UPDATE: 4:45 p.m. June 24: The city and local hospital this afternoon reported 10 new infections, bringing the local total to 69.
Fifty-nine Kerr County residents were among the 120,370 coronavirus infections reported in Texas since the start of the pandemic, according to information released from the city, county and local hospital.
Active COVID-19 cases totaled 38 locally, according to a city press release posted on Facebook. According to a county press release issued Wednesday, infections have increased 74 percent in the last four days. Twenty locals have recovered since the pandemic began and one died.
One person — not a local resident — was hospitalized at Peterson Regional Medical Center with an infection as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the hospital. This hospitalization is not being counted toward the local coronavirus case total, said Pam Burton, Peterson Health infection preventionist.
Statewide active COVID-19 cases totaled approximately 47,436, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services, and 242 Texas counties had reported coronavirus infections. At least 2,220 people had died from the disease in Texas and 1,805,642 had been tested. An estimated 70,714 people had recovered from the disease in Texas.
Nationwide, 647,548 people have recovered from the disease, 2,347,598 have been infected and 121,232 have died since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins University. In the U.S., 28,065,065 had been tested for the virus.
Worldwide, at least 9,289,255 had been infected since the pandemic began, 478,160 had died, and 4,657,165 had recovered, according to the university.
Top 10 Texas counties for confirmed infections since pandemic started
Texas’ biggest public universities will require masks this fall. Enforcement will be a challenge.
Determined to see students return to college in the fall, some of Texas' biggest universities are requiring face masks as a safeguard against the coronavirus. But enforcing those policies could prove difficult for institutions with tens of thousands of students and sprawling campuses.
Texas A&M University, the University of Texas at Austin and Texas State University officials have all announced that masks will be non-negotiable next semester. Each campus will require masks in buildings other than private offices or rooms and will encourage masks outdoors when social distancing is difficult.
Public health experts, following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have long advised that wearing face masks is the best way to prevent transmission when social distancing isn’t feasible. But mask policies have roused naysayers across Texas, who argue that enforcement in the form of fines or jail time is a violation of their rights.
State leaders, originally loath to publicly endorse mask policies, have recently been urging mask use as case counts and hospitalizations continue to hit record highs. Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott said local officials could require businesses to mandate masks after he previously banned local governments from requiring individuals to wear them.
But along with anti-mask sentiment, state officials are worried that young Texans are accelerating the spread of COVID-19. They point to counties that have seen surges in case counts among people ages 20 to 29. In Hays County, home of Texas State, people in their 20s accounted for 50.7% of all the cases last week.
In Austin, which has a sizable university population, 27% of all cases in the city have been among people ages 20-29 — the largest of any age demographic, according to Austin Public Health data.
Now, as universities anticipate housing tens of thousands of students — many of them in their 20s — they are also following the state’s lead in relying on cooperation with wearing masks to ensure safety. When it comes to mask enforcement, campus leaders say they are primarily hoping students and faculty do the right thing, though they have stronger tools in their arsenal if needed.
At A&M, officials are largely relying on social pressure and public disapproval of people without masks, said Chief Compliance Officer Kevin McGinniss. As a last resort, students can opt out of group activities where masks are not self-enforced, and a professor might choose not to attend a class if people are ignoring the guidance, McGinniss said.
But A&M campus police will not be called on to mediate mask disputes, McGinniss said.
If a situation gets unruly or too many people begin to forgo masks, “we will reevaluate how we enforce,” McGinniss said. “But it’s not like our police are going to go around and arrest people for not cooperating.”
Those who repeatedly refuse to wear masks, however, will be subject to either the employee or student disciplinary process — “up to and including dismissal,” McGinnis said, though he said he’s hoping it will never come to that.
At Texas State, noncompliance with face covering requirements will also be handled through existing employee discipline, faculty discipline and student judicial processes, according to a campus COVID-19 website.
“We understand some people may disapprove of wearing a mask,” the website reads. “Requiring students to wear face covering in a campus building, when social distancing is not possible, is a narrowly tailored and minimally intrusive mechanism, which is justified by the significance of the university’s interest in helping to stop the spread of a highly contagious and deadly virus.”
