Three Kerr County residents are among at least 14,624 people in Texas who tested positive for the coronavirus that's swept the world.
Of Texas's 254 counties, 181 reported coronavirus infections, according to information from the state health department. At least 318 people had died from the disease in Texas and 146,467 had been tested. At least 2,580 people had recovered from the disease in Texas.
Nationwide, 49,966 people have recovered from the disease, 609,516 have been infected and 26,057 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. In the U.S., 3,120,381 had been tested for the virus. In the U.S., 101,615 were hospitalized.
At the time of this writing, worldwide coronavirus infections totaled 1,982,939, deaths numbered 126,761, and 493,805 people had recovered, according to the university.
Top five Texas counties for confirmed infections
Harris County - 3,747
Dallas County - 1,788
Tarrant County - 876
Travis County - 856
Bexar County - 794
Confirmed infections in nearby counties
Kendall County - 12
Bandera County - 2
Gillespie - 1
Medina County - 13
Uvalde County - 6
Blanco County - 4
Llano County - 3
Mason County - 1
Hays County - 82
Comal County - 38
Frio County - 1
Coronavirus alters parole programs Texas prisoners must complete before being released
As the nation is seeing a push to get more people out from behind bars during the new coronavirus outbreak, Texas advocates are asking the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to immediately release people who have already been granted parole but still need to complete education or treatment programs. They argue that these people can continue their programs online or outside of prisons, which are known incubators for disease.
But the idea of increased release has met steady resistance from some law enforcement and Texas officials who fear letting more people out of prison and jail could lead to more crime during what is already a disastrous time for the state.
But relatives of Texas prisoners approved for parole question why their loved ones have to stay in disease-prone facilities while completing programs they say could be done virtually and from home.
36 local offenders have tested positive for COVID-19
There have been 97 employees, staff or contractors and 236 offenders in custody who have tested positive for COVID-19 within the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the agency announced Monday.
Five additional facilities were placed on precautionary lockdown Tuesdday — the Baten, Crain, Jordan, Lopez and Sanchez units.
The lockdowns are impacting 27,143 offenders across the state.
The following TDCJ Units are currently in lockdown: Baten, Bell, Beto, Byrd, Clements, Crain, Darrington, ETTF, Estelle, Goree, Hutchins, LeBlanc, Lopez, Murray, Robertson, Sanchez, Scott, Smith, Stringfellow, Telford, Terrell, Woodman, Wynne
The precautionary lockdowns extend for 14 days from the date of a positive test. Those dates may be extended to the date of the most recent positive test.
Offenders that are under medical restriction are asymptomatic, but will continue to receive twice daily temperature testing and anyone interacting with those offenders will wear N-95 mask and glove PPE.
All correctional staff at all facilities continue to wear cotton masks at all times and are encouraged to wear those masks when in public off duty.
Jenkins: Dallas County announcing at least 10 more deaths
During an interview with The Texas Tribune’s Patrick Svitek on Tuesday morning, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said the county will announce at least 10 new deaths and “a lot of new illnesses” at a 10 a.m. press conference.
“Every one of those is a person with a family, so that gives concern,” Jenkins said. He added that the county appears to be flattening its curve. “That's giving us cause for optimism and hope,” Jenkins said. “But we’re in the middle, we’re not in the end, so we have to stay focused. ... Don’t let up now.”
Jenkins said it was too early to tell whether the county would extend its stay-at-home order, which is set to expire April 30. Jenkins said he’ll make a decision as the date nears.
Baylor to slash spending by up to $80 million in wake of pandemic
Baylor University is one of the first major Texas colleges to announce budget cuts due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Linda Livingstone, president of the private school in Waco, said the school is cutting $65 to $80 million from its budget for the fiscal year that starts June 1, anticipating a dip in enrollment due to the coronavirus. In a statement, Livingstone said the virus has slowed the private university’s income and increased students’ dependence on financial aid.
National Forests and Grasslands closes Wildlife Management Areas
In alignment with current federal, state and local guidance for social distancing and to ensure health safety of its employees, visitors and volunteers, the National Forests and Grasslands in Texas has temporarily shut down overnight camping in Wildlife Management Areas.
