Racing for a Remedy Profile of a Killer

This 2020 electron microscope image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories shows SARS-CoV-2 virus particles which causes COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab. Coronaviruses, including the newest one, are named for the spikes that cover their outer surface like a crown, or corona in Latin. Using those club-shaped spikes, the virus latches on to the outer wall of a human cell, invades it and replicates, creating viruses to hijack more cells. (NIAID-RML via AP)

Kerr County’s coronavirus death toll climbed to six with deaths reported on Wednesday and Thursday as COVID-19 continued to bear down on the state of Texas.

On Friday, Peterson Health reported seven new cases of the virus, but on Thursday they were also able to report some good news. One of four patients who were in Peterson Regional Medical Center’s intensive care unit was moved out of the unit and into an isolated general care area after their condition improved. Another patient was also discharged from the hospital.  

There is little information about any of the four deaths that were reported this week by the Texas Department of Health Services. One death, which was recorded on July 12, is believed to be a man in his 70s.

Overall, Kerr County now has approximately 56 active cases, with 321 recoveries from the virus. 

Kerr County Emergency Management Coordinator Dub Thomas said that a review of the county’s demographics shows that the virus has infected those 20-49 years of age the most. In fact, it’s 49.5% of Kerr County’s cases. 

“It doesn’t just affect the elderly, as was initially thought. It also afflicts the young and middle ages, too,” Thomas said. “Every age bracket is at risk, so we urge everyone to continue practicing safety measures. Please, wash your hands often, wear face masks, social distance at least 6 feet from the next person and, if at all possible, please stay at home. Don’t take unnecessary risks of exposure. Together, we’ll get through all this.”

In a review of data provided by the state of infections at long term care centers, The Kerrville Daily Times found that Hilltop Village has had three employees and three residents test positive for the virus, and Brookdale Guadalupe Plaza have had two employees and a resident test positive. There are currently no active cases in Kerr County’s five nursing homes.

Two employees and two residents tested positive for the virus at the Villagio Senior Living Center — the only assisted living home in the county to have cases. 

Across the state, the DSHS struggled to accurately account for the number of deaths it was reporting and retracted more than 200 deaths due to what it called an “automation error,” and that COVID-19 wasn’t the direct cause of death in those cases. Even then the virus’ death toll  hasn’t slowed in the state. On Thursday, 322 people reportedly died and another 295 on Friday. 

When it comes to opening schools, the state’s top teachers group criticized state guidelines for starting the school year Friday, saying they would unfairly punish districts that choose to stick with online instruction amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The comments from the Texas State Teachers Association come after Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the state’s other Republican leaders on Friday endorsed the guidelines from Attorney General Ken Paxton and the Texas Education Agency.

But Abbott, who issued the statement with top education officials, said school districts could apply for waivers to keep their buildings closed beyond the state's eight-week maximum if they believe they need one. The Texas Education Agency will review those requests on a "case-by-case basis," according to the statement.

"Local health authorities play an important role in school closure determinations during the course of a school year if it is determined that a contamination has occurred necessitating closure, but local health authorities do not have the power to issue preemptive, blanket closures of schools weeks or months in advance of when a school may open its doors to students," the statement reads. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, state Rep. Dan Huberty, who chairs the House education committee, and state Sen. Larry Taylor, who chairs the Senate education committee, also signed onto the statement.

The Texas Education Agency guidelines limit school districts to four weeks of exclusively online instruction unless a district gets a waiver from the agency. School districts would decide when and how to start their school year, but the state would set the number of days and hours of instruction required.

Health officials are relegated to a purely advisory role unless a school is found to be contaminated by the coronavirus, in which case a health authority may close the school for disinfection.

“With a pandemic still raging across Texas, the Texas State Teachers Association demands that the state prohibit any school district from beginning classes, in-person or remotely, before Sept. 8," said association President Ovidia Molina. “After that date, districts should be allowed to reopen buildings to in-person instruction only after consultation with local health authorities, teachers, other school employees and parents and with strict safety standards enforced. Districts that choose to provide only online instruction must not be penalized with a loss of state funding.”

“If they really want to put the health and safety of students and educators first, this is what the governor and TEA will do, not impose artificial limits on online learning and financial penalties on districts,” Molina added.

(The Texas Tribune and The Associated Press contributed to this report) 

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