Saturday's biggest developments:
- Texas reports 12,561 cases and 254 deaths
- Texas doctors experiment with plasma transfusions
- Churches taking different approaches to Easter services
Abortion providers want Supreme Court to restore some services during pandemic
[5:40 p.m.] In what has been an ongoing legal dispute over Texans' access to abortion during the new coronavirus pandemic, abortion providers on Saturday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take emergency action to restore “essential, time-sensitive medication abortion services.”
On Friday, a federal appeals court supported Republican Texas officials' near-total abortion ban by prohibiting the procedure under all but a few circumstances as COVID-19 spreads. That court said for now, the only patients who may terminate their pregnancies in Texas are those who would pass the legal gestational limit for abortions while a gubernatorial emergency order barring elective medical procedures remains in place.
“The past few weeks have been untenable for Texans in need of time-sensitive abortion procedures,” Alexis McGill Johnson, acting head of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. “We’ve heard patients grow increasingly more desperate for care. Gov. [Greg] Abbott has blocked abortion access for mothers who have lost their jobs because of COVID-19, people quarantined with abusive partners, and patients with fatal fetal diagnoses."
Last month, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton cited a March 22 executive order from Abbott, which barred medical procedures that are not "immediately medically necessary," and declared that all abortions were prohibited except those critical to the life or health of the patient. State officials said the prohibition was critical to preserve medical resources, like masks and gloves, as hospitals gear up for an onslaught of patients with COVID-19. — Mitchell Ferman
Texas reports 12,561 cases and 254 deaths
[12:30 p.m.] Texas reported 890 more cases of the new coronavirus Saturday, an increase of about 8% over the previous day, bringing the total number of known cases to 12,561. One new county, Dimmit, reported its first case Saturday; more than half of the state’s 254 counties have reported at least one case.
Harris County has reported the most cases, 3,261, followed by Dallas County, which has reported 1,537 cases.
The state has reported 28 additional deaths, bringing the statewide total to 254 — an increase of about 12% from Friday. Harris County reported six additional deaths, bringing its total to 40 deaths, more than any other county.
As of Saturday, 1,514 patients are known to be hospitalized in Texas. That’s a decrease of 18 patients from Friday. At least 120,533 tests have been conducted. — Chris Essig
Texas lags the nation in coronavirus testing
[11:48 a.m.] Fewer tests have been conducted for the new coronavirus in Texas per capita than every state but one, The Houston Chronicle reported on Saturday, with only 332 tests conducted per 100,000 people.
In the United States only Kansas ranks worse, at 327 tests issued per 100,000 people, according to the Chronicle, which analyzed testing data collected through Wednesday. Testing in cities across Texas have been criticized for “missteps, delays and shortages,” and the state data has lagged, including details from nursing homes.
After The Texas Tribune reported on Wednesday that COVID-19 was spreading in Texas nursing homes, officials eventually disclosed that more than 13% of Texas nursing homes have at least one resident with coronavirus.“Not fully knowing who has or had the disease both skews public health data and also hampers treatment and prevention strategies, potentially leading to a higher death count, health care experts say,” read the Chronicle’s article. — Mitchell Ferman
Texas blocked abortions during the pandemic. She was able to get one anyway.
[9:45 a.m.] Heather Artrip had an abortion last Friday. The 30-year-old single mother was ready to pack up her two sons and drive to New Mexico to find a willing medical provider when she got the call from her clinic in Austin. Two days earlier, someone had called to cancel her appointment, citing the state’s ban on abortions to preserve medical resources for coronavirus patients. But this time they said they could get her a medication abortion — which involves taking pills.
Last month, Gov. Greg Abbott announced an executive order pausing all medical procedures and surgeries that aren’t urgent in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, and conserve personal protective equipment. Attorney General Ken Paxton quickly said that the governor’s order should include a ban on most abortions, setting off a legal battle and a barrage of conflicting court rulings that have created confusion for clinics and women seeking to end their pregnancies.
Artrip was able to get an abortion in the midst of the legal whiplash, but abortion providers across the state are responding inconsistently, with some shutting down altogether while they await a final answer.
“This is a nightmare inside of a nightmare,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “One day patients are called back for their procedures, the next day they are canceled — all at the whim of Gov. Abbott.” — Sami Sparber
Texas doctors experimenting with plasma from people who've recovered from COVID-19
[5 a.m.] Doctors in Texas and around the country are experimenting with a new treatment based on an old technique — injecting antibody-rich plasma from people who have recovered from the new coronavirus into people who have severe cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. Antibodies are proteins in blood that fight specific bacteria and viruses.
In the absence of a novel coronavirus vaccine, doctors and scientists are looking to so-called convalescent plasma because they consider it low risk and because it has been effective during past epidemics. But they aren’t sure yet if it will be effective on COVID-19.
Two small studies found that COVID-19 patients in China improved after receiving convalescent plasma transfusions. Researchers plan to find out if that success can be replicated with COVID-19 patients in the U.S. — Clare Proctor
Ahead of Easter Sunday, churches prepare for holiday services with different approaches
[5 a.m.] Christian Texans, faith leaders and local officials are preparing in myriad ways for an Easter holiday that falls in the middle of a pandemic the scale of which almost no one has encountered.
Texas churches have the governor’s blessing to hold services for the holiday thanks to Gov. Greg Abbott's announcement last week that churches are an essential service and can remain open during the pandemic — as long as they follow health guidance to keep patrons 6 feet apart.
Some churches praise Abbott’s order and are willing to change their structure according to health guidelines as long as members can still gather Sunday. Others, still worried about the growing spread of the virus that causes the disease COVID-19, are opting to continue with virtual services despite the major holiday. — Stacy Fernández and Alex Samuels