Friday's biggest developments:
- Texas delays May primary runoff elections
- More than 200 have tested positive, and more than 5,000 tests have been administered in Texas
- Advocacy groups call for release of migrants in detention
May primary runoff elections delayed until July
Abbott signed the postponement under the emergency powers of his previous statewide disaster declaration. The elections are now scheduled for July 14; early voting will begin July 6.
Before Abbott's announcement, Texas Democrats instead turned to the state courts Friday to push for expanding mail-in voting. — Alexa Ura
Health care providers delay non-urgent appointments, surgeries
[6:54 p.m.] In an effort to protect their staff and patients from COVID-19 during a time when people are being encouraged to stay 6 feet away from each other, health care providers across the state have postponed check-ups, elective surgeries and other non-urgent medical appointments that must be conducted in person. Likewise, some patients who need regular medical care are putting it off, afraid of contracting the virus in crowded waiting rooms or from health care workers who may not have access to adequate personal protective equipment.
But there are certain procedures and other in-person visits that can only be delayed so long. That has patients and health care providers alike asking the same question: How long is the coronavirus pandemic going to last and demand social isolation?
“We don’t know, and there’s no one who can tell you,” said Dr. Jim McDeavitt, senior vice president of operations and dean of clinical affairs at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. As with the economy, education and beyond, “the longer this goes on, the more challenging it’s going to get.” — Kiah Collier
Texas small businesses can apply for emergency federal loans
[6:54 p.m.] Small businesses battered by the novel coronavirus pandemic sweeping through Texas can apply for long-term, low-interest loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Friday. The Economic Injury Disaster Loan is available for small businesses to apply. Questions of eligibility, and how to apply, can be answered on the agency website. — Mitchell Ferman
Troubled restaurants want sales tax payment delay, but state needs that money to respond to the virus
[2:46 p.m.] Texas restaurant owners say they could ride out the new coronavirus' social slowdown for months if the state waived, delayed or deferred Friday's deadline to pay sales taxes from last month. But Comptroller Glenn Hegar said the state won’t push back the deadline because, most importantly, the state and local governments that depend on those taxes to keep hospitals and emergency services going need the money as they prepare for the number of Texans testing positive to skyrocket within weeks. — Mitchell Ferman and Ross Ramsey
More than 200 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Texas
[12:45 p.m.] In Texas, at least 212 people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, and five people have died, according to the latest numbers provided Thursday by the Texas Department of State Health Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is 30% more than the 161 cases reported Thursday and an 123% increase from the 95 cases reported Wednesday. The most affected county is Harris, with 24 cases, followed by Dallas, with 22. Travis follows with 21. The state tracks cases by county of residence, and some patients are treated outside of the county where they live, so today’s data also lists 19 cases in which investigators are still determining the county of residence.
The state health agency says that these numbers may differ from local reports, given that some jurisdictions are making their data public before sending it to the state and also because they might be including residents of other counties in their reports. At least 5,277 tests have been administered, a 125% increase over yesterday’s testing total. — Darla Cameron
Abbott suspends prisoner health care fees
[12 p.m.] Gov. Greg Abbott directed the Texas prison system to temporarily suspend prisoner health care fees for services related to COVID-19 to "encourage timely reporting of COVID-19 symptoms so that offenders are given the treatment they need," according to a news release from the governor's office.
As of September, prisoner health care costs were $13.55 per medical visit, with an annual cap of $100 a year. Prison reform advocates have argued that higher fees dissuade inmates from seeking treatment.
"Waiving health care fees for offenders housed in [Texas Department of Criminal Justice] facilities will ensure that inmates experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19 receive immediate medical attention," Abbott said in the release. "This suspension will protect the health of both inmates and TDCJ staff, and is a crucial tool in our efforts to mitigate any potential spread of COVID-19 in closely confined populations."
TDCJ holds about 140,000 inmates in its more than 100 prison facilities. The department has not yet reported any cases of the new coronavirus, though testing is only being performed by outside entities if an inmate has been taken to a hospital and a doctor there orders it, according to a prison spokesperson. — Jolie McCullough
Calls increase for Trump administration to release migrants from detention
[5 a.m.] As the new coronavirus infects more than 11,000 Americans, including more than 160 Texans so far, immigrant rights groups and attorneys are calling for the government to release detained migrants before the pandemic creates an irreversible health crisis inside detention facilities.
“A number of detainees in recent days have told us how frightened they are to be locked in detention as the coronavirus spreads throughout the country,” the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services said in a statement. “We demand that ICE release all immigrant detainees immediately.”
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement website details its procedures, including isolation, in the event that a detained person gets COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. But more than 750 private entities wrote to ICE acting Director Matthew T. Albence on Thursday arguing that the agency’s track record under the Trump administration does nothing to instill confidence that detainees are being kept in safe environments. — Julián Aguilar