Wildlife Management Areas impacted by this announcement include:
■ Caddo National Grasslands WMA (Caddo National Grasslands)
■ Alabama Creek WMA (Davy Crockett National Forest)
■ Bannister WMA (Angelina National Forest)
■ Moore Plantation WMA (Sabine National Forest)
■ Sam Houston National Forest WMA (Sam Houston National Forest)
Other recreation opportunities, such as hunting/fishing/hiking on the National Forests and Grasslands in Texas remain available to the public. To protect public health and safety all visitors to the forest are encouraged to:
■ Avoid visiting the forest if you are sick and/or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
■ Follow CDC guidance on personal hygiene and social distancing before and during your visit to the forest.
■ Take your trash with you when you leave. Trash overflowing the receptacles becomes litter and can be harmful to wildlife and attract predators.
■ Please make arrangements to use the restroom before or after your visit to the forest. Unmanaged waste creates a health hazard for our employees and for other visitors.
■ If an area is crowded, please search for a less occupied location. Also consider avoiding the forest during high-use periods.
The USDA Forest Service continues to assess and temporarily suspend access to recreation areas that attract large crowds and cannot meet social distancing guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Visitors to national forests are urged to take the precautions recommended by the CDC. For tips from the CDC on preventing illnesses like the coronavirus, go to: coronavirus.gov
County eyes benefits for employees impacted by virus
Employees of Washington County might get benefits under a new law signed last month by President Donald Trump.
On Tuesday via an online meeting, Washington County Commissioners discussed the best way to approach the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) pertaining to Washington County employees. The law was passed by congress and signed by the president March 18 in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Darrel Reimer, human resources manager for Washington County, laid out the specifics of the act.
Employees who fall under these six items qualify for FFCRA:
• Employee is subject to a state or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19.
• Employee has been advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19
• Employee is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a medical prognosis.
• Employee is caring for an individual who is subject to an order
• The employee is caring for a son or daughter that expands to immediate family in the policy if the school or place of care of the child has been closed.
• Employees experiencing any other substantially similar conditions specified by the secretary of Health and Human Services in consultation with the secretary of the treasury and the secretary of labor.
There are two parts to this act: Emergency paid sick leave provides 80 hours of additional sick leave for each employee that qualifies under those six requirements. The second part is an expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act, where an employee gets 12 weeks total but no waiting period. Employees are eligible after 30 days of employment.
Payment for leave for an individual under FFRC is two-thirds the average wage. The county can keep the employee at whole wage by supplementing the other third or letting the employee utilize an additional paid leave. If the employee has a diagnosis for an illness and is out, they will receive full pay.
Commissioners approved the workshop item and authorized county department heads as elected officials to evaluate employees on a case-by-case basis.
Texas coronavirus deaths pass 300 as prisons battle outbreak
The coronavirus death toll passed 300 in Texas on Tuesday, as the state’s juvenile prisons announced they will temporarily stop accepting young people from county and local jails to try to limit the disease’s spread.
Texas Juvenile Justice Department Executive Director Camille Cain said in a statement that the measure will remain in place for two weeks.
The Texas Department of State Health Services reported Tuesday that more than 14,600 Texans have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and 318 people who had it have died. Nearly 2,600 have recovered.
For most people, the new 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.
No young person in a state prison has tested positive for the disease, according to Brian Sweany, a spokesman for the juvenile corrections department. He said that last year the youth prisons admitted an average of 28 new people every two weeks.
In the adult prison system, 236 prisoners and 97 staff members or contractors had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Tuesday, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. More than 26,000 people were locked down in 22 prisons that are keeping prisoners their cells in an effort to contain the virus, according to the TDCJ's most recent numbers.
One inmate, a 62-year-old man with a coronavirus-related illness, died Saturday after being taken to a hospital from a Texas prison at the center of a federal lawsuit over health and sanitary conditions in the nation’s largest corrections system.
Leonard Clerkly was pronounced dead early Saturday morning, and a preliminary autopsy found he died of viral pneumonia linked to COVID-19, according to a TDCJ statement Tuesday. His death is under investigation.
Clerkly was being held at the Wallace Pack Unit, about 70 miles (113 kilometers) northwest of Houston. Two male Pack Unit inmates, aged 69 and 73, have alleged in a lawsuit that the conditions there violate their constitutional rights by endangering their health and safety amid the pandemic. They are suing on behalf of a class of older inmates in poor health. A hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.
