Three hundred fifty eight Kerr County residents were infected with the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic and seven county residents were hospitalized with the virus as of Monday, according to Peterson Health.

There were 50 active infections in Kerr County as of Monday, according to Kerr County Sheriff Rusty Hierholzer.

Peterson Health releases the latest local pandemic figures around 4:30 p.m. daily.

Statewide active COVID-19 cases totaled approximately 146,836, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services, and 250 Texas counties had reported coronavirus infections. Fatalities from the disease totaled 5,713 and 3,428,882 had been tested in Texas. An estimated 229,107 people had recovered from the disease in Texas. Since the start of the pandemic, 385,923 infections had been reported in Texas. A total of 4,267 new cases and 44 deaths were reported Monday.\

Nationwide, 1,325,804 people have recovered from the disease, 4,295,629 have been infected and 148,066 have died since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins University. In the U.S., 52,252,334 had been tested for the virus.

Worldwide, at least 16,521,620 had been infected since the pandemic began, 654,817 had died, and 9,590,929 had recovered, according to the university. 

Top 10 Texas counties for confirmed infections since pandemic started

Harris County

65,349

Dallas County

46,813

Bexar County

30,529

Tarrant County

25,499

Travis County

19,480

Hidalgo County

15,153

El Paso County

13,240

Nueces County

8,178

Galveston County

8,046

Cameron County

7,827

Texas' count of coronavirus deaths jumps 12% after officials change the way they tally COVID-19 fatalities

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After months of undercounting coronavirus deaths, Texas’ formal tally of COVID-19 fatalities grew by more than 600 on Monday after state health officials changed their method of reporting.

The revised count indicates that more than 12% of the state’s death tally was unreported by state health officials before Monday.

The Texas Department of State Health Services is now counting deaths marked on death certificates as caused by COVID-19. Previously, the state relied on local and regional public health departments to verify and report deaths.

Public health experts have said for months that the state’s official death toll is an undercount. State health officials said Monday that the policy change would improve the accuracy and timeliness of their data.

Texas law requires death certificates to be filed within 10 days.

“This method does not include deaths of people who had COVID-19 but died of an unrelated cause,” the Texas Department of State Health Services said in a news release.

Hispanic Texans are overrepresented in the state's updated fatality count, making up 47% of deaths, according to health officials, while they make up about 40% of the state's population. White Texans account for 35% of deaths while Black Texans make up 14% of deaths. Before Monday, the state's racial and ethnic breakdown of deaths had large gaps, with up to 18% of deaths last month recorded as "unknown."

Men are more likely to have died from the coronavirus, according to the updated state figures, making up 60% of deaths. And about 180 deaths, or 3% of the total, occurred among Texans younger than 40. About 2,000 people who died were 80 or older, making up the largest age bracket of COVID-19 deaths.

The first death linked to the coronavirus in Texas occurred March 16 in Matagorda County. As of Sunday, state officials said about 5,030 people who tested positive for the virus had died. With Monday’s update, the new figure is roughly 5,700.

After the number of infections in Texas soared to new highs in June and early July, the rate of deaths in Texas has been accelerating. It took 53 days to get from the first death to 1,000 deaths and 39 days to get from 1,000 to 2,000 deaths. On July 10, the state surpassed 3,000 deaths — 24 days after 2,000 deaths were reported. And it took only 10 more days for Texas to reach 4,000 deaths.

While Texas continues to report daily deaths in the triple digits, the number of new daily cases seem to be stabilizing. In the past week alone, state data appears to show new daily infections leveling off, albeit at nearly record highs.

 The state recorded its largest number of daily new cases July 15, at 10,791. On Sunday, that number was 5,810.

Cecile Young to lead Texas Health and Human Services Commission

Cecile Young has been named the new head of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission as the agency fights an ever-growing number of coronavirus cases in the state.

Young, who has more than three decades of experience working in state government, including several top roles at HHSC, will take the helm of an agency of nearly 37,000 employees as it navigates a worsening pandemic that has seen Texas become a national hot spot, a years-old crisis in its care for foster children and ongoing criticism of its contracting procedures. She will start in mid-August.

“Cecile will provide immediate leadership to help solve the health care challenges facing our state during this pandemic,” said Gov. Greg Abbott, who announced Young’s new role Monday.

Young has worked since the late 1980s at a number of state agencies under several Texas governors, at the Texas Attorney General’s Office and in the Texas House of Representatives. She worked at the Health and Human Services Commission in the early 1990s after the Legislature created it, helping launch the fledgling agency, according to her LinkedIn page. And she was acting commissioner of the agency during the summer of 2018.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic presented unprecedented challenges for the agency, HHSC has had to navigate years of shifting leadership. Courtney Phillips led the commission for just over a year before leaving to take the top job at Louisiana’s health agency. Phillips’ last day was March 13, less than a week before Texas announced its first coronavirus death.

Since her departure, the sprawling agency’s acting commissioner has been Phil Wilson — a longtime fixture in Texas government who was simultaneously earning a $636,694 salary and working 30 hours per week as the general manager of the Lower Colorado River Authority, a quasi-state agency funded without state tax dollars.

And in 2018, contracting scandals forced a number of top agency officials, including former Commissioner Charles Smith, to step down. Earlier this year, several health plans alleged faulty procurement protocols at the agency.

