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Newsclips - May 25, 2020

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Washington Post - May 24, 2020

A deadly 'checkerboard': Covid-19?s new surge across rural America

The novel coronavirus arrived in an Indiana farm town mid-planting season and took root faster than the fields of seed corn, infecting hundreds and killing dozens. It tore though a pork processing plant and spread outward in a desolate stretch of the Oklahoma Panhandle. And in Colorado's sparsely populated eastern plains, the virus erupted in a nursing home and a pair of factories, burning through the crowded quarters of immigrant workers and a vulnerable elderly population. As the death toll nears 100,000, the disease caused by the virus has made a fundamental shift in who it touches and where it reaches in America, according to a Washington Post analysis of case data and interviews with public health professionals in several states. The pandemic that first struck in major metropolises is now increasingly finding its front line in the country's rural areas; counties with acres of farmland, cramped meatpacking plants, out-of-the-way prisons and few hospital beds.

In these areas, where 60 million Americans live, populations are poorer, older and more prone to health problems such as diabetes and obesity than those of urban areas. They include immigrants and the undocumented - the "essential" workers who have kept the country's sprawling food industry running, but who rarely have the luxury of taking time off for illness. Many of these communities are isolated and hard to reach. They were largely spared from the disease shutting down their states - until, suddenly, they weren't. Rural counties now have some of the highest rates of covid-19 cases and deaths in the country, topping even the hardest-hit New York City boroughs and signaling a new phase of the pandemic - one of halting, scattered outbreaks that could devastate still more of America's most vulnerable towns as states lift stay-at-home orders. "It is coming, and it's going to be more of a checkerboard," said Tara Smith, a professor of epidemiology at Kent State University in Ohio. "It's not going to be a wave that spreads out uniformly over all of rural America; it's going to be hot spots that come and go. And I don't know how well they're going to be managed."

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Houston Chronicle - May 22, 2020

‘Without China, we’re dead.’ Houston entrepreneurs cringe as GOP escalates international clash

David LaPrade is an oilman, a lifelong Republican who was gung ho for President Donald Trump in 2016. But now LaPrade winces almost daily as Trump and like-minded Republicans in Congress let loose on China — jeopardizing his relationship with a client that LaPrade says is “one of the best things that’s ever happened” to his Houston company selling drilling equipment globally. LaPrade agrees with some of what the politicians are saying, but he has a lot more on the line than they do. The trade war has already cut into his profits, and now he’s worried about where the growing tension between the two nations — sparked anew by the coronavirus outbreak — will lead. “Calmer heads must prevail,” LaPrade said. “I’m not sure if Trump’s got one.”

Texas has much to lose as the GOP turns up the heat on China, a strategy that has emerged both as a way to insulate Trump from criticism over his administration’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, and as a way to finally dial back America’s economic dependence on a totalitarian regime. International trade supports a third of all jobs in the Houston area, with more than 5,000 Houston companies engaged in global trade. China is the region’s second-largest trading partner. But the trade war has already taken a swipe at that, with both exports and imports from China seeing sharp declines. “My biggest fear really, in business, is how badly can the government screw up our deal and how quickly,” said LaPrade, who sells equipment to PetroChina, the state-owned Chinese oil company. “That’s my greatest fear: Where the two governments — where it’ll all end. At the end of the day, without China, we’re dead. Without the U.S., China’s dead. Without commerce, everybody dies.” Texas Republicans have emerged as some of the biggest hawks on China, calling for a fundamental rethinking of the U.S. relationship with the nation they say misled the world about the severity of the coronavirus outbreak that originated in the Wuhan province.

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Axios - May 23, 2020

What's driving Biden's strength with seniors

President Trump's declining support among older voters since the coronavirus took hold is well documented, but new data offers a clearer understanding of why that's happening — and how it could impact the November election. Among the 65+ crowd, it's women driving the exodus. Joe Biden's appeal with senior men climbed during his surprise comeback to be the presumed Democratic nominee, but not necessarily at Trump's expense — and new polling suggests it may be ebbing in any case.

The coronavirus matters, but so does health care policy overall. By the numbers: A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday shows Biden leading Trump by 22 points among female voters 65+, while Trump leads Biden by 11 points among older men. That's what gets Biden to a 10-point overall lead over the president among seniors. "There is a big gender gap among seniors in the matchup, just as there is among all registered voters," says poll director Doug Schwartz. "Older women really like Joe Biden, and they really don’t like Donald Trump." Since February, Quinnipiac data also shows Biden has increased his lead over Trump with independent 65+ voters, from seven to 20 points.

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Washington Post - May 25, 2020

As Trump removes federal watchdogs, some loyalists replacing them have ‘preposterous’ conflicts

The political appointee President Trump installed last week to investigate waste, fraud and abuse at the Transportation Department is the same official in charge of one of the agency’s key divisions. That means Howard “Skip” Elliott is now running an office charged with investigating his own actions. Elliott serves simultaneously as the Transportation Department’s inspector general and head of the department’s pipeline and hazardous materials agency, whose mission includes enforcement of safety regulations on nearly 1 million daily shipments of gas, oil and other dangerous compounds. “The idea that an independent IG could simultaneously be part of the political team running an agency they are supposed to oversee is preposterous,” said Danielle Brian, executive director of the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight.

Elliott’s appointment was the fifth in two months in which Trump, chafing from oversight he perceived as criticism, replaced a career investigator with an appointee considered more loyal to the president. In three of the cases, Trump has installed new leadership drawn from the senior ranks of the agencies the inspectors general oversee. For the first time since the system was created in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, inspectors general find themselves under systematic attack from the president, putting independent oversight of federal spending and operations at risk as over $2 trillion in coronavirus relief spending courses through the government. Inspectors general, some in acting roles to begin with, have been fired and demoted with no notice, leaving their staffs in disarray, multiple inspectors general said.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - May 24, 2020

Tom Luce: The first step to economic recovery is data

Beyond its damage to Texans’ lives and livelihoods, the coronavirus has exposed the need here and nationally for better data systems. Such systems do more than save taxpayers’ money and state employees’ time. They save lives. Unfortunately, agencies across the country have been saddled with outdated technologies that make it impossible to pull together information and insights that could improve public health and safety. Inadequate systems also have hindered the massive response that this pandemic has required across traditional government silos. According to an Associated Press story this month, many state and local health departments “still rely heavily on faxes, email and spreadsheets to gather infectious disease data and share it with federal authorities.”