While UT-Austin officials denied repeated requests for interviews on how they would enforce their mandatory mask policies, Art Markman, head of the university’s fall planning committee, said in an interview with The Daily Texan that the campus police department would get involved if someone refused to wear a mask inside a campus building. In an email to the Tribune, Markman said all final policy details will be released June 30.
Gov. Greg Abbott recommends Texans stay home as coronavirus cases surge
With cases of the coronavirus surging to record levels in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott recommended Tuesday that Texans stay home as much as possible and for the first time moved to allow the tightening of two kinds of restrictions that had been eased under his reopening plan.
"We want to make sure that everyone reinforces the best safe practices of wearing a mask, hand sanitization, maintaining safe distance, but importantly, because the spread is so rampant right now, there’s never a reason for you to have to leave your home," Abbott said during an early-afternoon interview with KBTX-TV in Bryan. "Unless you do need to go out, the safest place for you is at your home."
Within hours, Abbott made two announcements to alter the reopening process. He scaled back a previous statewide order and gave local officials the ability to place restrictions on outdoor gatherings of over 100 people, a threshold he originally set at 500 people. And Abbott said the state would enact mandatory health standards for child care centers after prior rules became voluntary earlier this month.
The moves came a day after Abbott said at a news conference that the coronavirus was spreading at an "unacceptable rate" but did not offer any new policies to stem the virus' spread. Instead, he reiterated long-established guidelines such as social distancing and pointed out that the state was increasingly cracking down on businesses that allow large crowds. At the news conference, Abbott also encouraged Texans to stay home, albeit in less explicit terms than he did in the KBTX interview.
The Monday news conference marked a newly urgent tone by Abbott, which he continued into Tuesday. During TV interviews in the noon hour, he made the somewhat unusual move of getting ahead of the state's daily announcement of new coronavirus cases, bracing audiences for a new record high exceeding 5,000 — a big increase over the last peak of 4,430 on Saturday.
Before sharing the new record figure with KBTX, Abbott said he was trying to "make sure people around the state really comprehend the magnitude of the challenge we’re dealing with."
By the end of the afternoon, the state Department of State Health Services had reported the precise number: 5,489 new cases.
At the same time, two metrics that Abbott has prioritized — hospitalization levels and positivity rate — continued to trend in the wrong direction. Hospitalizations reached 4,092, marking the 12th straight day of a new peak. The positivity rate — or the ratio of cases to tests, presented by the state as a seven-day average — reached 9.76%, back to the level it was at in mid-April.
Texas was one of the earliest — and fastest —states to reopen, and Abbott said Monday that "closing down Texas again will always be the last option." But at the same time, he did not rule out moving to unwind the reopening process if the numbers continue to raise alarms.
Prior to his announcement on outdoor gatherings and child care centers, Abbott told KBTX that there could be "additional announcements that may be coming later today and later tomorrow, as well as during the course of the week."
In a potential sign of the rapidly evolving situation Tuesday, state education officials delayed an anticipated announcement on final health guidelines for the return of in-person public school classes this fall.
In addition to holding periodic news conferences, Abbott has spent much of the pandemic conducting multiple interviews a day with local TV outlets to give the latest on the state's coronavirus response. Apparently for the first time Tuesday, though, he got some assistance from John Zerwas, the physician and former state representative who serves on Abbott's coronavirus task force. Zerwas was scheduled to make appearances on TV broadcasts in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.
During at least one of the interviews Tuesday, Abbott faced questioning over the apparent mixed messaging of pressing forward with the state's reopening while asking Texans to remain at home. Abbott defended the state's continued reopening.
"Remember this, and that is there are some countries in the world that have hardly any cases at all," Abbott told KRIV-TV in Houston. "Taiwan is an example where people are very efficient at wearing face masks but yet able go to work. And so what we have found is we do have the ability to have people to return to work as long as the safe practices are used."
Abbott has been criticized in recent days for continuing to urge Texans to wear face masks in public while prohibiting local officials from fining people who don't wear them. Abbott has allowed local leaders to mandate that businesses require customers to wear masks.
The Texas Democratic Party criticized how Abbott has handled the pandemic and his reopening plan, saying Tuesday that the governor "prematurely" lifted safety precautions and ignored health data.
