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Home | Tag Archives: coronavirus outbreak

Tag Archives: coronavirus outbreak

Gov. Greg Abbott orders Texas bars to close again and restaurants to reduce to 50% occupancy as coronavirus spreads

Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday took his most drastic action yet to respond to the post-reopening coronavirus surge in Texas, shutting bars back down and scaling back restaurant capacity to 50%.

He also shut down river-rafting trips, which have been blamed for a swift rise in cases in Hays County, and banned outdoor gatherings of over 100 people unless local officials approve.

“At this time, it is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars,” Abbott said in a news release. “The actions in this executive order are essential to our mission to swiftly contain this virus and protect public health.”

Bars must close at noon Friday, and the reduction in restaurant capacity takes effect Monday. Before Abbott’s announcement Friday, bars were able to operate at 50% capacity and restaurants at 75% capacity.

[Read more: Texas’ coronavirus positivity rate exceeds “warning flag” level Abbott set as businesses reopened]

As for outdoor gatherings, Abbott’s decision Friday represents his second adjustment in that category this week. Abbott on Tuesday gave local governments the choice to place restrictions on outdoor gatherings of over 100 people after previously setting the threshold at over 500 people. Now outdoor gatherings of over 100 people are prohibited unless local officials explicitly approve of them. State officials have noted that case numbers in Texas began to increase around Memorial Day weekend, and have expressed worry about big public gatherings for Forth of July.

Abbott’s actions Friday were his first significant moves to reverse the reopening process that he has led since late April. He said Monday that shutting down the state again is a last resort, but the situation has been worsening quickly.

Abbott put Texas under what was effectively a stay-at-home order for most of April, shutting down all but businesses considered essential by the state. After letting that order expire at the end of April, he moved forward with a phased reopening of the state that was one of the earliest and quickest in the country. By early June, Abbott had permitted almost all business to open at at least 50% capacity.

But cases have climbed rapidly in recent weeks. On Thursday, Texas saw another record number of new cases — 5,996 — as well as hospitalizations — 4,739. The hospitalization number set a record for the 14th straight day. During the increase, Abbott has cited Texas’ large hospital capacity and the availability of respirators. But many hospitals in Texas’ big cities have reported crowded intensive care units in recent days, and some cities have begun reviving plans to treat patients at convention centers and stadiums.

There has also been rapid rise in the state’s positivity rate, or the ratio of tests that come back positive. The rate, presented by the state as a seven-day average, has gone up to 11.76% — where it was at in mid-April and above the 10% threshold that Abbott has said would cause alarm for the reopening process.

Abbott specifically cited the positivity rate in explaining his actions Friday.

“As I said from the start, if the positivity rate rose above 10%, the State of Texas would take further action to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” he said.

On Thursday, he announced the state was putting a pause on any future reopening plans, though none were scheduled and the announcement did not affect businesses that were already allowed to reopen. Earlier in the day, Abbott sought to free up hospital space for coronavirus patients by banning elective surgeries in four of the state’s biggest counties: Bexar, Travis, Dallas and Harris.

[Read more: As evictions resume in Texas, unemployed renters have few options]

“We want this to be as limited in duration as possible. However, we can only slow the spread if everyone in Texas does their part,” Abbott said. “Every Texan has a responsibility to themselves and their loved ones to wear a mask, wash their hands, stay six feet apart from others in public, and stay home if they can.”

Author: PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

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Texas STAAR test requirements waived due to coronavirus outbreak

In an unprecedented move, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday he would waive testing requirements for this year’s STAAR exam, as many schools expect to be closed at least through the April testing window, due to the new coronavirus.

He also said he would ask the federal government to waive this year’s federal standardized testing requirements, which apply to all states. According to the state, as of Sunday afternoon, 569 school districts had announced closures due to coronavirus concerns. Texas is not alone, since more than 30 states have closed schools due to coronavirus, affecting at least 30 million public school students nationwide.

The federal government has previously said it might give out targeted waivers from testing for areas where the COVID-19 disease has had significant impact.