The Lower Colorado River Authority has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Texas fifth and eighth graders won't have to pass STAAR test to move on to the next grade

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Texas students will still have to take the STAAR test next year, but fifth and eighth grade students will be able to move on to the next grade even if they fail, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday.

State education officials announced earlier this summer that third through 12th grade students would take the state standardized exams, or STAAR, this upcoming academic year. Normally, fifth and eighth graders must pass the STAAR in order to move on to the next grade, or else they must retake it later that year or over the summer. But Abbott said that next spring, the fifth and eighth grade math and reading exams would only be administered one time, in May.

Texas education officials told school administrators Monday that they would have local discretion on whether fifth and eighth graders should advance to the next grade, and must support students who perform poorly. They also posted a revised testing calendar for the upcoming school year. 

Abbott also said Monday that schools and districts would continue to receive A-F ratings based on students’ test scores, “albeit with certain adjustments due to COVID-19.” The statement did not elaborate on those adjustments.

In the spring, after school buildings began closing because of the pandemic, Abbott gave school districts flexibility to decide on fifth and eighth graders’ promotions based on students’ grades, academic information and teachers’ opinions. Student scores on the STAAR also determine whether high school students can graduate and whether schools can remain open. In normal circumstances, high school students must pass five subject-specific standardized tests in order to graduate. Abbott’s release did not mention waivers for those students.

Parents, educators and lawmakers from both parties have been urging Abbott to call off testing requirements for the upcoming school year because of how the coronavirus pandemic has interrupted students’ usual learning environment.

But Abbott said the test was necessary to provide a high-quality education for students. "By waiving these promotion requirements, we are providing greater flexibility for students and teachers, while at the same time ensuring that Texas students continue to receive a great education — which we will continue to measure with high quality assessments,” he said in a statement Monday.

The latest decision to continue administering the STAAR came days after federal officials said not to expect a waiver on federal testing requirements next spring. Jim Blew, an assistant secretary to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, told reporters at an event Friday that testing provided many benefits, including showing where students fell behind due to the pandemic.

In the spring, the Trump administration announced it would not enforce federal standardized testing requirements for the 2019-20 school year because of the coronavirus.

The Texas State Teachers Association criticized Abbott Monday for not canceling the exam next spring.

“We are glad the governor suspended the promotion requirements for fifth and eighth graders that are tied to STAAR scores for the upcoming school year, but he didn’t go far enough. STAAR testing will still be wasteful and stressful at a time when teachers, students and their parents are stressed out enough over a deadly pandemic,” the group’s president, Ovidia Molina, said in a statement.

Disclosure: The Texas State Teachers Association has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

 Gov. Greg Abbott extends early voting for November election by six days, starting Oct. 13

Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday extended the early voting period for the November election by six days, citing continued challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Early voting for the Nov. 3 election will now begin Oct. 13 instead of Oct. 19. The end date remains Oct. 30.

The extension of the early voting period is not a surprise. During a TV interview in late May, Abbott said he would add more time to the early voting period for the November election — as he did for the primary runoff election earlier this month — but did not elaborate.

Last week, Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins asked Abbott to provide more details so that election officials could have enough time to prepare. In a letter to the governor, Hollins requested that Abbott move the start date to Oct. 13 at the latest.

For the runoffs, Abbott doubled the early voting period, shifting the start date from July 6 to June 29. The end date was July 10.

Texas biotech facility in College Station tapped to mass-produce potential COVID-19 vaccine

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A biotech production facility in College Station could begin manufacturing hundreds of millions of doses of a COVID-19 vaccine as early as next year.

As part of a $265 million contract with the federal government, the Texas A&M University System Center for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing — which is owned and operated by Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies — has been tapped to mass-manufacture a vaccine candidate that is still undergoing testing. That vaccine, which is being developed by the little-known Maryland company Novavax, is one of six candidates the federal government has put billions of dollars behind as part of its Operation Warp Speed, which is pursuing an aggressive timeline for mass-distributing a coronavirus vaccine.

President Donald Trump, appearing Monday afternoon at a North Carolina Fujifilm facility where the vaccine candidate is being developed for clinical trials, praised the progress of the Novavax vaccine and of other therapeutics.

“We will have it delivered in record time,” he said.

If clinical trials for the Novavax vaccine prove successful, the bulk production will be moved to the College Station facility — “which is quite the place,” the president said Monday — starting next year. The federal dollars will pay for equipment to significantly expand the facility’s production capacity. As many as 80 new hires are also expected.

W. Jay Treat, Texas A&M’s chief manufacturing officer for the Center for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing, said although the federal contract does not specify a certain number of doses that his facility must produce, he is optimistic that the figure could be in the hundreds of millions. And if Novavax doesn't prove successful in clinical trials, he expects the facility could pivot to begin producing a different vaccine.

If all goes well, Treat said, "I think we might have the capacity here to provide enough [doses] for the U.S. There may even be excess capacity."

Novavax, which has never brought a vaccine to market, received the federal government’s largest-yet vaccine contract of $1.6 billion earlier this month. A total of about $4 billion has been invested in companies pursuing vaccines.

According to the World Health Organization, Novavax’s vaccine is still in relatively early stages compared with competitors’. Researchers began testing the vaccine in 130 humans in May and expect to report preliminary results by the end of this month. By contrast, Moderna has already found promising results from its early phase trials and launched a trial this week that will enroll 30,000 human participants across the country.

