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Coronavirus in Texas

Coronavirus in Texas 3/31: State reports 3,266 cases and 41 deaths; Paxton gets temporary victory on abortion ban

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

The emergency drop-off at St. David’s Medical Center in Austin on March 30, 2020.

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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*Correction appended

Tuesday’s biggest developments

  • Texas reports 3,266 cases and 41 deaths
  • Paxton gets temporary victory on abortion ban
  • Harris County extends stay-at-home order, plans release of some inmates
  • Federal officials OK Texas' request to waive student testing

Harris County extends stay-at-home order, plans release of some inmates

[4:52 p.m.] Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said she is extending the “stay home, work safe” order in her jurisdiction through April 30. The order mandates that county residents must stay in their residences and can only leave for "essential activities.”

“It’s not the time right now to scale back in our containment measures. If anything, it’s the time to double down, because our rates continue to grow very rapidly,” Hidalgo said.

She added that she is supportive of the order issued Tuesday by Gov. Greg Abbott and that if “his order conflicts with our order, we will work that out in the future.”

Hidalgo also announced that she is signing an order to release an estimated 1,000 Harris County jail inmates. The order would apply to those who are not convicted and those who are in jail on nonviolent charges. There could be exceptions, and each case will be reviewed.

“We know that the Harris County jail is a ticking time bomb. We already have a case in the jail. We are likely to see more in the coming days,” Hidalgo said. “Public health experts have made clear that it’s a dangerous situation.”

Following Abbott’s executive order signed Sunday, Hidalgo won’t release anyone previously convicted for violent offenses. She explained that this measure is not just about the approximately 8,000 inmates in the jail, but also about the 3,000 workers in the jail and their families, who could be exposed to the coronavirus.— Juan Pablo Garnham

Texas reports 3,266 cases and 41 deaths

[1:30 p.m.] Texas reported 389 more cases of the new coronavirus Tuesday, bringing the total number of known cases to 3,266. Nearly half of the state’s 254 counties have reported at least one case.

The state is also reporting three additional deaths, bringing the statewide total to 41. Dallas County and Comal County each reported one additional death, and Ellis County reported its first death.

Harris County has reported the most cases, 563, followed by Dallas County, which has reported 549 cases. Dallas County is also reporting 11 deaths, more than any other county. Bexar County has reported five deaths, giving it the second-highest total.

As of Monday, at least 42,992 tests have been conducted in Texas. — Darla Cameron

Paxton gets temporary victory on abortion ban

[1:15 p.m.] Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton scored a temporary victory in his legal battle to halt abortions during the COVID-19 pandemic after a federal appeals court sided with the state Tuesday.

Last week, citing an executive order by Gov. Greg Abbott to postpone unnecessary medical procedures, Paxton said that abortions should not be performed unless the mother’s life is in danger. But on Monday, a federal judge temporarily blocked the state's ban on abortions, writing that Paxton's interpretation of Abbott's order "prevents Texas women from exercising what the Supreme Court has declared is their fundamental constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy before a fetus is viable.”

On Tuesday morning, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the lower court's block, temporarily allowing the ban to proceed as the case continues. Paxton declared victory on Twitter. — Juan Pablo Garnham

Federal officials OK Texas' request to waive student testing

[1:12 pm.] The U.S. Department of Education granted Texas’ request to waive student testing and school accountability requirements for the school year after a statewide closure of all public schools due to the new coronavirus.

In a letter dated Friday, the federal government effectively gave Texas permission to cancel its state standardized tests this year, normally an annual requirement of each state. Texas announced the STAAR cancellation earlier this month and gave schools leeway to determine whether students can graduate without it. — Aliyya Swaby

28 people in Austin test positive after spring break trip

[12:17 p.m.] Austin Public Health reported that 28 young adults coming back from a spring break trip in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, have tested positive for COVID-19 and that dozens more are under a public health investigation. KXAN-TV reported that many of them are students at the University of Texas at Austin.

According to a press release, a group of approximately 70 people departed to Mexico a week and a half ago on a charter flight. Some of them returned in commercial flights, and 28 people in the group have tested positive so far. Four of the confirmed cases haven’t shown symptoms, and all of them are self-isolating, according to authorities. At the time, Mexico was not under a federal travel advisory, but Austin Public Health had indicated that all nonessential international travel should be avoided, following the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Public Health data shows that nearly half of those testing positive for COVID-19 in Travis County are between the ages of 20 and 40. — Juan Pablo Garnham

Dallas mayor urges people to avoid overcrowding of parks

[11:32 a.m.] Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson urged people to keep a safe distance from one another when using the city’s trails and parks. This weekend, two of the most popular green spaces in Dallas — the Katy Trail and White Rock Lake — experienced severe overcrowding, leading to criticism from Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins.

“I'm asking our residents to please keep your distance and to help us keep the public safe and to keep the city open-air amenities open for as long as they can,” the mayor said in a news conference Tuesday.

City Manager T.C. Broadnax added that the city could institute citations and fines for up to $2,000 for people and businesses defying orders. The city’s Department of Transportation is also analyzing the potential closure of car traffic on specific streets to alleviate overcrowding of the city’s parks, a practice that has proved successful in many cities around the world.

In Tuesday's news conference, Johnson also addressed the idea of taking stronger actions against evictions, proposed by City Council member Adam Bazaldua. Johnson said that this has to be discussed with the city’s COVID-19 committee.

“We need this committee to vet this idea before we act on it. It has significant legal ramifications, and we cannot afford to rush into something that's this far reaching,” Johnson said.

Also at the news conference, the Office of Emergency Management said that the medical community is meeting to assess exactly what the city will need from the announced pop-up hospital in the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center and that the facility will be operated by a 225-member Navy medical unit. — Juan Pablo Garnham

Military to stop disclosing number of cases at facilities

[10:05 a.m.] The U.S. military will stop reporting the number of COVID-19 cases on its bases and other command stations, multiple news outlets reported Monday

The directive from the Pentagon comes as the number of cases linked to the military passed 1,000, ABC and CNN reported. The Pentagon cited security concerns for the order.

“We will not report the aggregate number of individual service member cases at individual unit, base or Combatant Commands. We will continue to do our best to balance transparency in this crisis with operational security," Pentagon spokeswoman Alyssa Farah said in a statement.

The order includes El Paso’s Fort Bliss, which had reported seven cases as of Monday. The San Antonio Express-News reported that as of Friday, the Joint Base San Antonio website said that "28 military personnel, dependents and retirees had tested positive," but that information was later removed.

“Cover-up is the worst damn thing you can do when you’re having [the] serious issue that we’re having today with COVID-19,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said, according to the Express-News.

A spokesperson for the Texas Department of State Health Services the agency had a few reports from bases early on, but “bases began testing on their own and we have not been asked for further assistance.” — Julián Aguilar

Second death at Dallas senior-living facility

[8:54 a.m.] A second COVID-19 death has been reported at the Edgemere senior-living facility in North Dallas, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said Monday evening at a news conference. Jenkins added that there are also 10 new cases of the disease at the Skyline Nursing Center, in the south of the city, and another case at the Reserve, a center in Richardson.

According to The Dallas Morning News, Jenkins suggested Sunday that people should consider bringing loved ones home from these facilities, but he later clarified that this wasn’t an order, but a recommendation for those who have the resources to do so. — Juan Pablo Garnham

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter 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.

Correction: An item on a Dallas news conference had misstated the name of Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax. Also, an item on the military disclosure of cases was updated to note that the Joint Base San Antonio website had reported at one point that 28 military personnel, dependents and retirees had tested positive.

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