The state will not mandate that districts offer the exam, but some superintendents may want the test data to see how their students are doing, according to the TEA. Agency officials are working to support those school districts, if necessary.

The governor’s announcement comes a day after Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath told superintendents and lawmakers on two separate phone calls to prepare for long-term school district closures, potentially through the end of the school year, especially in areas where the new coronavirus has spread.

Lawmakers from both parties, as well as school superintendents, had been calling on the state to cancel the test since it became clear students would miss many days of school, when districts started extending their spring breaks for a week or two.

Morath said in a statement Monday morning that Abbott had made the right decision on testing: “We are thankful for Governor Abbott’s willingness to waive the STAAR testing requirement, as it allows schools the maximum flexibility to remain focused on public health while also investing in the capacity to support student learning remotely.”

State leaders are giving schools more leeway than they have in the past, showing the increasing seriousness surrounding the COVID-19 disease.

When Hurricane Harvey decimated Houston-area and Coastal Bend communities in 2017, Morath hesitated to give them a break on testing or accountability requirements, arguing that doing so would harm student learning. He argued that getting rid of state testing requirements would violate federal requirements and put federal funding at risk.

Eventually he agreed not to hold poor STAAR results against schools and districts, though he did not waive the requirement that they test students.

“Accountability results have been waived for Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Ike, Hurricane Harvey. But never has testing itself been waived,” said Dee Carney, a longtime school accountability consultant in Texas. “It’s absolutely an unprecedented event requiring extraordinary measures of our schools and our teachers and our communities.”

It is not clear exactly what the implications are for students who need to take certain state tests in order to graduate from high school or move on to the next grade. Morath said he would send more specific guidance on student testing and school accountability this week, likely before Thursday.

State leaders have urged school districts to continue to instruct students remotely while they are absent or while schools are closed due to COVID-19, including providing equal access to students with special needs. Morath has said districts will not be financially penalized for student absences as long as they show they are providing remote instruction.

Not every school district has the resources or training necessary to provide quality online instruction, and many low-income students do not have access to reliable internet or have computers at home.

Author: ALIYYA SWABY – The Texas Tribune

Coronavirus in Texas

The latest updates on coronavirus in Texas: The state is experiencing a public health disaster as community spread has been discovered, at least 68 cases have been disclosed and people in each of the five largest urban areas have tested positive. Massive school district and college closures, countless event cancellations and calls for social distancing may disrupt commerce and Texans’ daily lives.

MORE IN THIS SERIES 

Texas officials on the coronavirus: Keep calm and wash your hands

The World Health Organization on Thursday declared the deadly coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency — the sixth declaration of its kind in the past decade.

About 170 people have died overseas from the pneumonia-like illness, and last week Texas had its first scare with four suspected cases — all of which turned out to be false alarms.

But as panic and fear of catching the disease spread even faster and wider than the disease itself, Texas health officials are trying to quell hysteria and encouraging people to stay calm, wash their hands and get a flu shot.

So far the mortality rate for the virus is about the same as a bad year of the flu, said Dr. Trish Perl, chief of infectious diseases and geographic medicine at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Health officials also noted that the highest risks were for countries with less sophisticated health care systems.

“Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems, and which are ill prepared to deal with it,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, at a press conference Thursday.

Nonetheless, Texas leaders say they are staying vigilant. On Thursday morning, officials representing state health services, emergency management, public schools, universities and law enforcement met to discuss available resources and distribute information about the coronavirus.

“If you come up sick in Amarillo, you can get treatment just like you would in Dallas or in Houston or in Brownsville,” said Seth Christensen, spokesperson for the Texas Division of Emergency Management. “We have to make sure that all the resources are spread across our state. This virus could impact anyone anywhere.”

In particular, Texas universities, many with international students and Asian study-abroad programs, are evaluating their next steps. The first two suspected cases of the virus in Texas were college students who’d recently traveled to China.

oth of the students’ schools, Texas A&M University and Baylor University, join a handful of institutions that have issued temporary bans on all university-sponsored travel to China, save for essential travel. The schools are taking the lead from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which issued an advisory Tuesday strongly recommending Americans avoid traveling to the country.

