March 12's biggest developments:
- Community spread has occurred in Dallas County.
- Several school districts announce suspension of classes.
- Montgomery County discloses two more positive coronavirus tests.
- Universities and colleges continue to move to online classes.
Dallas County officials say community spread of coronavirus has occurred in North Texas
[10:24 p.m.] Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins announced late Thursday that five more people there have tested positive for the new coronavirus — and that one of them had no recent travel history.
“This indicates we have community spread of COVID-19 in Dallas County,” Jenkins said.
Officials are declaring a local disaster and plan to prohibit gatherings of 500 people or more. They are also recommending social distancing throughout the county. — Alexa Ura
State agency suggests halting jury trials until April 1
[9:25 p.m.] The Texas Office of Court Administration has advised all Texas courts and judges to suspend jury trials until at least April 1 due to the new coronavirus. David Slayton, who heads the office, sent an email to the courts Thursday evening stating the justice system must be "mindful of the need to reduce the impact of the virus." The state agency's suggestion is not mandatory.
Aside from jury trials, he also said all nonessential in-person proceedings thought to pose an unnecessary risk should be delayed or conducted remotely through telephone or video. Essential proceedings not to be delayed include an arrestee's first appearance before a judge when bail is determined, Child Protective Services removal hearings, restraining and protective orders, juvenile detention hearings and some mental health proceedings.
Some courts have already begun delaying proceedings because of COVID-19, including in Harris and Travis counties. Before Slayton's email, Webb County commissioners had already scheduled a Friday morning meeting to discuss potentially suspending criminal trials and jury duty. — Jolie McCullough
Fourth Collin County person tests positive
[8:25 p.m.] The number of residents who have tested positive for coronavirus is up to four in Collin County. County health officials reported Thursday that the fourth case was a 35-year-old man from McKinney who is under self-quarantine at his home and has no underlying medical conditions. Officials did not note whether the case was related to travel. Officials reported the new case was unrelated to three previously confirmed cases of a family in Frisco.
The fourth Collin County case brings the total number of confirmed cases in Texas to 37, including 11 that were identified at a federal quarantine site at Lackland Air Force Base. — Alexa Ura
American Airlines pilot from D-FW tests positive for the coronavirus
[7:05 p.m.] “American’s Chief Medical Officer and leaders from our pilots’ office have been in touch with our Dallas Fort Worth based pilot who tested positive for COVID-19. We are in close contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and public health officials and are coordinating with them on all required health and safety measures,” the airline said in a statement, according to reports.
Dallas County cancels civil jury trials
[5:23 p.m.] Dallas County has canceled all civil and justice of the peace jury trials until April 13 as North Texas continues to grapple with fears over the coronavirus. That decision does not apply to criminal trials. Harris County made a similar decision earlier this week. — Emma Platoff
School districts announce suspending classes
[5:15 p.m.] More than 10 school districts announced they were suspending classes and creating contingency plans for teaching students online. — Aliyya Swaby
NCAA cancels winter and spring championship games
[4:17 p.m.] All remaining men’s and women’s college basketball championship games — including March Madness and the College World Series — are cancelled, the National Collegiate Athletic Association said in a statement Thursday.
“This decision is based on the evolving COVID-19 public health threat, our ability to ensure the events do not contribute to spread of the pandemic, and the impracticality of hosting such events at any time during this academic year given ongoing decisions by other entities,” the statement reads.
Houston's Toyota Center was one of four sites for Sweet 16 and Elite 8 games March 27-29. — Stacy Fernandez
Montgomery County officials aim to "mitigate the spread" as two more people test positive
[4:08 p.m.] Montgomery County now has three residents who have tested positive for coronavirus.
The two new patients whose positive tests were disclosed Thursday are a woman in her 40s who traveled to New Orleans and a man in his 40s who traveled to Florida. The county's first case involved a man who had not traveled recently, suggesting the possibility of "community spread" in the state for the first time.
“At this point, we are trying to mitigate the spread of the virus in this community,” said a county health department press release.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines community spread as the “occurrence of cases for which the source of infection is unknown.”
