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Coronavirus in Texas

Coronavirus in Texas: Medical experts say voting in person "certain" to spread infections

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

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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 49,912 cases and 1,369 deaths
  • Medical experts: Voting in person creates a “heightened danger” for spread of coronavirus
  • AG considering whether pandemics are disasters when it comes to property taxes

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick releases star-filled tribute to 2020 graduates

[6:30 p.m.] Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick put together a video congratulating the class of 2020 on graduating during the COVID-19 pandemic. The video features celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Chuck Norris, athletes like Dallas Cowboys quarterback Andy Dalton and Houston Rockets forward Robert Covington, and Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman. The seven-minute video, uploaded Saturday, is currently unlisted on Patrick’s YouTube channel.

The video clips were contributed “voluntarily” by Patrick’s friends and friends of friends, spokeswoman Sherry Sylvester said.

“It’s a big deal to be in the class of 2020,” Patrick said. “Years and years from now, they’ll be asking you about what it was like during this time when you graduated.” — Naomi Andu

Harris County jail to start testing all inmates

[6:26 p.m.] The Harris County jail will begin testing all inmates for the new coronavirus by the end of this week, according to a spokesperson with the sheriff’s office. That will include new inmates as they are booked into the jail.

The office finalized a deal with the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston for 20 medical staffers to test up to 350 inmates a day, seven days a week, with nasal swabs while tests last, according to spokesperson Jason Spencer. The county’s contract has a maximum of $1.5 million at $150 a test, and Spencer said the office is hoping for a federal reimbursement.

“This agreement is a game changer for our corrections and medical teams that have been fighting valiantly for months to hold the line against this virus,” Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said in a statement. “Without the ability to practice social distancing, our best tactic is to test aggressively so we can isolate those who are contagious.”

The Harris County jail has had more than 700 inmates and nearly 300 jail employees test positive for the virus. Three inmates have died with the virus. Throughout the state, about 1,300 county jail inmates have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to a report from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. — Jolie McCullough

Texas reports 49,912 cases and 1,369 deaths

[4:44 p.m.] Texas reported 1,219 more cases of the new coronavirus Tuesday, an increase of about 3% over the previous day, bringing the total number of known cases to 49,912. Two counties, Mills and San Saba, reported their first cases Tuesday; over 85% of the state’s 254 counties have now reported at least one case.

Harris County has reported the most cases, 9,635, followed by Dallas County, which has reported 7,679 cases. See maps of the latest case numbers for each county and case rates per 1,000 residents.

The state reported 22 additional deaths, bringing the statewide total to 1,369 — an increase of about 2% from Monday. Harris County reported one additional death, bringing its total to 205 deaths, more than any other county.

As of Tuesday, 1,732 patients are known to be hospitalized in Texas. That’s an increase of 181 patients from Monday. At least 744,937 tests have been conducted. — Carla Astudillo

Medical experts: Voting in person creates a “heightened danger” for spread of coronavirus

[4 p.m.] With the state continuing to fight an expansion in voting by mail, Texas doctors and nurses working on the front lines to fight the new coronavirus are warning that requiring voters to cast their ballots in person “is certain” to result in increased infection rates.

In an amicus brief filed Tuesday with the Texas Supreme Court, the medical professionals said the nature of voting in person — including standing in line, interactions with others in close proximity and “communal touching” of voting equipment — would facilitate a “heightened danger” for transmission of the coronavirus. The doctors and nurses who signed on to the brief also argued that planned sanitation measures like wiping down surfaces at polling places wouldn’t be enough to protect voters from a virus that’s most commonly transmitted through respiratory droplets that can hang in the air for several minutes.

“The public health and safety issue underlying this determination is not about whether registered voters may fear going to the polls,” the brief reads. “Instead, the issue is solely whether voting in person on election day would be likely to injure voters’ health. As explained in this brief, the answer is simply, ‘Yes, it would.’” — Alexa Ura

AG considering whether pandemics are disasters when it comes to property taxes

[3:24 p.m.] Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Tuesday morning that his office is looking into whether local governments can bypass new property tax provisions under the governor’s disaster declaration.

