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Coronavirus in Texas 3/15: Texas count climbs; state gets a boost in medical safety supplies

Our staff is closely tracking developments on the new coronavirus in Texas. Check here for live updates.

Visitors pass a sign warning about the spread of germs, after another case of the COVID-19 was confirmed in Toronto, Canada.…

Coronavirus in Texas

As cases of the new strain of coronavirus grow worldwide, The Texas Tribune will continue to cover developments in Texas and nationally so our audience can stay as safe and informed as possible. Check back here for up-to-the-minute news, and visit our explainer on the coronavirus for essential information, including the number of cases in Texas and things everyone should know about the virus.

 More in this series 

Sunday's biggest developments:

  • Many Texas schools could be closed for weeks — maybe the rest of the school year.
  • CDC recommends canceling all events with 50 or more people.
  • Community spread detected in Matagorda County.

State extends the expiration date of some driver's licenses

[9:12 p.m.] In an effort to fight the spread of the new coronavirus and keep people out of long lines in state facilities, the Texas Department of Public Safety said Sunday that it's extending the expiration date of all driver's licenses to 60 days after the end of the disaster declaration in the state of Texas.

The decision applies to any driver's license, personal ID card, commercial driver's license or election identification certificate that expires on March 13, 2020 or later.

Many Texas schools could be closed through academic year due to coronavirus, education commissioner warns

[9 p.m.] Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath told school superintendents and lawmakers Sunday to be prepared for long-term school district closures, potentially through the end of the school year, especially in areas where the new coronavirus has spread.

According to individuals who participated in two separate conference calls with the commissioner, Morath said he would still leave the decision up to local superintendents. This comes as hundreds of school districts announced they would suspend classes for at least a week, with concerns about COVID-19 spreading through their communities. — Aliyya Swaby

CDC recommends no gatherings of 50 or more people for next 8 weeks

[6:35 p.m.] In a guidance issued Sunday evening, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that organizers cancel or postpone any in-person events that include 50 people or more for the next eight weeks.

"Large events and mass gatherings can contribute to the spread of COVID-19 in the United States via travelers who attend these events and introduce the virus to new communities," the guidance says.

The guidance only pertains to events, not day-to-day operations of schools or businesses. It is also only a recommendation and does not overrule decisions made at the local level. Texas has no statewide ban of large events in place, though local officials have canceled numerous events and most major festivals and sporting events have already been canceled. Austin has banned gatherings of 250 people or more, for instance.

"This recommendation is made in an attempt to reduce introduction of the virus into new communities and to slow the spread of infection in communities already affected by the virus," the guidance says.

State distributing more medical supplies

[4:06 p.m.] The Texas Department of State Health Services has started to distribute surgical masks and other various medical supplies to health care entities to help with responding to the new coronavirus.

The department, which announced the news Sunday afternoon, said Texas received the medical equipment from the Strategic National Stockpile, a federal-run repository aimed at helping states during national emergencies.

Items ranged from masks to respirators and face shields and gloves. Equipment had first arrived Saturday at a San Antonio warehouse, the department said. More would be sent to local partners, DSHS said, which would then distribute to local providers and health care facilities in the area. — Cassi Pollock

UT-Austin President tests negative for COVID-19

[2:15 p.m.] University of Texas at Austin President Greg Fenves has tested negative for the coronavirus and has not experienced any symptoms since late Thursday.

According to an email alert from Amy Young, UT Health Austin’s Chief Clinical Officer, Fenves will continue to self-isolate and monitor for symptoms.

UT is still in the process of contacting individuals who have had close contact with Fenves.

“Because of President Fenves’ extensive contact with those in his family who have tested positive and the fact that he had demonstrated symptoms, there remains a possibility he may have been infectious prior to his COVID-19 testing,” Young wrote. “Therefore, public health authorities are recommending continued self-isolation for those who were in close contact.”

On March 13, Fenves announced that his wife Carmel tested positive for the coronavirus after a visit to New York in early March.

“After the trip, Carmel started exhibiting mild flu-like symptoms. She tested negative for the flu yesterday and was then tested for COVID-19. This morning at 5:30 a.m., we received the news that she had tested positive,” Fenves wrote in a letter to the university community. — Raga Justin

Latest coronavirus count climbs to 68 cases statewide

[12:30 p.m.] The state’s coronavirus count reached 68 cases as of noon Sunday. Four counties are now reporting community spread: Brazoria, Dallas, Matagorda and Montgomery. In total, 17 counties–– and the Lackland Air Force Base–– are reporting at least one coronavirus case. Since Saturday at 7 p.m., the state has reported an additional five cases. — Raga Justin

Community spread suspected in Matagorda County

[12:20 p.m.] Matagorda County reported its first case of the new coronavirus Saturday, in what is likely another example of community spread.

The patient is a woman in her 60s who lives in the county. According to a press release, the patient was first admitted to the Matagorda Regional Medical Center due to complications with pneumonia, prompting workers to test her for the coronavirus. The patient is in fair condition and remains in the hospital to continue treatment for her pneumonia, the release said. Aaron Fox, a spokesman for the county hospital district, said the patient did not report any international travel but had traveled in and around Texas.

While not yet confirmed by officials, Fox said the county is “preparing to lean more to the community spread mindset.”Dallas, Montgomery and Brazoria Counties previously reported community spread as well. — Raga Justin

DFW one of 13 U.S. airports accepting flights from Europe

[11:00 a.m.] The chaos and crowds seemed to have subsided at the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport on Sunday morning.

An airport spokesman said the lines were back to normal, following hundreds of travelers returning from Europe complaining about wait times that lasted several hours on Saturday night.

The DFW Airport is one of 13 U.S. airports accepting flights from Europe and other regions impacted by the coronavirus.

A spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said they are working around the clock to minimize inconveniences going forward.

"CBP recognizes that the wait times experienced yesterday at some locations were unacceptable. As we work collaboratively with federal, state, and local agencies to address the spread of COVID-19, some of the resources of our partners are stretched thin. CBP continually adjusts its resources, in real time, as needed and we will continue to do so. We understand the inconvenience to travelers and be assured that our top priority is to ensure the safety, and security of the American people while bolstering our economic security with the facilitation of legitimate trade and travel," Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan said in a statement.

Photos of long lines emerged late Saturday night from other international airports — in Chicago and New York — that led to travelers complaining of hours-long waits to enter Customs. Some travelers on social media posted that they were worried about being packed with hundreds of other people when officials across the country have been urging the public to keep a distance from others in hopes of reducing the spread of COVID-19. —Mitchell Ferman

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