Ten Kerr County residents are among at least 47,784 people in Texas who have tested positive for the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, according to the state health department. Seven of the 10 had recovered and three were recovering, according to Kerr County's emergency management coordinator, who spoke to county commissioners during a Monday-morning meeting. 

Active COVID-19 cases totaled approximately 18,967 statewide, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services

Of Texas's 254 counties, 222 were reporting coronavirus infections, according to TDSHS. At least 1,336 people had died from the disease in Texas and 693,276 had been tested. An estimated 27,570 people had recovered from the disease in Texas. Those currently hospitalized in Texas with COVID-19 totaled 1,512. 

Nationwide, 272,265 people have recovered from the disease, 1,486,742 have been infected and 89,564 have died since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins University. In the U.S., 11,499,203 had been tested for the virus. 

Worldwide, at least 4,737,299 had been infected since the pandemic began, 315,622 had died, and 1,744,157 had recovered, according to the university. 

Top 10 Texas counties for confirmed infections

Harris County

9,126

Dallas County

7,250 

Tarrant County

4,350

Travis County

2,425

Potter County

2,129

Bexar County

2,120

El Paso County

1,726

Fort Bend County

1,558

Denton County

1,051

Collin County

1,016

Confirmed infections in nearby counties

Kendall County - 21

Bandera County - 6

Gillespie - 4

Kimble - 1

Medina County - 50

Uvalde County - 6

Blanco County - 6

Llano County - 3

Mason County - 31

Hays County - 219

Comal County - 70

Frio County - 35

Zavala - 9

With COVID-19 cases rising, El Paso officials ask governor to exclude them from next phase of reopening

EL PASO — County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said his community isn’t ready for the second phase of Texas’ reopening — and he has data to back up his opinion.

COVID-19 cases in this border city have surged this month as some businesses began reopening and more tests are being conducted. On May 1, when some state restrictions were lifted, El Paso County had 961 positive cases and 22 deaths. By May 14, cases had risen 67%, to 1,607 — the state's sixth-highest total — and the number of deaths had almost doubled to 43.

But Samaniego also sees what’s happening in other parts of Texas, with armed protesters guarding businesses whose owners want to open in defiance of state restrictions and a Dallas salon operator becoming an overnight media sensation after she was jailed — and then released after the governor weighed in — for defying a local judge’s order to close her shop.

He doesn’t want those types of controversies to divide his community, so he and more than a dozen local elected and health officials are trying a different approach. Last week, they asked Gov. Greg Abbott to exclude El Paso from parts of his executive order that allows certain businesses to reopen at limited capacity.

"It’s well thought out, a lot of the tactics that [the governor] is using make a lot of sense, but it’s extremely premature for El Paso," Samaniego said. “San Antonio and Harris County and some of the bigger counties, they were already testing to a much more significant level than we were [in March]. Wouldn’t it stand to reason as well that we wait for those [testing] numbers to come back so we have a good definition of our problem? We’re very isolated here, and we need a different time frame.”

Abbott's office didn't respond to a request for comment about the judge's letter. It's unclear whether other counties have made similar requests.

More than 700 new cases of coronavirus reported after testing at meatpacking plants in Amarillo region

More than 700 new coronavirus cases were reported in the Amarillo region Saturday, as results from targeted testing at meatpacking plants came in.

According to the office of the governor, a surge response team was deployed in Amarillo on May 4 to survey high-risk locations and test workers at meatpacking plants. The Texas Panhandle, where a workforce of Hispanics and immigrants power several meatpacking plants, is home to the highest rates of infection in the state.

"As Texas continues ramping up its testing capabilities, there will be an increase in positive cases as the state targets the most high-risk areas: nursing homes, meatpacking plants and jails," Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement. "By immediately deploying resources and supplies to these high risk areas, we will identify the positive cases, isolate the individuals and ensure any outbreak is quickly contained."

In a press release Saturday, the governor’s office indicated plants with widespread outbreaks have temporarily shut down for thorough disinfection.

At a Tyson Foods plant just outside of Amarillo, all 3,587 employees were tested, according to High Plains Public Radio. The plant is “undergoing additional sanitation and cleaning” during the weekend and plans to operate on Monday, according to the company.

The Amarillo region includes two counties. Potter County reported 618 new cases on Saturday bringing its total to 2,080, while Randall County reported 116 new cases for a total of 593. Moore County, which has the highest rate of cases per 1,000 residents in Texas and is north of Amarillo, added 4 new cases on Saturday. In total, the three counties accounted for 738 of the 1,801 new cases reported on Saturday.

