Coronavirus in Texas: Most state parks reopen; National Guard to open new testing sites
Our staff is closely tracking developments on the new coronavirus in Texas. Check here for live updates.
Monday’s biggest developments
- State parks are reopening Monday
- U.S. and Mexico extend restrictions on nonessential travel
- Texas pays out $276 million in unemployment benefits Monday
- 25 National Guard teams to operate coronavirus testing sites in Texas
Houston will have to furlough city employees, mayor says
[7:35 p.m.] Houston mayor Sylvester Turner declared Monday that the city’s 2021 budget “will be the worst budget that the city will deal with in its history” and that some municipal employees will have to be furloughed, according to the Houston Chronicle. Turner didn’t give details on the scale of furloughs or budget cuts, but he did say that cadet classes would be deferred.
Officials and experts have forecasted that city budgets in Texas will be heavily impacted by the decline in revenue coming from sales taxes. The historically low price of oil could multiply the negative effects in cities like Houston that depend on the energy industry.
“We could see a substantial downturn not only from the coronavirus and the lack of people retail shopping and going to restaurants, but also on the business-to-business side from the downturn in oil,” said Houston Controller Chris Brown, the Houston Chronicle reported. “So, it is a double whammy situation. They talk about the perfect storm, and this is what’s happening in Houston.”
Brown added that the budget’s outlook could be equal to or worse than during the Great Recession. That downturn prompted then-Mayor Annise Parker to lay off 764 city employees, the Chronicle reported. — Juan Pablo Garnham
Dozens of ICE detainees in Texas test positive for coronavirus
[6:18 p.m.] More than two dozen detainees in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in Texas have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, according to an agency website that tracks cases.
The number of cases spiked over the weekend due largely to an outbreak at the Prairieland Detention Center in Alvarado, about 45 miles southwest of Dallas. ICE reported Monday that 24 detainees there tested positive, up from three on Friday. Four detainees at the El Paso Processing Center were also infected.
The facilities in Livingston and Conroe have also reported one case each.
For weeks, faith-based and human rights groups have pleaded with President Donald Trump's administration to release detainees that could be more susceptible to serious illness or death should they become infected.
“A systemic lack of accountability puts migrants’ lives in danger and it places entire communities at risk. In this time of pandemic, we can no longer wait to put in place necessary reforms to overhaul a deep-seated culture of abuse in immigrant enforcement agencies,” Dylan Corbett, the executive director of the HOPE Border Institute, said in a statement. — Julián Aguilar
Gov. Greg Abbott will deploy the Texas National Guard to operate coronavirus testing sites
[5:26 p.m.] Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday that 1,200 members of the Texas National Guard will be mobilized throughout the state to operate mobile coronavirus testing sites. The first two locations will be in Fredericksburg and Floresville, according to a press release.
"The State of Texas continues to expand our COVID-19 testing capacities and ensure that communities across the Lone Star State have access to the resources they need," Abbott said in a statement.
In total, 25 teams will be deployed throughout the state, in locations based on the assessment of the Texas Department of State Health Services. The sites will each initially be able to test 150 people per day.
"COVID-19 testing is a crucial mission in our fight against this virus," said Maj. Gen. Tracy R. Norris, adjutant general of Texas.
In March, Abbott activated the Texas Military Department, and there are already over 2,500 guardsmen serving in COVID-19 related tasks, including testing. According to the governor’s office, these personnel have already conducted 9,000 tests. — Juan Pablo Garnham
Texas Workforce Commission pays out $276 million in benefits Monday
[3:11 p.m.] The Texas Workforce Commission paid out $276 million in unemployment benefits to 151,000 people Monday. That’s up from $183 million paid out to 137,000 Texans the week before. Since the week ending March 14, 1.4 million Texans have filed claims for unemployment benefits.
“That’s two years of claims in 36 days,” said Cisco Gamez, a spokesman for the commission.
