Monday’s biggest developments
- New state numbers: 13,906 cases and 287 deaths.
- Gov. Greg Abbott says the reopening of the Texas economy will be slow. He expects to announce details of his plans later this week.
- Houston expands testing eligibility to whoever wants a test.
El Paso extends stay-at-home order through May 17
[6:40 p.m.] El Paso County officials expanded the area’s stay-at-home order through May 17 on Monday and warned residents that city code inspectors are increasing investigations into issuing violations and issuing citations.
The county now has 300 cases of the coronavirus, with 58 hospitalizations and two deaths related to the illness. City and county officials have expressed frustration that some residents were not seriously adhering to the order, and Gov. Greg Abbott said last week that El Paso was on an upward trend of cases due to lack of social distancing.
“The more you gather in large numbers you really are compromising the health and safety, maybe lives, of family and friends,” he said last week.
City officials said they investigated 319 complaints alleging residents were violating the order over the weekend. They issued 311 warnings and issued eight citations, which can carry a $1,000 fine and a 180-day jail sentence. — Julián Aguilar
Along with a New York Democrat, Sen. Ted Cruz tries to launch act-of-kindness campaign
[6:16 p.m.] U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is aiming to start up a new viral campaign of random acts of kindness.
"Today I'm launching the COVID-19 Challenge. A challenge that I am launching along with New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand to help your community, do something that will make a difference in your community to make it through this crisis," Cruz said in a video posted on Twitter. "Do it in a way that's safe, use PPE, don't, don't risk anyone's safety. But today I've delivered breakfast tacos and coffee to the Houston police officers union."
He went on to challenge former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, and Houston businessman Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale to also engage in similar actions.
Gillibrand, in her own tweet, put out her own challenge to a handful of Northeastern politicians and credited Cruz with the original idea.
While members of opposition parties, Cruz and Gillibrand have been friends since he came to the Senate and often team up for bipartisan legislative pushes. — Abby Livingston
Austin and Travis County extend stay-at-home order, add face covering requirement
[5:30 p.m.] Austin and Travis County officials have extended the region's stay-at-home order until May 8. Added to that order is a new provision: All residents "over the age of ten must wear a covering over the nose and mouth while using public transportation or ride shares, pumping gas and while outside when six feet of physical distancing cannot be consistently maintained," per a joint news release from the city and county. — Abby Livingston
Texas attorney general intervenes in lawsuit over releasing Dallas County jail inmates
[5:27 p.m.] Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has entered into another fight over jail releases during the coronavirus pandemic. Paxton filed a motion to intervene in a recent federal lawsuit against Dallas County filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and other civil rights attorneys. The lawsuit asks for the immediate release of all county jail inmates who are over 50 or who have medical conditions.
“We must continue to protect the health and safety of Texans and maintain the integrity of our criminal justice system by preventing the unlawful release of dangerous individuals,” Paxton said, adding that the lawsuit would release alleged killers and rapists without requiring them to pay high bail amounts.
More than 30 Dallas County jail inmates have tested positive for the new coronavirus. The ACLU argues that not enough is being done to prevent further spread, and the continued incarceration of vulnerable inmates is unconstitutional.
Paxton has already intervened in Harris County, where an ongoing lawsuit has targeted Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order prohibiting the release of some inmates without paying bail. Paxton is also a defendant in another ACLU lawsuit against Abbott’s order filed last week. A state district judge blocked Abbott’s order, citing unconstitutional provisions and executive overreach, but the Texas Supreme Court has since temporarily revived it. — Jolie McCullough
Texas Workforce Commission adds staff and call centers to handle rush of unemployment claims
[4:24 p.m. ] In an attempt to handle the astronomical increase in the number of Texans filing for unemployment benefits, the Texas Workforce Commission has opened two additional call centers and added 1,000 people to its unemployment insurance offices.
The commission is working on opening a third call center, for a total of seven. The centers are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day. People can apply to work at a Texas Workforce Commission call center at workintexas.com.
The 1,000 new workers include people who shifted from other Texas Workforce Commission departments and 100 emergency hires. The commission is also starting to train volunteer staff from state House and Senate offices, said Cisco Gamez, a spokesman for the agency.
Last week, the Texas Workforce Commission received 14 million calls, slightly down from 15 million calls the week before. But 90% of people who are able to file do so online.
Originally, the commission only had five servers to handle traffic to its website, but as of last week, it has 20, as people continue to run into the website crashing or not being able to process requests. People who haven’t been able to file their claims for unemployment benefits will be able to receive backdated payments as far back as March 8, depending on when they lost employment.
