Tuesday's biggest developments
- Texas reports 8,262 cases and 154 deaths
- Prisoners making cloth masks
- Texas state parks closed
- Comptroller says special session not needed
Patrick forms task force to restart the economy
[7:27 p.m.] Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick created a task force to plan for restarting the economy when President Donald Trump and Gov. Greg Abbott allow industries and businesses to reopen without current restrictions.
"We know it will take us much longer to start the economy back up than it did to shut it down for the coronavirus pandemic emergency," Patrick said in a statement.
The task force includes members of Patrick's Business Advisory Council, led by Brint Ryan, who also chairs Patrick's Advisory Board on Tax Policy. — Carrington Tatum
Harris County prepares for hospital overflow
[5:45 p.m.] Harris County has started construction on a medical shelter in NRG Park, the Houston Chronicle reported.
The extra space will only open if hospitals run out of beds for patients with COVID-19.
"While there are no plans to open the shelter at this time, the county is determined to provide additional support to the medical community during this pandemic," a Harris County Public Health statement said.
A $60 million investment, the field hospital will provide 250 beds for 60 days, according to the Houston Chronicle. — Carrington Tatum
Dallas County commissioners limit some of Judge Clay Jenkins' autonomy
[4:49 p.m.] Dallas County commissioners voted Tuesday to limit some of county Judge Clay Jenkins' autonomy when it comes to issuing orders related to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The five members of the court, including Jenkins, agreed to require a three-hour notice to the Commissioners Court in case any additional restrictions are placed on essential businesses. This would allow the members to call an emergency meeting on the proposed restrictions, if necessary. Commissioners also established a new requirement that a majority vote is required to extend the county's stay-at-home order, which is in place until April 30. Jenkins abstained from voting on that new requirement.
“This is not a slap in the face of the judge of any kind. I’m very supportive of what he has done so far. It’s a matter of having now a collaborative effort, because we have more time to think and work through this,” said Commissioner J.J. Koch, who offered up the amendment.
Jenkins said he wasn't concerned about the new requirements.
"As we get close to April 30, the decision will be pretty evident. We will follow the science and balance science, health and opening business up. If the evidence presents itself, we will extend it," Jenkins said. — Juan Pablo Garnham
5 more deaths at San Antonio nursing home
[2:31 p.m.] A total of eight residents at Southeast Nursing and Rehabilitation Center have died because of COVID-19. The facility reported five additional deaths to the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District on Tuesday.
All eight deaths were residents age 70 or older.
The residents had tested positive for the new coronavirus but were asymptomatic, according to a news release.
San Antonio officials requested information on all deaths in recent days at the nursing home after interviews with family members suggested not all deaths had been reported. Previously, only three deaths had been reported to Metro Health, and the information came from the hospitals where the residents died rather than directly from the nursing home. Clusters of confirmed COVID-19 cases have emerged at nursing homes across the state. Officials reported 83 confirmed cases in residents and staff at The Resort, a facility in Texas City. — Clare Proctor
Patrick says Senate staff will volunteer for TWC
[2:28 p.m.] Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced Tuesday afternoon that nearly 200 staffers in the state Senate, along with staff members in his office, have volunteered to assist the Texas Workforce Commission, an agency that has been inundated with requests from Texans trying to file unemployment claims.
Patrick, who said in a news release he spoke with senators about the matter over the weekend, said staffers who have volunteered will begin training Thursday.
Patrick's news comes on the heels of an email House Speaker Dennis Bonnen sent to the lower chamber Monday requesting that staff also consider volunteering with the agency. — Cassandra Pollock
Domestic violence reports increase in San Antonio
[12:40 p.m.] The San Antonio Police Department reported an 18% increase in people calling for help for family violence incidents in March, compared with the same month last year.
“Right now, many people in our community are experiencing immense challenges and are under extreme stress due to COVID-19,” San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said in a press release. “We know that domestic violence and child abuse happen behind closed doors and so we want to remind people to check on their loved ones during this time to ensure their mental well-being and physical safety.”