Researchers across the globe are pursuing 166 COVID-19 vaccine candidates, but only about two dozen vaccines are currently being tested in humans, according to the World Health Organization. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves less than 10% of drugs that undergo clinical trials for public use.

And developing a vaccine against any new infectious disease is a challenging, time-consuming project. Researchers have outlined an optimistic 12- to 18-month timeline on developing a vaccine against the new coronavirus; that would mark the fastest vaccine development in history.

Officials with the A&M System, as well as Fujifilm, praised the federal government’s decision to entrust production to the Texas facility, which was founded with such a project in mind.

John Sharp, chancellor of the Texas A&M University System, called the project “a triple win”: for the A&M System, for Fujifilm and for the nation.

The A&M System facility was founded in 2012 as one of the U.S. government’s three national biosecurity centers, intended to develop and produce drugs that would fight pandemics and bioterrorist threats. The U.S. government decided to make an investment in domestic production facilities in the wake of the 2009 H1N1 influenza, not wanting to be reliant on other countries for vaccines in times of crisis.

Fujifilm, a photography, medical equipment and biotech corporation, now owns and operates the facility, but the federal contract runs through the A&M System as part of its long-standing partnership with the federal government on such projects.

The facility has done some work for the government, on drugs for Zika and other diseases, but the coronavirus vaccine will be its first large-scale government contract, Treat said.

Harris County orders schools closed until Sept. 8

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Texas' most populous county ordered Friday that all public and nonreligious private schools stay closed and provide online learning until after Labor Day due to concern over the continued spread of the new coronavirus.

A joint public health order from Harris County and city of Houston health officials states schools must remain closed until at least Sept. 8. But the order could be extended beyond that date, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said.

"We are all desperate to move on from this crisis and get life back to normal. September 8 is still likely too soon, but the truth is, the fastest way we can all work together to bring this virus under control, the sooner we will be in a position to reopen again for the long term,” Hidalgo said in a written statement.

Hidalgo said reopening schools now would be "self-defeating" as the numbers of people infected with and hospitalized with the virus continue to reach record highs in parts of the state.

“We cannot talk about sending our children, teachers, and staff back to school when the virus is spreading uncontrollably in our community,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner in a written statement. “We are at a critical moment in the fight against COVID-19, and we must take a step back and work to lower the positivity rate and hospitalizations."

Last week the Texas Education Agency confirmed schools can remain closed for longer than three weeks and continue getting funding from the state as long as they offer remote instruction to all students and have a mandate from their local public health officials.

The move came after pushback from teachers, parents and schools confused about wavering guidance from the TEA and concerned about the safety of reopening.

Other Texas counties that will require online learning for the initial weeks of the school year include Travis County, Tarrant County, Dallas County and El Paso County.

The Harris County order comes a week after Harris County officials recommended schools delay in-person teaching until at least October. Houston ISD has already said that it plans to start the year with six weeks of virtual classes right after Labor Day, subject to change if state or local officials issue other guidance.

A federal rule preventing thousands of eviction expired Friday

A federal eviction moratorium expired Friday.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, prevented landlords from taking new eviction actions against renters who haven’t paid their rent on certain federally backed properties through Friday. This includes affordable housing supported by federal government programs, including Section 8, the Low Income Housing Tax Credit and Housing Choice Vouchers.

Evictions are already resuming in many parts of Texas.

Brazoria County crosses COVID milestone

Brazoria County didn’t top 1,000 COVID-19 cases until mid-June. Monday, the county announced it cleared the 5,000 mark.

There were 130 new cases Monday, which marks the fourth time in one month the county crossed a 1,000-case milestone. On July 2, there were 2,003 cases, 3,021 on July 12 and 4,019 as of July 19. Monday’s reported cases placed the county at 5,048.

It should become easier to access COVID statistics from state-supported living centers, state hospitals and state-licensed nursing and assisted-living facilities because of a new effort by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

“HHSC has a legal and ethical obligation to protect the private health information of everyone we serve, both in the private facilities we regulate and those we operate,” Executive Commissioner Phil Wilson said in a statement. “We appreciate the guidance from the attorney general of Texas, which allows us to release this additional data while maintaining important personal privacy protections.”

The statistics are available through three different Excel files, which are updated daily at 3 p.m. and can be found at hhs.texas.gov/services/health/coronavirus-covid-19.

Monday’s local statistics also included two nursing home residents, County Judge Matt Sebesta said. One is at Country Village Care in Angleton and one at Lake Jackson Healthcare Center, he said.

The state data shows two active cases among Lake Jackson healthcare employees and none for residents. For Country Village, the state data indicates there are six active cases among employees and eight residents with active cases.

Sebesta characterized Monday’s numbers as relatively clean compared to some other reports for other days, considering there were no report of new cases from nursing home workers or from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. There were also 86 recoveries and no deaths to report.

Pearland paced county municipalities with 29 confirmed cases, followed by Angleton with 26, Freeport at 15, Lake Jackson with 14 and Alvin with 12. There were six in Iowa Colony and Manvel, four in Brazoria and Clute, three in Richwood, two in Bailey’s Prairie, Danbury and Jones Creek, one each in Brookside Village, Oyster Creek, Rosharon, Sweeny and West Columbia.

The most-affected age range was people in their 20s, of which there were 29 cases. There were 22 cases among people in their 30s, 18 with people in their 40s, and 17 cases each among those in their 50s and 60s.

