Saturday's biggest developments:
- H-E-B cuts hours
- Lawmakers call for STAAR test to be canceled
- Congress passes sweeping coronavirus bill
Austin gets drive-through coronavirus testing
[4:45 p.m.] Austin’s first drive-through coronavirus testing center opened Friday afternoon on the heels of Gov. Greg Abbott’s announcement that most major Texas cities should expect similar sites in the upcoming weeks.
Hospital group Baylor Scott & White is operating the North Austin clinic, which is located off Braker Lane near The Domain shopping center. It has been testing patients since 4 p.m. on Friday, spokeswoman Christy Millweard said. Drive-through testing centers will allow visitors to get tested without leaving their vehicles, limiting exposure for healthcare workers. They are expected to increase access to testing and decrease wait time for results.
Unlike San Antonio’s drive-through center, which also opened Friday, visitors do not have to be healthcare workers or first responders. But there are some restrictions: in order to access the drive-through, visitors must first complete a pre-screening questionnaire via the hospital’s website or app. From there, Millweard said patients must talk to a nurse or doctor online in order to schedule an in-person appointment or to visit a testing facility. — Raga Justin
Grocery story chain H-E-B cuts hours to handle demand
[2:09 p.m.] Grocery giant H-E-B is announcing new hours as it responds to widespread shortages spurred by increasing coronavirus-induced consumer demand.
Beginning Sunday, all H-E-B locations will open at 8 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. until further notice, according to a press release.
“While we restock our shelves around the clock, much of our restocking and replenishment happens overnight when our stores are closed,” the release reads. “This temporary change in store hours will give our Partners extra time to work diligently overnight to better stock our shelves.”
Customers should prepare for “reduced services” in H-E-B’s bakeries, delis and floral departments while pharmacies across the state will have varying closing times. All H-E-B-partnered restaurants will be closed down until further notice.
The retailer has grappled with temporary shortages on essentials such as toilet paper and groceries, which previously prompted them to place restrictions on certain items per person. On Friday, Gov. Greg Abbott urged Texans to stop stockpiling supplies.— Raga Justin
Texas lawmakers calling for STAAR test to be canceled
A bipartisan group of state lawmakers is calling for the state to cancel the upcoming April STAAR test — as more public school districts suspend classes in the wake of heightened concern over coronavirus.
State Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, sent a letter to the governor Friday asking that “any and all requirements and mandates related to the provision of the 2020 STAAR test” be canceled, since area school districts have “substantially limited” classroom instruction.
The federal government is already considering waivers from testing requirements for areas heavily impacted by the COVID-19 disease. The state is expected to provide more guidance on the issue next week.
Student at UT-Arlington tests positive for COVID-19
[9:30 a.m.] A student at the University of Texas at Arlington tested positive for the new coronavirus, President Vistasp Karbhari said in a letter to students, faculty and staff.
"We care deeply about the health and well-being of our Maverick family, especially as we address the emerging challenges posed by the spread of the coronavirus," he said. "The University is working closely with Tarrant County health officials and assisting in identifying individuals who may have had contact with the individual."
The school announced last week it was extending spring break and switching to online classes "until further notice" beginning on March 23. — Rebekah Allen
Some Texas Republicans vote against U.S. House bill to provide free coronavirus testing
[8:00 a.m.] The U.S House overwhelmingly passed a measure early Saturday morning that aimed to mitigate the spread and economic impact of the new coronavirus.
The final tally was 363-40 on a package that included free testing for the virus, expanded food aid and expanded sick leave benefits for workers.
All Texas Democrats and 12 Republicans supported the bill. But Republican U.S. Reps. Brian Babin of Woodville, Michael Cloud of Victoria, Louie Gohmert of Tyler, Lance Gooden of Terrell, Chip Roy of Austin and Randy Weber of Friendswood voted against the package. U.S. Reps. Kenny Marchant of Coppell, Pete Olson of Sugar Land and John Ratcliffe of Heath were not present.
Doctors notified Gohmert earlier this week that he was potentially exposed to the virus at the conservative CPAC conference late last month. Gohmert opted against self-quarantining, unlike Sen. Ted Cruz, who also was notified he was also potentially exposed.
The bill includes free testing for even uninsured people. And it provides free food for children whose schools are closed, as well as assistance for food banks and seniors.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin negotiated the deal, which is expected to pass the Senate. It has the support of President Donald Trump.— Abby Livingston