As Texas recovers from COVID-19, leaders have a chance to make investments that will bolster the response to this crisis, protect people and families, and better position Texas for post-pandemic prosperity. The state should take this opportunity to invest one-time money in systems that modernize public services and improve government performance. Without question, our state faces immediate, urgent challenges. Since March 21, roughly 2 million Texans have filed jobless claims, and according to one estimate, the number of hourly employees working has dropped about 35% in three months. In response, state agencies will receive at least $6 billion — perhaps much more — from various COVID-19 response and stimulus packages that Congress has passed, according to an analysis by Texas 2036, a nonprofit organization I founded to encourage long-range, data-driven planning as Texas approaches its bicentennial. Without question, the state should move quickly to help struggling Texans and safely reopen the state’s economy. But even acting fast, Texas can still be smart.

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Dallas Morning News - May 24, 2020

How does the rare inflammatory condition afflicting children relate to coronavirus?

A rare inflammatory condition in children that could be connected to the novel coronavirus reached North Texas this month, putting many on edge about what the new syndrome means for the outbreak. The country’s top public health officials maintained for months that children are expected to be spared from serious coronavirus complications. But the condition, called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C, started appearing in late April primarily in children in New York, the country’s epicenter of COVID-19. Now, public health officials are warning doctors across the country to be on the lookout for the condition.

Health experts say it’s similar to Kawasaki disease, a rare condition with unknown cause that affects children younger than 5 and causes inflammation in the blood vessels. Here’s what you need to know about MIS-C, from health experts and the North Texas mother whose son received a diagnosis of a similar condition. MIS-C can present with varying symptoms, but it typically includes a persistent fever for four or five days, stomach pains, rashes, inflammation and, in severe cases, poor organ functioning and low blood pressure, health experts say. Doctors have referred to MIS-C as a “Kawasaki-like disease” because the symptoms are so similar. The main difference is that Kawasaki disease affects children only up to 5 years old, while MIS-C can affect adolescents. In a health alert notification sent to health care providers across the country this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encouraged doctors to report to local and state health departments possible cases of MIS-C — including cases of kids who meet all or some of the criteria for Kawasaki disease.

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Dallas Morning News - May 24, 2020

GOP chairman candidate Allen West injured in motorcycle crash

Allen West, the former Florida congressman and recent candidate to chair the Texas Republican Party, is recovering with his family after he was seriously hurt in a motorcycle crash outside Waco on Saturday. West was in stable condition Sunday morning after the crash, which left him with a concussion, several fractures and multiple lacerations, according to an update on Facebook.

“I am alive by the grace of God,” he said in a written statement Sunday. West was on his way from Austin, where he led the Texas Freedom Rally on Saturday morning at the Texas Capitol. The event called for further reopening the state amid the coronavirus pandemic. Before the event, he was expected to lead a caravan of motorcycles and cars from Dallas to Austin. A written statement from West’s office, citing law enforcement, said he had been on his motorcycle when a car cut him off and caused him to crash into another motorcyclist. He was airlifted to Baylor Scott & White Medical Center — Hillcrest in Waco.

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Dallas Morning News - May 24, 2020

Jacksboro’s ‘lifeblood’ rural hospital feels abandoned during pandemic

A big-city girl, Dr. Erika Crutcher wasn’t accustomed to some of the cases and people she would encounter in a rural North Texas hospital. One of her first was a wild hog bite. The Houston native suggested a hand specialist. “Naw, just fix it,” the patient said. So she patched him up. In the roughly five years since arriving at Faith Community Hospital, Crutcher has gotten to know — and treat — a lot of local families. The hospital has become the “lifeblood” of Jacksboro, a town of about 4,500 residents nestled among forested hills and pastures between Wichita Falls and Fort Worth. But it is struggling financially as it tries to reorganize in bankruptcy during the coronavirus pandemic.

Its hallways are mostly empty and quiet lately. The hospital has had to furlough, reduce hours or reassign roughly 75% of its staff. The wellness center just reopened but the hospital café, which boasts some of the town’s best food, remains closed. Adding to its misery is the fine print buried in a government relief effort called the Paycheck Protection Program: Businesses in bankruptcy need not apply. The 17-bed acute care hospital tried to fight that restriction in federal court with a lawsuit, but a judge denied its motions for relief on Thursday. The hospital’s CEO, Frank Beaman, says he’s not ready to give up and is exploring his options. His hospital desperately needs whatever government assistance it can get because the temporary halting of surgeries and elective procedures disproportionately hurts it. Hospitals are essential to rural communities, he says.

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Dallas Morning News - May 24, 2020

Larry McKinney: Oysters changed civilization. Can Texas scientists prevent them from becoming history?

Who ate the first oyster? How hungry would you have to be to pick up what looks like a slimy rock and think, “Can I eat that?” It was a history-changing moment. The lowly oyster, laboring silently without recognition — other than, of course, by the billions of plants and animals that depend on them as the foundation of coastal ecosystems — suddenly takes on a whole new role directly affecting us all. Oysters changed the course of civilization. They inspired Shakespeare and Dickens; provided the foundations of modern trade; kept the masses from starvation; became a delicacy for the rich; and, by the way, they are said to have undefined but powerful aphrodisiac powers. This is the story I want to relate to you.

As with many things key to our existence that are small and unnoticed, atoms for example, we have not thought much about oysters. We take them for granted as always being there under our feet. Only when they go missing do we finally appreciate their value — you may not know it, but today oysters reefs are some of the world’s most threatened habitats. We must begin the story of the oyster by helping you to understand a little bit about their biology. Oysters are bivalves, like clams, only much tougher. They are the only reef-building bivalve. They feed by filtering, and cleaning, water. A lot of water. A single oyster can filter around 50 gallons of water a day. That is about all they do — grow and eat by sorting out the microscopic critters in all that filtered water. The other thing they do really well is to make baby oysters. A single 25-acre reef can produce 10 million adult oysters in about 18 months. Amazing, but understandable when you know that a single female oyster can produce up to 100 million eggs each year. Yes, there are male and female oysters, even though you can’t tell them apart — oysters themselves do not care. They can change sexes as needed and they spew eggs and sperm out into the water in dense clouds. Oysters are amazingly adaptable. After studying them on and off for 50 years, I am still amazed.