There were 14 cases among people aged 10-19, five among people aged 80 or older, and four cases each among those in their 70s and younger than 10.

The new infections announced daily are from tests taken at least several days previously. On average, it takes two to four days for labs to return results, but some tests could take longer before the findings are reported to the county.

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.

Of the 5,048 cases in the county, 2,644 are considered active and 2,352 have recovered. There are 19 cases considered probable and 33 people with COVID-19 have died.

Probable cases are people who are exhibiting COVID symptoms and are linked to others who tested positive for the novel coronavirus, usually by living in the same household.

Abbott removes STAAR mandate for 5th-, 8th-graders

AUSTIN — Texas students will still have to take the STAAR test next year, but fifth and eighth grade students will be able to move on to the next grade even if they fail, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday.

State education officials announced earlier this summer that third through 12th grade students would take the state standardized exams, or STAAR, this upcoming academic year. Normally, fifth and eighth graders must pass the STAAR in order to move on to the next grade, or else they must retake it later that year or over the summer. But Abbott said that next spring, the fifth and eighth grade math and reading exams would only be administered one time, in May.

Texas education officials told school administrators Monday that they would have local discretion on whether fifth and eighth graders should advance to the next grade, and must support students who perform poorly. They also posted a revised testing calendar for the upcoming school year.

Abbott also said Monday that schools and districts would continue to receive A-F ratings based on students’ test scores, “albeit with certain adjustments due to COVID-19.” The statement did not elaborate on those adjustments.

In the spring, after school buildings began closing because of the pandemic, Abbott gave school districts flexibility to decide on fifth and eighth graders’ promotions based on students’ grades, academic information and teachers’ opinions. Student scores on the STAAR also determine whether high school students can graduate and whether schools can remain open. In normal circumstances, high school students must pass five subject-specific standardized tests in order to graduate. Abbott’s release did not mention waivers for those students.

Parents, educators and lawmakers from both parties have been urging Abbott to call off testing requirements for the upcoming school year because of how the coronavirus pandemic has interrupted students’ usual learning environment.

But Abbott said the test was necessary to provide a high-quality education for students. “By waiving these promotion requirements, we are providing greater flexibility for students and teachers, while at the same time ensuring that Texas students continue to receive a great education — which we will continue to measure with high quality assessments,” he said in a statement Monday.

The latest decision to continue administering the STAAR came days after federal officials said not to expect a waiver on federal testing requirements next spring. Jim Blew, an assistant secretary to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, told reporters at an event Friday testing provided many benefits, including showing where students fell behind due to the pandemic.

State Supreme Court denies GOP's appeal to hold in-person convention

The Texas Supreme Court has dismissed an appeal by the Republican Party of Texas seeking to host its in-person convention this week in Houston. Justices also denied a similar petition spearheaded by other party officials and Houston activist Steve Hotze.

Monday's news likely kills the party's chances of holding its in-person gathering as planned, which was set to begin Thursday at Houston's George R. Brown Convention Center. On Saturday, the State Republican Executive Committee, considered the party's governing board, reaffirmed the party's commitment to proceeding with the event, which was expected to draw roughly 6,000 people. Party officials argued that its gathering was protected under both the Texas and U.S. Constitutions and should be allowed to continue as planned.

In a 7-1 ruling, the all-Republican court wrote that, while it "is unquestionably true" that the party has constitutional rights to hold a convention, "those rights do not allow it to simply commandeer use of the Center." Justice Jeff Boyd did not participate in the decision, and Justice John Devine filed a dissenting opinion.

Last week, Houston officials, at the direction of Mayor Sylvester Turner, informed the party that its event had been canceled. In a letter to the party, Houston First Corp., the operator of the convention center, pointed to a clause in the contract that allowed either side to cancel the agreement if an occurrence "is beyond the reasonable control of the party whose performance is affected," such as "epidemics in the City of Houston" and emergency government declarations.

In response, the party said it would sue Turner, Houston First Corp. and the city in an attempt to allow the convention to happen as planned. The party argued in its lawsuit that Turner and Houston could not use that clause in the contract "as a magical spell to escape what [Turner] has decided is an unwanted contract." Soon after the party filed its petition, a state district judge in Harris County declined to order Houston to honor its contract with the party and set a hearing for Monday. The party then filed an appeal to the Texas Supreme Court.

Monday's ruling came after the Texas attorney general's office, asked to weigh in on the issue by the high court, filed a brief that argued justices should deny the party's and Hotze's petitions.

"Despite their troubling factual allegations, the petitions do not properly invoke this Court's mandamus authority, and they should be denied on that narrow basis," Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins wrote.

The back-and-forth over the party's in-person convention has played out as the number of coronavirus cases in the state has surged, with Harris County serving as one of the country's hot spots for the virus. As calls began for the party to cancel its in-person gathering, officials said they had a contingency plan to host the event virtually.

Party Chair James Dickey, responding to Monday's court ruling, said that the party is waiting to see how the district court hearing that began Monday morning plays out.

"Regardless, we will have our Convention on time as scheduled," Dickey said in a statement, adding that he was already in Houston, where preliminary convention business was underway. "There will be a call for a meeting of the State Republican Executive Committee to finalize our path forward when we have rulings on both of our cases."