“We’re looking at that now just because we’re anticipating that question coming,” Paxton told Lubbock radio host Chad Hasty. “But we haven’t made any kind of determination yet as to what the answer is.”

On Friday, Gov. Greg Abbott told Austin TV station KVUE that he disagrees with groups like the Texas Municipal League, which argue that cities and counties can circumvent the new 3.5% rollback rate thanks to a provision in a property tax bill the Legislature passed last year. Abbott also said he thought Paxton, like him, “disagrees with that legal interpretation.” — Cassandra Pollock

A coronavirus outbreak among UT Austin custodial workers

[12:45 p.m.] Ten custodial workers at the University of Texas at Austin have tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing total cases among university employees to 26, the Austin American-Statesman reported Tuesday. All are believed to be night custodial staff, and the university’s occupational health office is tracking and notifying anyone who may have come into contact with the infected workers, according to university spokesman J.B. Bird. — Naomi Andu

Houston church closes doors again after five leaders test positive

[5 a.m.] Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Houston closed its doors after five leaders tested positive for the new coronavirus over the weekend, the Houston Chronicle reports. Holy Ghost resumed limited Masses three weeks ago, according to the Chronicle, and the church said in a statement that two of the five leaders who tested positive are priests who were active in those services.

The Rev. Donnell Kirchner, another church leader, died May 13 after being diagnosed with pneumonia, according to the Chronicle. Kirchner received the pneumonia diagnosis at an urgent care clinic, the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston said, and it’s unclear whether he was tested for the new coronavirus before he returned to the home where he lived with seven other members of a religious order.

Top Tribune stories you might have missed

  • Child care facilities can reopen immediately, bars can open Friday with limited capacity and sporting events can return without fans at the end of the month, Gov. Greg Abbott said Monday as he announced his next wave of reopenings designed to restart the Texas economy during the coronavirus pandemic. Abbott also said he would permit restaurants to operate at 50% capacity starting Friday, up from 25% that’s allowed now.
  • Texas public school districts may offer summer school in their classrooms as early as June 1, but they cannot require any students to attend in person. Daily temperature checks and supervised hand-washing are some of the safety rules for schools that decide to hold in-person classes this summer, under new guidance from the Texas Education Agency.
  • As the nation remains focused on COVID-19, the U.S. government has aggressively begun to rush the deportations of some of the most vulnerable migrant children in its care to countries where they have been raped, been beaten or had a parent killed, according to attorneys, court filings and congressional staff. While the deportation of children to dangerous situations is not a new phenomenon for U.S. authorities, what has shocked even veteran immigration attorneys is that the government is trying to so quickly remove, arguably against federal law, those most imperiled — all during a global pandemic.
  • Last week, Texas announced it would be testing every resident and staff member in nursing homes, which have emerged as hot spots for the new coronavirus. But state-run homes for people with disabilities and state-run psychiatric hospitals will not receive that same level of state support to test all residents, patients and employees, according to a spokesperson for the agency that oversees the facilities. The facilities at this time are still only testing residents and patients who are symptomatic or have potentially been exposed, despite concerns raised by employees and family members about outbreaks.

Texas reports 48,693 cases and 1,347 deaths

[5 a.m.] Texas is expected to release updated coronavirus figures Tuesday afternoon. On Monday, the state reported 909 more cases of the new coronavirus, an increase of about 2% over the previous day, bringing the total number of known cases to 48,693. The state also reported 11 additional deaths, bringing the statewide total to 1,347 — an increase of about 1% from Sunday. See maps of the latest case numbers for each county and case rates per 1,000 residents. — Anna Novak

Disclosure: The Texas Municipal League and the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston 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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