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Dallas Morning News - May 24, 2020

Pandemic and staggering job losses put Trump in unique pinch for a president seeking reelection

More Americans lost jobs in the last nine weeks than live in Texas. The staggering toll – 38.6 million – is more than half the number of votes President Donald Trump collected when he won the White House. The last president seeking reelection while presiding over such economic carnage was Herbert Hoover, and the latest national unemployment rate, 14.7%, is the worst since the record of 25.5% in 1932 – three months before FDR sent Hoover packing. Trump didn’t cause the COVID-19 pandemic, just as Hoover didn’t cause the Great Depression.

But voters do tend to blame presidents for such pain and malaise, which helps explain why he’s gone to such lengths to pressure states to lift stay-home orders — and to point fingers at China for unleashing the virus and at Barack Obama for leaving behind a national stockpile depleted of masks and ventilators. The president’s support grew steadily in the early weeks of the pandemic when he somberly cast himself as a “wartime president” at long televised briefings, flanked by the nation’s top public health experts. His support against Democrat Joe Biden has slipped sharply since then, as quick cures he promised didn’t materialize, the death toll kept outstripping his overly optimistic projections, and tens of millions of workers suddenly found themselves furloughed or fired. Trump’s prospects for a second term now hinge on how fast the economy bounces back. History and the latest polls and economic forecasts suggest an uphill fight. But these are unprecedented times, and no one’s sure if the old rules apply. Republicans hope they don’t.

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Houston Chronicle - May 25, 2020

Chris Tomlinson: Texas businesses can make money in COVID world with right strategy

COVID-19 has inspired us to take better care of ourselves, limit our food waste and make more responsible choices when we shop, and that will force retailers to change how they do business, according to a new consumer survey. Stay-at-home orders have encouraged Americans to change their behaviors in surprising and positive ways, according to research by Accenture, the business consulting firm. Many of the changes will last long after we have a vaccine and likely create new business opportunities. Working from home and preparing our own meals is allowing 60 percent of us to take better care of ourselves with a better diet, more exercise and greater self-care, the poll of 3,000 people in 15 countries found. Almost two-thirds of us are also doing a better job of reducing our food waste.

When it comes to shopping, half of consumers are buying healthier food, and 45 percent are making more sustainable choices, Accenture found. We’re also buying a lot less fashion, beauty and consumer electronics items. “This trend around things like local, around ethical, around sustainability and around e-commerce are all the things that we’ve called out and have been tracking earlier,” said Oliver Wright, head of Accenture’s global Consumer Goods practice. “The new consumer behavior and consumption are expected to outlast the pandemic.” The lockdowns have also sped the adoption of new online shopping habits, such as grocery delivery or curbside pickup. Older shoppers, who until recently insisted on going to the supermarket, have switched to online shopping for fear of the virus. Thirty-two percent of shoppers said they are buying everything online, and Accenture researchers expect that number to rise to 37 percent. More than half of consumers said they plan to boost their use of technology.

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Houston Chronicle - May 22, 2020

Reporter’s notebook: Oil and the economy’s helicopter moment

For decades, economists generally viewed lower oil and gasoline prices as beneficial to the U.S. economy. The reasoning was straightforward. In our consumer-driven economy, the less money Americans spent on gasoline, in particular, and energy in general, the more they had to buy big-screen TVs, go on vacations and dine at restaurants. Economists likened falling gasoline prices to a tax cut for U.S. households, helping to fuel discretionary purchases and economic growth. The great technological breakthrough that opened U.S shale deposits to drilling, however, changed that relationship between oil prices and the U.S. economy. In a recent analysis, economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas argued that with the emergence of the United States as the world’s top producer, the plunge in oil prices this year has weakened our economy.

These findings could support efforts to send federal aid to the oil industry, which, like many others, has suffered from the virtual halt of economic activity caused by the coronavirus. The energy sector has been mostly bypassed by the stimulus money approved by Congress, and proposals to help energy companies — such as buying crude for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve — have met with fierce opposition. Few industries have experienced the same kind of animus directed at the oil industry during this time of economic emergency. As lawmakers and policymakers have crafted rescue packages, the oil and gas industry has been deemed, for any number of reasons, as undeserving of help. But the issue of who is deserving of help, whether an oil company or a small business or an unemployed worker, is holding back efforts to save the economy. Right now, it would seem that getting money into hands of companies and people as quickly as possible to counteract the unprecedented collapse in demand is vital— even if some of those hands are those of the politically incorrect oil industry, which happens to employ hundreds of thousands of workers.

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Houston Chronicle - May 23, 2020

Founding dean of McGovern Medical School dies at 95

Dr. Cheves McCord Smythe, who served as the founding dean of the McGovern Medical School at UTHealth during his long career as both a brilliant diagnostician and compassionate doctor, died May 11 at his Charleston, South Carolina home. He was 95. He treated thousands of patients and taught countless students, leaving a legacy around the world. “It’s been astonishing, the number of people from all over the world who have emailed us and said, ‘Your father had a huge impact on me,’” said Alec Smythe, the oldest of Smythe’s five sons.

Smythe’s interest in medicine came as a child. The would-be doctor treated childhood pets that fell ill and found a passion for caring for others. The clinician used to tell his son he had “100 years of medical training,” because when he attended Harvard Medical School during World War II and his professors were drafted, doctors who retired at the turn of the century returned to the institution to teach. Smythe continued to learn innovation in medicine well into the next century. “He could just look at someone and know what was wrong with them,” said Alec Smythe. “He was amazing at it.” After Harvard, Smythe trained at Bellevue Hospital in New York. He was later chief resident at Boston City Hospital. He conducted medical research during the Korean War at the Naval Medical Field Research Laboratory at Camp Lejeune, in North Carolina.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 23, 2020

‘It’s for the best’: UT graduation endures online amid coronavirus pandemic

Hannah Gronwald waited years for this moment. She waited for the big ceremony, the walk across the stage and the excitement of being the first in her family to graduate from college. But now, because of the coronavirus pandemic, Gronwald and the 5,000 other members of the University of Texas’ Class of 2020 are experiencing their big moments through a laptop. “I’m a first-generation college student, so this was a really big deal. Now I don’t get to have this huge ceremony, which is kind of a downer,” said Gronwald, who is graduating with a degree in applied learning and development. “But I also know that it’s for the best.”