Hotze attorney Jared Woodfill, who was overseeing the second lawsuit over an in-person convention, also signaled that the legal battle is not yet over.

"I'm not giving up until we have explored every legal vehicle available to the delegates," Woodfill said in statement. "They have worked too hard for too long to be left behind."

Medical professionals ask community for convalescent plasma donations

Convalescent plasma helps patients recover from COVID-19, and East Texas medical professionals are asking those in the community who have recovered from the virus to donate.

"We've had so many units going to the hospitals that we are now running low," said Tamara Billiot, regional manager of operations of the East Texas Blood Center.

Those who have already been infected by the virus and recovered develop antibodies to the coronavirus.

"Those antibodies can help someone else who is still trying to fight it if we give them the plasma that has those antibodies in it," she said.

The supply the blood center had previously did not come from local donors because the virus had not hit East Texas as it has now, Billiot said. But now that there are a growing number of recovered patients in the area, they are asking for donations as the need is increasing.

"Every day is a little bit different," she said. "We have seen some days where we've been sending out 10-15 units between Lufkin and Nacogdoches."

Lufkin native Terrie Snead recently returned from an extended stay spent fighting the virus at a hospital in Longview. It started on July 10, when Snead began to feel tired at work.

"By 4 o'clock, I was at the In & Out emergency room, and then they sent me to Longview hospital," Snead said. "That was the only available room they had."

At first, she thought it was her asthma acting up, but then her test for the virus came back positive. She lost her appetite, developed a shortness of breath and remains exhausted. She just started developing a cough after she was released on July 20.

She said she was surprised she got the virus.

"The whole time this has been going on, I've been saying, if it was meant for me to get it, I'll get it," she said. "Apparently it was meant for me to get it."

During her time in the hospital, she received convalescent plasma treatments to help her recovery.

"I feel honored that someone took their time to help me," Snead said. "I know they didn't know they were helping me personally, but I feel honored they took the time to do that."

Now she is determined to donate her own plasma once she fully recovers.

"It's hard to get through," she said. "I'm not going to lie — I was scared. I cried. But without my faith, I wouldn't have been able to make it.

"I'm a nurse. I want to be able to help other people. The way I'm going to be able to help is to donate what I was given."

CHI St. Luke's Health-Memorial Hospital said it is encouraging anyone who has recovered from COVID to be a convalescent plasma donor. The hospital plans to host a blood drive in August.

"During that drive, Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center also will be offering donors free antibody testing to determine whether they had COVID-19 in the past and now have antibodies against the virus as the center works to increase its blood supply and convalescent plasma collections," the statement said.

The blood drive will be held from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 26 on the east side hospital parking lot. To register to donate, go online to GiveBlood.org or call 1-888-482-5663 (sponsor code 7659).

The statement encouraged donors to eat and drink before their scheduled time and to bring their ID.

4 COVID deaths, 99 new cases confirmed in Guadalupe County

State officials have confirmed four new COVID-19 deaths and 99 new cases in Guadalupe County.

In Monday’s update, Guadalupe County Emergency Management Coordinator Patrick Pinder reported the newly confirmed cases and deaths by the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The new cases brings Guadalupe County’s active cases to 112, 10 deaths and 982 recoveries.

There were no new recoveries reported on Monday.

In total, Guadalupe County has 1,104 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 590 cases pending confirmation through DSHS, which combined shows Guadalupe County at 1,694 cases.

The release also stated that Guadalupe Regional Medical Center had reported 22 deaths — all Guadalupe County residents — to the county.

Currently, the hospital is treating 29 patients for COVID-19.

US won’t expel migrant children detained in Texas hotel

HOUSTON (AP) — The Trump administration has agreed not to expel a group of immigrant children it detained in a Texas hotel under an emergency declaration citing the coronavirus and will instead allow them to seek to remain in the U.S., the administration said Monday.

The move comes days after The Associated Press first reported on the U.S. government's secretive practice of detaining unaccompanied children in hotels before rapidly deporting them during the virus pandemic. Government data obtained by AP showed the U.S. had detained children nearly 200 times over two months in three Hampton Inn & Suites hotels in Arizona and two Texas border cities.

But the Trump administration has not said it will stop using hotels to detain children. The legal groups that sued Friday night said they still plan to fight the larger practice in court.

Their agreement only covers 17 people known to have been detained as of Thursday at the Hampton Inn in McAllen. After the hotel's owner said Friday it would end reservations of rooms used for child detention, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement removed the children from the hotel but refused to say where it had taken them.

Now, immigration authorities will transfer the children to shelters operated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where they will have access to lawyers and should eventually be placed with family sponsors as they pursue asylum cases or other immigration relief to try to remain in the country. The legal groups withdrew their request Sunday for a temporary restraining order.

“The children in this hotel averted disaster only because we happened to hear about them before they were deported, yet hundreds if not thousands of other children are being sent back to harm in secret," said Lee Gelernt, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union. "The government must stop expelling children in secret without giving them asylum hearings.”

Federal anti-trafficking laws and a two-decade-old court settlement that governs the treatment of migrant children normally require that most children be sent to shelters operated by HHS. The shelters are licensed by the states where they're located and generally have bedrooms, recreation areas, and schooling.

Instead, more than 2,000 children have been expelled since March, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a declaration allowing immigration agencies to effectively shut down the asylum process out of concern about the spread of COVID-19.