Clerkly is the second Texas prison inmate to die of a coronavirus-related condition. Both had underlying health conditions, and a corrections officer hospitalized with a heart condition also has died of a coronavirus-related illness. The TDCJ said no one else at the Pack unit has been diagnosed with the disease.
Woman in 20s tests positive for COVID-19 in Willacy County
Willacy County confirmed a sixth case of COVID-19 on Tuesday afternoon.
The Texas Department of State Health Services said in a news release that the woman is in her 20s and her case is linked to an existing case in Willacy County.
She is isolating.
DSHS said it's working with Willacy County to identify any close contacts of the woman so they can be isolated and monitored for symptoms.
$58M in coronavirus response awarded to UTRGV, STC and TSC
Rio Grande Valley higher education institutions have received nearly $58 million in federal grants to address the impact from the COVID-19 health crisis, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn announced in a news release Tuesday.
According to Cornyn, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley will receive $34,334,258 in aid, while Texas Southmost College and South Texas College are obtaining $3,608,280 and $20,022,398, respectively.
The Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund — authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES Act — is distributing the funding, with 50% of which going directly to students.
Of the funds, portions of $17,167,129, $1,804,140 and $10,011,199 will respectively go toward student aid for UTRGV, TSC and STC.
Specifically, this would help fund emergency financial aid grants and help cover operational disruption expenses experienced on campuses.
The CARES Act, according to the release, will allow each institution the discretion in awarding funding to students.
“No Texan should have to give up their education because of the economic effects of the coronavirus,” Cornyn said in the release. “In addition to allowing students to defer their federal student loan payments for six months, the CARES Act provides targeted funding to Texas institutions to help students continue their education — even if that means taking classes online.”
Of $14 billion currently available, more than $1 billion has already been awarded to Texas higher education institutions.
Pandemics don't qualify Texans for state tax breaks created for disasters
Gov. Greg Abbott has declared a public health disaster during the spread of the new coronavirus in Texas — but a pair of tax breaks designed to help people prepare for or recover from disasters in the state won’t be available to Texans hurt by this crisis. That’s because these tax breaks, which ease the burden of taxes on property harmed by disasters and create tax-free shopping days to purchase disaster readiness supplies, are designed to meet the needs prompted by natural disasters like hurricanes, floods or wildfires — not pandemics.
Second Texas prisoner dies of COVID-19
Another Texas prisoner who tested positive for the new coronavirus has died. It is the second inmate death connected to COVID-19 that has been reported within the Texas prison system. A correctional officer has also died.
Leonard Clerkly, 62, was taken to the hospital early Saturday from the Pack Unit after reporting trouble breathing and died shortly thereafter, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice reported Tuesday. The preliminary autopsy states the cause of death as pneumonia due to COVID-19.
The Pack Unit is already named in a lawsuit filed last month against TDCJ claiming protective measures for inmates at the geriatric prison are insufficient. A federal judge has held several hearings on the complaint, including one Monday, but Clerkly’s death was not mentioned until an emergency hearing in the court Tuesday.
As of Tuesday, 236 state prisoners and 97 TDCJ employees had tested positive for the virus, according to the agency.
Texans have received the most in small-business loans from the federal government
Last month, Congress approved a disaster relief package that included $350 million for small businesses impacted by the economic shutdown required to slow the novel coronavirus' spread.
According to The New York Times, Texas has since gotten 88,400 of more than a million loans given out nationwide. Texas’ loans total $22 billion, which is $900 million more than California’s and almost double what New York has received.
If businesses use the money to hold on to their staffs, the loans will ultimately be forgiven.
From March 15 to April 4, 744,855 people applied for unemployment benefits in Texas, more than the total number of applicants for 2019.
Hardline Republicans ask Abbott to relax statewide stay-at-home order
The hardline conservative Texas House Freedom Caucus has asked Gov. Greg Abbott to relax his statewide stay-at-home order to begin reopening the state’s economy.
“We respectfully ask that you loosen your state-wide executive order to the greatest extent possible while giving local jurisdictions the flexibility to respond to local jurisdictions,” the letter, dated Tuesday and signed by caucus members, reads.
The letter is the latest push from this faction of the GOP to start sending Texans back to work. State Rep. Matt Krause, a Fort Worth Republican and member of the caucus, sent his own letter to Abbott on Monday with suggestions to “get Texans working while still staying safe & healthy.” And state Rep. Mike Lang, R-Granbury, another caucus member, sent a letter to Abbott on Tuesday urging him “to continue your efforts to open up the Texas economy as soon as possible.”
