March 16's biggest developments:
- A Matagorda County man who died Sunday tested positive for the virus. It is the first such case in Texas.
- Dallas and Houston to close bars, make restaurants takeout only.
- Texas Court of Criminal Appeals halts an execution due to coronavirus.
- The count of confirmed cases in Texas was 69 at noon Monday, but Gov. Greg Abbott says to expect an "exponential" increase soon.
- State waives STAAR test requirements for school districts.
Texas sees first known death related to COVID-19
[11:09 p.m.] Matagorda County officials reported Monday night that a man in his late 90s died the night before with symptoms consistent with COVID-19, making it the first known death in Texas related to the novel coronavirus. Hospital officials were notified Monday evening that the patient, a resident of Matagorda County, had tested positive, according to a Matagorda County Emergency Operations Center news release. — Cassi Pollock
San Antonio mayor bans gatherings of 50 people
[9:09 p.m.] San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg has issued a new public health emergency declaration prohibiting mass gatherings of over 50 people. The seven-day declaration begins Tuesday. The San Antonio City Council, Nirenberg’s office said, will consider extending it at a scheduled Thursday meeting. Nirenberg’s declaration also states that bars and restaurants should place tables at least six feet away from each other to “ensure safe social distancing.”
Nirenberg stopped short of mandates in Harris County and Dallas County, where restaurants are no longer allowed to offer in-person dining and where bars and clubs will be closed altogether. — Cassi Pollock
Texas GOP plans to delay 2020 convention
[8:44 p.m.] The Republican Party of Texas is preparing to push back its 2020 convention to mid-July amid coronavirus concerns.
The biennial convention is scheduled to take place from May 11-16 in Houston, which puts it in near-conflict with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendation against events with 50 or more people for the next eight weeks. On a statewide call Monday night, party Chairman James Dickey said the party intends to reschedule the convention for July 13-18, but the date change is not official until the State Republican Executive Committee signs off on it at an April 4 meeting.
Dickey said the convention will still happen in Houston, and he has confirmed it can be hosted by the same venue, the George R. Brown Convention Center.
The Texas Democratic Party's 2020 convention is set for June 4-6 in San Antonio, outside the CDC's eight-week range. Still, the party said in a statement Monday morning that it's "exploring backup plans in the event that the City of San Antonio decides that an event of our size cannot be held." — Patrick Svitek
Democrats ask state to use mail-in ballots for May runoff
[5:59 p.m.] Amid growing concerns about the coronavirus outbreak in the state, the Texas Democratic Party is asking the state to consider universal voting by mail in Texas for the upcoming May municipal and runoff elections.
In a letter to the Texas secretary of state, Gilberto Hinojosa, the chair of the Texas Democratic Party, suggested that the state and parties should develop “contingency plans” for elections slated for May 2 and May 26 to be held entirely by mail to avoid the spread of the coronavirus at polling places and logistical issues that could arise as a result of social distancing among a largely elderly pool of election workers.
“Under the current and projected conditions involving COVID-19, it does not seem viable for Texas to hold meaningful elections in May in which all eligible voters can participate, if those elections rely on polling place-based voting,” Hinojosa said.
The proposal would mark a massive expansion of voting by mail, which has been fairly limited in Texas. To be eligible under current rules, a voter has to be 65 years or older, have a disability or illness, be out of the county during the election period, or be confined in jail.
“An all-mail election in which county election officials mail a ballot to every registered voter is the only realistic option that ensures meaningful participation in the elections while also protecting public health,” Hinojosa said. — Alexa Ura
Dallas and Houston to close bars, make restaurants takeout only
[5:25 p.m.] Bars and restaurants are being shut down for dine-in service in Dallas and Houston for at least the next week, the cities' mayors announced Monday afternoon.
In Houston, the new rules go into effect Tuesday morning and will last for at least 15 days. The Dallas shutdown starts before midnight Monday and will last at least a week.
The move follows a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation to cease all gatherings of 50 or more people in the coming eight weeks. — Stacy Fernández and Sami Sparber
Execution halted due to coronavirus
[5:20 p.m.] The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Monday halted an execution set for this week due to the new coronavirus.
The court ordered that Wednesday’s execution of John Hummel should be delayed “in light of the current health crisis and the enormous resources needed to address that emergency.” The stay is in place for 60 days, after which the county can move to set a new execution date.
Hummel was sentenced to death by a Tarrant County jury in 2011 after the 2009 murders of his pregnant wife, his 5-year-old daughter and his father-in-law. — Jolie McCullough
Texas issues coronavirus rules for day cares
[3:12 p.m.] In light of the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, state health officials are directing child care centers to implement new guidelines, effective immediately. Providers got notice late Sunday to begin limiting access to the general public and allow in only state health workers, law enforcement, day care staff, kids and their parents. But before people can get in, Texas Health and Human Services is urging providers to screen them, including taking the temperature of each person upon arrival, and deny entry to anyone who meets any of the following criteria:
- A temperature of 100.4° or above;
- Signs or symptoms of a respiratory infection, such as a cough, shortness of breath, sore throat and low-grade fever;
- In the previous 14 days has had contact with someone with a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19, is under investigation for COVID-19 or is ill with a respiratory illness;
- Or in the previous 14 days has traveled internationally to countries with widespread, sustained community transmission.