The AP found that contractors paid by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement have held children as young as 1 in Hampton Inns. ICE called the contractors from MVM Inc. “transportation specialists” and refused to confirm whether they had passed FBI background checks or had backgrounds in child care. Instead, it said the contractors were “non-law enforcement staff members trained to work with minors and to ensure that all aspects of the transport or stay are compliant” with the court settlement known as the Flores agreement.

An advocate with the Texas Civil Rights Project who walked through the Hampton Inn in McAllen on July 17 saw people in scrubs going room to room on the fourth and fifth floors of the hotel caring for children. The advocate, Roberto Lopez, said he saw one small child holding onto a gate in a doorway as an adult on the other side played with him.

On Thursday, video posted by the project showed one of its lawyers trying to enter the fourth floor to find children. The video shows three men in plainclothes confronting him, then shoving him back and slamming him into an elevator wall.

The records indicate the children were not accompanied by a parent but don’t say more about the circumstances of their crossing the border. In the past, some very young children have been brought by older siblings or other relatives. Others have been sent by parents waiting for their court dates in refugee camps on the U.S.-Mexico border with hopes they will be placed with relatives.

A spokeswoman for Hilton, which owns the Hampton Inn brand, said franchisees owned all three Hampton Inns and the others in Phoenix and El Paso, Texas, would also stop child detention in its hotels. Hilton said in a statement that the company expected all of its franchisees “to reject business that would use a hotel in this way.”

Andrea Ordin, a monitor appointed by the federal judge who oversees the Flores agreement, called on the U.S. government last week to stop detaining children in hotels, citing the lack of oversight and standards and the threat that children could suffer emotional and physical harm.

The Trump administration responded by questioning Ordin's authority to issue the report. Ordin's report was “wholly outside the scope” of her responsibility, wrote Sarah Fabian, a U.S. government lawyer who was previously criticized for suggesting in court that the government may not have to provide children with toothbrushes in Border Patrol custody.

Judge Dolly Gee, who oversees the Flores settlement, wrote Saturday that hotel detention does fall under the scope of Ordin's duties.

Trump announces new border scrutiny as COVID-19 cases in central America surge

(The Center Square) – President Donald Trump says the federal government will be giving renewed attention to border security, citing a likely obscured surge in coronavirus cases in countries south of the United States.

Trump said in a news conference in North Carolina Monday that he suspects the United States has more coronavirus cases than many other countries due to an inability to broadly test their citizens for COVID-19 or willful hiding of their actual case counts.

“My administration is also closely monitoring the surging caseload in Latin America, which is now the region in the world with the most active and reported infections worldwide by far,” he said. “Due to the relative scarcity of testing in Latin America, however, the region’s reported number of cases is also likely to be dramatically undercut or undercounted. I can say that’s probably true throughout the entire world. We report our cases; most of the world doesn’t. They either don’t do testing; therefore, they have very few cases even though people are sick or they just don’t report it.”

The announcement comes as Mexico reports at least 5,000 new cases daily over seven consecutive days, according to KABC in Mexico City. Reuters reports Latin America is home to 26.83 percent of worldwide cases, surpassing the U.S. and Canada. As of Monday, they estimate Latin America has 4,327,160 confirmed COVID-19 cases. The U.S. and Canada have 4,308,495 cases as of Monday.

On July 16, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced it would continue to restrict border crossings into Mexico and Canada to essential travel until Aug. 20. The restriction has been in place since mid-March. States in Mexico closed the border to vacationing Americans just before thousands were to head south for the Fourth of July.

Trump also announced he’s working with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on the effort.

“Given the reality of what we just said, we’re focusing aggressively on the Texas border and countries that we think have to be watched very, very carefully because you have some very, very highly-infected countries outside of our borders,” he said

Texas reports nearly 700 more virus deaths with new data

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas reported an increase of nearly 700 additional deaths from the COVID-19 virus due to a change in how the state collects fatality data, representing a grim surge in the state's fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

The new figures released Monday show the state now with 5,713 COVID-19-identified fatalities in Texas, compared with 5,038 reported Sunday. The new figures include 44 new deaths reported Monday.

Texas had seen a dramatic spike in newly confirmed cases, hospitalizations and fatalities over the past month and Gov. Greg Abbott had warned the results could be jarring.

State health officials said the new death totals are compiled by using the cause of death listed on death certificates, instead of waiting for local and regional public health authorities to report them to the state. Death certificates are required by law to be filed within 10 days.

“This method allows fatalities to be counted faster with more comprehensive demographic data. Using death certificates also ensures consistent reporting across the state and enables DSHS to display fatalities by date of death, providing the public with more information about when deaths occurred,” the agency said in a statement.

Only deaths directly attributed to the COVID-19 virus are counted. This method does not include deaths of people who had COVID-19 but died of an unrelated cause, the agency said.

On Monday, state health officials reported 4,267 newly confirmed cases. Texas also reported nearly 10,000 hospitalizations but said lags in reporting from hospitals may keep that number lower than it really is.

The true number of cases in Texas is likely higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.

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.

Abbott said he is watching to see if new cases spike in South Texas after Hurricane Hanna, which prompted families to huddle together to ride out the storm or evacuate.

“We’re very concerned this could lead to an additional spread of COVID-19,” Abbott said. “There are so many cases of COVID-19 in the Rio Grande Valley that result simply from large gatherings of family members.

