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Photos of a state in crisis: Deserted highways, swamped food banks and health care workers at risk

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Traffic on Interstate 35 near downtown Austin was light during the coronavirus pandemic. Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

When we first reported on the new coronavirus in January, the official worldwide death tally was still relatively low and the virus was mostly confined overseas. Since then, the epidemic has exploded into a pandemic, and people in the U.S. have died by the hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands. Here in Texas, to slow its spread, millions stayed home. Once-vibrant city streets were deserted. Freeways in our largest cities, once packed with cars at all hours, were emptied of traffic. Smaller cities were no different.

The toll on our lives and our once-thriving economy has been extraordinary. Businesses large and small have shuttered — many for good. Millions of people have lost their jobs as the unemployment rate shot from historic lows to levels not seen since the Great Depression. At The Texas Tribune, our comprehensive coverage of the pandemic stays focused on the people who are affected — those who have become ill, their loved ones and the people who care for them. Behind every new report on the economy are Texans struggling to make ends meet, educate their children or continue working in the face of so many terrifying unknowns.

To help tell those stories, our photographers have ventured all over the state, with sensitivity and care for the safety of their fellow Texans — and themselves, too. Here are some of some of their images.

Memorial Hermann Southeast employees are greeted by dozens of people honking their horns and flashing their lights in appreciation of their work during the COVID-19 pandemic on April 10, 2020.
Memorial Hermann Southeast employees are greeted by dozens of people honking their horns and flashing their lights in appreciation of their work during the COVID-19 pandemic on April 10, 2020. Annie Mulligan for The Texas Tribune

Protesters at the State Capitol building defied city and state mandates of social distancing and mandatory face coverings to demand the reopening of the Texas economy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Protesters at the State Capitol building defied city and state mandates of social distancing and mandatory face coverings to demand the reopening of the Texas economy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune

First: Memorial Hermann Southeast employees were greeted by dozens of people honking their horns and flashing their lights in appreciation of their work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last: Protesters at the state Capitol building defied city and state mandates requiring social distancing and face coverings to demand the reopening of the Texas economy.

Annie Mulligan and Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune

An advertisement on Grant Avenue in Odessa from Medical Center Hospital urged community members to stay home.

An advertisement on Grant Avenue in Odessa from Medical Center Hospital urged community members to stay home. Ben Powell for The Texas Tribune

The Central Texas Food Bank hosts a food drive at the Toney Burger Activity Center in Austin on April 30, 2020.
The Central Texas Food Bank hosts a food drive at the Toney Burger Activity Center in Austin on April 30, 2020. Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune

At the Waco ISD stadium, thousands of people waited in line to receive disaster relief food boxes from the Central Texas Food Bank during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the Waco ISD stadium, thousands of people waited in line to receive disaster relief food boxes from the Central Texas Food Bank during the COVID-19 pandemic. Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune

A volunteer coordinator prepares boxes of food at the Kelly Memorial Food Pantry in Central El Paso, which serves 700-1000 families a day during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A volunteer coordinator prepares boxes of food at the Kelly Memorial Food Pantry in Central El Paso, which serves 700-1000 families a day during the COVID-19 pandemic. Emily Kinskey for The Texas Tribune

Food banks in Austin, Waco and El Paso served thousands of people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eddie Gaspar, Jordan Vonderhaar and Emily Kinskey for The Texas Tribune

Attendees of Easter services at at the Glorious Way Church in Houston practiced social distancing and used hand sanitizer.

Attendees of Easter services at at the Glorious Way Church in Houston practiced social distancing and used hand sanitizer. Annie Mulligan for The Texas Tribune

An aerial view of Houston. Highways were empty as a result of the coronavirus outbreak . April 1, 2020.
An aerial view of Houston. Highways were empty as a result of the coronavirus outbreak . April 1, 2020. Michael Stravato for The Texas Tribune

A shortage of items inside of an H-E-B grocery store in Austin.
A shortage of items inside of an H-E-B grocery store in Austin. Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune

First: Many Houston-area highways were empty as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Last: An H-E-B store in Austin faced a shortage of grocery items as Texans rushed to stock their shelves.

Michael Stravato and Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune

David Aguirre’s mother, Estela, died March 28 after becoming ill at an assisted living facility in College Station.