On Saturday, UT celebrated its graduating class with small virtual ceremonies at individual colleges throughout the day, ending with a universitywide commencement livestream in the evening. For decades, UT’s commencement has been one of the biggest events of the year, bringing in about 20,000 friends and family members and ending with a fireworks display at the UT Tower. This year, in spite of being apart, the university community worked to keep certain traditions going, including the highly anticipated speech from the keynote commencement speaker, New York Times bestselling author and UT graduate Brené Brown. Brown, who is world-renowned for her work studying courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy, shortened her commencement address Saturday. Normally, a commencement speaker aims to be both retrospective and forward-looking. But Brown said she felt it would be a disservice to the students not to acknowledge what is happening now. “These students have pictured this moment,” Brown said. “What they’re going to get, I hope, has value, but it will not be the moment they pictured, and letting that go is to grieve.”

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Austin American-Statesman - May 24, 2020

In hardest hit Austin ZIP code, nursing home reports dozens of coronavirus infections

An East Austin nursing home in the Central Texas community hit hardest by the coronavirus has reported dozens of cases among its residents and staff, including at least one death. Riverside Nursing and Rehabilitation Center has documented one of the highest numbers of cases of the disease among the city’s nursing homes — 82, relatives of Riverside residents said they were told by facility directors on Friday. However, city and facility officials would not confirm the exact number or say how many residents have died of the disease, citing privacy concerns. Based on anonymized data from city health officials, it’s likely that multiple Riverside residents have died.

Riverside and several other Central Texas nursing homes — including West Oaks Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, which has the most cases, with 111 staffers and residents diagnosed with the disease — are operated by Victoria-based Regency Integrated Health Services, owned by the Hamilton County Hospital District east of Waco. “It’s just incredible they didn’t protect anybody,” said Dawn Maracle, whose 74-year-old stepfather, a resident at Riverside, has been hospitalized with COVID-19 for more than a month. “He was supposed to be safe and taken care of.” The federal government cited 122-bed Riverside 10 times in 2019 for health violations; the average in Texas was seven. The facility has received the lowest possible rating from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services — one out of five stars.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 25, 2020

As MLB tries to save 2020, minor-league teams across the country might be out at home

As the 30 MLB team owners and the players union bicker over how to divvy up the revenue in a potential 2020 season, at least they are projecting to have some cash hitting the books. Ticket revenue and concessions accounted for 30-40% of the $10.7 billion MLB made last season, and teams won’t have that this season. But revenue of local TV contracts, even if prorated, and the windfall from the national TV deal, especially the postseason piece, remain as revenue streams. The owners of minor-league teams, however, have almost no revenue streams beyond the turnstiles and concession and souvenir stands. More than 160 revenue-generating affiliated clubs in North America have invested in the 2020 season over the winter, and are now wondering if they will get any return.

If fans can’t attend their ballparks because of the threat of COVID-19, the clubs would rather not have a season. Ballparks sat empty across the country this Memorial Day weekend, often a solid money-making date for minor-league teams. One of them is the Texas Rangers’ Double A affiliate, the Frisco RoughRiders, one of the most valuable franchises in minor-league baseball. But there isn’t one minor-league franchise, no matter how successful in past seasons, than isn’t hurting amid the coronavirus pandemic. “It’s indescribably challenging,” Frisco general partner/CEO Chuck Greenberg said. “We go through the entire offseason incurring expenses, paying our staff and making various investments in anticipation of the upcoming season. Under any circumstances it would be difficult, but the timing [to suspend the season so close to the start of season] made it far more acutely so.” Minor-league teams don’t control who plays for them or who their coaches are, and they don’t pay their salaries or for their equipment. But MLB organizations don’t pay to operate the games, unless they own their affiliates.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 23, 2020

San Antonio looking to retrain 15,000 unemployed workers

As job losses continue mounting in San Antonio, city leaders are crafting a plan to provide training for thousands of unemployed workers to begin new careers. Details of the initiative are in flux, but District 4 Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia said it likely will target 15,000 workers and possibly include stipends for living expenses while they take classes. It would be city government’s most aggressive effort to date to overcome San Antonio’s status as a low-wage town whose workers have too few skills.

The emerging plan is expected to be similar to — but significantly larger than — the one Bexar County commissioners adopted this week. At a cost of $35 million, the county will provide a $450 weekly stipend for 5,000 workers around the county as they attend classes at Alamo Colleges for jobs in health care and information technology. The money for both programs will come from stimulus grants under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. San Antonio received $270 million, and Bexar County nearly $80 million. “In the San Antonio region, one of the biggest things we heard when trying to recruit (corporations) prior to COVID was we need a skilled workforce,” District 3 City Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran said. “I think that has just been magnified. But now we have the opportunity to really invest in the people and in the skilled workforce training.” How much of the funding the city will spend on workforce training, however, remains unclear.

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Lubbock Avalanche-Journal - May 24, 2020

Lubbock Avalanche-Journal Editorial: Midwestern State would be a nice fit for the Texas Tech System

The proposed move that would bring Midwestern State University within the Texas Tech University System makes so much sense on so many levels, we wonder why it hasn’t already happened. First things first. This is not a done deal. Texas Tech University System Chancellor Tedd Mitchell made that point several times during a meeting with the AJ Media Editorial Board earlier this week. There are still a number of steps ahead in the process. Each institution’s board of regents must approve the decision, and nothing is official until state lawmakers and the governor sign off on it. Still, a possibility that first began to gain traction months ago moved closer to reality when the Midwestern State University Board of Regents authorized President Suzanne Shipley to create a memorandum of understanding with the Tech System.

“Our Board of Regents and Chancellor Tedd Mitchell admire MSU Texas’ accomplishments as a leading liberal arts university, along with its strength and continuing development of opportunities for its students,” Christopher Huckabee, chairman of the Tech System Board of Regents said in a release following a recent teleconference. “MSU Texas’ campus culture aligns extremely well with those of the Texas Tech University System and our universities.” Since its official formation in 1996, the Tech System’s approach to expansion has been strategic and cautious. The last such move came in 2013 with the creation of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in El Paso, an institution that emerged from the TTUHSC in Lubbock. To find a precedent similar to the Midwestern State proposal, though, one would need to look back to 2007, when Angelo State moved from the Texas State University System to the Tech System. In the years since, ASU has become a real success story – thanks to a lot of hard work on the part of a lot of people in San Angelo and Lubbock. One telling statistic here: ASU enrollment has steadily increased over the past dozen or so years from 6,000 to 11,000 students. Belonging to a system isn’t the only driver in that, but it is an important factor.

