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Coronavirus in Texas

Coronavirus in Texas 3/24: Quarantine ending for cruise ship evacuees at Lackland Air Force Base

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

"Wash Ur Hands" was spray-painted over the iconic “Be Somebody" graffiti that normally appears on a rail bridge near downtow…

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.

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Tuesday's biggest developments:

  • Coronavirus hits Texas prisons with first inmate case confirmed
  • Quarantine ending for cruise ship evacuees at Lackland Air Force Base
  • Texas’ largest counties issuing stay-at-home orders

El Paso loosens guidelines for who can be tested

[7:44 p.m.] The city of El Paso announced Tuesday expanded testing capabilities to screen for the new coronavirus.

A drive-thru testing facility will now allow patients with doctors’ orders to be tested in about 10 minutes. The facility will serve patients whose doctors or clinics don’t have their own testing capabilities.

City officials advised that El Pasoans who have visited their doctors and obtained lab orders are allowed use the facility. A health care worker will greet each patient, obtain a swab and send the sample for testing. The results will be available in three to five days.

Last week, the city advised people who showed symptoms to first monitor their illness for three days before going to the doctor, or contact a doctor immediately if they showed symptoms and had direct contact with a sick person or traveled outside the region. They also had to show proof they tested negative for the flu and strep throat in order to obtain a test for the coronavirus.

“We are implementing a system so people who do not need emergency room care can be sampled and tested while not overwhelming the healthcare system,” Wanda Helgesen, the Border Regional Advisory Council’s executive director, said in a statement.

Fourteen people in El Paso County have tested positive for the virus, including four at Fort Bliss. — Julián Aguilar

To give Texans more food options, restaurants can now act more like grocery stores

[5:27 p.m.] Texas restaurants will soon be able to sell bulk food products in a manner similar to grocery stores, thanks to a new directive by Gov. Greg Abbott. The governor told the Texas Department of State Health Services on Tuesday to issue guidance that allows restaurants to sell products from restaurant distributors directly to the public, according to a news release. The bulk products — like packaged meats, dry goods and produce — must be sold to customers in the same packaging and condition they were in when restaurants received them.

Abbott has ordered a statewide closure of restaurant dining rooms, but they can still sell food through drive-thrus, to-go orders and deliveries.

Tuesday's directive was intended to bring in another food source for Texans when essential grocery stores have become overrun. People preparing for long stays at home to mitigate the spread of the new coronavirus are regularly emptying shelves at local grocery stores, and lines to get inside can stretch for blocks.

"A vital part of our COVID-19 response is to ensure that there are readily available supplies of food and resources, whether that is at grocery stores or, in this case, restaurants,” Abbott said in the release. “This guidance gives Texans another easily accessible option to buy the food they need to support their families." — Jolie McCullough

Gov. Greg Abbott signals openness to stricter coronavirus order

[4:40 p.m.] Expressing dissatisfaction Tuesday with how Texans are responding to various measures to curb the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Greg Abbott signaled an openness to imposing stricter statewide action soon.

"We will continue to evaluate, based upon all the data, whether or not there needs to be heightened standards and stricter enforcement," Abbott said a news conference. Abbott's comments came on the heels of the state's biggest counties issuing stay-at-home orders in the absence of a statewide mandate. Abbott has resisted such a sweeping order so far, saying many counties are still not reporting cases and that he wants to see the full impact of an executive order he issued Thursday. — Patrick Svitek

First case involving inmate confirmed in Texas

[4:15 p.m.] The first Texas prisoner has tested positive for the new coronavirus.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice said Tuesday that the 37-year-old man, who has a preexisting respiratory condition, is being treated at the prison system’s hospital in Galveston and has been there for three days. He was in TDCJ custody a little less than a month after a conviction in Harris County on two drug possession charges. The agency said he is in good condition.

“Our coronavirus protocol was developed exactly for a situation like this," said Bryan Collier, the department's executive director. "Our prayers are with the offender and his family as he recovers from this illness.” — Jolie McCullough

Denton County asks state for temporary hospital at site of state supported living center

[2:57 p.m.] Local officials in Denton asked Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday to build a temporary hospital at the site of a state-run home for people with disabilities.

At least six residents of the Denton State Supported Living Center have tested positive for the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19, Denton Mayor Chris Watts and Denton County Judge Andy Eads wrote.