David Aguirre’s mother, Estela, died March 28 after becoming ill at an assisted living facility in College Station. Mark Felix for The Texas Tribune

A sign over U.S. Route 54 in El Paso cautions social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.
A sign over U.S. Route 54 in El Paso cautions social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic. Emily Kinskey for The Texas Tribune

Ector County Health Department workers narrow down the numbers of contact exposures while the screen projects positive case numbers and recovered patients at the Ector County Emergency Operations Center in Odessa. April 9, 2020.
Ector County Health Department workers narrow down the numbers of contact exposures while the screen projects positive case numbers and recovered patients at the Ector County Emergency Operations Center in Odessa. April 9, 2020. Ben Powell for The Texas Tribune

First: A sign over U.S. Route 54 in El Paso called for social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic. Last: Ector County Health Department workers narrowed down the numbers of contact exposures at the Ector County Emergency Operations Center in Odessa.

Emily Kinskey and Ben Powell for The Texas Tribune

Houston college student Montoya Thomas, 23, was let go from her bartending job during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Houston college student Montoya Thomas, 23, was let go from her bartending job during the COVID-19 pandemic. Annie Mulligan for The Texas Tribune

G.W. Carver Middle School seventh grade student Tabitha Hawkins, 13, left, and mother Tobie release balloons in front of a memorial outside of the school for Principal Phillip Perry, 49, who died from coronavirus  on March 31.
G.W. Carver Middle School seventh grade student Tabitha Hawkins, 13, left, and mother Tobie release balloons in front of a memorial outside of the school for Principal Phillip Perry, 49, who died from coronavirus on March 31. Angela Piazza for The Texas Tribune

Customers visit La Gran Plaza in Fort Worth on the first day that  shopping malls, restaurants, retail outlets and movie theaters were reopened on May 1, 2020.
Customers visit La Gran Plaza in Fort Worth on the first day that shopping malls, restaurants, retail outlets and movie theaters were reopened on May 1, 2020. Shelby Tauber for The Texas Tribune

First: Seventh grade student Tabitha Hawkins, left, and her mother, Tobie, released balloons outside of G.W. Carver Middle School for Principal Phillip Perry, who died from COVID-19 in March. Last: Customers visited La Gran Plaza in Fort Worth on May 1, the first day that shopping malls, restaurants, retail outlets and movie theaters were allowed to reopen.

Angela Piazza and Shelby Tauber for The Texas Tribune

After her power was disconnected, Santa Fe resident Carly Eaves had to borrow money from her relatives to get it back.

After her power was disconnected, Santa Fe resident Carly Eaves had to borrow money from her relatives to get it back. Mark Felix for The Texas Tribune

A spray painted sign at Practice Yoga Austin in East Austin refers to the recent coronavirus outbreak that has impacted the city. March 25, 2020.
A spray painted sign at Practice Yoga Austin in East Austin refers to the recent coronavirus outbreak that has impacted the city. March 25, 2020. Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

Party Time Bar outside of Temple is closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Party Time Bar outside of Temple is closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune

A coronavirus related mural on Sixth Street in downtown Austin on April 12, 2020.
A coronavirus related mural on Sixth Street in downtown Austin on April 12, 2020. Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

Many businesses shuttered their doors during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic in Texas.

Miguel Gutierrez Jr. and Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune

Shoppers lined up outside H-E-B before it opened one day in March. The COVID-19 outbreak caused the grocery chain to shorten its store hours in order to restock its inventory.

Shoppers lined up outside H-E-B before it opened one day in March. The COVID-19 outbreak caused the grocery chain to shorten its store hours in order to restock its inventory. Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune

Medical personnel walk along an elevated walkway at the Dell Seton Medical Center on March 30, 2020.
Medical personnel walk along an elevated walkway at the Dell Seton Medical Center on March 30, 2020. Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

Nurses Amber Phillips, left, and Kristen Howell administer COVID-19 tests at the Austin Regional Clinic drive-up testing center in Kyle on March 31, 2020.
Nurses Amber Phillips, left, and Kristen Howell administer COVID-19 tests at the Austin Regional Clinic drive-up testing center in Kyle on March 31, 2020. Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune

Texas health workers have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Miguel Gutierrez Jr. and Eddie Gaspar for The Texas Tribune