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Texas Standard - May 22, 2020

Fishing businesses say they’re threatened by rules to protect flounder

The fall flounder run is a treasured Texas angling tradition. Southern flounder – the flat fish with both eyes on one side of its head – migrate from the bays and straits of the coastline for the open waters of the Gulf to spawn each fall. Fishers flock to the coast to catch them. But new regulations will bring big changes to the flounder run.

Data from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department shows that the flounder population is declining in Texas waters. The number of fish reportedly caught per year has dropped by over 100,000 since the late 1980s, and the catch rate has dropped too. To reverse that trend, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission passed new rules this week meant to protect and expand the flounder population. Starting in 2021, all flounder fishing will be closed between November 1 and December 15. And anglers will only be able to keep flounder that are 15 inches or longer. According to Dakus Geeslin, Texas Parks and Wildlife’s science and policy resources manager for the agency’s the coastal fisheries division, the rules are designed to give female flounder a better chance to reproduce.

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City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - May 23, 2020

Manor school district names presumptive superintendent

A new superintendent will soon lead the Manor school district just as campuses across Texas face unprecedented challenges amid the coronavirus pandemic. On Friday, the district named Andre Spencer, an executive superintendent in the New York City Department of Education, as the lone finalist for the position. State law requires a 21-day waiting period before Spencer can officially take on the role.

“I am extremely excited to join the Manor ISD family,” Spencer said in a statement. “I want to express my sincere thanks to the Board of Trustees, students, staff and community for seeing my dedication and commitment.” Spencer has previously served as a superintendent of schools in Colorado and spent 13 years in the Baltimore City Public School System as a science teacher, assistant principal, principal and network team lead. In Texas, Spencer served as a school leadership officer in Houston. “He strongly believes that every scholar should receive an equitable education that will prepare them for college, career and life,” the district said.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 24, 2020

Austin nonprofits serving minorities facing steeper coronavirus financial woes

Austin-area nonprofits serving primarily minority communities have been hit harder financially during the coronavirus pandemic than nonprofits with a wider reach, according to a recent survey of more than 400 agencies. Minority-serving nonprofits reported higher rates of reduced grant funding, fewer in-kind donations as well as delayed grant payments.

“The pandemic is exposing some rifts in our communities that we all know have existed,” said William Buster, executive vice president of community investments at St. David’s Foundation. “So now what are we going to do about the fact that (the pandemic) is impacting people of color differently?” The survey conducted by Mission Capital, which provides professional development and resources for nonprofits, follows an April report that revealed 54% of local nonprofits would not be able to operate at their current capacity beyond six months or sooner without additional funding. The latest survey asks “direct questions about how historical inequities may be showing up during this COVID-19 environment,” said Madge Vasquez, CEO for Mission Capital. “Now more than ever, the stakes for communities of color are higher than before,” she said.

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Houston Chronicle - May 24, 2020

Packed pool party, more than 250 calls over Memorial Day crowds concern Houston mayor

More than 250 social distancing complaints were lodged with the city of Houston over Memorial Day weekend, including concerns regarding a packed pool party at a downtown Houston club. Video recorded Saturday afternoon at Clé Houston showed more than 100 people crammed around the swimming pool without masks. Fire officials are estimating that the crowd exceeded the capacity limit mandated when Gov. Greg Abbott allowed bars and clubs to reopen Friday. “Just from the picture, it was more than 25 percent capacity,” Houston fire Chief Sam Peña said.

The crowded pool party at 2301 Main St. garnered at least one 311 complaint, Peña said, and fire investigators planned to check the venue later for compliance. Hours after the pool party ended, the club canceled an event scheduled for Sunday afternoon, writing on Facebook that it was “due to public health concerns related to the Coronavirus pandemic.” Fire officials found only two dozen or so people inside when they checked Sunday afternoon, during which time the open-air venue was threatened by rain. According to property records, the club is owned by a limited-liability corporation tied to Oxberry Group, a Houston business owned by the brothers Shahin “Sean” and Pejman “PJ” Jamea. Neither could be reached Sunday for comment. From 7 a.m. Friday to 7 a.m. Saturday, authorities received 137 complaints. Another 121 complaints were lodged for the same time from Saturday to Sunday, authorities said.

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Houston Chronicle - May 25, 2020

'I don't trust anything:' Personal beliefs, confusing guidelines spark mask debate for Houstonians

Kara McIntyre remembers the day she likely contracted COVID-19 — she wasn’t wearing a face mask. She was at Target and began to feel dizzy. Later she checked her temperature and had a fever. So she got tested for the novel coronavirus, and a few days later her results came back positive. The 39-year-old radio deejay did not wear a face mask before she was infected in March, something she said she feels guilty about now. “I know I came in contact with a person who tested positive for it,” McIntyre said. “I wasn’t going out much, but I put gas in my car, went to the grocery store. Knowing I went through that and may have gotten other people sick, that’s terrifying.”

As the state reopens restaurants, shopping malls, gyms and salons, whether or not to wear a mask has become a hot-button issue. To some, it’s a way to signal one has their neighbor’s health and well-being in mind. To others, it’s an inconvenience or an attack on American freedoms. Government officials don’t agree on the issue either. In late April, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo issued a mandatory mask order; within days it was overturned by Gov. Greg Abbott, who said Texans “have every right to control (their) own path.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone wear a face mask in public, in addition to practicing social distancing and frequent hand washing. But the president and vice president are often photographed without them. Face masks have become a divisive issue even in Houston, where residents are known for coming together during times of crisis like Hurricane Harvey, said Cathy Power, 51. “What I gather is that there is a narrative out there that masks are for the weak. This is wrong — masks are worn to protect others; they are not for protecting yourself,” said Power, who lives in the East End, and suffers chronic health issues. “They reduce the risk by keeping droplets from traveling as far as they would if you were not wearing a mask. It works best if we all wear them.”

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WFAA - May 25, 2020

City leaders prepping for IndyCar, PGA Tour to start up in Fort Worth

In a couple of weeks, IndyCar will start its engines at the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, and, just days later, the PGA Tour will tee off in Cowtown, too, restarting its season at the Colonial Country Club. “This will be Fort Worth worldwide, folks,” Mayor Betsy Price said in a Facebook Live. “It’s our moment.”

