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Coronavirus in Texas

Coronavirus in Texas: Seven Corpus Christi beef plant employees test positive

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

The parking lot of Barton Creek Square Mall in Austin on May 1, 2020, the same day some Texas businesses began reopening on …

Thursday's biggest developments:

  • Texas reports 35,390 cases and 973 deaths
  • Sen. Ted Cruz asks Trump to limit work-based immigration
  • Fort Worth will host the start of the 2020 IndyCar Series without fans
  • Halliburton lays off 1,000 employees

Texas mayors ask Gov. Greg Abbott for guidelines on getting coronavirus relief funds

[6:50 p.m.] Over 100 Texas mayors signed a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott asking for clear guidance on how to apply to funding coming from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act and flexibility on the ways to use these funds, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

The CARES Act provided up to $11.2 billion to Texas. Around half of these funds would go directly to cities and counties with over 500,000 people. The other half will go through the state to jurisdictions of less than 500,000 people.

"We are concerned that guidelines on how to apply for that funding have not yet been released to the public," the letter said. "These cities [with a population of less than 500,000 people] are unsure whether to work with the state or with their county on financial assistance.”

The letter also stipulated that the funds should be “used in the most flexible manner permitted by the law.” Local governments are under financial pressures during this crisis not only due to an increase in demand for social services, but also given that they are seeing less revenue from sources like sales taxes. — Juan Pablo Garnham

Seven Corpus Christi beef plant workers test positive for coronavirus

[6:09 p.m.] A seventh employee of the STX Beef Company plant in Corpus Christi tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, according to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Of the seven employees who have tested positive, three have been hospitalized. Annette Rodriguez, director of the Corpus Christi-Nueces County Public Health Department, told the Caller-Times that the county had contacted the state about mass testing at the plant.

Gov. Greg Abbott this week said he's sending a "surge team" to look at an outbreak of coronavirus rates around Texas meatpacking plants in the Panhandle. Such hot spots have continued to grow as the state has moved forward with relaxing shutdown orders across the state. The Panhandle, where a workforce of Hispanics and immigrants powers several meatpacking plants, is home to the highest rates of infection in the state.

The spread of infections in some communities underscores the dangers faced by those working in meatpacking plants who have little power to avoid the virus. — Sam Manas

Fort Worth will host the start of the 2020 IndyCar Series without fans

[2:01 p.m.] Without fans and with a reduced schedule, the Texas Motor Speedway on June 6 will host its first major race since the coronavirus crisis forced a widespread shutdown of events, with the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series.

“America needs live sports and they are not going to believe what they see when the Genesys 300 storms into their living rooms on TV from Texas,” said Eddie Gossage, president and general manager of Texas Motor Speedway, in a press release.

Organizers say preventive measures like health screenings and use of personal protective equipment will be put in place during the event, which will be broadcast on NBC Sports.

“Public health remains our top priority and the protocols for this race have been developed with the guidance of public health officials,” said Gov. Greg Abbott, who applauded the announcement. “This race serves as an example of how we can responsibly hold sporting events while prioritizing the health of the participants and the public.”

In March, the president of the Fort Worth racing oval announced that the facilities would close temporarily due to the coronavirus pandemic, but since then it has hosted a blood drive, and on Friday, it was announced that the space will be used for high school commencement ceremonies. — Juan Pablo Garnham

Texas reports 35,390 cases and 973 deaths

[12:45 p.m.] Texas reported 968 more cases of the new coronavirus Thursday, an increase of about 3% over the previous day, bringing the total number of known cases to 35,390. Shackelford County reported its first case Thursday; over 85% of the state’s 254 counties have reported at least one case.

Harris County has reported the most cases, 7,244, followed by Dallas County, which has reported 4,869 cases. See maps of the latest case numbers for each county and case rates per 1,000 residents.

The state has reported 25 additional deaths, bringing the statewide total to 973 — an increase of about 3% from Wednesday. Harris County reported six additional deaths, bringing its total to 150 deaths, more than any other county.

As of Thursday, 1,750 patients are known to be hospitalized in Texas. That’s a decrease of 62 patients from Wednesday. At least 455,162 tests have been conducted. — Mandi Cai

Neiman Marcus files for bankruptcy

[11 a.m.] On Thursday, Dallas-based Neiman Marcus became the first major department store group to file for bankruptcy during the coronavirus pandemic, The New York Times reports.

