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Coronavirus in Texas

Coronavirus in Texas: Optional tests to help assess what public school students learned remotely

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

COVID related street art on Sixth Street in downtown Austin on May 6th, 2020.

Coronavirus in Texas

As the coronavirus spreads across the state, The Texas Tribune is covering the most important health, economic and breaking developments that affect Texans, every day. Watch our Texas unemployment tracker, use our explainer on the coronavirus for essential information, and visit our map tracker for the number of cases, deaths and tests in Texas.

 More in this series 

Tuesday's biggest developments:

  • Texas reports 41,048 cases and 1,133 deaths
  • Houston mayor proposes furloughing about 3,000 workers, exhausting reserve fund
  • Optional tests to help assess what public school students learned remotely
  • SNAP recipients can soon order groceries online

SNAP benefits now available for families whose children qualify for free and reduced-cost school meals

[6:47 p.m.] The U.S. Department of Agriculture gave Texas the go-ahead Monday to distribute emergency Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits to families with children eligible for free and reduced-cost school meals, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, announced in a statement.

The program — known as Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer — is meant to replace the meals children would normally get at school. About two-thirds of Texas schoolchildren are eligible for free and reduced-cost meals at school, Cornyn said.

Each child should be eligible to get about $285 in benefits, said Rachel Cooper, a senior policy analyst with the Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think tank.

Families who already receive SNAP should see that amount show up on their account automatically. Those who don’t have SNAP benefits should get a Pandemic-EBT card, which works like a debit card, in the mail after submitting their application, Cooper said.

Only school-age children are eligible for the benefits — not infants and toddlers, Cooper said.

“During an already stressful time, many families find themselves without school meal benefits meant to provide nutrition and financial relief,” Cornyn said in a statement. — Stacy Fernández

Texas reports 41,048 cases and 1,133 deaths

[5:30 p.m.] Texas reported 1,179 more cases of the new coronavirus Tuesday, an increase of about 3% over the previous day, bringing the total number of known cases to 41,048. Mills County reported its first case Tuesday; over 85% of the state’s 254 counties have reported at least one case.

Harris County has reported the most cases, 8,176, followed by Dallas County, which has reported 6,123 cases. See maps of the latest case numbers for each county and case rates per 1,000 residents.

The state has reported 33 additional deaths, bringing the statewide total to 1,133 — an increase of about 3% from Monday. Harris County reported seven additional deaths, bringing its total to 179 deaths, more than any other county.

As of Tuesday, 1,725 patients are known to be hospitalized in Texas. That’s an increase of 200 patients from Monday. At least 538,172 tests have been conducted. — Carla Astudillo

Houston mayor proposes furloughing about 3,000 workers, exhausting reserve fund

[3:46 p.m.] Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner proposed Tuesday that the city furlough about 3,000 of its workers and use up its entire $20 million rainy day fund to close its budget gap, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Texas’ most populous city has lost $169 million in revenue this fiscal year. Depleting the rainy day fund — meant to stabilize the city budget in the event of a major disaster or a temporary revenue shortage — would leave the city in a “precarious state for the upcoming hurricane season,” the Chronicle reported.

The announcement comes days after Dallas furloughed almost 500 employees across 10 departments through at least July 31. San Antonio has furloughed 270 employees, and Fort Worth has furloughed at least 79 employees. — Stacy Fernández

Optional tests to help assess what public school students learned remotely

[3:27 p.m.] Texas public school students are not taking the controversial state standardized tests this year because they were canceled as COVID-19 spread across the state. Instead, parents and educators can choose to administer optional tests, just launched by the state, that cover the same subjects and grade levels. State education officials say the tests will allow parents and educators to see what students have learned remotely, with school buildings closed since March.

The state will not use the test scores to rate schools or districts this year.

Parents can register their children for the exams starting May 12 through June 5 and can administer them at home through June 12, either online or in printed form. — Aliyya Swaby

SNAP recipients can soon order groceries online

[2:02 p.m.] Starting Wednesday, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients can buy groceries online for curbside pickup or delivery, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission announced Tuesday.

Currently, Walmart and Amazon are the only participants in the online pilot program. Families can only use their SNAP funds for groceries. Delivery and convenience fees charged by the companies have to come out of their own pockets, according to a Texas Health and Human Services Commission statement. “As we respond to this pandemic, the state of Texas is committed to helping SNAP recipients throughout the state access nutritious food for their families,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in a prepared statement. — Stacy Fernández

El Paso-area leaders ask Abbott to let them chart their own course

[9:46 a.m.] As the El Paso area continues to see an increase in cases of the new coronavirus, the El Paso County judge and several local lawmakers have asked Gov. Greg Abbott to let the area chart its own course while the rest of the state moves to reopen businesses.

As of Monday evening, there were about 1,350 cases in the city and county, including more than 600 recoveries. But the area’s demographics and designation as a medically underserved area put El Paso at a greater risk than other places, County Judge Ricardo Samaniego wrote to Abbott.

“According to the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], factors such as living conditions, work conditions, underlying health conditions and access to care are suspected as causing this disproportionate impact on minority populations contracting COVID-19. 2 El Paso fits squarely into these risk factors,” Samaniego wrote.

Some businesses, including restaurants, stores and beauty salons began reopening this month, and more restrictions are expected to be lifted May 18.

But El Paso’s legislative delegation and several nearby mayors joined the county judge in asking Abbott to issue a proclamation “determining that El Paso County merits special consideration and restrictions” as the area deals with the pandemic.

“El Paso has not reached its peak. El Paso County has been under a Stay at Home, Work Safe Order since March 24, 2020,” the lawmakers wrote. The letter said restrictions in place “have contributed to minimizing the spread of the virus but unfortunately, additional time is needed for El Paso to reach its peak while minimizing the number of deaths in our community.” — Julián Aguilar

Trump, Congress split on next stimulus package

[5 a.m.] President Donald Trump and Congress are split on what should be in the federal government's next coronavirus stimulus package, USA Today reports.

Talks over the potential package come as the country's unemployment rate skyrockets, highlighting the blow to the economy in Texas and the country as a whole.

The paper reported that Democrats want another installment of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, which provided direct payments to Americans and loans for small businesses. Republicans, meanwhile, are pushing to give businesses liability protections and a potential pause on legislation, USA Today reports.

And while Democrats have also suggested providing more money for state, local and tribal governments, the president has said he doesn't want to bail out states he believes are poorly managed, according to the newspaper. — Brandon Formby

Disclosure: The Center for Public Policy Priorities and Walmart have been financial supporters of The Texas 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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