measures and an official letter of complaint from his lawyer to the county firmly in place. On Sunday the police returned, this time threatening the clerk with a personal $1,000 fine, Singh said. The shop closed around 11 a.m.

Houston Chronicle - March 30, 2020

Former West University Place mayor Burt Ballanfant dies of COVID-19 complications

Burt Ballanfant, a former West University Place mayor, Metro board member and attorney with deep roots to Houston that family credited for driving his commitment for constituents, died Sunday in Sugar Land. He was 72 and died of complications from COVID-19. His death marked the second fatality in Fort Bend County related to the novel coronavirus, coming after a two-year illness. Ballanfant led West U. from 2000 to mid-2007, with prior terms on the city council. He resigned weeks early from his final term to accept a spot on the Metropolitan Transit Authority board, where he served from 2007 to 2015.

Though committed to politics in West U, Ballanfant’s interests in the region far exceeded the city limits, ranging from the region’s history to development and land use planning. “He was really vested in the overall development of Houston and things that would benefit all,” Ballanfant’s daughter, Amy Ballanfant, said Monday. Ballanfant was a supporter of local beautification efforts at parks, historic preservation, better dialogue among elected officials and expanded transit. A lawyer for Shell Oil, Ballanfant rode the bus to and from work in downtown Houston during his career, including sometimes to Metro meetings.

Midland Reporter-Telegraph - March 31, 2020

FBI lists stabbing at Sam’s as hate crime

ABC News is reporting that an FBI analysis states that the stabbing at Sam’s Club in Midland on March 14 is being listed as a hate crime. The analysis, according to the ABC News report, states “there has already been a surge in reports of hate crimes and lists a series of incidents from Los Angeles to New York to Texas.”

The ABC News report then states that “The document detailed a March 14 incident in Midland, Texas, in which ‘three Asian American family members, including a 2-year-old and 6-year-old, were stabbed. … The suspect indicated that he stabbed the family because he thought the family was Chinese, and infecting people with the coronavirus.’" On March 17, a Reporter-Telegram article on mrt.com stated that Jose L. Gomez III, 19, was charged with three counts of attempted capital murder, with a $300,000 bond for each count, and one count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, that has a $100,000 bond.

National Stories

AFP - March 30, 2020

Gannett plans furloughs, pay cuts as media's virus woes mount

Gannett, the largest US newspaper publisher, said Monday it was making unspecified furloughs and pay cuts for its staff in the latest sign of media turmoil from the coronavirus pandemic. A memo from Gannett chief executive Paul Bascobert said he would forgo his salary and the executive team would take a 25 percent pay cut as part of the belt-tightening at the group which includes the daily USA Today. "Our plan is to minimize long-term damage to the business by implementing a combination of furloughs and pay reductions," Bascobert said in the memo seen by AFP.

"By choosing a collective sacrifice, we can keep our staff intact, reduce our cost structure, deliver for our readers and clients and be ready to emerge strong and with opportunity to grow when this crisis passes." Contacted by AFP, the company declined to offer specifics on the cuts. But The Florida Times-Union, one of the dailies in the group, said a separate staff memo indicated reporters and editors who earn more than $38,000 annually will be scheduled to take an unpaid week off on a rotating basis.

McClatchy - March 31, 2020

Andrew Malcolm: Joe Biden is blowing this campaign in more ways than one

Joe Biden is in a pickle, a serious one. He’s the presumptive presidential nominee of the Democratic Party. But Bernie Sanders, his lone remaining primary opponent, won’t quit. All presidential candidates are pretty much confined to working from home in this stage of a truly historic, disrupted national campaign. Joe’s in his Delaware house. Bernie’s in one of his New England homes.

Alas for them, Donald Trump is at home too — in the White House where throngs of reporters gather daily for temperature-screenings before transmitting the president’s face and varied messages to millions of Americans desperate for coronavirus updates. So far, 2020 is an updated throwback to the last front-porch presidential campaign exactly 100 years ago. Warren Harding stayed in his Mentor, Ohio, home, letting crowds make a political pilgrimage to him by the thousands all summer and fall. Campaigns were three months then, not three years. Emphasizing his small-town theme, Harding addressed them from a welcoming front porch, which modern American homes don’t have anymore because of air conditioning. The 1920 cycle produced the largest landslide yet. He and Calvin Coolidge demolished the Democratic ticket of James Cox and someone named Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