"Finally, he refused to mandate common-sense mask strategies and still refuses to give any concrete policy prescriptions for the rising coronavirus cases in the state," the party said in a statement.
Texas to impose new safety rules for child care centers due to increase in coronavirus cases
Gov. Greg Abbott directed a state health agency Tuesday to enact new safety standards for child care centers during the coronavirus — more than a week after prior rules for the centers were made optional.
His order, which comes as new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations surge in the state, doesn’t immediately make clear what the standards will be. A spokesperson for the governor told The Texas Tribune that the state health commission will be releasing the guidelines Wednesday. A spokesperson for the Health and Human Services Commission said Tuesday evening that the emergency rules are still in development.
Abbott also gave local officials the green light Tuesday to impose more restrictions on public gatherings of more than 100 people. Previously, local officials could only regulate outdoor gatherings of more than 500 people.
“These are just some of the steps Texas will take to contain the rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations,” Abbott said in a statement. “Today’s proclamation and emergency rules will aid in that effort in two key ways: allowing restrictions on large gatherings where COVID-19 is easily spread and implementing a statewide standard of infection control for child care centers.”
Abbott said that both actions are based on data showing an increase in coronavirus cases stemming from both large gatherings and child care centers. The state reported 576 positive cases of the coronavirus — 382 staff members and 194 children — in child care facilities as of Tuesday. That’s up from 59 cases in mid-May.
As of mid-June, state-licensed child care centers were no longer required to comply with a list of safety precautions that had been in effect since mid-April. That meant centers could decide for themselves if they wanted to check staff temperatures, require parents to drop off their children outside or stop serving family-style meals, according to a previous notice from the state Health and Human Services Commission.
“Before today, they were recommendations. As of today, they are now requirements,” Abbott said during a Tuesday evening interview with KTVT-TV in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
The decision brought praise from advocates for children, some of whom had called for stricter standards in recent days.
“Depending on what these new rules require, Texas leaders will need to ensure that new standards are coupled with new supports,” said David Feigen, policy associate for Texans Care for Children. “We are eager to work with the Governor to develop a Texas plan to ensure child care providers can provide safe and quality care without increasing costs to Texas families.“
Earlier Tuesday, Texas reported over 5,000 new coronavirus cases — another record high. Throughout the week, the governor has struck a newly urgent tone about the rise in COVID-19 cases in the state, and he said at a press conference on Monday that the virus is “now spreading at an unacceptable rate in Texas.”
Abbott allowed the state’s stay-at-home order expire May 1 and since then has allowed most businesses in the state to at least partially reopen. Local officials have said that recent growth trends have been alarming. But as cases continue to climb, the governor has touted Texas’ hospital capacity as plentiful. Abbott said Monday that closing down the state again will “always be the last option.”
But in a TV interview with KBTX in Bryan, Abbott hinted that he could announce new restrictions or guidelines this week. He also urged Texans to “comprehend the magnitude of the challenge we are dealing with.”
“First, we want to make sure that everyone reinforces the best safe practices of wearing a mask, hand sanitization, maintaining safe distance, but importantly, because the spread is so rampant right now, there’s never a reason for you to have to leave your home. Unless you do need to go out, the safest place for you is at your home,” he said.
Texas medical centers have tracked a surge in hospitalizations two weeks after holiday weekends like Easter and Memorial Day. Now, some researchers say they’re concerned about the upcoming July 4 holiday.
Heading into the holiday weekend, Abbott again reiterated a need for personal responsibility and encouraged Texans to wear masks, wash their hands often and practice social distancing.
“As we face this challenge, there is no substitute for personal responsibility,” he said.
Texas delays health guidelines for reopening schools this fall. Draft documents show few mandatory safety measures.
Texas public schools will be required to provide in-person instruction for students this fall, but state education officials have delayed releasing final public health guidelines for keeping them safe on campuses during the pandemic.
"We are unable to give final guidance today on on-campus instruction. We are actively monitoring the situation, and we will try to get out final information as quickly as possible," Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said during a Tuesday briefing of school superintendents who had been expecting him to outline the agency's reopening guidelines.