She and city leaders view the added attention as an opportunity. Tournament director Michael Tothe says this year’s Charles Schwab Challenge will include everyone from Phil Michelson to Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and more. “It’s probably the strongest field we’ve ever had in our history,” Tothe said. “I mean, guys are chomping at the bit for the opportunity to get back and play golf.” Councilman Dennis Shingleton is part of the team that helped bring golf back to the city on June 11 for the tournament. “We want this to be a positive thing for the city,” he said. “The PGA went to the Colonial management and said, ‘Hey, can you do this?”

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National Stories

CNN - May 24, 2020

Republican National Committee sues California to halt vote-by-mail for November general election

The Republican National Committee and other Republican groups have filed a lawsuit against California to stop the state from mailing absentee ballots to all voters ahead of the 2020 general election, a move that was made in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The suit comes after California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, announced this month that the state would move to encourage all voters to cast their ballots by mail in November -- the most widespread expansion of vote-by-mail that has been announced as a result of the pandemic and in the nation's most populous state. The RNC's lawsuit challenges that step, marking a significant escalation in the legal battles between Republicans and Democrats that are currently being waged in more than a dozen states.

"Democrats continue to use this pandemic as a ploy to implement their partisan election agenda, and Governor Newsom's executive order is the latest direct assault on the integrity of our elections," said RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel in a statement. "Newsom's illegal power grab is a recipe for disaster that would destroy the confidence Californians deserve to have in the security of their vote." McDaniel's comments echo President Donald Trump who has expressed vehement opposition to Newsom's order and has pushed back strenuously against expansions to vote-by-mail across the country. On Sunday morning, Trump tweeted another attack on vote-by-mail, which included several claims for which he provided no evidence. "The United States cannot have all Mail In Ballots," Trump tweeted. "It will be the greatest Rigged Election in history. "People grab them from mailboxes, print thousands of forgeries and 'force' people to sign. Also, forge names. Some absentee OK, when necessary. Trying to use Covid for this Scam!" he added.

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New York Times - May 24, 2020

Florida law restricting felon voting is unconstitutional, judge rules

A Florida law requiring people with serious criminal convictions to pay court fines and fees before they can register to vote is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled on Sunday, declaring that such a requirement would amount to a poll tax and discriminate against felons who cannot afford to pay. Florida did not explicitly impose a poll tax, Judge Robert L. Hinkle of the United States District Court in Tallahassee wrote, but by conditioning felons’ voting rights to fees that fund the routine operations of the criminal justice system, it effectively created “a tax by any other name.” “The Twenty-Fourth Amendment precludes Florida from conditioning voting in federal elections on payment of these fees and costs,” Judge Hinkle wrote, calling the restriction an unconstitutional “pay-to-vote system.”

The judge granted a permanent injunction to civil rights groups that challenged the law as discriminatory for the majority of felons, many of whom are indigent. The state is expected to appeal. However, much of Sunday’s ruling is built on a previous ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta, which would hear any appeal. “This really is a landmark decision for voting rights,” said Julie Ebenstein, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, one of the groups that sued. “It’s a decision that will likely affect hundreds of thousands of voters — and it’s been a long time coming.” Whether the decision will have immediate electoral impact is unclear. With the November presidential election looming, voter registration groups will now likely redouble their efforts to sign up people released from prison after felony convictions. Major elections in Florida are frequently decided by razor-thin margins, and expanding the electorate by even a modest number of new voters could prove decisive. The appeals court fast-tracked its earlier decision in the case, knowing that the election is approaching. But, with an appeal likely — and legal and political steps beyond that uncertain — it’s too early to assume that people affected by the ruling will be able to register to vote in time for November — or how many will vote even if they do.

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AFP - May 24, 2020

China says virus pushing US ties to brink of 'Cold War'

China said Sunday that relations with the United States were "on the brink of a new Cold War", fuelled in part by tensions over the coronavirus pandemic, as Muslims around the world celebrated a muted end to the holy month of Ramadan. Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Washington had been infected by a "political virus" compelling figures there to continually attack China, but offered an olive branch by saying the country would be open to an international effort to find the coronavirus source.

"It has come to our attention that some political forces in the US are taking China-US relations hostage and pushing our two countries to the brink of a new Cold War," he told reporters during a press conference at China's week-long annual parliament session. He spoke as more nations eased lockdown restrictions in a bid to salvage economies and lifestyles that have been savaged by the pandemic. Hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world were celebrating a muted Eid al-Fitr, with Islam's two most important mosques closed to worshippers in Mecca and Medina. Still, churches were reopening in France, Spain's football league announced it would kick off again on June 8, and thousands flocked to beaches in the US, where lockdowns and social distancing have become rights issues that have split communities.

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The Hill - May 25, 2020

GOP lawmaker calls on Trump to stop promoting Scarborough conspiracy theory: 'It will destroy us'

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) called on President Trump to stop promoting the "completely unfounded conspiracy" theory regarding the death of an intern for MSNBC "Morning Joe" anchor Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman from Florida. The president on Sunday morning urged his followers in a tweet to read an article from conservative website True Pundit, which claimed that evidence showed foul play in the death of Lori Klausutis, 28, in 2001. “Just stop,” Kinzinger responded said. “Stop spreading it, stop creating paranoia. It will destroy us.”

On Saturday, the president also tweeted out a story about his calls for further investigations into Klausutis’s death, which a local medical examiner ruled accidental. Klausutis was found dead in Scarborough’s district office in 2001. A medical examiner determined she had collapsed because of an undiagnosed heart condition and struck her head in the fall. Trump has previously promoted the conspiracy theory that Scarborough was involved in the death, including earlier this month when he requested Comcast, which owns NBC Universal, to investigate the case. The MSNBC host, who frequently critiques the president, responded to that tweet on his show, saying Trump was dragging Klausutis’s family through the mud.

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CNN - May 25, 2020

Elon Musk and Grimes have changed their baby's name. A bit

Just when you thought you'd learned how to spell Grimes and Elon Musk's unusual baby name, they've gone and changed it. Earlier this month, Tesla and SpaceX CEO Musk announced the birth of the baby boy in a post on Twitter, revealing his son was called "X Æ A-12 Musk.