In Moore County, a JBS Beef plant has seen several cases and one death. On Wednesday, the company reversed course and accepted the offer from the state to test employees in their facilities.

Workers at JBS and family members of JBS employees who have been infected previously told The Texas Tribune that plant management was slow to acknowledge when workers began testing positive, and those who come in contact with the sick are not always informed of their exposure.

On Monday, offices, manufacturing facilities and gyms are allowed to reopen

This Monday, offices, manufacturing facilities and gyms are allowed to open in Texas, following the guidelines published by Gov. Greg Abbott in his May 6 executive order. As it already happened with other businesses, these facilities will be limited in their capacity.

Offices will be able to operate with up to five employees at a time or 25% of the total office workforce — whichever number is greater — provided they maintain social distancing and follow other health measures like wearing face coverings. The governor’s task force is still asking employers to encourage employees to work from home if possible and implement alternate schedules for those who go into the office.

Non-essential manufacturing facilities will be able to operate at 25% occupancy. The governor’s task force asks manufacturing facilities to provide physical dividers if keeping workers 6 feet apart isn’t possible. Workers should also wear face coverings and be provided disinfecting products like hand sanitizer and wipes. The governor’s task force asks manufacturers with more than 10 workers at a time to choose a person in charge of enforcing health protocols.

Gyms and exercise facilities will be able to open on Monday too, at 25% occupancy, not counting workers. Lockers and showers will have to remain closed. Workout equipment should be spaced out to allow at least 6 feet between patrons, and cleaning supplies should be provided. Patrons should wear gloves that fully cover their wrists and fingers while exercising and should wear face masks. They should also clean off machines and exercise equipment like free weights after use and sanitize any equipment brought from home. Gym-goers should keep a 6-foot distance from anybody 65 and older, though these individuals are advised to stay home.

Since May 6, beauty services — including barbershops, salons and tanning beds — have been allowed to function under recommendations like offering services that are not time consuming and keeping workstations 6 feet apart. Workers can refuse to serve anybody they suspect to be sick or contagious and it is recommended to screen workers and customers for symptoms.

Indoor and outdoor swimming pools were also allowed to operate at 25% capacity starting May 6. Interactive water venues, like water parks and splash pads, are still closed.

Retail stores, malls, movie theaters and restaurants have been allowed to open at 25% capacity since May 1.

Gov. Greg Abbott says let voters decide on property taxes

Texas’ disaster declaration does not allow cities and counties to raise their tax rates beyond the state’s 3.5% cap without voter approval, Gov. Greg Abbott said in a Friday interview with KVUE, weighing into a political debate brewing between local and state officials.

A new law passed last year restricts local governments’ tax rate increases to 3.5%. But it also appears to let them bypass that cap in the case of a state or federal disaster declaration in their area.

The Texas Municipal League, which represents city governments, argues that Abbott’s disaster declaration due to coronavirus triggers that section of the property tax law. Cities can increase taxes by 8% and most will not need to hold an election to significantly raise taxes next year, if they are raising money to respond to the disaster, according to TML.

But Abbott said Friday that TML’s interpretation is incorrect. “I disagree and I think the Texas attorney general disagrees with that legal interpretation,” he said.

The statement was the clearest Abbott has been on the issue since it first came up in March, when he told reporters at a press conference he would look into it.

Clute nursing home resident part of highest daily case count

Brazoria County reported an all-time high daily COVID-19 new case count, the death of an inmate and the infection of a Clute nursing home resident Sunday.

More than 30 new cases are linked to Pearland’s Windsong Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Facility, and the virus is now reported in a resident of Clute's Creekside Village Nursing Home Facility, Brazoria County officials announced.

The county reported 40 new cases, which County Judge Matt Sebesta believes is the highest daily total that’s been seen thus far. However, he doesn’t think that’s indicative of a larger trend, he said.

“The majority of the cases were nursing home related,” Sebesta said. “That’s the place that houses our most vulnerable, and so it is concerning when we have an outbreak in a nursing home."

There were 28 residents and five employees of Windsong to test positive, Sebesta said.

Texas reports 47,784 cases and 1,336 deaths on Sunday

Texas reported 785 more cases of the new coronavirus Sunday, an increase of about 2% over the previous day, bringing the total number of known cases to 47,784. No new counties reported their first cases Sunday; over 85% of the state’s 254 counties have reported at least one case.

Harris County has reported the most cases, 9,126, followed by Dallas County, which has reported 7,250 cases. See maps of the latest case numbers for each county and case rates per 1,000 residents.

The state has reported 31 additional deaths, bringing the statewide total to 1,336 — an increase of about 2% from Saturday. Harris County reported five additional deaths, bringing its total to 204 deaths, more than any other county.