Abbott said at a news conference Monday that he plans to make an announcement later this week about reopening business in the state. He also made clear that reopening the state’s economy will be a “slow process.”
“This is not gonna be a rush-the-gates, everybody-is-able-to-suddenly-reopen-all-at-once” situation, he said.
Report: Up to a third of Texas coronavirus-related deaths occurred in long-term care facilities
As many as one-third of known coronavirus-related deaths in Texas occurred in long-term care facilities like nursing homes or assisted living communities, The Dallas Morning News reports.
At least one resident or staff member tested positive for the virus in 16% of the state’s 198 nursing homes. Fifty-two of the state’s 2,002 assisted care facilities confirmed infection, the paper reported. Across the state, 70 people died of COVID-19 in nursing homes and 24 people died in assisted living facilities as of Monday.
Texas programs among those housing 21 migrant children in medical isolation
As of Tuesday, 21 unaccompanied migrant children with active cases of COVID-19 are in medical isolation in two Texas programs, as well as an Illinois program, according to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the agency in charge of their care.
None of the children have required hospitalization, the agency said. To date, 27 migrant children have tested positive for the virus, and six recovered and were moved from medical isolation. Children in the agency’s care are tested based on the recommendation of a health care provider or public health department. Affiliated personnel have mandatory temperature checks before they enter the Office of Refugee Resettlement facilities. Among personnel affiliated with ORR programs in seven states, 53 have self-reported as positive for COVID-19.
Juvenile justice department to halt new admissions for two weeks
As a safety measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the state won’t put anyone new in its juvenile detention facilities for two weeks, said Camille Cain, the Texas Juvenile Justice Department's executive director.
The decision, which Cain announced in a news release Tuesday, is in effect through April 27 but could be extended. As of Tuesday, no youths in a state facility have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the statement.
Paxton issues opinion on application of temporary tax exemption
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has issued an opinion that “purely economic, non-physical damage to property caused by the COVID-19 disaster” is not eligible for the state temporary tax exemption.
The nonbinding opinion, issued April 13, came at the request of state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, who asked Paxton last week for guidance on the issue. Bettencourt's request was related to a section of the tax code that legislators approved in 2019, in response to property damage caused by Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
“Section 11.35 of the Tax Code creates a temporary tax exemption for qualified property damaged by a disaster, as declared by the Governor,” Paxton wrote. “A court would likely conclude that the Legislature intended to limit the temporary tax exemption to apply to property physically harmed as a result of a declared disaster.”
$811.5 million in federal aid going toward Texas airports
An $811.5 million infusion is coming to Texas airports to support operation and payroll expenses, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced Tuesday. The grant is funded through the $2 trillion pandemic relief bill known as the CARES Act.
The money will go toward supporting continuing operations and replacing revenue lost amid the sharp decline in passenger traffic and other airport business because of the COVID-19 public health emergency. The funds are available for airport capital expenditures, airport operating expenses including payroll and utilities, and airport debt payments.
Texas officials to discuss request that state cut oil production
Attention from across the oil and gas world will turn to Texas on Tuesday as state regulators hold a virtual public meeting to consider cutting oil production, which hasn’t been done in the state since the 1970s.
The single item on Tuesday’s agenda of the Texas Railroad Commission is to discuss the request of two large Texas oil companies, Pioneer Natural Resources based in Irving and Parsley Energy based in Austin, that the state cut oil production as global demand has plunged. At Tuesday's meeting, the commission is expected to “determine reasonable market demand for oil in the state of Texas.”
Despite its name, the Texas Railroad Commission regulates the huge oil and gas industry and not railroads.
The price of West Texas Intermediate crude closed at around $23 per barrel Monday, following a development Sunday in which a large group of oil-producing countries, including Saudi Arabia, Russia and the United States, agreed to slash oil production by 9.7 million barrels a day beginning in May, which amounts to the largest-ever coordinated cut.
But the devastating decline in oil consumption as a result of the coronavirus pandemic has already affected Texas oil producers.
Chairman Wayne Christian and Commissioners Christi Craddick and Ryan Sitton will lead the 9:30 a.m. commission meeting. There are 55 speakers scheduled to provide three-minute presentations, and written comments have been submitted to the commissioners by the scheduled speakers and others across the industry.