“Prior to COVID-19, Neiman Marcus Group was making solid progress on our journey to long-term profitable and sustainable growth,” said Geoffroy van Raemdonck, CEO of the company, in a press release. “However, like most businesses today, we are facing unprecedented disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has placed inexorable pressure on our business.”

According to the press release, "the Company expects to emerge from the process in early Fall 2020." Analysts believe that Neiman Marcus will survive the bankruptcy process but might have to close some of its locations.

The public health crisis had already forced the company to close all its 43 locations, as well as Bergdorf Goodman stores and Last Call outlets, also owned by the Neiman Marcus Group. COVID-19 has been a major challenge for retailers, which were already having trouble adjusting to online shopping. Monthly sales by clothing and accessory stores dropped 50.5% from February to March, according to U.S. Census Bureau data analyzed by Business Insider. — Juan Pablo Garnham

Cruz asks Trump to limit work-based immigration

[10:16 a.m. ] U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, asked President Trump on Thursday to further limit work-based immigration to the United States and preserve jobs for American workers during the country’s economic recovery efforts.

Trump signed an executive order last month that suspended the processing of new applications for permanent residency, or green cards, but left in place work visas for certain industries, including the medical field and the agriculture and service industries.

In a letter to the president, Cruz said guest-worker programs “remain a serious threat” to America’s economic recovery effort and is calling for suspension of guest-worker visas for at least 60 days. The letter was first reported by Politico.

“The United States admits more than one million nonimmigrant guest workers every year, and there is no reason to admit most such workers when our unemployment is so high,” Cruz wrote. U.S. Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas; Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa; and Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, also signed the letter.

The senators argued that instead of enjoying regular graduation ceremonies, high school and college graduates will instead be fretting about their futures and whether they’ll find employment this year.

“There is no reason why these young people, especially, should not have access to seasonal, nonagricultural work such as summer resort employment or landscaping before those positions are given to imported foreign labor,” the lawmakers wrote.

The senators also called for the possible suspension of some visa applications for up to a year, or until the American economy recovers. Those include visas for high-skilled workers and for nonagricultural guest workers. They also asked Trump to suspend the Optional Practical Training program that allows foreign students to stay in the United States and work.

“While the merits of such a program are subject to debate, there is certainly no reason to allow foreign students to stay for three additional years just to take jobs that would otherwise go to unemployed Americans as our economy recovers,” the senators wrote.

A number of U.S. House Republicans from Texas also weighed in Thursday.

In a separate letter to the president, U.S. Reps. Lance Gooden, R-Terrell; Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler; Michael Burgess, R-Lewisville; and Brian Babin, R-Woodville, told the president his executive order was a “step in the right direction” but urged more action.

“There will still be too few jobs for the millions of recently fired workers when regular activity resumes,” the group wrote. “Allowing foreign-born guest workers to fill jobs at a time like this is an injustice against unemployed Americans.” — Julián Aguilar

Halliburton lays off 1,000 employees

[10 a.m.] Houston-based giant Halliburton announced that it is laying off 1,000 employees at its headquarters, the Houston Chronicle reports. In March, the oilfield services company had already furloughed 3,500 employees amid the coronavirus crisis and a drop in oil prices.

“The reductions are in addition to layoffs across the company’s global operations,” Halliburton said in a statement. “These actions are difficult but necessary as we adjust our business to customers’ decreased activity.”

A dispute between Russia and Saudi Arabia, plus the slowdown in demand for oil due to the pandemic, has made oil prices plummet from $60 to less than $25 a barrel in a few months. In spite of an intense debate, the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the state's oil and gas industry, has decided to not impose oil production cuts. — Juan Pablo Garnham

Austin plans to extend stay-at-home orders

[10 a.m.] Despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s orders to reopen the economy, Austin is planning to extend stay-at-home orders, KXAN reports.

“We are not going to reopen anything more than what we have already open because we think that’s the safest thing to do,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler told the TV station.

The next phase for reopening businesses in Texas starts Friday and will include the limited opening of hair, nail and tanning salons; barbershops; wedding venues and swimming pools. But in Austin, public libraries and public swimming spots like Barton Springs and Deep Eddy Pool will remain closed for now. Most city offices will remain closed, too, and employees will be working from home whenever possible. — Juan Pablo Garnham

Disclosure: Steve Adler, a former Texas Tribune board chairman, has been a financial supporter of the Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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