A draft document found on the Texas Education Agency's website Tuesday showed agency officials are envisioning a largely hands-off approach to helping school districts bring students back to campus this fall, imposing few mandatory safety precautions but recommending that staff and students wear masks, sanitize their hands regularly and stay 6 feet away from one another.
The light-handed oversight role parallels the state's overall approach to the coronavirus pandemic under Gov. Greg Abbott, with local officials, parents and students expected to devise their own strategies for protecting their health.
"These are draft documents. They were posted in the staging portion of the TEA website by mistake as part of an internal document review," the agency said in a statement. "As we continue to closely monitor the public health situation, we are, in fact, still soliciting feedback on this guidance. No final decisions have yet been made. Additional guidance will be provided soon.”
Local school officials have been waiting on state guidance so they can begin making decisions as they plan for the start of a new school year. "I understand the pause in releasing those guidelines considering what's going on with what seems to be a resurgence, particularly in our large, urban areas," HD Chambers, superintendent of Alief Independent School District, told the Texas Tribune. "At some point, we gotta know because we have to make decisions."
And state Democrats have excoriated Abbott for deciding to reopen schools amid rises in COVID-19 cases. "The decision to reopen comes despite severe concerns from students, teachers, and parents that returning to school may not be safe in the fall," a working group of state House Democrats said in a statement Tuesday. "The announcements also coincide with an outbreak of COVID-19 that has led to nearly two weeks of record hospitalizations and rising cases that even Gov. Abbott decreed 'unacceptable.'"
Education officials did release final guidelines Tuesday afternoon saying that after campuses reopen, they will count students taking virtual classes in the attendance figures used to determine state funding. Districts can choose to provide live virtual instruction or instruction that is not delivered in real time, including prerecorded video lessons or paper assignments. The state will not penalize school districts for major decreases in student attendance for the first 12 weeks of the year.
State funding is typically based on classroom attendance, and many districts feared they might see dramatic drops in state money with parents saying they will not feel comfortable sending their children to school in person, especially as cases continue to rise in Texas.
Reopening schools is a large part of Abbott's plan to jumpstart the economy, as Texans returning to their workplaces seek safe places to leave their children. But since Abbott first allowed businesses to reopen, the numbers of new cases and Texans hospitalized have reached record heights.
Abbott has urged Texans to wear masks and practice social distancing but has declined to issue a statewide requirement or shut down businesses again. He told lawmakers last week that masks and testing would not be required in schools in the fall.
Many of the public health guidelines in the TEA's draft document are suggestions and not mandates for how school districts can keep communities safe during the coronavirus pandemic. According to the draft, Texas will require school districts to publicly post summaries of their plans to prevent the spread of COVID-19, based on the guidance, though the plans are not subject to government approval. And school districts are required to separate students who show COVID-19 symptoms at school until they can be picked up by a guardian, and clean the areas used by anyone potentially infected.
According to the draft guidance, school districts should require staff and students to "self-screen" for COVID-19 symptoms, including taking their own temperatures, before going to school each day. And school leaders should ask students at the beginning of each week whether they have symptoms of COVID-19 or have had close contact with someone who tested positive.
"Regularly performing a forehead temperature check of otherwise asymptomatic students in school is not recommended, but the practice is also not prohibited by this guidance," the draft document states.
Some school districts, especially larger ones in urban and suburban Texas, have already decided to offer hybrid programs, teaching some students in person and some remotely.
Texas will continue to fund school districts serving students remotely. School districts providing live virtual instruction to students must track how many students are engaged each day and will not receive funding for students who do not participate remotely.
Those that choose to offer remote instruction through worksheets and prerecorded videos must first get state approval of their instructional plans, due on a rolling basis starting July 15. They must track students' daily progress through their interactions with their teachers or completion of assignments. Districts can also choose to offer a combination of both types of remote instruction in order to meet more students' needs. They must keep the grading policies for students learning remotely the same as those for students learning on campus.
This year, school districts scrambled to get computers and Wi-Fi hotspots out to the students who needed them most and lost track of thousands of students, including the most vulnerable. Texas required districts to sign a form saying they were providing remote instruction in order to continue receiving funding — much less stringent than the plan in the finalized guidance.