The two cases disclosed Thursday bring the Houston area's total number of cases to 17, the most out of any region in the state. — Naomi Andu
Lackland Air Force base gets 51 new evacuees
[3:22 p.m.] San Antonio’s Lackland Air Force Base received another 51 Grand Princess cruise ship evacuees Thursday morning — all of whom were Texans, according to a spokesperson from the mayor’s office. A total of 149 people were quarantined at the base.
After local officials raised concerns of non-Texans in quarantine taking up San Antonio hospital beds if they test positive for the virus, Gov. Greg Abbott and other local officials said the federal health department agreed to house only Texans at the base for longer than 72 hours. The San Antonio Express-News reported that 74 of the 98 evacuees who arrived Tuesday were from other states. Those evacuees will be flown from the base on noncivilian planes to finish their required 14-day quarantine on sites closer to their homes, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said on Facebook.
Nine people who had been quarantined at Lackland from the Diamond Princess cruise ship remained at the Texas Center for Infectious Disease in San Antonio after testing positive for the new coronavirus. — Jolie McCullough
More bad news for Astros fans
[2:47 p.m.] Major League Baseball’s regular season, set to start March 26, will be delayed by at least two weeks “in the interests of the safety and well-being of our players, Clubs, and our millions of loyal fans,” according Commissioner of Baseball Rob Manfred.
Spring training games are canceled, and 2020 World Baseball Classic Qualifier games in Tucson, Arizona, have been postponed indefinitely.
“MLB and the Clubs have been preparing a variety of contingency plans regarding the regular season schedule,” the statement reads. “MLB will announce the effects on the schedule at an appropriate time and will remain flexible as events warrant, with the hope of resuming normal operations as soon as possible.” — Naomi Andu
Montgomery County issues disaster declaration
[12:41 p.m.] Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough signed a 30-day declaration of disaster Thursday over concerns about the new coronavirus that seeks to stop events with more than 250 people. Publicly sponsored events of that size are canceled, and privately sponsored events are urged to cancel.
The declaration also asks nursing homes and senior living centers to limit visitation. The declaration does not apply to law enforcement activities, court operations or schools.
On Wednesday, Montgomery County health officials announced the first possible case of community spread in Texas. — Rebekah Allen
Chris Stapleton, Willie Nelson concert in Arlington postponed
[11:49 a.m.] The first public event at Globe Life Field in Arlington was postponed Thursday. The move is just the latest of its kind in Texas as more people take precautions against exposure to COVID-19, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.
Country star Chris Stapleton was set to play with Willie Nelson and other performers Saturday, at a show announced months ago at the $1.2 billion baseball park.
Pause on jury trials in civil cases in Houston
[10:26 a.m.] "In response to growing public health concerns and to protect the due process rights of all residents of Harris County," civil district courts in the state's most populous county will not be calling any jury trials for the rest of March, according to Michael Gomez, the civil administrative judge for Harris County district courts.
Courts may exercise individual discretion about bench trials. — Emma Platoff
Texas Tech University and St. Edwards University shift to online classes
[9:11 a.m.] Texas Tech University has canceled classes the week after its spring break and said teaching will move online beginning March 30. Campus buildings, including residence halls, will remain open, and students may stay on campus during spring break.
St. Edward’s University in Austin will host two weeks of online classes after the end of its scheduled spring break.
The announcement comes after several Texas universities, including the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Houston and Texas Christian University, said Wednesday said they would extend spring break. Some of them will move to online classes, at least temporarily. — Shannon Najmabadi
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz closes Washington, D.C., office
[9:01 a.m.] In response to reports that a staffer from another U.S. Senate office has tested positive for the new coronavirus, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz announced in a statement this morning that he’s temporarily shut down his Washington, D.C., office.
“Sen. Cruz’s office had previously established a working group to prepare for a scenario just like this and is fully equipped for staff to work remotely and continue to serve the people of Texas,” reads a statement from his office.
Cruz said Sunday that he had interacted with a person late last month at the Conservative Political Action Conference who has since tested positive for the new coronavirus. According to his office, he’s in Texas still completing his 14-day self-quarantine.
“Sen. Cruz feels healthy and is at home in Texas,” a statement reads. “Offices in Texas remain open, and Sen. Cruz is continuing to closely monitor the situation and take every precaution necessary to keep staff healthy and help reduce the spread of this virus to others.”— Alex Samuels
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