Monday’s biggest developments:
- Jeff Davis County commissioner says tourists should stay home
- Trump administration postpones "remain in Mexico" hearings
- Hospital trade group asks local governments to impose shelter-in-place order
Jeff Davis County commissioner: No room for tourists
[9:47 p.m.] It's not just big-city officials who are worried about the novel coronavirus.
Todd Jagger, a Jeff Davis County precinct commissioner, wrote a letter to constituents with a simple message: “During this time people belong at home. Wherever home is, go there and stay there.” At issue is tourism.
Located in this West Texas outpost are a handful of attractions, including the McDonald Observatory and the Davis Mountains State Park.
"Using conservative projections of infection and hospitalization rates, healthcare professionals state our regional hospital does not have the capacity to serve more than a fraction of our full-time residents who are likely to need hospitalization due to the COVID-19 virus," Jagger wrote.
Given that the nearest metropolitan area, El Paso, is a full three-hour drive away, Jeff Davis County’s “remote location comes with significant challenges to supply chain logistics,” he added.
“If we add non-residents, tourists and/or people fleeing cities looking to our area as a perceived 'safe haven,' then we are putting both residents and non-residents alike at serious and unnecessary risk,” he wrote.
He further added that “if ‘shelter in place’ is ordered we risk trapping non-residents far from home, away from their personal healthcare providers and support systems.” — Abby Livingston
“Remain in Mexico” hearings postponed for a month
[9:43 p.m.] Court dates for immigrants in the Migrant Protection Protocols — also known as the "remain in Mexico" program — will be postponed until next month, the Trump administration said Monday evening.
The hearings will be rescheduled through April 22, but the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review reiterated that the controversial program will remain in effect.
The MPP program returns asylum seekers to Mexico while they wait for their hearings in American courtrooms. The controversial program has so far returned more than 60,000 migrants to Mexico, the majority of them from Central America and Cuba. That total includes more than 20,000 in the El Paso/Ciudad Juárez area.
The postponements come after several groups, including the National Association of Immigration Judges, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement professionals union and the American Immigration Lawyers Association, urged the administration to delay all immigration hearings, including MPP schedules, amid the COVID-19 pandemic — as forcing migrants, court staff and federal employees into packed courtrooms is the opposite of social distancing.
Over the weekend, Immigration and Customs Enforcement said that visitors to detention facilities, including congressional staffers and attorneys, would need to provide their own protective gear in order to see immigrants in detention. The labor groups argued that requirement would lead to visitors potentially taking supplies from medical professionals when there is already a severe shortage of that equipment. — Julián Aguilar
Texas Hospital Association urges local governments to order shelter-in-place restrictions
[5:45 p.m.] The leading trade association representing most Texas hospitals is calling for increased shelter-in-place restrictions across the state, asking residents to remain in their homes as much as possible. Gov. Greg Abbott said Sunday that a statewide order to shelter in place is not yet necessary but said local government officials are welcome to impose stronger measures than the state.
“Given the projections and gravity of the situation, Texas hospitals support strong shelter-in-place provisions, and the Texas Hospital Association is urging all Texas communities to quickly implement these strict provisions to minimize the spread and protect our health care workers,” the trade group said in a memo. The Dallas Morning News posted the letter online.
THA further echoed concerns about medical protective equipment shortages.
“Texas hospitals continue to have concerns about the availability of personal protective equipment and other significant challenges as we continue to respond to COVID-19,” the memo added. “Texas hospitals understand that the current executive orders are in place, and there is a need for more time and information to determine whether additional steps need to be taken.” — Abby Livingston
State numbers for positive coronavirus tests increase but lag behind other reports
[4:45 p.m.] Official numbers from the Texas Department of State Health Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that at least 373 people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in Texas. But the actual number is significantly higher.