Because of the massive influx of calls, the Texas Workforce Commission has added an eighth call center. Training at that call center begins today, and it should be running fully by the end of the week. — Clare Proctor
Texas reports 19,458 cases and 495 deaths
[12:30 p.m.] Texas reported 535 more cases of the new coronavirus Monday, an increase of about 3% over the previous day, bringing the total number of known cases to 19,458. Scurry County reported its first case Monday; three quarters of the state’s 254 counties have reported at least one case.
Harris County has reported the most cases, 4,823, followed by Dallas County, which has reported 2,428 cases. See maps of the latest case numbers for each county and case rates per 1,000 residents.
The state has reported 18 additional deaths, bringing the statewide total to 495 — an increase of about 4% from Sunday. Harris County reported four additional deaths, bringing its total to 75 deaths, more than any other county.
As of Monday, 1,411 patients are known to be hospitalized in Texas. That’s a decrease of 60 patients from Sunday. At least 190,394 tests have been conducted. — Anna Novak
U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro calls on small-business loans to pass through nonprofits
[11:30 a.m.] U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, wrote a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Jovita Carranza, administrator of the Small Business Administration, calling on the department to designate billions of dollars to local nonprofits to lend in the next round of federal support to small businesses.
Known as Community Development Financial Institutions, these groups support small-business owners who did not have strong enough relationships with banks in order to land funding in the first pass of forgivable federal loans in the Paycheck Protection Program through which legislators intended to keep employees on company payrolls.
"It is essential that upcoming legislation automatically authorize certified CDFIs as lenders for PPP and include a set aside of at least $65 billion to be channeled through these CDFIs," Castro wrote. "These institutions play a leading role in serving farmers, as well as veteran, family, women, and minority-owned small businesses in rural, urban and suburban communities.
"Latino businesses commonly bank with smaller financial institutions versus larger banks who are prioritizing businesses that already bank with them."
Congress may return to Washington this week to pass a new round of federal aid. — Abby Livingston
U.S. and Mexico extend restrictions on nonessential travel
[10:12 a.m.] The United States and Mexico are extending travel restrictions on the southern border for at least 30 more days, the Trump administration announced Monday.
The extension means that most nonessential travel will be restricted from both countries in the continued effort to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. The same restrictions are also in place on the northern border.
Essential travel includes crossing the border for medical or educational travel, emergency response, and “lawful cross-border trade,” according to Department of Homeland Security guidelines announced last month.
Allowing trade to continue is crucial to Texas as the state’s economy continues to slide because of the pandemic. Billions of dollars in two-way trade pass through both countries every week, with the bulk coming through the Laredo and El Paso customs districts.
Over the last month, Mexico has also increased its stay-at-home orders in that country and has closed large parts of the country. — Julián Aguilar
State parks reopening are the first phase of Greg Abbott's plans to restart the Texas economy
[6 a.m.] Most of Texas' state parks are reopening Monday, almost two weeks after Gov. Greg Abbott ordered them all closed to fight the spread of the new coronavirus.
Texans may visit the parks but are required to follow strict social distancing rules. Visitors must wear face coverings, maintain a 6-foot distance from people in other parties and avoid gatherings of more than five. There are some exceptions, however. Franklin Mountains and Hueco Tanks state parks in El Paso remain closed. State and local officials remain concerned about the fast spread of the virus in El Paso.
Abbott ordered all state parks closed April 7 to fight the spread of the virus. The decision to reopen them is the first step in what Abbott has described as a phased plan to reopen the Texas economy. On Tuesday night, hospitals will be allowed to restart some elective surgeries, as long as those surgeries don't deplete the hospitals' supplies of personal protective equipment and allow the facilities to keep at least 25% of their capacity available for the treatment of patients with COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus. And on Friday, nonessential retail stores will be allowed offer delivery or curbside pickup.
Abbott will announce other reopenings April 27. — Matthew Watkins
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