Since the week ending March 14, 1.1. million Texans have applied for unemployment benefits, “a year and a half worth of claims in less than a month,” Gamez said. The commission has paid out $408 million in benefits, and the commission ensures that everyone who qualifies for unemployment benefits will receive payment. — Clare Proctor
Houston expands testing eligibility to everyone in the city
[3:58 p.m.] Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced Monday that coronavirus testing will now be available to everyone in the city, including people without symptoms.
“We need more testing throughout our city, and especially in communities that have been in many cases overlooked on so many different fronts,” Turner said at a press conference. “And we are nowhere close to that at this point.”
The expansion came after the federal government on Saturday gave the city “permission to go to 500 tests per site,” Turner said, adding in a tweet afterward that the city has “doubled its testing capacity at those two testing sites to 500 a day.”
The testing will be available at the city’s two community-based testing sites, according to a tweet from the Houston Health Department. Houstonians who would like to get tested will have to call before going to the test site, Turner said.
“I keep hearing people say they want to be tested so they will not get COVID-19,” said David Persse, the city’s health authority. “That's not the way it works. Tests are not a vaccine."
Turner said his office would be working to ensure people with disabilities are able to access the testing sites. — Sami Sparber
Abbott says it "would be up to the doctors" to say whether abortion order is medically sound
[2:04 p.m.] Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday briefly waded into the federal court battle over Texas officials’ near-total ban on abortion during the coronavirus pandemic, saying the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals “agreed with the decision that I made.”
“I haven’t had a chance to keep up with what may be going on at the United States Supreme Court,” Abbott said of the case, which Attorney General Ken Paxton has said may ultimately reach the country’s highest federal court. “The last I saw is that it seems like the 5th Circuit agreed with the decision that I made.”
Asked whether Paxton’s interpretation that Abbott’s ban on nonessential medical procedures — designed to conserve resources for COVID-19 patients — includes almost all abortions “went too far,” Abbott pointed to the federal appeals court’s latest ruling, which sided with state officials and prohibited the procedure under all but a few narrow circumstances.
“There are two ways to view whether or not it was sound,” Abbott said at a press conference. “One is whether or not it was legally sound, and according to the 5th Circuit, it was legally sound. The second is whether or not it is medically sound, and that would be up to doctors.”
On Friday, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals said the only patients who may terminate their pregnancies in Texas are those who would pass the legal 22-week gestational limit for abortions while a gubernatorial emergency order barring elective medical procedures remains in place. The next day, abortion providers asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take emergency action to restore “essential, time-sensitive medication abortion services.”
Abortion rights advocates say clinics should be able to continue providing medication abortions, which involve taking pills, in spite of the ban because those types of abortions don’t use medical resources cited in the executive order.
Abbott’s executive order as written exempts procedures that “if performed in accordance with the commonly accepted standard of clinical practice, would not deplete the hospital capacity or the personal protective equipment needed to cope with the COVID-19 disaster.” — Sami Sparber
Reopening of Texas economy will be slow, Abbott says
[1 p.m.] Gov. Greg Abbott said Monday that reopening the Texas economy will be a "slow process" guided by public health concerns as he continued to preview a forthcoming executive order that will detail his strategy to reignite business in the state.
Abbott, who first hinted at his plans during a news conference Friday, said he'll outline them later this week. Asked for more details Monday, he indicated his announcement will include a "comprehensive team" that he said will "evaluate what must be done for Texas to open back up, ensuring what we are doing is consistent with data, with medical analysis, as well as strategies about which type of businesses will be able to open up."
"This is not gonna be a rush-the-gates, everybody-is-able-to-suddenly-reopen-all-at-once" situation, Abbott said during a news conference at the Texas Capitol in Austin where he announced $50 million in loans to small businesses suffering under the pandemic.
Abbott also told reporters to expect an announcement this week on whether schools will remain closed for the rest of the school year. Abbott previously ordered them closed until May 4. — Patrick Svitek
Texas reports 13,906 cases and 287 deaths
[12:45 p.m.] Texas reported 422 more cases of the new coronavirus Monday, an increase of about 3% over the previous day, bringing the total number of known cases to 13,906. Motley County reported its first case Monday; more than two-thirds of the state’s 254 counties have reported at least one case.
Harris County has reported the most cases, 3,629, followed by Dallas County, which has reported 1,723 cases.
The state has reported 16 additional deaths, bringing the statewide total to 287 — an increase of about 6% from Sunday. Harris County reported three additional deaths, bringing its total to 44 deaths, more than any other county.
As of Monday, 1,176 patients are known to be hospitalized in Texas. That’s a decrease of 162 patients from Sunday. At least 133,226 tests have been conducted. — Anna Novak
More coronavirus cases could follow first wave
[5 a.m.] While some models show the new coronavirus could peak in Texas in late April or early May, the disease could persist for a long time, and there might be more waves of cases, The Dallas Morning News reported. Health care policymakers are studying the spread of the disease as they decide whether and when to loosen social distancing restrictions.