The state’s numbers lag behind certain counties’ individual numbers. On Sunday, for instance, Gov. Greg Abbott said that there were 566 total cases in Texas, according to Johns Hopkins University. And even that number is likely insufficient. The state reported Monday that 10,055 tests had been administered. That’s about 0.03% of the population. With community spread of the virus happening, more people who have contracted the virus likely haven’t been tested.
The state tracks cases by county of residence, and some patients are treated outside of the county where they live, so today’s data includes 65 cases in which investigators are still determining the county of residence. The state health agency says that some jurisdictions are making their data public before sending it to the state and that they might be including residents of other counties in their reports. — Anna Novak
CDC gives Texas nearly $37 million for COVID-19 efforts
[4:25 p.m.] The state received $36.9 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to combat COVID-19, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday. Texas received one of the largest shares of CDC funding, trailing only California. The funds are an initial allotment and resulted from the first emergency coronavirus bill passed by Congress earlier this month.
The money will be split among 43 local health departments and the Texas Department of State Health Services so it can be distributed throughout the state. Funding will “preserve critical healthcare, workforce and infrastructure functions, while minimizing social and economic impact” of the pandemic in Texas, according to a press release from Abbott’s office. It will also increase Texas’ testing and reporting capacity. — Raga Justin
Gov. Greg Abbott asks Donald Trump for a disaster declaration
[3:26 p.m.] Gov. Greg Abbott has requested a major disaster declaration from President Donald Trump to deal with the coronavirus pandemic in Texas.
"I have determined that the current coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) incident is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the state and affected local governments," Abbott wrote to Trump in a letter dated Monday.
Abbott said the pandemic has already cost the state over $50 million. Hundreds of Texans have tested positive for the virus, and it has been linked to eight deaths in the state. A declaration would help free up federal assistance that could be used to address a shortage of personal protective equipment and other supplies, Abbott said. — Patrick Svitek
Harris County implements online screening tool
[2:15 p.m.] Harris County announced an online COVID-19 screening tool for residents to self-assess their symptoms if they believe they have the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
The tool, available at ReadyHarris.org, will consist of an online questionnaire. To move on to the second phase of screening, a phone call with a medical professional, people must be deemed at risk.
The screening will determine who should show up at a testing site.
During a Monday press conference, Umair Shah, executive director of Harris County Public Health, said the tool should allay common fears as the coronavirus continues to spread.
“We know there are a lot of concerns in our community, with people worrying if symptoms require evaluation or testing,” Shah said. “The vast majority of people who complete this screening will be reassured that they don’t need testing or evaluation at this time.” — Raga Justin
Waco issues “shelter-in-place” order
[11:16 a.m.] Waco Mayor Kyle Deaver issued a “shelter-in-place” order Monday, marking the first city in Texas to do so.
Waco officials are following the lead of Dallas County, which issued a similar order over the weekend. The order goes into effect by midnight Monday and prohibits Waco residents from leaving their houses except for “essential activities,” including trips to grocery stores, pharmacies, or health care facilities.
All businesses deemed nonessential are expected to close. Waco residents will still be allowed to leave their homes for outdoor exercise, provided they follow social distancing measures. — Raga Justin
Hidalgo County issues mandatory curfew starting Monday night
[10:26 a.m.] Hidalgo County has ordered an emergency stay-at-home curfew, starting Monday night, between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
A copy of the order, signed by County Judge Arturo Guajardo and shared on Twitter by state Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, states the curfew does not apply to essential employees, like first responders, or people traveling directly to essential establishments, like grocery stores or hospitals. Local law enforcement will be authorized to enforce the curfew, violations of which are punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or six months in jail, according to the order.
The order came after Gov. Greg Abbott declined to order a statewide "shelter-in-place" on Sunday, but said he encouraged local leaders to take more dramatic action than he was taking. — Jolie McCullough
Here's how to help — or to get help
As schools close and thousands of people across the country are being laid off due to the new coronavirus pandemic, many Texans are finding themselves stuck at home with no income or access to necessary resources like food or medical supplies. We’ve put together a list of organizations across the state that can help. View it here. —Megan Menchaca