New York Times - March 27, 2020

How the pandemic is magnifying America's class divide

For about $80,000, an individual can purchase a six-month plan with Private Health Management, which helps people with serious medical issues navigate the health care system. Such a plan proved to be a literal lifesaver as the coronavirus pandemic descended. The firm has helped clients arrange tests in Los Angeles for the coronavirus and obtained oxygen concentrators for high-risk patients. “We know the top lab people and the doctors and nurses and can make the process efficient,” said Leslie Michelson, the firm’s executive chairman. In some respects, the pandemic is an equalizer: It can afflict princes and paupers alike, and no one who hopes to stay healthy is exempt from the strictures of social distancing. But the American response to the virus is laying bare class divides that are often camouflaged — in access to health care, child care, education, living space, even internet bandwidth.

In New York, well-off city dwellers have abandoned cramped apartments for spacious second homes. In Texas, the rich are shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars to build safe rooms and bunkers. And across the country, there is a creeping consciousness that despite talk of national unity, not everyone is equal in times of emergency. “This is a white-collar quarantine,” said Howard Barbanel, a Miami-based entrepreneur who owns a wine company. “Average working people are bagging and delivering goods, driving trucks, working for local government.” Some of those catering to the well-off stress that they are trying to be good citizens. Michelson emphasized that he had obtained coronavirus tests only for patients who met guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rather than the so-called worried well. Still, a kind of pandemic caste system is rapidly developing: the rich holed up in vacation properties; the middle class marooned at home with restless children; the working class on the front lines of the economy, stretched to the limit by the demands of work and parenting, if there is even work to be had. “I do get that there are haves and have-nots,” said Carolyn Richmond, a Manhattan employment lawyer who is advising restaurant industry clients from her second home, on Long Island, as they engineer layoffs. “Do I feel guilty? No. But I do know that I am very lucky. I understand there’s a big difference between me and the people I work with every day.”

Politifact - March 30, 2020

Fact-check: Did Biden call Trump ‘xenophobic’ for China travel restrictions?

Amid criticism of his administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, President Donald Trump routinely flags one action as efficient and bold: restricting travel from China into the United States. Trump has said he instituted a travel ban against everyone’s wishes and that “nobody,” not even doctors, wanted him to restrict travel. But “probably tens of thousands” of people would be dead now if he hadn’t done so, he claimed on Fox News March 24. At the same time, he’s claimed that former Vice President Joe Biden, a contender for the Democratic nomination for president, called him racist and xenophobic for restricting entry from China.

“I had Biden calling me xenophobic,” Trump said on Sean Hannity’s Fox News prime-time show March 26. “He called me a racist, because of the fact that he felt it was a racist thing to stop people from China coming in.” Trump has said that about Biden at least three other times — on Twitter, at a White House briefing, and during the Fox News town hall. But Biden has not directly said that the travel restriction was xenophobic. He has used that phrase in reference to Trump and his handling of the coronavirus outbreak. Biden’s campaign told PolitiFact that Biden’s tweets were not specific to the restrictions on people coming from China. The White House press office said Trump’s claim is supported by a tweet Biden posted Feb. 1, the day after the Trump administration announced travel restrictions on people who were in China 14 days prior to their attempted entry into the United States. Biden tweeted: “We are in the midst of a crisis with the coronavirus. We need to lead the way with science — not Donald Trump’s record of hysteria, xenophobia, and fear-mongering. He is the worst possible person to lead our country through a global health emergency.”

Houston Chronicle - March 30, 2020

FDA blocks at-home COVID-19 test kits because it thinks people won't use them correctly

Several companies say they have developed COVID-19 tests that people can use at home, but the Food and Drug Administration is blocking them from the market over concerns that they won’t be administered accurately. At least four companies, including Everlywell of Austin, recently said they would sell at-home testing kits that use virtual doctor visits and online screening quizzes to determine test eligibility. But just days later, the FDA issued guidance barring the distribution of test kits to consumers.

Although the testing technology was approved under federal emergency use authorization, the kits can only be used in clinical settings such as hospitals and medical practices. Last week, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, the former chief medical officer of the MD Anderson Cancer Center, reiterated that the agency “is not aware of any validated test” that can do home testing. Until the tests are validated, they run the risks of providing false negatives, leading people carrying the virus to continue going outside, or false positives, which could cause a surge of people to seek treatment in an already overwhelmed health care system, said Dr. Karl Hess, a professor at Chapman University’s School of Pharmacy in Orange, Calif. Such a surge, he said, would “divert care away from those who are truly in need.”