“The residents and 1,400 employees of the Facility are at great risk for a rapid devastating spread of COVID-19 throughout the campus,” they wrote to Abbott. “In such an event, the local medical capacity could be quickly overwhelmed.” — Edgar Walters

Texas unemployment rate headed toward double digits, comptroller warns

[2:50 p.m.] After hitting a record low unemployment rate of 3.5% in January, Texas is seeing an unemployment rate around 9% as the new coronavirus spreads, Comptroller Glenn Hegar said Thursday.

In an interview with Texas Standard, Hegar added that he has "no doubt that people are going to start forecasting it’s going to be slightly in the low double digits.”

Unemployment insurance claims filed with the Texas Workforce Commission reached 16,038 from March 8 through March 14, the agency said in its latest release, compared with 11,556 claims filed during the same week in 2019. — Mitchell Ferman

Quarantine ending for cruise ship evacuees at Lackland Air Force Base

[1:50 p.m.] American cruise ship evacuees from aboard the Grand Princess are starting to leave their two-week, federally mandated quarantine at the Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.

A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson said Tuesday that 97 evacuees had been released from quarantine Monday night and Tuesday morning. Another 18 people were expected to leave later Tuesday. The rest will leave over the next several days.

Hundreds of Americans from China's Hubei province and two cruise ships have been quarantined at Lackland since February. Of them, 21 became symptomatic and tested positive for the new coronavirus, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokesperson. Five were from the Grand Princess ship.

The most recent group of evacuees at Lackland originally consisted of 149 Americans aboard the Grand Princess, the CDC spokesperson said. But after city and state officials said they only wanted Texans to be sent to San Antonio medical centers, where those who tested positive were treated, at least 25 evacuees from other states were eventually sent to finish quarantine in their home states. — Jolie McCullough

U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady: Lock down virus, not entire economy

[1:45 p.m.] U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, echoed Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Tuesday, saying that efforts to mitigate the spread of the new coronavirus shouldn’t lock down the entire economy.

In an MSNBC interview Tuesday, Brady said, “In Texas, our governor and lieutenant governor have made some smart decisions that have allowed our local communities to really lock down where it made sense … and I think we’ve done an awfully good job of trying to contain this virus without locking down the entire community.”

Brady also said, “Let’s lock down this virus, don’t lock down the entire economy — we’ve still got some big challenges ahead.”

In an interview Monday, Patrick implied that he would rather die from the new coronavirus than see the economy destroyed for his grandchildren by overreaction to the disease. Medical officials have urged people to practice social distancing and stay home in an attempt to not overwhelm the medical system with more patients than it has the staffing and resources to treat. — Stacy Fernández

House Democratic Caucus members call for statewide stay-at-home order

[11:45 a.m.] Most of the House Democratic Caucus has signed on to a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott asking him to issue a statewide stay-at-home order to help combat the new coronavirus.

“We recognize a statewide order of this magnitude will have an unprecedented impact on Texans and their livelihoods,” the letter says. “In order to flatten the curve and give us time to win this war, we need to take immediate action.” — Cassandra Pollock

Texas’ largest counties issuing stay-at-home orders

[8:40 a.m.] Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley on Tuesday ordered residents to stay in their homes as much as possible as the state grapples with the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff on Monday evening issued a “Stay Home, Work Safe” order effective from 11:59 p.m. Tuesday through 11:59 p.m. April 9. The move came one day after Dallas County issued a similar order. And the Austin City Council and Travis County will team up Tuesday to issue a similar stay-at-home decree, Austin Mayor Steve Adler told The Texas Tribune on Monday. — Alex Samuels

Precautions taken to slow spread of COVID-19 could hurt rural hospitals

[5 a.m.] As hospitals increase capacity to treat a growing number of patients who may become infected with COVID-19, rural hospital administrators say financial hardships could force them to do the opposite.

The administrators say the precautions being taken, such as the cancellation of elective surgeries — which are one of the hospitals' most lucrative income streams — threaten to hasten the rate of closures.

"If we're not able to address the short-term cash needs of rural hospitals, we're going to see hundreds of rural hospitals close before this crisis ends," Alan Morgan, the head of the National Rural Health Association, recently told Kaiser Health News. "This is not hyperbole." — Edgar Walters

Disclosure: The Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts and Steve Adler, a former Texas Tribune board chairman, 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.

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