Abbott extended the state's early voting period for the Nov. 3 general election by nearly a week, allowing greater flexibility to cast a ballot while the state grapples with the coronavirus pandemic.

The Republican governor's order allows early voting statewide from Oct. 13 until Oct. 30. Mail-in ballots will also be allowed to be delivered on Election Day.

“As we respond to COVID-19, the State of Texas is focused on strategies that preserve Texans’ ability to vote in a way that also mitigates the spread of the virus,” he said. “By extending the early voting period and expanding the period in which mail-in ballots can be hand-delivered, Texans will have greater flexibility to cast their ballots, while at the same time protecting themselves and others from COVID-19.”

Texas Democrats called the order the “bare minimum” Abbott could do and said the state should expand mail voting for anyone who wants it. Mail ballots in Texas are generally limited to those 65 or older or those with a “sickness or physical condition” that prevents voting in person.

“Gov. Abbott had the opportunity to make voting convenient and safe for all Texans. He didn't," Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said.

Also Monday, Abbott waived the grade promotion requirement of Texas' high-stakes standardized testing for public school fifth- and eighth-graders for the 2020-2021 school year. Typically, a grade on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness test is used to determine whether a student can move to the next grade level.

The Texas State Teachers Association said the governor should also eliminate using the state to rate teacher and school performance. Abbott suspended STAAR requirements before schools were closed statewide in the spring.

“STAAR testing will still be wasteful and stressful at a time when teachers, students and their parents are stressed out enough over a deadly pandemic,” said TSTA President Ovidia Molina.

County nears 300 COVID-19 recoveries

Washington County nears 300 recoveries from positive cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) on Monday reported 11 new COVID-19 recoveries and a death over the past three days.

According to the DSHS, the county now has 441 positive cases, 110 active cases, 296 recoveries and 35 deaths.

The source of the new cases can be linked to two local facilities, Kruse Village and Brenham State Supported Living Center.

According to Christine Mann with Texas Health and Human Services, as of July 24, the center had 11 active COVID-19 cases involving residents and 26 staff members out due to testing positive.

“The health and safety of our residents and staff are our highest priority and we’re doing everything we can to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said Mann, Texas Health and Human Services Chief Press Officer. “All facilities continue to follow strict adherence to CDC guidelines.

The new figures released Monday show the state now with 5,713 COVID-19-identified fatalities in Texas, compared with 5,038 reported Sunday. The new figures include 44 new deaths reported Monday.

Texas had seen a dramatic spike in newly confirmed cases, hospitalizations and fatalities over the past month and Gov. Greg Abbott had warned the results could be jarring.

State health officials said the new death totals are compiled by using the cause of death listed on death certificates, instead of waiting for local and regional public health authorities to report them to the state. Death certificates are required by law to be filed within 10 days.

“This method allows fatalities to be counted faster with more comprehensive demographic data. Using death certificates also ensures consistent reporting across the state and enables DSHS to display fatalities by date of death, providing the public with more information about when deaths occurred,” the agency said in a statement.

Only deaths directly attributed to the COVID-19 virus are counted. This method does not include deaths of people who had COVID-19 but died of an unrelated cause, the agency said.

On Monday, state health officials reported 4,267 newly confirmed cases. Texas also reported nearly 10,000 hospitalizations but said lags in reporting from hospitals may keep that number lower than it really is.

The true number of cases in Texas is likely higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.

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.

Abbott said he is watching to see if new cases spike in South Texas after Hurricane Hanna, which prompted families to huddle together to ride out the storm or evacuate.

“We’re very concerned this could lead to an additional spread of COVID-19,” Abbott said. “There are so many cases of COVID-19 in the Rio Grande Valley that result simply from large gatherings of family members.

Abbott extended the state’s early voting period for the Nov. 3 general election by nearly a week, allowing greater flexibility to cast a ballot while the state grapples with the coronavirus pandemic.

The Republican governor’s order allows early voting statewide from Oct. 13 until Oct. 30. Mail-in ballots will also be allowed to be delivered on Election Day.

“As we respond to COVID-19, the State of Texas is focused on strategies that preserve Texans’ ability to vote in a way that also mitigates the spread of the virus,” he said. “By extending the early voting period and expanding the period in which mail-in ballots can be hand-delivered, Texans will have greater flexibility to cast their ballots, while at the same time protecting themselves and others from COVID-19.”

Texas Democrats called the order the “bare minimum” Abbott could do and said the state should expand mail voting for anyone who wants it. Mail ballots in Texas are generally limited to those 65 or older or those with a “sickness or physical condition” that prevents voting in person.

“Gov. Abbott had the opportunity to make voting convenient and safe for all Texans. He didn’t,” Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said.

Also Monday, Abbott waived the grade promotion requirement of Texas’ high-stakes standardized testing for public school fifth- and eighth-graders for the 2020-2021 school year. Typically, a grade on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness test is used to determine whether a student can move to the next grade level.

Cornerstone ministries sue county officials over Christian school restrictions

(The Center Square) – San Antonio-based pastors Matthew and John Hagee, and their respective ministries, along with parents of students who attend Cornerstone Christian Schools, are suing officials in Bexar County, Texas, alleging a local order and a recent police enforcement incident violate the Texas Constitution, an executive order issued by the governor’s office, and a guidance issued by the Texas Attorney General’s Office.

