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Coronavirus in Texas

Coronavirus in Texas: Texans still able to refuse work and receive unemployment benefits if they lack child care

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

Stevin Kane and Ramiro Cruz give haircuts to customers, after Kane's Barbershop reopened from being closed due to the coro...

Wednesday’s biggest developments:

  • Texas reports 51,323 cases and 1,419 deaths
  • Austin says ACL, UT-Austin football unlikely this fall
  • Texas prisons start school programs
  • Harris County residents could get more financial help

Texas college football teams can resume workouts

[7:20 p.m.] College football and basketball teams can resume voluntary activities — like working out in on-campus facilities — on June 1, the National Collegiate Athletic Association's governing board voted Wednesday, Yahoo Sports reported.

Paired with Gov. Greg Abbott’s Monday announcement that sporting events can return without fans at the end of the month, the NCAA vote leads the way for a possible return of college football and basketball in the fall and winter even if there are no fans in the stadiums.

Austin Public Health officials said Wednesday that the city probably won’t hold any large events for the rest of the year. Events like football at the University of Texas at Austin would have to be spectator free.

The NCAA is expected to make a decision regarding other sports within the next week, Yahoo Sports reported. — Stacy Fernández

Texas reports 51,323 cases and 1,419 deaths

[4:30 p.m.] Texas reported 1,411 more cases of the new coronavirus Wednesday, an increase of about 3% over the previous day, bringing the total number of known cases to 51,323. Hall County reported its first case Wednesday; over 85% of the state’s 254 counties have reported at least one case.

Harris County has reported the most cases, 9,859, followed by Dallas County, which has reported 7,904 cases. See maps of the latest case numbers for each county and case rates per 1,000 residents.

The state has reported 50 additional deaths, bringing the statewide total to 1,419 — an increase of about 4% from Tuesday. Harris County reported two additional deaths, bringing its total to 207 deaths, more than any other county.

As of Wednesday, 1,791 patients are known to be hospitalized in Texas. That’s an increase of 59 patients from Tuesday. At least 770,241 tests have been conducted. — Chris Essig

Texans still able to refuse work if they lack child care

[2:40 p.m.] People can still refuse work if they don’t have access to child care, even as child care centers across the state are reopening, said Cisco Gamez, spokesperson for the Texas Workforce Commission, at a Wednesday media briefing. “We would continue to take claimants at their word, absent facts to the contrary, and would review the work refusal around lack of child care to determine benefit eligibility,” Gamez said.

Child care centers were allowed to open Monday, part of Gov. Greg Abbott’s second phase to reopen the state’s economy. Previously, child care providers were open only to children of essential workers.

On Tuesday, the Workforce Commission voted to phase out a temporary subsidy program for low-income parents and essential workers. The program — which offers subsidized payments for up to three months — stops taking applications at the end of the day Wednesday. — Clare Proctor

Austin Public Health officials say large events likely canceled for remainder of 2020

[12 p.m.] Austin Public Health officials said Wednesday that the city likely won’t be holding any large events for the remainder of the year, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

“The large events are the first thing that we turned off and are going to be the last thing we’re going to turn back on because of that risk of exposing lots of people to one another, particularly individuals of the same household,” said Dr. Mark Escott, interim Austin-Travis County health authority.

This includes events like the Austin City Limits Music Festival and football at the University of Texas at Austin. Currently, Austin residents can gather, shop and visit restaurants in groups of 10 or fewer people who are at low risk for the new coronavirus.

To consider opening the city more, health officials are looking at effective treatment for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, as well as rapid testing before heading into the stadium for football games.

“I think that’s incentive for us to work hard at that social distancing, work hard at ensuring that people who are sick stay home and if they’re staying home, they’re directed to testing, so that we can get a handle on this,” Escott said. — Clare Proctor

Texas prisons starting in-person school programming

[12 p.m.] After Gov. Greg Abbott gave the OK this week for summer school to begin June 1, Texas’ prisons are also starting back up with in-person educational programming.

Kristina Hartman, superintendent of the prison’s school district, Windham ISD, said her teachers will abide by Monday’s guidance from the Texas Education Agency in regard to class size and social distancing.

She said inmates will sit 6 feet apart, and there will be no more than 11 people, including the teacher, in a class. The district will also move to a hybrid schedule, so instead of each inmate having class Monday through Friday, they will have alternate schedules of classroom time and additional work to do in their dorms or cells, Hartman said. In Texas prisons, where the coronavirus has infected thousands across dozens of units and killed nearly 40 inmates and staff, there is concern that allowing more people onto the units could further spread the virus.

All visitation and new inmate intake from jails has halted. But Hartman said all Windham staff members have already taken part in the mass testing that has occurred at several units, and she said teachers will be required to be tested if they are at a unit that later tests all inmates and staff members. For the many prison units on lockdown — where almost all movement and activity is restricted — because the coronavirus is present, Hartman said the teachers will continue distance learning. That includes sending materials to the unit, where officers distribute them to the inmates, and then collecting them later to grade it. — Jolie McCullough

Harris County officials increase fund for struggling residents

Harris County commissioners agreed in a split, party-line vote to double the size of a coronavirus relief fund for people who need help affording housing costs, utilities and other basic needs, the Houston Chronicle reports.

Envelope with money in it

The impact on Texas’ economy

The fund was increased to $30 million and is estimated to help 20,000 households, the paper reported. The commissioners’ 3-2 vote came the same day that eviction proceedings could begin again in Texas. Housing advocates fear a surge in displacement and homelessness because unemployment has disproportionately affected renters since the crisis began. — Brandon Formby

Top Tribune stories you might have missed:

  • Scaling back child care subsidies: The Texas Workforce Commission is phasing out temporary child care subsidies for low-income parents and essential workers as Gov. Greg Abbott launches phase two of the state's attempted economic jump-start from coronavirus shutdowns. The programs were started in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Voting by mail: A federal judge ordered that all state voters, regardless of age, qualify for mail-in ballots during the coronavirus pandemic. U.S. District Judge Fred Biery agreed with individual Texas voters and the Texas Democratic Party that voters would face irreparable harm if existing age eligibility rules for voting by mail are in place for elections held while the coronavirus remains in wide circulation. Biery's ruling covers Texas voters who want to vote by mail so they don't risk contracting the coronavirus. The Texas attorney general said he would immediately appeal.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter 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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