Coronavirus in Texas

Coronavirus in Texas: At least 325 cases reported in state; Abbott moves to bolster number of practicing nurses

A person is taken on a stretcher into the United Memorial Medical Center after going through testing for COVID-19 Thursday, March 19, 2020, in Houston. People were lined up in their cars in a line that stretched over two miles to be tested in the drive-thru testing for coronavirus. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
A person is taken on a stretcher into the United Memorial Medical Center after going through testing for COVID-19 Thursday, March 19, 2020, in Houston. People were lined up in their cars in a line that stretched over two miles to be tested in the drive-thru testing for coronavirus. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
[1:45 p.m.] In Texas, at least 325 people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, and five people have died, according to the latest numbers provided Saturday by the Texas Department of State Health Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That is 53% more than the number of cases reported Friday.

The most affected county is Dallas, with 29 cases, followed by Harris, with 25. Travis and Bexar counties follow with 22 each. The statewide numbers for specific counties are lagging local media reports and may differ from what local officials have disclosed. Generally, counties are reporting how many patients test positive there. The state classifies people with positives tests by the county they live in, regardless of where they got tested or are being treated.

The state reported 83 cases where investigators are still determining the county of residence. At least 6,522 tests have been administered, a 414% increase over Tuesday’s testing total of 1,268 when the state first released testing numbers. — Carla Astudillo

Abbott hoping to increase number of practicing nurses, waives some licensing rules

[1:04 p.m.] Gov. Greg Abbott announced Saturday he would waive certain regulations to allow nursing students and retired nurses to easily join the workforce, as the need for medical professionals grows during the novel coronavirus crisis.

He said the state would allow graduate nurses and vocational nurses who haven’t yet taken the licensing exam to receive temporary permit extensions allowing them to practice. Students in their final year of nursing school can more easily meet clinical requirements. And nurses with inactive licenses and retired nurses can reactive their licenses.

“Nurses are essential to our ability to test for this virus, provide care for COVID-19 patients, and to continue providing other essential health care services. Suspending these regulations will allow us to bring additional skilled nurses into the workforce to assist with our efforts and enhance our COVID-19 response,” he said in the release. — Aliyya Swaby

May primary runoff elections delayed until July

The May 26 primary election runoffs will be delayed until July in response to the growing outbreak of the new coronavirus in Texas under an order signed Friday by Gov. Greg Abbott.

Abbott signed the postponement under the emergency powers of his previous statewide disaster declaration. The elections are now scheduled for July 14; early voting will begin July 6.

Before Abbott’s announcement, Texas Democrats instead turned to the state courts Friday to push for expanding mail-in voting. — Alexa Ura

Health care providers delay non-urgent appointments, surgeries

[6:54 p.m.] In an effort to protect their staff and patients from COVID-19 during a time when people are being encouraged to stay 6 feet away from each other, health care providers across the state have postponed check-ups, elective surgeries and other non-urgent medical appointments that must be conducted in person. Likewise, some patients who need regular medical care are putting it off, afraid of contracting the virus in crowded waiting rooms or from health care workers who may not have access to adequate personal protective equipment.

But there are certain procedures and other in-person visits that can only be delayed so long. That has patients and health care providers alike asking the same question: How long is the coronavirus pandemic going to last and demand social isolation?

“We don’t know, and there’s no one who can tell you,” said Dr. Jim McDeavitt, senior vice president of operations and dean of clinical affairs at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. As with the economy, education and beyond, “the longer this goes on, the more challenging it’s going to get.” — Kiah Collier

Texas small businesses can apply for emergency federal loans

[6:54 p.m.] Small businesses battered by the novel coronavirus pandemic sweeping through Texas can apply for long-term, low-interest loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Friday. The Economic Injury Disaster Loan is available for small businesses to apply. Questions of eligibility, and how to apply, can be answered on the agency website. — Mitchell Ferman

Troubled restaurants want sales tax payment delay, but state needs that money to respond to the virus

[2:46 p.m.] Texas restaurant owners say they could ride out the new coronavirus’ social slowdown for months if the state waived, delayed or deferred Friday’s deadline to pay sales taxes from last month. But Comptroller Glenn Hegar said the state won’t push back the deadline because, most importantly, the state and local governments that depend on those taxes to keep hospitals and emergency services going need the money as they prepare for the number of Texans testing positive to skyrocket within weeks. — Mitchell Ferman and Ross Ramsey

More than 200 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Texas

[12:45 p.m.] In Texas, at least 212 people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, and five people have died, according to the latest numbers provided Thursday by the Texas Department of State Health Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is 30% more than the 161 cases reported Thursday and an 123% increase from the 95 cases reported Wednesday. The most affected county is Harris, with 24 cases, followed by Dallas, with 22. Travis follows with 21. The state tracks cases by county of residence, and some patients are treated outside of the county where they live, so today’s data also lists 19 cases in which investigators are still determining the county of residence.

The state health agency says that these numbers may differ from local reports, given that some jurisdictions are making their data public before sending it to the state and also because they might be including residents of other counties in their reports. At least 5,277 tests have been administered, a 125% increase over yesterday’s testing total. — Darla Cameron

Abbott suspends prisoner health care fees

[12 p.m.] Gov. Greg Abbott directed the Texas prison system to temporarily suspend prisoner health care fees for services related to COVID-19 to “encourage timely reporting of COVID-19 symptoms so that offenders are given the treatment they need,” according to a news release from the governor’s office.

As of September, prisoner health care costs were $13.55 per medical visit, with an annual cap of $100 a year. Prison reform advocates have argued that higher fees dissuade inmates from seeking treatment.

“Waiving health care fees for offenders housed in [Texas Department of Criminal Justice] facilities will ensure that inmates experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19 receive immediate medical attention,” Abbott said in the release. “This suspension will protect the health of both inmates and TDCJ staff, and is a crucial tool in our efforts to mitigate any potential spread of COVID-19 in closely confined populations.”

TDCJ holds about 140,000 inmates in its more than 100 prison facilities. The department has not yet reported any cases of the new coronavirus, though testing is only being performed by outside entities if an inmate has been taken to a hospital and a doctor there orders it, according to a prison spokesperson. — Jolie McCullough

Calls increase for Trump administration to release migrants from detention

[5 a.m.] As the new coronavirus infects more than 11,000 Americans, including more than 160 Texans so far, immigrant rights groups and attorneys are calling for the government to release detained migrants before the pandemic creates an irreversible health crisis inside detention facilities.

“A number of detainees in recent days have told us how frightened they are to be locked in detention as the coronavirus spreads throughout the country,” the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services said in a statement. “We demand that ICE release all immigrant detainees immediately.”

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement website details its procedures, including isolation, in the event that a detained person gets COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. But more than 750 private entities wrote to ICE acting Director Matthew T. Albence on Thursday arguing that the agency’s track record under the Trump administration does nothing to instill confidence that detainees are being kept in safe environments. — Julián Aguilar

Copyright 2020 by KPRC Click2Houston – All rights reserved.

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