Texas is working to help school districts provide more technology for students who don't have it at home, Morath said Tuesday.
Texas universities are shelving SAT and ACT requirements as coronavirus scrambles admissions process
High school students with dreams of attending college would typically be gearing up to take standardized admissions tests this time of year. But that’s not happening.
The new coronavirus pandemic has thrown the regular cycle of SAT and ACT exams into question. Test days have been canceled, test sites temporarily shuttered and concerns raised about ensuring that all students have equal access when tests are administered.
In response, many Texas universities are becoming “test-optional” through 2021, waiving the traditional requirement for test scores to gain admission. The University of Texas at Austin, Baylor University, Texas Tech University, Texas Christian University, Southern Methodist University and St. Edward's University have all temporarily scrapped their testing requirements through 2021.
Some universities that were doubting the value of test scores even before the pandemic see an opportunity to change the admissions process altogether. In Austin, St. Edward's University had been planning to permanently waive ACT and SAT requirements for months, said Dean of Admissions Drew Nichols.
“We have come to find out the SAT is not exactly predictive of whether or not a student is successful on our campus,” Nichols said, adding that students with low scores often have a stellar first semester and vice versa.
Advocates say going test-optional will remove barriers imposed by COVID-19 and ultimately boost a college’s racial and socioeconomic diversity. Nichols himself sees it as a way to “invite more students into the pool.”
Across the country, many other colleges are following a similar path. Most of the eight Ivy League colleges have already announced test-optional policies through 2021. The University of California system made headlines last month when it announced its campuses would begin phasing out the ACT and SAT immediately. By 2025, university officials hope to make both exams obsolete.
The College Board, which administers the SAT, has faced criticism for canceling spring test dates with short notice, leaving thousands of high school students in the lurch. Test dates are now being rescheduled for August and beyond, which will likely cause many high school seniors to scramble to take the test before college applications are due. And the ACT recently closed hundreds of testing centers before a June 13 test day, rescheduling exams for July and beyond.
UT-Austin is the latest university in Texas to go test-optional, citing increased student difficulties with test access and preparation. As of now, the school plans on reinstating the test score requirement for fall 2022 admissions. As another one of the largest universities in the state, Texas A&M University spokesperson Amy Smith said officials will announce their own decision regarding exam requirements in the coming weeks.
At test-optional universities, admissions officials say applicants will be judged more holistically, with added emphasis on factors like high school grades and curriculum, letters of recommendation and extended resumes. Baylor University’s own test-optional policy is prompting a “total restructuring” of the scholarship and admissions process, said Admissions Vice President Jessica King Gereghty.
“We’re calibrating for different academic standards at high schools around the U.S. and Texas, studying transcripts really closely,” Gereghty said. “We just take a deeper dive into all the nuances of an application.”
Some higher education experts are cautious. Allen Koh, chief executive officer of college prep company Cardinal Education, advises against banishing test requirements completely. In the absence of scores, school performance will disproportionately count towards an application, he said.
“(Colleges) need some level of standardization; it’s only fair,” Koh said. “The SAT allowed the late bloomers, people who had different talents not necessarily measured in classrooms, to compensate. This decision is actually devastating to a lot of people.”
Community spread of virus continues in Nacagdoches County
Four cases of coronavirus confirmed over the weekend plus another three diagnosed since Sunday have brought Nacogdoches County’s total cases to 338, according to the Nacogdoches County Emergency Management Office.
An estimated 272 of those cases have recovered and 24 have died, according to state records. Of the remaining 42 active cases, nine were hospitalized as of Sunday, which was the latest data available, with four of those in ICU.
A report on identified sources of virus exposure in Nacogdoches County released by the state last week shows the largest portion, 31%, attributed to community spread, followed by long-term care facilities at 27% and healthcare workers at 16%. A local plant identified as a possible hot spot is listed at 13%. The report is based on contact investigations conducted by the state.
A state testing initiative conducted in May returned 29 positive cases from more than 600 tests administered in nursing homes, poultry plants and among medical workers. Addresses of those patients are being verified before county residents will be added to the county’s total cases, local officials stated.
Of the three most recent local cases, one — a woman in her 50s who lives in the county — is from a previously reported household. The others are a city resident in his 40s and a man in his 50s who lives in the county.
