Coronavirus in Texas 4/3: Harris County has 1,000 infected residents; CDC now recommends cloth face coverings in public
Our staff is closely tracking developments on the new coronavirus in Texas. Check here for live updates.
Friday’s biggest developments
- President Trump said the CDC recommends face coverings for anyone in public
- Since mid-March, Texas doubled the number of hospital beds available for COVID-19 patients
- Texas congressional Democrats urge governor to shore up Workforce Commission
- Texas reports 5,330 cases and 90 deaths
Dallas County judge clarifies stay-at-home order extended to April 30
[7:34 p.m.] Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins took to Twitter on Friday and clarified that his county's stay-at-home order is only extended through April 30. An earlier Commissioners Court vote extended the county's disaster declaration until May 20. But Jenkins only extended the stay-at-home order through the end of this month.
The Dallas Morning News reported that a spokesperson said Jenkins chose to only extend the order through April so that it aligns with Gov. Greg Abbott's similar statewide order. The paper also said Jenkins can extend the stay-at-home order through May 20 if he chooses to do so later.
Harris County surpasses 1,000 COVID-19 cases
[5:36 p.m.] Judge Lina Hidalgo reported that Harris County reached more than 1,000 residents testing positive for the novel coronavirus and 13 people have died so far. In a press release, Hidalgo urged her community to stay at home and keep practicing social distancing.
“Those same actions will help us get past this surge in cases sooner so that we can go back to normal and our economy can get back on track as soon as possible,” Hidalgo said. “As we have with every other challenge we have faced, we will emerge stronger when this is over — but the only way to get there is together.”
Although Harris County has the most residents who have tested positive, Dallas remains the county where the most people have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. According to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services, as of Thursday, 17 people had died in Dallas County. — Juan Pablo Garnham
CDC recommends cloth face coverings while in public
[5:12 p.m.] President Donald Trump said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends Americans wear a "simple, cloth face covering" when they are in public, according to The Washington Post. But following the recommendation is "voluntary" and the president said he won't wear one, the Post reports. Medical masks, meanwhile, are recommended only for health-care workers, the paper says. — Brandon Formby
Since mid-March, Texas doubled the number of hospital beds available for COVID-19 patients
[4:32 p.m.] Texas has more than doubled the number of available beds for COVID-19 patients since mid-March, Gov. Greg Abbott said during an update Friday afternoon on the state’s hospital capacity in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
Abbott and other state officials presented data showing that the count of available beds jumped from 8,155 on March 18 to 19,695 as of Thursday. During a news conference at the Texas Capitol, the governor attributed the 142% increase to a number of actions taken last month to free up beds, including banning elective procedures.
The 19,695 beds available for coronavirus patients represent 41% of all hospital beds reported across the state, according to the data.
State officials projected relative confidence about Texas' hospital capacity, saying they are intent on avoiding the kind of dire strain happening in New York. They are also confident the state has enough — and will receive enough — ventilators, currently tallied at 8,741.
The data include hospital capacity data in several specific regions, including two hotspots: the Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth areas. A third of beds are available for coronavirus patients in each of those regions — which is on the low end compared to the other areas included in the data.
The Texas Hospital Association struck a more cautious tone after Abbott's news conference, saying the "numbers change constantly, and the virus is moving fast." Association spokeswoman Carrie Williams said in a statement that the state's hospitals "are going to keep pushing for supplies and capacity till we clear the curve." — Patrick Svitek
Texas congressional Democrats urge governor to shore up Workforce Commission
[3:53 p.m.] The inundation of inquiries from jobless Texans to the Texas Workforce Commission is causing alarm among state’s Democrats serving in Congress.
Spearheaded by U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, ten Texas Democratic members sent a letter to the governor noting that TWC is receiving $88 million as a result of the CARES Act, the $2 trillion spending bill intended to mitigate the health and economic fallout from the COVID-19 outbreak.
“More staff and resources are needed to guarantee our [unemployment insurance] system can handle the increased numbers of applicants,” they wrote. “We appreciate the work TWC has done so far to increase capacity by adding 200 tax auditors and new hires to TWC’s unemployment division and building up the bandwidth of the TWC website.
“We urge you to accelerate these necessary actions and match the demand for services with an equal supply of resources.”
U.S. Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee, Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, Sylvia R. Garcia and Al Green of Houston, along with Lloyd Doggett of Austin, Veronica Escobar of El Paso, FIlemon Vela of Brownsville, Colin Allred of Dallas, Vicente Gonalez of McAllen and Marc Veasey of Fort Worth, also signed the letter. — Abby Livingston
Texas reports 5,330 cases and 90 deaths
[1:38 p.m.] Texas reported 661 more cases of people testing positive for the new coronavirus Friday, an increase of about 14% over the previous day, bringing the total number of known cases to 5,330. Two new counties reported their first cases Friday and more than half of the state’s 254 counties have reported at least one case.
