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Coronavirus in Texas

Coronavirus in Texas: Dallas-based hotel group to return $76 million in disaster loans meant for small businesses

Our staff is closely tracking developments on the new coronavirus in Texas. Check here for live updates.

Threadgill’s restaurant is closing permanently due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This weekend's biggest developments:

  • Texas reports 31,548 cases and 867 deaths
  • Dallas-based hotel group to return $76 million in disaster loans meant for small businesses
  • Ken Paxton asserts litigation over elections hasn't changed eligibility for absentee voting

Dallas-based hotel group to return $76 million in disaster loans meant for small businesses

[12:19 p.m. Sunday] A network of hotels run by prominent Texas Republican donor Monty Bennett will be returning the $76 million it received in coronavirus disaster funds.

In a statement released Saturday, the Dallas-based hotel network said it would give up all the funds it had received from the government’s Paycheck Protection Program. Three related companies — Ashford Inc., The Ashford Hospitality Trust and Braemer Hotels & Resorts — had emerged as the largest recipients of loans from the federal aid package meant to help small businesses stay afloat during the pandemic.

The group of companies indicated it was giving back the money because of changes imposed by the Small Business Administration. It had applied for $126 million from the program. — Alexa Ura

In Sunday release, Texas reports overall total of 31,548 cases and 867 deaths

[12:15 p.m. Sunday] Texas reported 1,026 more cases of the new coronavirus Sunday, an increase of about 3% over the previous day, bringing the total number of known cases to 31,548. No new counties reported their first cases Sunday; over 80% of the state’s 254 counties have reported at least one case.

Harris County has reported the most cases, 6,708, followed by Dallas County, which has reported 3,899 cases. See maps of the latest case numbers for each county and case rates per 1,000 residents.

The state has reported 20 additional deaths, bringing the statewide total to 867 — an increase of about 2% from Saturday. Harris County reported seven additional deaths, bringing its total to 129 deaths, more than any other county.

As of Sunday, 1,540 patients are known to be hospitalized in Texas. That’s a decrease of 185 patients from Saturday. At least 390,560 tests have been conducted. — Darla Cameron

Texas reports 30,522 cases and 847 deaths on Saturday

[Updated at 4:30 p.m. Saturday] Texas reported 1,293 more cases of the new coronavirus Saturday, the second-highest increase since the state began reporting coronavirus case counts. The highest daily total was 1,441 new cases reported April 10. The total number of known cases is 30,522. The increase in cases comes as testing ramps up statewide.

Two new counties reported their first cases Saturday; over 80% of the state’s 254 counties have reported at least one case.

Harris County has reported the most cases, 6,551, followed by Dallas County, which has reported 3,718 cases. See maps of the latest case numbers for each county and case rates per 1,000 residents.

The state has reported 31 additional deaths, bringing the statewide total to 847 — an increase of about 4% from Friday. Harris County reported eight additional deaths, bringing its total to 122 deaths, more than any other county.

As of Saturday, 1,725 patients are known to be hospitalized in Texas. That’s a decrease of 53 patients from Friday. At least 380,648 tests have been conducted.

Texas allowed retail stores, restaurants, libraries and museums to reopen Friday, as long as they limit crowds to 25% of capacity. State officials say they are paying attention to more than the raw number of confirmed cases as they watch the effects of the reopening and consider whether to pull back or loosen restrictions further. On Twitter Saturday, Gov. Greg Abbott touted some of those other metrics.

Darla Cameron and Matthew Watkins

Texas attorney general's letter to election officials at odds with court ruling under appeal

[5 a.m.] Despite being at odds with a court ruling, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Friday asserted in a letter to county officials that the litigation over expanding voting-by-mail during the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t changed eligibility for absentee voting.

A state district judge ruled two weeks ago that voters who risked exposure to the virus if they vote in person could ask for a mail-in ballot under a portion of the Texas election code that allows absentee ballots for voters who cite a disability. After intervening in the case, Paxton’s office almost immediately appealed that ruling, which could greatly expand voting-by-mail in the state.

Paxton continued to push back against that ruling in his Friday letter, arguing that the lawsuit did “not change or suspend” the state’s eligibility requirements and again raising the prospect that “third parties” could face criminal sanctions if they advise voters who typically do not qualify for a mail-in ballot to request one under those circumstances. The Texas election code defines disability as a “sickness or physical condition” that prevents a voter from appearing in person without the risk of “injuring the voter’s health.” Citing ambiguity in state law regarding what qualifies as a disability, Judge Tim Sulak of Travis County ruled that qualification can currently apply to any voter in Texas during the pandemic.

In his preliminary injunction, Sulak ruled that the state was prohibited from “issuing guidance or otherwise taking actions” that would prevent counties from accepting mail-in ballots received by voters who applied “based on the disability category of eligibility as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The attorney general’s office has argued against the expansion, claiming the vote-by-mail disability qualifications apply to voters who already have a “sickness or physical condition” and not those who fear contracting a disease.

In response to Paxton’s letter, the Texas Democratic Party — a plaintiff in the lawsuit in question — responded by saying the court had already overruled the arguments rehashed by the attorney general in his letter and that it was ultimately up to the court to decide the matter.

"Ken Paxton’s letter — which is not binding — gets the law wrong and serves no other purpose than to attempt to intimidate voters and county officials," said Thomas Buser-Clancy with the ACLU of Texas, which is also involved in the case. — Alexa Ura

Disclosure: The Texas Tribune, as a nonprofit local newsroom and a small business, applied for and received a loan through the Paycheck Protection Program in the amount of $800,000.

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