No student programs for Baylor were affected by the travel ban, school officials said. The school’s biggest challenge is rerouting already scheduled flights with layovers in China, said Lori Fogleman, a representative for the school, in an email. Representatives from A&M did not respond to requests for comment.

The University of Texas enacted a similar travel ban. Fewer than 10 students from the Austin campus are in China studying abroad. The university is working to get them back to the U.S. and find an alternative study-abroad program or on-campus classes for those who intended to study in China.

Texas’ international airports are also taking action. Since the outbreak, hundreds of flights from Chinese airports were canceled, and U.S. officials routed travel from the region to one of 20 American airports with CDC quarantine facilities, The Washington Post reported Monday.

Passengers flying into select airports in Dallas, Houston and El Paso will be screened for the virus, said Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services.

CDC staff members will have passengers fill out surveys with questions about their travel, symptoms and contact information. They’ll also take each person’s temperature and take any sick travelers to a hospital for testing, Van Deusen said.

In the last 10 years, the World Health Organization has similarly declared public health emergencies for the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2019, Zika in 2016, polio in 2014, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa from 2013 to 2016 and the swine flu in 2009.

Texas has found itself in the midst of an international health scare in the past. Thomas Eric Duncan was diagnosed in Dallas as the first person in the United States with the Ebola virus. He died within weeks of the diagnosis, becoming one of two recorded deaths in the nation. Two nurses who treated Duncan were also diagnosed with Ebola. Both survived.

While Ebola was one of the most prominent public health scares in the state in recent years, it’s not akin to the coronavirus, Christensen said.

Ebola was never anticipated to be widespread in the way the coronavirus could be because of its likely airborne nature. But with each public health outbreak, officials say they’ve learned lessons from how they’ve handled past situations.

Van Deusen noted that this time, officials have the advantage of public awareness.

“That kind of early identification is critical. One of the advantages we have in this situation is we know it’s there, we know what it looks like and have the tests to identify it,” Van Deusen said.

As of Thursday evening, there had only been five cases of the coronavirus positively identified in the United States, and no associated deaths. There are dozens of suspected cases that are pending test results.

Test samples for all suspected cases of the virus were sent to the CDC in Atlanta for testing. The Atlanta headquarters has the only testing materials for the newest strain of the coronavirus. Some states are expected to receive testing materials in coming weeks, Van Deusen said.

“All of us feel like that would be a very, very valuable thing to happen because it would facilitate getting answers much more quickly,” Perl said.

Perl said she understands people’s fear. “The numbers are escalating in a very dramatic fashion,” Perl said.

As of Thursday, at least 170 victims have been confirmed dead and more than 7,700 infected in 22 countries, according to the CDC. Meanwhile, millions of people in at least five cities in China are on an unprecedented lockdown, banned from taking trains, subways or other public transportation to leave.

At least one Texan is stuck in the quarantined city of Wuhan, which was first reported by The Dallas Morning News. Warren Lee of Dallas traveled to the area for work more than a week ago and is now vlogging his unexpected extended stay. In his videos, the city streets are devoid of any other people.

“It’s not the apocalypse out here as much as people have been saying,” said Lee in a video blog, explaining the city still has running water, electricity and internet.

Health officials stress the coronavirus is akin to the flu in symptoms and mortality. This season’s strain of the flu has killed at least 8,200 people and infected at least 15 million in the United States so far, reports the CDC.

Medical professionals urge people to follow cold and flu etiquette: Wash your hands regularly, sneeze into the crook of your arm, stay home if you’re sick and get your flu shot.

The shot won’t do anything for someone who has the coronavirus, but it is a generally good practice and could make it easier to detect the coronavirus in someone if a flu test comes back negative, Perl said.

“All of these viruses, even these ones you don’t want to hear about, like [the] flu, really have an associated mortality with them. So we really have to take them all seriously,” Perl said.

Disclosure: UT Southwestern Medical Center, the University of Texas at Austin, Baylor University and Texas A&M University 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.

Author: STACY FERNÁNDEZThe Texas Tribune

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