Eleven Kerr County residents are among at least 49,912 people in Texas who have tested positive for the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, according to the state health department. Most of the residents had recovered.
Active COVID-19 cases totaled approximately 19,280 statewide, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Of Texas's 254 counties, 224 were reporting coronavirus infections, according to TDSHS. At least 1,369 people had died from the disease in Texas and 744,937 had been tested. An estimated 29,359 people had recovered from the disease in Texas. Those currently hospitalized in Texas with COVID-19 totaled 1,732.
Nationwide, 289,392 people have recovered from the disease, 1,528,661 have been infected and 91,938 have died since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins University. In the U.S., 11,834,508 had been tested for the virus.
Worldwide, at least 4,922,137 had been infected since the pandemic began, 323,855 had died, and 1,706,539 had recovered, according to the university.
Top 10 Texas counties for confirmed infections
Confirmed infections in nearby counties
Kendall County - 23
Bandera County - 6
Gillespie - 5
Kimble - 1
Medina County - 59
Uvalde County - 6
Blanco County - 6
Llano County - 3
Mason County - 31
Hays County - 219
Comal County - 71
Frio County - 35
Zavala - 9
Texas school districts raise hands for shares of $1.29 billion federal infusion
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to destabilize public education, Texas school districts are waiting to learn whether a federal stimulus package could help shore up rocky budgets.
The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act signed in late March includes money to help schools try to keep vulnerable students from slipping away, with the tanking economy widening divides between wealthy and poorer students. Texas expects to receive $1.29 billion from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, the vast majority earmarked for direct delivery to school districts based on their student poverty rates. Texas will receive the second-largest amount of money, after California.
The Texas Education Agency plans to keep about $129 million — 10% — for its own coronavirus-response projects and is expected to reveal its plans for the money as soon as this week. Gov. Greg Abbott's office is expected to receive an additional $307 million for higher and public education. And Congress is debating another stimulus package that could go to schools.
School districts have not yet seen revenue hits because they're still receiving state funding they were promised. But they are eating unexpected costs and awaiting a crash in both state and local tax revenue in the coming budget cycles.
The TEA has not yet told districts how much they should expect from the federal infusion, and school finance experts have been advising local officials not to count on the money just yet. “We’ve been telling districts ... don’t build this in as part of your budget until you have clarity. What you don’t want is to build something into your budget and then have to take it away,” said Amanda Brownson, a director of governmental relations at the Texas Association of School Business Officials, which consults with districts on school finance.
Harris County officials increase fund for struggling residents
Harris County commissioners agreed in a split, party-line vote to double the size of a coronavirus relief fund for people who need help affording housing costs, utilities and other basic needs, the Houston Chronicle reports.
The fund was increased to $30 million and is estimated to help 20,000 households, the paper reported. The commissioners’ 3-2 vote came the same day that eviction proceedings could begin again in Texas. Housing advocates fear a surge in displacement and homelessness because unemployment has disproportionately affected renters since the crisis began.
Federal judge says all Texas voters can apply to vote by mail during pandemic
A federal judge opened a path for a massive expansion in absentee voting in Texas by ordering Tuesday that all state voters, regardless of age, qualify for mail-in ballots during the coronavirus pandemic.
Days after a two-hour preliminary injunction hearing in San Antonio, U.S. District Judge Fred Biery agreed with individual Texas voters and the Texas Democratic Party that voters would face irreparable harm if existing age eligibility rules for voting by mail remain in place for elections held while the coronavirus remains in wide circulation. Under his order, which the Texas attorney general said he would immediately appeal, voters under the age of 65 who would ordinarily not qualify for mail-in ballots would now be eligible.
Biery's ruling covers Texas voters "who seek to vote by mail to avoid transmission of the virus."
In a lengthy order, which he opened by quoting the preamble to the Declaration of Independence, Biery said he had concerns for the health and safety of voters and stated the right to vote "should not be elusively based on the whims of nature."
"Two hundred forty-years on, Americans now seek Life without fear of pandemic, Liberty to choose their leaders in an environment free of disease and the pursuit of Happiness without undue restrictions," Biery wrote.
"There are some among us who would, if they could, nullify those aspirational ideas to return to the not so halcyon and not so thrilling days of yesteryear of the Divine Right of Kings, trading our birthright as a sovereign people for a modern mess of governing pottage in the hands of a few and forfeiting the vision of America as a shining city upon a hill," he said.
In the federal lawsuit, the Texas Democrats argued that holding traditional elections under the circumstances brought on by the coronavirus pandemic would impose unconstitutional and illegal burdens on voters unless state law was clarified to expand who can qualify to vote by mail.
Under existing law, Texas voters qualify for ballots they can fill out at home and mail only if they are 65 years or older, have a disability or illness, will be out of the county during the election period, or are confined in jail.
Trump administration announces extension of border-restricted travel
The Trump administration announced an extension Tuesday of two border policies enacted months ago to stem the spread of the coronavirus, including an order that immigrant rights and civil liberties groups criticize as a backhanded way to achieve the president’s goal of turning away asylum seekers without due process.
Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, announced that the southern and northern borders with Mexico and Canada will remain closed to nonessential travel until June 22. Nonessential travel, according to the post in the federal register, includes “individuals traveling for tourism purposes” like “sightseeing, recreation, gambling or attending cultural event.”
