What you need to know Wednesday:
250,000 Texans with approved unemployment claims have yet to request payment
About 250,000 Texans have valid unemployment claims but haven’t yet requested payment, said Cisco Gamez, a spokesperson for the Texas Workforce Commission, at a Wednesday media briefing.
People filing for unemployment first must have their claims approved. To receive benefits, they must request payments every two weeks on an assigned day, until they return to work and are no longer eligible for unemployment benefits.
Texans with approved claims who haven’t requested payments received texts, emails and mail to notify them to request payment, Gamez said, and they will receive texts on their assigned day to remind them to request benefits.
The commission distributed the most benefits in a single day Tuesday, paying out over $800 million in state and federal funding, Gamez said. Since the week ending March 14, the agency has paid out about $8.2 billion in state and federal funding. — Clare Proctor
Texas reports 57,921 cases and 1,562 deaths
Texas reported 1,361 more cases of the new coronavirus Wednesday, bringing the total number of known cases to 57,921. In the last week, the state reported an average of 942 new cases per day.
Reagan County reported its first case Wednesday; almost every county in Texas has reported at least one confirmed case of the virus. Harris County has reported the most cases, 11,281, followed by Dallas County, which has reported 9,188 cases. The Tribune publishes maps of the latest case numbers for each county and case rates per 1,000 residents.
The state has reported 26 additional deaths, bringing the statewide total to 1,562. In the last week, the state reported an average 20 additional deaths per day.
Gov. Greg Abbott is looking at two metrics to justify his decision to restart the Texas economy — the positive test rate and hospitalization levels. As of yesterday, at least 855,674 viral tests and 87,565 antibody tests have been administered.
The positive test rate is the percentage of new cases to viral tests conducted. The current average daily infection rate of 4.27% is calculated by dividing the seven-day average of positive cases by the seven-day average of tests conducted. This shows how the situation has changed over time by deemphasizing daily swings. Public health experts want the infection rate to remain below 6%.
As of Wednesday, 1,645 patients are known to be hospitalized in Texas. That’s an increase of 111 patients from Tuesday. — Darla Cameron
(The Texas Tribune previously reported a slightly different positive rate, but has updated its numbers to reflect the state's methodology. We also incorrectly stated our formula for calculating the average daily infection rate. This has also been corrected.)
Trib stories you may have missed:
Vote by mail: The Texas Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that a lack of immunity to the new coronavirus does not qualify a voter to apply for a mail-in ballot. In the latest twist in the legal fight over voting by mail during the pandemic, the court agreed with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton that the risk of contracting the virus alone does not meet the state’s qualifications for voting by mail.
Medical debt: Hundreds of debt collection lawsuits have been filed since Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster because of COVID-19 in mid-March, according to the Health Care Research and Policy Team at Johns Hopkins University. The researchers' report, released Wednesday, also found 28 of 414 hospitals in 62 Texas counties sued Texas patients between January 2018 and February 2020, before the pandemic.
“It's a sense of duty, for a lack of better word, and if I can assist anyone in being their proxy, I'd be more than happy to.”
— U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston
- Congressional history: U.S. House members — including some from Texas — made history Wednesday when they allowed colleagues to vote on a surveillance bill on their behalf. The House is allowing members to designate proxies for votes to limit members' travel in hopes of minimizing spread of the coronavirus. Republicans, however, have promised a protracted legal battle over the matter.
- Election guidelines: The Texas secretary of state on Tuesday issued “minimum recommended health protocols” for elections, including a suggestion that voters bring their own hand sanitizer to the polls and that they "may want to consider" voting curbside if they have symptoms of COVID-19. Secretary of State Ruth Hughs laid out checklists for voters and election workers that range from self-screening for symptoms to increased sanitation of voting equipment.
Abbott says progress being made to control Amarillo hot spot
Gov. Greg Abbott and state and local health officials expressed confidence Wednesday that they have made major progress in containing a hot spot of the new coronavirus in the Amarillo area, saying that the surge in state and federal resources that they sent to the region will be a model for how the state responds to local flare-ups in Texas in the future.
Roughly three weeks after Abbott announced that “surge response teams,” made up of health workers, emergency response workers and the National Guard, would head to Amarillo, he said Wednesday afternoon that the number of new cases in the area has been on the decline. — Alex Samuels
Texas testing sites disproportionately located in white neighborhoods
In four out of six of the largest cities in Texas, testing sites for the coronavirus are disproportionately located in whiter neighborhoods, according to an analysis by NPR. Dallas saw the highest disparity, with 22 sites in census tracts that are predominantly white and only seven sites in areas that are less white than the city's median. Similar trends were identified in El Paso, Austin and Fort Worth.
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has pointed out, there is growing evidence that shows that COVID-19 has disproportionately affected people of color for several reasons, which include living conditions, lack of paid sick leave, less access to health care and other historical inequalities.
Dr. Philip Huang, director of Dallas County Health and Human Services, said to NPR that part of the disparity reflects the “private sector availability of tests in the northern part of Dallas compared to southern Dallas” and that the county is focusing its capacity on filling this gap as much as possible.
"We have been trying to definitely target those resources that we have control over into those areas," Huang said.
Houston is the exception in the trend, with 18 testing sites in neighborhoods with more people of color, compared with 13 in areas that are predominantly white. — Juan Pablo Garnham
Texas Supreme Court bars most jury trials through Aug. 1
The Texas Supreme Court is barring most jury selection proceedings and jury trials through Aug. 1, according to a new order issued Wednesday.
Most jury trials had previously been on hold. Moving forward, if a judge wishes for a jury trial, both the prosecution and the defense have to agree to it, and health precautions will have to be followed.
The court is also allowing remote proceedings to continue in Texas and established that existing grand juries can meet remotely or in person as long as health precautions are taken.
As part of the same order, most deadlines for civil and criminal cases were extended to Sept. 30. — Juan Pablo Garnham
U.S. representatives from Texas criticize federal contract given to San Antonio events company
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s award of a $39 million food distribution contract to a San Antonio events company has drawn criticism from two members of Congress from Texas, the San Antonio Express-News reports.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro has asked for an investigation into CRE8AD8’s contract for a food relief program during the coronavirus pandemic. Democratic U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett said the contract should be canceled.
Those calls come after the Express-News reported that the event planner who owns the company “boasted about clients who say they’ve never worked with him, cited unearned professional credentials and touted business affiliations that can’t be verified.” — Brandon Formby
Disclosure: The Texas secretary of state 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.