HHS further urges day cares to begin requiring kids be picked up and dropped off outside in most circumstances. And no more family-style meals. The licensing agency asks operators to ensure each child is provided individual meals and snacks. — Alana Rocha
Gov. Greg Abbott says to expect "exponential" increase in cases
[2:55 p.m.] The number of Texans testing positive for the new coronavirus is likely to rise dramatically as the state's testing capacity ramps up and cases of community spread continue to climb, Gov. Greg Abbott said Monday.
"You're going to see an exponential increase in the number of people testing positive on a daily basis, " Abbott said at a press conference.
State and federal officials have reported at least 69 cases as of Monday. There are likely more unconfirmed cases, given that there are examples of community spread and limited testing capacity. Community spread occurs when the source of infection is unknown. — Stacy Fernández
U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert throws roadblock in front of federal coronavirus package
[2:15 p.m.] A U.S. House-passed package intended to deal with the coronavirus faced serious jeopardy, including a potential delay caused by a Texan, as the Senate anticipated addressing the legislation Monday.
The bill faced trouble in several directions, but U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, is putting up an initial roadblock. House leaders are sorting out what they describe as "technical corrections" on the bill. Gohmert is demanding the revised legislation be read on the floor, per multiple reports.
Most House members returned to their districts over the weekend. The changes could glide through that chamber without their return if no present members object to a motion to unanimously consent to passing the bill. But if there is an objection, all House members must return to Washington to pass the bill — a process that could take days. — Abby Livingston
Dallas County reports five additional cases; more community spread
[2:06 p.m.] Five more people have tested positive for the new coronavirus in Dallas County, county Judge Clay Jenkins said Monday. One of the cases is likely from community spread, and the other four are linked to domestic travel out of Texas, according to a press release.
The new cases include a man in his 40s, a man in his 50s, a man in his 60s, a man in his 70s and a woman in her 50s. None of them are hospitalized; they are instead self-isolated in their homes, according to the release.
Four of the people who tested positive are Dallas County residents, and the fifth is from out of state. Fifteen Dallas County residents have tested positive for the new coronavirus as of 10 a.m. Monday, according to the Dallas County Health and Human Services website. — Stacy Fernández
Latest numbers say 69 confirmed cases in Texas
[1:09 p.m.] The count of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Texas reached 69 cases as of noon Monday. 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 Sunday, the state has reported one additional case. — Stacy Fernández
Texas Education Agency waives STAAR test requirements
[10:42 .m.] In an unprecedented move, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday he would waive testing requirements for this year’s STAAR exam, as many schools expect to be closed at least through the April testing window due to the new coronavirus.
He also said he would ask the federal government to waive this year's federal standardized testing requirements, which apply to all states. According to the state, as of Sunday afternoon, 569 school districts had announced closures due to coronavirus concerns. Texas is not alone; more than 30 states have closed schools due to coronavirus, affecting at least 30 million public school students nationwide.
The governor's announcement comes a day after Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath told superintendents and lawmakers on two separate phone calls to prepare for long-term school district closures, potentially through the end of the school year, especially in areas where the new coronavirus has spread.
Lawmakers from both parties, as well as school superintendents, had been calling on the state to cancel the test since it became clear students would miss many days of school when districts started extending their spring breaks for a week or two. —Aliyya Swaby
Dallas gets latest drive-through testing site
[8:42 a.m.] Parkland Health & Hospital System in Dallas will begin drive-through testing its patients for the new coronavirus starting Monday afternoon, reports The Dallas Morning News.
Testing will be by appointment only and is available to current Parkland patients, first responders and health care workers. People will be interviewed by phone before they’re approved for testing, The Dallas Morninig News reported.
On Friday, San Antonio opened the state’s first drive-through coronavirus testing facility that is prioritizing health care workers and first responders. Gov. Greg Abbott announced more drive-through testing sites would open in Texas’ major cities including Houston, Dallas and Austin in the coming weeks after he declared the coronavirus a statewide public health disaster Friday. The announcement came amid widespread criticism that testing for COVID-19 has been too limited.
Austin’s first drive-through coronavirus testing center also opened Friday at the hospital group Baylor Scott & White’s North Austin clinic, off Braker Lane near The Domain shopping center.
Drive-through testing centers will allow visitors to get tested without leaving their vehicles, limiting exposure for health care workers. They are expected to increase access to testing and decrease wait times for results. Houston has yet to announce a drive-through testing center. — Stacy Fernández
Disclosure: The Texas secretary of state, the University of Texas at Austin and the Texas Department of Health and Human Services have been financial supporters 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.