According to Houston Public Media, nonprofits across the state are reporting similar increases. The San Antonio Police Department urged everyone in the community, regardless of immigration status, to call 911 for emergencies and 210-207-7273 to report suspected abuses.
"Our victims advocacy unit also works with cooperating victims to assist with obtaining U visas," said Jesse Salame, deputy chief of staff at SAPD. — Juan Pablo Garnham
Texas reports 8,262 cases and 154 deaths
[12:30 p.m.] Texas reported 986 more cases of the new coronavirus Tuesday, a 14% increase over the previous day, bringing the total number of known cases to 8,262. Four new counties reported their first cases; more than half of the state’s 254 counties have reported at least one case.
Harris County reported 414 more cases than yesterday for a total of 1,809, the most of any county. Dallas County has the second most with 1,155 cases.
The state reported 14 additional deaths, bringing the statewide total to 154 — an increase of about 10% from Monday. Harris County also leads the state in deaths. On Tuesday, it reported two additional deaths, bringing its total to 22.
As of Tuesday, 1,252 patients are hospitalized in Texas. At least 88,649 tests have been conducted. — Darla Cameron
Texas has received more than a million masks but no ventilators from the federal government
[11:30 a.m.] As of Sunday, Texas has received 1.15 million surgical masks, 484,000 N95 masks and zero ventilators from the national stockpile, according to data given to the Associated Press by the Texas Department of State Health Services and the Texas Department of Emergency Management. On Friday, state officials said that Texas has 8,741 ventilators. As of March 28, the Federal Emergency Management Agency had shipped 8,100 ventilators nationally.
Texas is expecting a third delivery from the federal government. Officials didn’t provided the precise numbers of items requested.
“We requested Texas' proportional share,” Chris Van Deusen, spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, told the AP.
Texas has also received 179,000 gowns; 637,000 gloves; and 219,000 face shields. — Juan Pablo Garnham
Texas state parks closed
[10:30 a.m.] Texas state parks officially closed Tuesday until further notice to help limit the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the temporary shutdown despite efforts by parks’ staff to minimize the spread of the highly contagious virus in recent weeks.
“Given the myriad of challenges and heightened risks of operating the parks at this time, we believe this is the best course of action right now in order to meet the health and safety expectations the state has set out for the citizens of Texas,” said Carter Smith, executive director of Texas Parks and Wildlife. The department reports it hosted nearly 740,000 day and overnight visitors throughout the month of March
People with upcoming overnight bookings and day passes purchased through the state reservation system will be reimbursed. Group and facility reservations have been canceled until April 30. Parks officials will continue to maintain the grounds during the closure. The state order follows similar measures cities and the federal government have taken to mitigate exposure. National Park Service officials say while most facilities and events are closed or canceled, many of its outdoor spaces remain accessible to the public. Before visiting, officials encourage people to check with individual parks regarding changes to operations, and they ask those who venture out to practice Leave No Trace principles to prevent the spread of COVID-19. — Alana Rocha
Hegar says special session not needed for coronavirus response
“As of today, I don’t think there’s a need for a special session,” Hegar told the Tribune’s Ross Ramsey, noting that state leadership can move dollars around and tap into the Economic Stabilization Fund for cash flow purposes. “If something substantially changes, I’ll be the first to raise that.”
The Legislature is set to meet again in January 2021 for its regularly scheduled session unless Gov. Greg Abbott calls state lawmakers back for a special round before then. — Cassandra Pollock
Texas prisoners will make up to 20,000 cloth masks a day
[8:53 a.m.] Inmates across Texas are making up to 20,000 cloth masks a day, the Houston Chronicle reports. The masks will be used by Texas Department of Criminal Justice employees and offenders across the state to contain the spread among the state prisons. As of Monday, 19 offenders and 28 employees in the system had tested positive.
Jeff Ormsby, executive director of the union that represents TDCJ workers, said that the initiative was a step in the right direction, but he added that employees in a cell block need "the proper N95 masks."
Although inmates in Texas prisons make all sorts of products, from soap to license plates, the state remains one of five in the country that do not pay for regular jobs at these facilities. — Juan Pablo Garnham