As of Sunday, 1,512 patients are known to be hospitalized in Texas. That’s a decrease of 279 patients from Saturday. At least 693,276 tests have been conducted.

Texas reports highest one-day total of new coronavirus cases on Saturday

Texas reported 1,801 more cases of the new coronavirus Saturday, the highest one-day total since the pandemic began. More than 700 new cases were reported in the Amarillo area, where meatpacking plants have been identified as a cluster of infections.

Potter County reported 618 new cases on Saturday bringing its total to 2,080, while neighboring Randall County reported 116 new cases for a total of 593. Moore County, which has the highest rate of cases per 1,000 residents in Texas, added 4 new cases on Saturday. In total, the three counties accounted for 738 of the new cases reported on Saturday.

The state also reported 32,479 new tests Saturday — the third-highest increase since Texas began reporting coronavirus test counts. The highest daily total was 49,259 new tests May 13. As of May 16, at least 678,471 tests have been conducted.

Harris County has reported the most cases, 9,050, followed by Dallas County, which has reported 7,036 cases. See maps of the latest case numbers for each county and case rates per 1,000 residents. Over 85% of the state’s 254 counties have reported at least one case.

The state reported 33 additional deaths on Saturday, bringing the statewide total to 1,305 — an increase of about 3% from Friday. Harris County reported six additional deaths, bringing its total to 199 deaths, more than any other county.

As of Saturday, 1,791 patients are known to be hospitalized in Texas. That’s an increase of 75 patients from Friday.

Nacogdoches ISD faces backlash over graduation

Parents and graduating seniors at Nacogdoches ISD are calling on the district to rescind its decision to hold a hybrid high school graduation and have a socially-distanced single ceremony instead.

District officials announced on Tuesday plans to have small ceremonies for each graduate over a four-day period that would be broadcast online later, leaving some parents and students feeling “cheated” out of the traditional pomp and circumstance surrounding the end of high school.

“I’m so mad I could spit nails,” said Sarah Aguliar, whose son, Jose will graduate from Nacogdoches High School this year. “The school district has cheated not only our children, but the parents and the families and the chance to graduate with their class and friends of 2020.”

Despite an outpouring of calls for changes to the hybrid graduation, NISD Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo released a video Friday saying a traditional graduation “is now out of the question.”

“NISD must acknowledge the fact that Nacogdoches County has been stricken more so than others in East Texas with the coronavirus,” he said.

Aguilar called the message in the video “just a bunch of … nonsense.”

Still, parents and students are hopeful for a reversal after an online petition started by a NHS senior gained traction.

“Let these babies have this,” said Katie Watson, whose daughter Makayla is also a member of the class of 2020.

The online petition was created by NHS senior Kealy Hathaway. In the text of the petition, Hathaway says seniors were polled on two options, including the hybrid ceremony.

Pilgrim's to bring testing to Lufkin plant

Pilgrim’s Pride is working with state and local officials to establish COVID-19 testing at the facility.

However, all of the parties involved are still working out details for what this testing will look like and when it will be conducted. County Judge Don Lymbery said it would likely be the state who facilitates the testing on the company’s property.

“Pilgrim’s is going to be completely cooperative with plans and testing going forward,” Lymbery said. “Those schedules are being worked out.”

Nikkie Richardson, a corporate communications officer for JBS USA and Pilgrim’s, confirmed that there will be testing at the facility, but said those logistics are still being determined. Seth Christensen, the chief of media and communication for the state of Texas Department of Emergency Management, echoed this message.

“Details are still being worked out,” he said. “At this point it is possible that there could be testing next week.”

3,000 nursing home residents positive for virus

More than 3,000 nursing home residents in Texas have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to data released by the state on Friday.

The 3,000 positive tests represent about 4% of the estimated number of Texans living in nursing homes, the Houston Chronicle reported. By comparison, about 0.15% of Texas residents have tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday ordered coronavirus testing for all Texas nursing home residents and staff after the White House urged governors to do so as deaths mount nationwide.

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.

More than 26,000 residents and staff have died from outbreaks of the virus at the nation’s nursing homes and long-term care facilities, according to an AP tally based on state health departments and media reports. That is about a third of all 76,000 deaths in the U.S. that have been attributed to the virus.

While nursing home residents in Texas make up around 6% of the state’s positive cases, they account for about 38% of the state’s deaths related to COVID-19, the newspaper reported.

The numbers for nursing homes that the state has released are broken down by region, but advocates and family members have been calling for more detailed information that shows cases by specific facility or at least by county.

Texas coronavirus testing totals include some antibody tests

The number of coronavirus tests administered in Texas includes an unknown number of antibody tests, according to information provided by the Texas Department of State Health Services to The Texas Tribune.