Harris County has reported the most cases at 955, followed by Dallas County, which has reported 831 cases.
The state has reported 20 additional deaths, bringing the statewide total to 90 — an increase of about 29% from Thursday. Dallas County reported two additional deaths, bringing its total to 17 deaths, more than any other county.
As of Friday, at least 55,764 tests have been conducted in Texas. — Carla Astudillo
Cornyn says a national shelter-in-place would be an overreaction
[12:50 p.m.] In an interview with The Hill, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn said a national shelter-in-place order would be “an overreaction,” noting that different areas of the country have been affected differently by the new coronavirus outbreak.
“Not every place is the same,” he said. “We’ve had the same conversation in Texas, but some places we have more cows than people, and the virus loves the crowd, loves congestion, and that’s why you see places like New York and Dallas, for example, which is having its own struggles.
“Locking down the country more than necessary to defeat the virus to me seems like an overreaction.”
Cornyn’s comments drew pushback from the state’s Democratic Party, which issued a statement this afternoon accusing the state’s senior senator of “[downplaying] the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic.”
President Donald Trump, however, has refrained from declaring a nationwide stay-at-home order. In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this week told Texans to stay at home for the next month unless they are taking part in essential services and activities —Alex Samuels
A “Marshall Plan” for family doctors?
[12:25 p.m.] The Texas Academy of Family Physicians is calling for an emergency “Marshall Plan” to bolster primary care physicians and practices, which have seen major losses as people forego medically unnecessary surgeries during the coronavirus and instead turn to hospitals when sick. In a statement, TAFP said it wants insurers to pay primary care physicians a flat fee to see COVID-19 patients, replacing a “severely flawed” fee-for-service model the group says has shuttered many practices.
If enacted, overworked hospitals could see a drop in mounting numbers of patients, instead reserving time and capacity for the most critically ill, TAFP said.
“Without patients, primary care practices are like the airlines operating ghost flights,” the statement reads. “We still don’t know if facilities will be able to handle the surge of expected patients in the coming weeks. But we do know that we can reduce hospital burden and preserve resources by keeping the patients who don’t need extreme measures of care out of emergency departments.” — Raga Justin
Dallas County extends stay-at-home through May 20
[12:16 p.m.] Dallas County has extended its stay-at-home-order, originally set to end Friday, through May 20. The extension is the first among similar localities in the state. The Dallas Morning News reported that the county — also the first jurisdiction to implement the stay-at-home order earlier this month — decided to take further action after county commissioners gave County Judge Clay Jenkins the green light.
Jenkins had previously said he would keep the order in place past April 3 if necessary. Dallas County reported 800 cases and 17 deaths as of Thursday.
Report: Fraudulent COVID-19 test kits investigated in Laredo
[11:51 a.m.] A large shipment of COVID-19 rapid testing kits expected to be distributed in a Laredo drive-thru testing center is likely fraudulent, city officials said. The kits were produced by a company called Anhui Deep Blue Medical Technology Co., and promised 93%-97% accuracy to test COVID-19 with only a finger prick and in 15 minutes, according to the Laredo Morning Times.
According to a city news release, Laredo city officials agreed to purchase 2,500 rapid testing kits from a local clinic, Clear Choice ER, that had secured a large shipment of what they thought were FDA-approved tests. Laredo split the cost with Webb County and was preparing a drive-thru testing facility when the local health department discovered the kits were not performing reliably.
The FDA certification, also under suspicion, is currently being investigated. The city had not yet paid for the tests and no residents had been tested with them, the city said. — Raga Justin
San Antonio poised to close parks for Easter weekend
[9 a.m.] San Antonio’s pandemic restrictions are about to include the city’s parks. Mayor Ron Nirenberg is expected to order the city’s parks closed during Easter weekend, according to the San Antonio Express-News. The city’s current stay-at-home order expires before then — on April 10 — but the mayor is asking the city council to extend it through April 30. The parks order, as proposed, would leave walking trails and some greenspace open. — Texas Tribune staff
Work on the border wall continues — without social distancing
[9:05 a.m.] Work on President Trump’s border wall continues during the pandemic, the Dallas Morning News reports. Contractors are building a “mancamp” to house up to 80 workers, and work is continuing — with side-by-side laborers working on the wall near Columbus, New Mexico — near El Paso. A spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told the paper the wall is considered “essential business” and was under the impression — incorrectly, according to the News — that the workers were following White House and CDC guidelines for social distancing. — Texas Tribune staff
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