“Given the outbreak and continued transmission and spread of COVID-19 within the United States and globally, the Secretary has determined that the risk of continued transmission and spread of COVID-19 between the United States and Mexico poses an ongoing 'specific threat to human life or national interests,'" says the text posted in the federal register.
Commercial trade and travel, which are essential to the Texas economy, are again excluded from the updated order.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick releases star-filled tribute to 2020 graduates
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick put together a video congratulating the class of 2020 on graduating during the COVID-19 pandemic. The video features celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Chuck Norris, athletes like Dallas Cowboys quarterback Andy Dalton and Houston Rockets forward Robert Covington, and Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman. The seven-minute video, uploaded Saturday, is currently unlisted on Patrick’s YouTube channel.
The video clips were contributed “voluntarily” by Patrick’s friends and friends of friends, spokeswoman Sherry Sylvester said.
“It’s a big deal to be in the class of 2020,” Patrick said. “Years and years from now, they’ll be asking you about what it was like during this time when you graduated.”
Harris County jail to start testing all inmates
The Harris County jail will begin testing all inmates for the new coronavirus by the end of this week, according to a spokesperson with the sheriff’s office. That will include new inmates as they are booked into the jail.
The office finalized a deal with the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston for 20 medical staffers to test up to 350 inmates a day, seven days a week, with nasal swabs while tests last, according to spokesperson Jason Spencer. The county’s contract has a maximum of $1.5 million at $150 a test, and Spencer said the office is hoping for a federal reimbursement.
“This agreement is a game changer for our corrections and medical teams that have been fighting valiantly for months to hold the line against this virus,” Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said in a statement. “Without the ability to practice social distancing, our best tactic is to test aggressively so we can isolate those who are contagious.”
The Harris County jail has had more than 700 inmates and nearly 300 jail employees test positive for the virus. Three inmates have died with the virus. Throughout the state, about 1,300 county jail inmates have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to a report from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.
Medical experts: Voting in person creates a “heightened danger” for spread of coronavirus
With the state continuing to fight an expansion in voting by mail, Texas doctors and nurses working on the front lines to fight the new coronavirus are warning that requiring voters to cast their ballots in person “is certain” to result in increased infection rates.
In an amicus brief filed Tuesday with the Texas Supreme Court, the medical professionals said the nature of voting in person — including standing in line, interactions with others in close proximity and “communal touching” of voting equipment — would facilitate a “heightened danger” for transmission of the coronavirus. The doctors and nurses who signed on to the brief also argued that planned sanitation measures like wiping down surfaces at polling places wouldn’t be enough to protect voters from a virus that’s most commonly transmitted through respiratory droplets that can hang in the air for several minutes.
“The public health and safety issue underlying this determination is not about whether registered voters may fear going to the polls,” the brief reads. “Instead, the issue is solely whether voting in person on election day would be likely to injure voters’ health. As explained in this brief, the answer is simply, ‘Yes, it would.’”
AG considering whether pandemics are disasters when it comes to property taxes
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Tuesday morning that his office is looking into whether local governments can bypass new property tax provisions under the governor’s disaster declaration.
“We’re looking at that now just because we’re anticipating that question coming,” Paxton told Lubbock radio host Chad Hasty. “But we haven’t made any kind of determination yet as to what the answer is.”
On Friday, Gov. Greg Abbott told Austin TV station KVUE that he disagrees with groups like the Texas Municipal League, which argue that cities and counties can circumvent the new 3.5% rollback rate thanks to a provision in a property tax bill the Legislature passed last year. Abbott also said he thought Paxton, like him, “disagrees with that legal interpretation.”
A coronavirus outbreak among UT Austin custodial workers
Ten custodial workers at the University of Texas at Austin have tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing total cases among university employees to 26, the Austin American-Statesman reported Tuesday. All are believed to be night custodial staff, and the university’s occupational health office is tracking and notifying anyone who may have come into contact with the infected workers, according to university spokesman J.B. Bird.
Houston church closes doors again after five leaders test positive
Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Houston closed its doors after five leaders tested positive for the new coronavirus over the weekend, the Houston Chronicle reports. Holy Ghost resumed limited Masses three weeks ago, according to the Chronicle, and the church said in a statement that two of the five leaders who tested positive are priests who were active in those services.
The Rev. Donnell Kirchner, another church leader, died May 13 after being diagnosed with pneumonia, according to the Chronicle. Kirchner received the pneumonia diagnosis at an urgent care clinic, the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston said, and it’s unclear whether he was tested for the new coronavirus before he returned to the home where he lived with seven other members of a religious order.
Oprah Winfrey gives grants to ‘home’ cities during pandemic
Minnie’s Food Pantry in Plano is among organizations that will receive grants from Oprah Winfrey's $12 million coronavirus relief fund.
Winfrey said Wednesday that she will also give grants to organization helping underserved communities in Chicago, Baltimore, Nashville, Milwaukee; and Kosciusko, Mississippi, where she was born. She will also give a grant to advocacy organization Global Citizen.
Last week, Winfrey gave a commencement speech during Facebook’s virtual “Graduation 2020” event, and asked the graduates, “What will your essential service be?” She said she’s asked herself the same question.
“What this pandemic has done is made me think about giving differently. How I give and who’s on the receiving end of that, and how do you do that in such a way that sustains people? I’ve ultimately always believed that you teach people to fish ... but sometimes people just need fish and a piece of bread,” she said. “Sometimes you need some fish, OK? Sometimes you don’t have time to learn to fish. I just need some fish today!”