“Some antibody results are included in our current testing totals and case counts,” Lara M. Anton, a press officer for the DSHS, said on Thursday.

Antibody tests can detect whether a person previously recovered from COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. But the state reports do not differentiate those figures from standard nasal swab tests, so it’s impossible to know how many tests show active infections and how many show previous infections. Anton said the agency is working to provide details on how many of these tests are included in the data.

“Certainly that data should be made public on their website, given how people are using it,” Rebecca Fischer, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the Texas A&M School of Public Health, told The Texas Observer. “It would change our whole understanding of when infection events were happening in the community, and that would be really important to know and be reported in the data.” 

The state has been struggling to reach the goal that Gov. Greg Abbott set on April 27 of doing 25,000 daily tests by May. By Friday, the threshold had only been achieved three times. The state reported nearly 50,000 tests Wednesday, a record high.

“We don’t attribute the large increase in results received [Wednesday] to antibody tests,” Anton said. As of Saturday, the state has administered 678,471 tests since early March.

Dozen COVID cases linked to poker party

ANGLETON — Three probable cases reported Saturday afternoon — and a dozen infections in all — have been linked to a May 8 poker party, county officials said Saturday evening.

“The two Sweeny cases and the case in West Columbia are the 10th, 11th and 12th cases tied to a West of the Brazos poker party,” County Judge Matt Sebesta said. “One of those cases is an employee at Country Village nursing home in Angleton.”

The infected also include the Sweeny boy younger than 10 whose case was announced earlier Saturday. The other Sweeny case is a man in his 30s; the West Columbia case is woman in her 60s.

The party took place at a private home in West Columbia, Sebesta said.

The Country Village employee has not been at work since the gathering, so the virus has not entered the nursing facility, Sebesta said.

“I personally spoke to the owner of Country Village,” he said. “It’s been nine days since that employee has been at work, so that is a very fortunate thing.”

There are multiple protocols in place — particularly for a nursing home, which cares for the most vulnerable population — and the employee will have to receive clearance before being allowed to return to work, Sebesta said.

The recent outbreak that’s occurred west of the Brazos has been tied to the “ill-advised” poker party, he said. While Sebesta does not know how many people were involved, 12 people are now sick because of it, he said.

“A couple of the recent cases in Angleton have been linked to it as well,” he said. “It’s been disheartening over the last couple of days that with these case numbers growing, it’s — our epidemiologists are doing contact tracing — the number of cases that are coming out of that event.”

Texas Nat’l Guard helps deep clean Paris Healthcare

Two Enterprise Budget rental trucks parked in front of Paris Healthcare Center, while members of the Texas National Guard unloaded cleaning supplies Friday afternoon.

Thanks to Gov. Abbott’s orders on Wednesday, members of the National Guard were dispatched to nursing homes around the state to help deep clean the facilities, many of which have seen a breakout of Covid-19, including Paris Healthcare.

“One of these disinfection teams arrived at Paris Healthcare this morning and was onsite for a few hours to deep clean the Center,” Paris Healthcare spokeswoman Taylor Pittman said.

Sgt. Rachel Moore said she and her colleagues were just there to help.

“It’s a two-step process. We are going through with the initial cleaner, the sanitizer, and wiping everything down, all the high-touch areas and then the second phase is a chemical called vital-oxide,” Moore said.

Paris Healthcare is doing all it can for its residents, Pittman said. 

San Antonio Food Bank president criticizes federal contract awarded to events company

San Antonio Food Bank's president aired concerns about an events company receiving a $39.1 million federal contract to distribute food boxes, the San Antonio Express-News reports.

A company called CRE8AD8 LLC, which does not have experience in the food distribution industry, won the U.S. Department of Agriculture contract to provide food through its Farmers to Families Food Box Program, the paper reported.

“The USDA extended a contract to an underdog, someone they are betting on might be able to pull this off, rather than an industry standard,” Food bank president Eric Cooper told the Express-News. “And I am OK with working with anyone that can provide us food. But that gamble sometimes is too great when it comes to feeding families."

But Gregorio Palomino defended his company's plans.

“Our values align with the San Antonio Food Bank," he told the paper. "That’s food safety, food handling and helping families, this is our priority, too. Our goal is to source from local and regional, small minority farmers and suppliers, and work closely with partners such as the San Antonio Food Bank."

The Associated Press, Texas Tribune
"Coronavirus in Texas: Gov. Greg Abbott says cities and counties shouldn't raise property taxes" was first published at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/05/17/coronavirus-updates-texas/ by The Texas Tribune. 
 
 

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