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Coronavirus in Texas 4/6: 7,276 cases and 140 deaths; state opens checkpoints near Louisiana border

An exterior view of Dallas City Hall on March 31, 2020.      Cooper Neill for The Texas Tribune
An exterior view of Dallas City Hall on March 31, 2020. Cooper Neill for The Texas Tribune

Monday’s biggest developments

  • Texas reports 7,276 cases and 140 deaths
  • Texas Supreme Court extends pause on evictions until April 30
  • Checkpoints open for drivers entering Texas from Louisiana

Fourth execution in Texas put on hold due to coronavirus

[3:03 p.m.] A fourth Texas execution has been delayed because of the new coronavirus. At the request of prosecutors, the trial court moved Billy Joe Wardlow's execution from April 29 to July 8, according to the Titus County District Clerk's office.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has already halted the three other executions that were scheduled in March and April — issuing 60-day stays in the cases of John Hummel, Tracy Beatty and Fabian Hernandez. In two orders, the court said the decisions were made "in light of the current health crisis and the enormous resources needed to address that emergency."

Prosecutors in Tarrant and Smith counties were against stopping the first two executions; El Paso's district attorney did not file a response in Hernanez's case. Those counties must wait 60 days before requesting a new execution date, which must be set more than 90 days in advance. Aside from Wardlow's new July date, five other executions are scheduled in Texas from May to September. — Jolie McCullough

Bonnen asks House staff to work at Texas Workforce Commission call center

[2:30 p.m.] Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, is asking Texas House members’ staff to consider volunteering their time to help the Texas Workforce Commission, which has been overloaded with Texans trying to file unemployment insurance claims.

“There are no public servants better trained to be in the trenches fighting this battle for Texans than those who already dedicate themselves each day to serving our constituents, and who are familiar with the processes and duties of being responsive to them,” Bonnen wrote in an email to the House this afternoon.

Hundreds of thousands of out-of-work Texans have applied for relief over the past few weeks. The sudden spike has prompted jammed phone lines and website servers crashing at the agency.

According to Bonnen, the agency has a couple more call centers — one with 150 operators and another with 200 — set to come online to help respond to the spike. The agency has, among other things, also moved 200 employees to its call centers and hired 100 additional operators, according to the speaker. — Cassi Pollock

Texas reports 7,276 cases and 140 deaths

[1:15 p.m.] Texas reported 464 more cases of the new coronavirus Monday, an increase of about 7% over the previous day, bringing the total number of known cases to 7,276. Six new counties reported their first cases Monday; more than half of the state’s 254 counties have reported at least one case.

Harris County has reported the most cases, 1,395, followed by Dallas County, which has reported 1,112 cases.

The state has reported 13 additional deaths, bringing the statewide total to 140 — an increase of about 10% from Sunday. Harris County reported three additional deaths, bringing its total to 20 deaths, more than any other county.

As of Monday, 1,153 patients are currently hospitalized in Texas. At least 85,357 tests have been conducted. — Chris Essig

Checkpoints open for drivers entering from Louisiana

[10:37 a.m.] Texas has set up road checkpoints along the Louisiana border as it increases enforcement of Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order requiring visitors from the neighboring state to self-quarantine for 14 days.

Abbott and Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen tweeted about the checkpoints Sunday, with the latter describing them as “roadway screening stations to gather [required] forms” for self-quarantining. Abbott’s order, issued March 29, requires drivers coming in to Texas from Louisiana to fill out a form designating a quarantine location in Texas.

“On Sunday, April 5, 2020, checkpoints and screening of vehicles by the Texas Department of Public Safety began on all roadways entering Texas from Louisiana,” the Louisiana State Police wrote Sunday morning on Facebook, attaching photos of signs pointing drivers off of highways to checkpoints.

DPS said in a statement that the checkpoints will be in the Texas counties that border Louisiana and located on “major roadways in these counties, including interstate highways and other high-volume routes.” Drivers entering Texas from Louisiana should be prepared to stop, the department said.

DPS initially said it did not plan to establish checkpoints at the border but vowed to “vigorously” enforce Abbott’s multiple self-quarantine requirements. He has also mandated 14-day self-quarantines for air travelers from Louisiana, as well as New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, California, Washington, Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit and Miami. — Patrick Svitek

Texas evictions now on pause until April 30

[ 10 a.m.] The Texas Supreme Court on Monday morning extended its pause on eviction proceedings another 10 days.

Evictions are now halted until April 30; the court’s prior order put them on pause until April 20. At the end of the period, the Chief Justice Nathan Hecht can choose to renew the order again.

There is one exception: Landlords may proceed with eviction cases only if the actions of the occupants “pose an imminent threat” of physical harm to the landlord, the landlord’s employees or other tenants, or if the occupants are engaging in criminal activity.

With thousands of Texans losing their jobs as the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down businesses, renters and landlords are both worried about how they’ll make ends meet.

Some cities and counties have opted to ban evictions for even longer than the Texas Supreme Court has ordered. Austin has instituted a 60-day grace period. Earlier this month, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins halted evictions through May 18. — Sami Sparber