Four cases confirmed over the weekend include two city residents, a man in his 20s and a woman in her 30s, and two county residents, a man in his 50s and a man in his 60s.
A call center remains open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday at 936-468-4787; appointments for tests are required for all testing sites within the county.
Mobile site administers 440 coronavirus tests in Guadalupe County
More and more people are concerned they have the coronavirus or they’ve been in contact with someone who has tested positive.
A pair of teams from the Texas National Guard tested about 440 people at the mobile testing site Monday in Seguin. The previous week, 275 people were tested at a different mobile site in Seguin.
According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, 3,605 COVID-19 tests had been administered as of Tuesday in Guadalupe County to date.
Guadalupe County Emergency Management Coordinator Patrick Pinder encouraged people to only get tested if they are showing symptoms. If they have concerns about exposure risks, he urged people to contact their general physician.
“If you are showing signs and symptoms, get tested,” he said. “If you’re not, check with your local primary care physician and talk to them. If you’re not sick, there is no need for you to get tested.”
The number of active cases of COVID-19 in Guadalupe County increased exponentially in the past week.
As of Tuesday evening, Guadalupe County showed 196 recoveries with 79 active cases for a total of 275 cases and one COVID-related death. The state however, showed 467 total cases — the 275 reported to the county plus 193 cases pending investigation.
Pinder said the state’s reporting of active cases also included those that are pending investigation, awaiting confirmation.
“A confirmed case of COVID-19 is one that is laboratory confirmed in a clinical specimen using a molecular test, such as a PCR test,” Pinder said. “A probable case of COVID-19 is one that is not laboratory confirmed by PCR, but may meet case definition through a combination of symptoms, exposure history, and other lab tests. The purpose of a probable case definition is to identify cases that may not be able to receive a confirmatory test. This may be due to their isolation status or because they have mild symptoms that do not require a healthcare visit. Both confirmed and probable cases are considered cases and are included in total counts.”
The Office of Emergency Management is only reporting confirmed cases, which creates a discrepancy in case counts between the county and the state, Pinder said
Not wanting to minimize the severity of the situation, Pinder reiterated that cases in Guadalupe County are continuing to rise as more people are getting tested.
As more people venture back out in public, they aren’t taking necessary precautions to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“People are out, they are not wearing masks, they’re not practicing proper hygiene, they’re not washing their hands, they’re not social distancing and those are some of the reasons for the increase,” he said. “The county is still recommending people wear a mask, wash your hands and practice social distancing.”
Brazoria County reports highest daily total with 77 cases
Brazoria County Judge Matt Sebesta remains “extremely concerned” as the daily COVID-19 count jumped 27 percent Tuesday from the previous high mark.
The county reported Tuesday afternoon that 77 residents tested positive for COVID-19. The previous high count was 56 new cases.
Pearland — the county’s most populated and most affected city — recorded 23 residents to test positive for the virus, according to county data.
Pearland men in their 50s were the hardest hit demographic, accounting for six of the city’s cases.
The county also was free of any additional nursing home or Texas Department of Criminal Justice employee positives for the third straight day, Sebesta said.
Cities including Angleton, Alvin, Richwood and Brazoria each saw their highest daily totals since COVID cases were reported in March, Sebesta said.
From Manvel, two men and two women in their 30s, a boy younger than 10 and a woman in her 20s also reported positive.
Other residents to test positive were boys aged 10 to 19 from West Columbia and Bailey’s Prairie, a West Columbia girl younger than 10, three Lake Jackson men in their 20s, a Lake Jackson man in his 40s, a Clute woman in her 30s, a Clute man in his 50s, and Freeport and Iowa Colony women in their 20s, according to county data.
The Bailey's Prairie boy was the community's first reported case, according to county data.
The county also reported 33 recoveries, according to county data.
To date, 1,312 there have been COVID-19 cases across Brazoria County. Of those, 513 are active, confirmed cases while 48 are probable, and 740 have recovered. There have been 14 deaths of people with the virus since the middle of March.
Probable cases are people who are exhibiting COVID symptoms and are linked to others who tested positive for the novel coronavirus, often by living in the same household.
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. The vast majority of people recover.