By Gary Borders
Gov. Greg Abbott announced via Twitter Saturday that he is now testing negative for COVID-19, four days after testing positive though asymptomatic.
“I am told that my infection was brief and mild because of the vaccination I received. I will continue to quarantine as recommended by doctors,” Abbott said. “And I will keep working on issues affecting Texas.”
Meanwhile, the battle over masks continues, with growing numbers of school districts from Longview to San Antonio ignoring the governor’s ban on mask mandates. The Texas Supreme Court last week temporarily cleared the way for districts to require masks, but only on a technicality. The court left in place a Travis County judge’s temporary restraining order against the mandate ban, saying typically such cases have to go before an appellate court before ending up in the state’s highest civil court. A number of other cases are before various district and appellate courts in Texas.
The Paris school district, in Northeast Texas, took a novel approach to the issue. Its board voted to alter the district’s dress code to include masks for all employees and students.
Delta variant continues to spur COVID-19 case rise
The number of new cases of COVID-19 in the state continues to rise steeply, with 125,033 reported in the past week, along with 937 deaths. New cases in Texas were up 27% compared to the previous week and up five-fold in the past month, according to the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University. In Texas, hospitals are nearing capacity, though in a number of cases a shortage of nurses and other healthcare workers is forcing facilities to leave beds empty. Abbott has asked hospitals to delay elective surgeries during the recent surge of cases.
The number of lab-confirmed COVID-19 patients in Texas hospitals reached 12,951 on Sunday with 373 intensive care unit beds available across the state, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations is up more than four-fold from a month ago and is approaching the all-time high set in mid-January.
The number of Texans fully vaccinated stands at 13.293 million, according to DSHS. That’s 45.7% of the state’s total population. As news of the delta variant spreads, the vaccination rate is increasing, up more than 20,000 doses daily, according to DSHS.
House establishes quorum; election bill advances
Enough Texas House Democrats entered the floor Thursday evening for Speaker Dade Phelan to announce a quorum was present for the first time in six weeks. Nearly 50 House Democrats decamped to Washington, D.C. in May to stop work in the House. As the Austin American-Statesman reported, bitterness remains after the walkout and Phelan’s attempt to have Democrats arrested and forcibly brought to the House floor. None were arrested.
In addition to the elections bill, which would ban drive-through voting and other provisions aimed at increasing turnout, Abbott placed bail reform, distribution of federal pandemic relief funds, border security and several other items on the agenda. This second special session ends Sept. 6.
TxDOT launches DUI prevention campaign
The Texas Department of Transportation has rolled out a campaign to share stories of Texans who must deal with the consequences of a drunk driving crash. The “Faces of Drunk Driving” will feature events around the state and includes testimonials on video from families dealing with those consequences.
In 2020, there were 963 alcohol related vehicle fatalities — one every nine hours.
“Drinking and driving can lead to tragic consequences that are 100% preventable,” Marc William, TxDOT executive director said. “These consequences involve individuals who made the unfortunate decision to drink and drive along with many innocent victims of those decisions.”
One of the “faces” of the campaign is Walter Tidwell, now 25. He hopped in his car after a long night of drinking and was pulled over driving the wrong way down a one-way street. Fortunately, he was stopped before causing a wreck. He recently concluded three years of court visits and still must take alcohol and drug offender courses, do community service and serve a stretch on probation. Tidwell is telling his story in hopes of convincing others of the dangers of driving drunk.
Court issues injunction in fight over Medicaid waiver
A federal district judge last week temporarily reinstated a 10-year extension of a Medicaid program worth billions of dollars to the state for health care for the uninsured. As the Texas Tribune and other media outlets reported, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services wanted the state to collect public input before negotiating a new extension to the agreement, in place since 2011.
The waiver provides nearly $4 billion in annual funding for uninsured treated in Texas hospitals, as well as mental health services.
Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches and Cedar Park.