However, speculation arose that the unusual moniker might fall foul of the law in California, where the couple live, as names can only use the 26 alphabetical characters of the English language, according to the state constitution. On Sunday, Grimes posted a new photo on Instagram, drawing comments from fans. "Did you change the baby name because of Californian laws ? What is the baby's new name?" asked one Twitter user in the comments under the latest post. "X Æ A-Xii" wrote the singer in response, without confirming the reason for the change. The singer also responded to another comment, saying: "Roman numerals. Looks better tbh."

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Newsclips - May 24, 2020

Lead Stories

The Hill - May 23, 2020

Parties gear up for battle over Texas state House

Texas is headed for a high-stakes battle over control of its state House, with the party that prevails getting a once-in-a-decade chance to help redraw congressional districts. Democrats have made inroads in Texas in recent years, flipping 12 state House seats in 2018, the same year former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D) came within 3 points of defeating Sen. Ted Cruz (R) in his Senate race. Their recent successes were aided by demographic changes as an influx of outsiders from liberal states moved into urban and suburban centers, while Texas has also seen an increasing number of residents of color.

The battle for the state House comes in the midst of a presidential election year where both sides are expected to fight aggressively for Texas as part of a group of red states being put into play by Democrats. Former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign last week said it views Texas, Arizona and Georgia as battleground states they intend to contest and win. Winning the state House would provide Democrats with a leading role in shaping redistricting as the once-in-a-decade census gets underway. Republicans have held the state House since 2002 and Democrats must flip a net nine seats to gain the majority. It’s an outcome that Democrats maintain is within their grasp, but it’s unlikely to be easy as Republicans prepare to spend big to defend the chamber. “The Texas House is a huge priority for us,” said Jessica Post, the president of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC), which coordinates the Democratic Party’s efforts at the statehouse level. “We know that Texas Republicans won’t give up anything easily and they’re going to fight like hell to claw their final pieces of power in the state as the state is changing beneath their feet.”

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Houston Chronicle - May 22, 2020

Gov. Abbott, on hot seat, defends $295M contact tracing deal

Gov. Greg Abbott is pushing back hard against bipartisan criticism of a hastily awarded contract that put a little-known North Texas technology company in charge of the state’s effort to track down people who may be exposed to the coronavirus. The company, MTX Group, asserted in its bid for the $295 million contract — with little evidence — that it had “extensive experience” doing contact tracing in several U.S. states. “Governor Abbott pointed to MTX’s experience in implementing COVID-19 response systems including contact tracing in other states,” Abbott spokesman John Wittman said, listing 10 states that include New York, Florida and Massachusetts. “Importantly, every aspect of this contract is being paid for with federal funds.”

Wittman also said Abbott had gotten assurances that the privacy of Texans would be respected under the terms of the deal — a major concern of conservative activists who have grown increasingly critical of the Republican governor. MTX has declined repeated requests for interviews and has refused to answer questions about the work it has done in other states. According to a published report, the company had about 200 employees as of late last year, most of them in India. Meanwhile, legislators from both parties — caught off guard by the massive contract — continue to heap criticism on the quick bid solicitation process, the lack of transparency and concerns over the civil liberties of people who will get calls from the contact tracers. According to the Department of State Health Services, which will oversee the contract, bidders were given about two days to put together proposals that were due on May 7. The multimillion dollar contract was signed by acting Health and Human Services Commissioner Phil Wilson on May 13. That’s the same day Austin-based lobbyists Dean and Andrea McWilliams list as the start date for lobby deals with MTX they each report to be worth $50,000.

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Reuters - May 22, 2020

US plans massive coronavirus vaccine testing effort to meet year-end deadline

The United States plans a massive testing effort involving more than 100,000 volunteers and a half dozen or so of the most promising vaccine candidates in an effort to deliver a safe and effective one by the end of 2020, scientists leading the program told Reuters. The project will compress what is typically 10 years of vaccine development and testing into a matter of months, testimony to the urgency to halt a pandemic that has infected more than 5 million people, killed over 335,000 and battered economies worldwide. To get there, leading vaccine makers have agreed to share data and lend the use of their clinical trial networks to competitors should their own candidate fail, the scientists said. Candidates that demonstrate safety in small early studies will be tested in huge trials of 20,000 to 30,000 subjects for each vaccine, slated to start in July.

Between 100,000 and 150,000 people may be enrolled in the studies, said Dr. Larry Corey, a vaccine expert at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, who is helping design the trials. “If you don’t see a safety problem, you just keep going,” Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), told Reuters. The vaccine effort is part of a public-private partnership called Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines (ACTIV) announced last month. The effort fits into the research and development arm of “Operation Warp Speed,” the White House program announced last week to accelerate coronavirus vaccine development. Vaccines, which are intended for use in healthy people, are typically tested in successive steps, starting with trials in animals. Human testing begins with a small safety trial in healthy volunteers, followed by a larger study to find the right dose and get an early read on efficacy. The final stage consists of large-scale testing in thousands of people. Only then would a vaccine developer commit to manufacturing millions of doses. In the era of coronavirus, many of those steps will overlap, particularly the mid-stage and late-stage trials, Collins and Corey said.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 23, 2020

Shelley Luther, former Sen. Huffines and others protest at Capitol demand full Texas reopening immediately.

Texas has been easing its restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic in recent weeks, but about 100 Texans rallied at the Capitol on Saturday to say that’s not enough. “I think instead of keeping Austin weird, we should keep Austin open,” said Dallas salon owner and activist Shelley Luther, a rising national figure in the reopening effort who was among the featured speakers in the Texas Freedom Rally. The demonstration brought people from across the state who carried signs that proclaimed “Freedom over Fear” and “Virtual Learning ? Classroom Learning; Reopen schools this fall!”

On Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that the state was going into phase two of Texas’ reopening plan. Restaurants are now allowed to operate at 50% capacity, and bars, bowling alleys and bingo halls opened Friday at 25% capacity. Youth sports and some professional sports without spectators will be allowed later this month. “It’s time to reopen Texas 100%. We need to be free from any degree of lockdown," said Jennifer Fleck, a Republican candidate for state representative. “No one has the right to tell you that you’re not essential,” said Allen West, a featured speaker and a candidate running against incumbent James Dickey in the race for Texas Republican Party chairman. For Houston teacher June Cody, it was important to return to the Capitol with her husband, Rick Cody, after attending April’s rally against stay-at-home orders, which drew about 300 protesters. June Cody said she’s been homeschooling her grandson and sees how important the socializing aspect is to learning.

