What you need to know Thursday:
Texas reports 59,776 cases and 1,601 deaths
Texas reported the largest single-day number of new coronavirus cases Thursday, though health officials attributed the surge to increased testing at prisons, which have become hot spots, and test results from the holiday weekend just now coming in.
Texas reported 1,855 more cases of the new coronavirus Thursday, bringing the total number of known cases to 59,776. In the last week, the state reported an average of 1,072 new cases per day.
Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, said Thursday's increase is likely due to the numbers catching up from the Memorial Day holiday, noting that there were significantly fewer cases over the weekend. He also said some of the results from mass testing at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice are starting to come in. Jones and Walker counties saw spikes, and both have state prisons.
No new counties reported their first cases Thursday; almost every county in Texas has reported at least one confirmed case of the virus. Harris County has reported the most cases, 11,542, followed by Dallas County, which has reported 9,385 cases. The Tribune publishes maps of the latest case numbers for each county and case rates per 1,000 residents.
The state has reported 39 additional deaths, bringing the statewide total to 1,601. In the last week, the state reported an average of 23 additional deaths per day. Harris County reported two additional deaths Thursday, bringing its total to 223 deaths, more than any other county.
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 Wednesday, at least 873,218 viral tests and 88,643 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 4.33% is calculated by dividing the seven-day average of positive cases by the seven-day average of viral 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 Thursday, 1,692 patients are known to be hospitalized in Texas. That’s an increase of 47 patients from Wednesday. — Chris Essig
(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.)
Abbott allows spectators for pro sports
In a new proclamation, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that fans will be allowed at outdoor professional sporting events in most Texas counties with limited occupancy, under a new expansion of his most recent wave of economic reopenings.
Starting Friday, all Texans counties — excluding Deaf Smith, El Paso, Moore, Potter and Randall counties — will be able to host in-person spectators for outdoor sports in venues as long as visitors are capped at 25% capacity. Leagues will first have to apply to — and receive approval from — the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Under the revised rule, fans are still banned from attending indoor sporting events in person. The rule does not address college or high school athletics. — Alex Samuels
128,000 more Texans file for unemployment as businesses continue to reopen
Another 128,105 Texans filed for unemployment last week, just a slight dip from the roughly 134,000 claims filed the week ending May 16.
Since mid-March, about 2.2 million Texans have filed for unemployment as state and local orders attempting to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus brought the economy to a standstill. Nationwide, just over 2.1 million Americans filed for unemployment last week, bringing the total of Americans filing for unemployment in the past 10 weeks to more than 40 million.
The state has moved into its plan to gradually allow business and commerce to return. Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott permitted child care centers to reopen, as well as bars at 25% capacity, part of the second phase of reopening. And Tuesday, the governor issued a proclamation allowing mall food courts and water parks to resume operations.
A quarter of a million Texans with approved unemployment claims still have to request payment, said Cisco Gamez, a spokesperson for the Texas Workforce Commission, at a Wednesday media briefing. After a claim is approved, Texans must request payment every two weeks on their assigned day to receive benefits.
Texans can request payment by logging on to the Texas Workforce Commission’s website. They’ll need their user ID and password. Or they can call 800-558-8321, where they will need their Social Security number and a four-digit PIN. The Texas Workforce Commission says if Texans request late, it won’t make them ineligible for benefits, but it could delay their payments. — Clare Proctor
Animal testing equipment will be used to test human coronavirus samples, Texas A&M says
After months of red tape, Texas A&M announced Thursday that laboratory equipment in Amarillo and College Station typically used to test animals will now be allowed to test human samples for the coronavirus, KFDA-TV in Amarillo reported. The Amarillo location will be able to process up to 600 samples per day, but all samples must come from traditional testing sites. Previously, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had prohibited the use of the veterinary labs for coronavirus testing, citing lab personnel’s lack of human lab testing experience. —Naomi Andu
Shell evacuates employees after outbreak on rig in Gulf of Mexico
Nine Shell employees were evacuated from an offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico after five people tested positive for the new coronavirus, the Houston Chronicle reported.
The European oil and gas company, which has headquarters in Houston, did not specify at which offshore platform the outbreak happened but said it will reduce staffing there to minimal levels, according to the Chronicle.
Shell operates nine offshore platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, and about 160 people work on the rig that was the site of coronavirus cases, KHOU-TV reported. — Sami Sparber
Texas reports 57,921 cases and 1,562 deaths
Texas officials are expected to release the latest number of people who have tested positive for the new coronavirus Thursday. On Wednesday, the state reported 1,361 more cases of the new coronavirus, 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. — Darla Cameron
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.
Progress in Amarillo: Gov. Greg Abbott expressed confidence Wednesday that officials have made major progress in containing a COVID-19 hot spot in Amarillo, saying the surge in state and federal resources sent to the region will be a model for how the state responds to local flare-ups in the future. Roughly three weeks after Abbott announced that “surge response teams" would head to Amarillo, he said Wednesday afternoon that the number of new cases in the area has been on the decline.