In addition to Matthew and John Hagee, the plaintiffs include Global Evangelism Incorporated (Cornerstone Christian Schools), Cornerstone Church, John Hagee Ministries, and parents Rick and Eileen Ritchie, David Schmaltz and Brad Freeman.

Defendants include Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff; C. Junda Woo, medical director of the Local Health Authority for Bexar County and the city of San Antonio; San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg; San Antonio Chief of Police William McManus; and San Antonio Police Department COVID Officer Edwards, Badge NO. 9202.

The lawsuit argues that Woo’s health directive for the county, which purports to impose “restrictions on all public and private schools … offering instruction to students in any grades from pre-kindergarten through grade 12” unconstitutionally infringes on the religious freedoms of private religious schools like Cornerstone Christian Schools, which are planning to reopen with in-person instruction.

On June 26, Gov. Greg Abbott issued Executive Order GA-28, followed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s July 17, 2020, guidance, which state that public schools may resume operations subject to guidelines provided by the Texas Education Agency; private schools “are encouraged to establish similar standards.”

Likewise, the governor’s orders supersede “any conflicting order issued by local officials,” Abbott’s order states.

Paxton’s guidance states: “Local public health orders issued by cities and counties must be consistent with the Governor’s orders and the Attorney General’s guidance. If local public health orders are inconsistent with these authorities, the local orders must yield.

Under the governor’s orders, local governments are prohibited from closing religious institutions or dictating mitigation strategies to those institutions.

“Local governments are similarly prohibited from issuing blanket orders closing religious private schools,” Paxton adds. “Because a local order closing a religious private school or institution is inconsistent with the Governor’s order, any local order is invalid to the extent it purports to do so.

“Thus, as protected by the First Amendment and Texas law, religious private schools may continue to determine when it is safe for their communities to resume in-person instruction free from any government mandate or interference. Religious private schools therefore need not comply with local public health orders to the contrary.”

On the same day as the AG’s guidance, the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District published a local order barring private and public schools from holding in-person classes until after Labor Day.

Cornerstone Christian Schools, citing Paxton’s guidance, announced it would begin in-school instruction on Aug. 17, welcoming its 1,350 students to campus. Parents can still choose between in-person and virtual learning for their children.

The school system is “well within its rights to move forward with in-person instruction,” school officials said in a Facebook post. The school’s plan posted on Cornerstone’s website did not detail what safety protocols would be in place other than social distancing measures.

Within a few days, on July 21, a “COVID-19 code enforcement officer” from the San Antonio Police Department arrived at Cornerstone Christian Schools to investigate an unknown complaint. The officer provided no specific details about the complaint, according to the lawsuit.

When the elementary school principal of Cornerstone Christian Schools asked the officer for a business card, the officer replied that she did not have one, according to the complaint. She identified herself as COVID Officer Edwards, Code Enforcement, Badge #9202.

When asked why she came to the school, “Edwards said that there is a COVID complaint hotline, and she assumed that a complaint had been filed against Cornerstone,” the lawsuit complaint states. “Edwards could not, or would not, offer any other details about any specific complaints lodged against Cornerstone.”

It adds, “an unelected civil servant purporting to act on behalf of an undetermined ‘health authority’ in Bexar County and/or San Antonio, issued an illegal and unconstitutional ‘directive’ contrary to the orders and guidance of the Governor and Attorney General of Texas.”

Plaintiffs are represented by Houston-based attorney Jared Woodfill, CEO of Woodfill Law Firm, P.C., who has requested an emergency temporary restraining order, a temporary injunction, and a permanent injunction.

According to the Texas Department of Health, there are a reported number of 30,529 coronavirus cases out of a population of 2 million. The state reports there are 21,505 recoveries, 8,334 active cases and 480 coronavirus-related deaths.

The Texas Tribune, The Associated Press
"A federal rule protecting thousands of renters from eviction expired Friday. Here’s what you need to know." was first published at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/07/25/texas-eviction-protection-expired-what-you-should-know/ by The Texas Tribune. The Texas Tribune is proud to celebrate 10 years of exceptional journalism for an exceptional state.
"Harris County orders schools closed until Sept. 8" was first published at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/07/24/harris-county-schools-closed/ by The Texas Tribune. The Texas Tribune is proud to celebrate 10 years of exceptional journalism for an exceptional state.
"Texas fifth and eighth graders won't have to pass STAAR test to move on to the next grade" was first published at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/07/27/staar-texas-fifth-eighth-grade/ by The Texas Tribune. The Texas Tribune is proud to celebrate 10 years of exceptional journalism for an exceptional state.
"Texas' count of coronavirus deaths jumps 12% after officials change the way they tally COVID-19 fatalities" was first published at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/07/27/texas-coronavirus-deaths/ by The Texas Tribune. The Texas Tribune is proud to celebrate 10 years of exceptional journalism for an exceptional state.
"Texas biotech facility in College Station tapped to mass-produce potential COVID-19 vaccine" was first published at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/07/27/novavax-coronavirus-vaccine-texas/ by The Texas Tribune. The Texas Tribune is proud to celebrate 10 years of exceptional journalism for an exceptional state.
"Cecile Young to lead Texas Health and Human Services Commission" was first published at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/07/27/cecile-young-texas-health-human-services/ by The Texas Tribune. The Texas Tribune is proud to celebrate 10 years of exceptional journalism for an exceptional state.

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