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Texas Monthly - May 20, 2020

Chris Hooks: Can the ‘Texas Miracle’ survive?

On an average day in 2019, the Texas Workforce Commission received about 13,000 calls from Texans applying for unemployment benefits. Toward the end of the year the state unemployment rate hovered under 4 percent: it had not risen much higher than 8 percent in three decades. Texas almost effortlessly added jobs month to month, amid a rapidly expanding economy driven by population growth and a long-running energy boom that attracted vast sums of capital. Life was very, very good. By the end of March this year, the commission was receiving, on average, 1.5 million calls a day. The state’s economy had collapsed almost overnight. The service industry and its millions of jobs in now-empty restaurants and hotels and retail shops evaporated thanks to COVID-19.

The energy boom had busted, with the price of a barrel of oil well below what many industry players needed to survive. Desperate supplicants called the Workforce Commission hotline hundreds of times a day in the hope of reaching someone who could help them pay rent or afford groceries, mostly without success. To stem the tide, the commission unveiled a rudimentary chatbot, named Larry, to answer basic questions. Applicants did not love Larry, who unhelpfully told them to call the commission. When Texas comptroller Glenn Hegar warned that the state could soon see a double-digit unemployment rate, it was barely news. But the projection served to put state government on notice: the deluge will not be abating soon. The twin shocks of the virus and the oil glut, which together constitute the greatest economic calamity Texas has faced in a half century or more, threaten to stretch the state’s institutions—and perhaps its politics—to the breaking point. Never before has the Texas way of doing things faced a harsher test.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - May 23, 2020

Former U.S. Congressman Allen West injured in motorcycle accident near Waco

Former U.S. Congressman and Texas Republican Chairman candidate Allen West was injured in a motorcycle accident Saturday, his team said in a tweet. The team tweeted just after 7:15 p.m. that West was in the hospital and undergoing assessment. The team also linked to a Facebook status posted by his wife, Dr. Angela Graham-West, that said the accident happened just outside of Waco.

West led the Texas Freedom Rally in Austin Saturday morning at the Texas Capitol, which focused on the further reopening of the state in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. He was expected to lead a caravan of motorcycles and cars from Dallas to Austin before the event for attendees. Former Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, told The Dallas Morning News that West spoke at the rally Saturday morning but had gotten in the accident on the way back. Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush asked for prayers for the former Florida representative in a tweet Saturday evening.

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Dallas Morning News - May 22, 2020

Gromer Jeffers, Jr.: Greg Abbott’s handling of coronavirus crisis critical to fate of Texas GOP in November, beyond

Greg Abbott isn’t on the ballot in November. That didn’t stop the Texas governor from dropping a 92-second political ad last week that showcases his effort to reopen the Texas economy. “That was fascinating,” Republican political consultant Vinny Minchillo said of Abbott’s campaign ad. “The motivation was to answer some of the grassroots activists that are frustrated that the economy was shutdown. For the first time, he’s playing defense.”

Dave Carney, Abbott’s chief political strategist, said the ad didn’t have “any hardcore political objectives.” Abbott, Carney says, is focused on leading Texas through the coronavirus pandemic. Politics will come later. The governor is up for reelection in 2022. “The best politics is to do the best public policy,” Carney said. Abbott, the most popular politician in Texas, is critical to the Republican Party’s chances of remaining the dominant party in Texas. Since Abbott was first elected in 2014, Democrats have been more competitive in statewide races, including former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s close but unsuccessful 2018 contest against Republican incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz. The November elections are expected to hinge on the following question: How did incumbent officials respond to the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic upheaval?

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Dallas Morning News - May 23, 2020

Dallas County ends week with ‘good news’ in coronavirus data; North Texas fire departments begin testing area nursing homes

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said Saturday that this week’s COVID-19 hospitalization rate and new daily case average signaled good news for the county, but cautioned that the decisions of residents in the coming days and weeks will determine whether the county sees a steady decline in cases. The county reported 172 new cases Saturday, closing out the week with a new daily case average of 200, down from 233 last week, Jenkins said. He said the county had 40 deaths this week, up from 27 the previous week, but that hospitalizations, ICU admissions, and emergency room visits for COVID-19 have remained flat compared to last week.

“Overall, this week has been good news and we will hopefully begin to see a decline, but that is entirely up to you,” Jenkins said in a written statement. “We must all make good decisions and focus not on what is legal, but on what is safe … Avoid crowds, when you must be in a crowd wear a face covering and maintain 6 foot distancing, and practice good hygiene by washing your hands regularly.” Jenkins added that residents should still stay home whenever possible and continue to follow guidance outlined in the county’s color-coded chart, which was created by health experts and details what precautions residents should take as the outbreak continues. On Saturday, the county was still in the red zone. The new cases bring the county’s total to 8,649. The county also reported three additional COVID-19 deaths Saturday, bringing the total number of deaths to 210.

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Houston Chronicle - May 23, 2020

Abbott to large Texas counties: Share your CARES funding with small cities

The state of Texas and its 12 largest counties are in a tug-of-war over who is responsible for handing out federal coronavirus relief funding for some small cities. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act signed into law by President Donald Trump in late March sent $11.24 billion in aid to the state. Of that, six Texas cities and 12 counties with a population more than 500,000 received more than $3.2 billion. The other 242 counties and cities within those counties were allowed to apply for per capita funding allocations from the state out of the remaining $1.85 billion earmarked for local governments.

With an apparent gray area in the legislation, the CARES Act did not specify which entity — the state or the dozen large counties — should cover the small cities within the dozen counties that received direct funding. State leaders including Gov. Greg Abbott want the counties to pay; the counties want the state to share more of its cut. The skirmish has meant that months after the major relief package was passed, funding for some Texas cities is in limbo, including for Houston-area suburbs such as Pasadena that have been hit with major outbreaks. Michel Bechtel, president of the Harris County Mayors and Councils Association and also the mayor of Morgan’s Point, a city of about 1,500 that has not yet recorded any COVID-19 cases, said he and at least a dozen other mayors agree with the governor.

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Houston Chronicle - May 22, 2020

Report: Marcellus dethrones Permian Basin as top destination for frac crews

The Marcellus Shale, which stretches across Pennsylvania and West Virginia, has dethroned the Permian Basin of West Texas and eastern New Mexico as the top U.S. destination for hydraulic fracturing crews. The Marcellus, which is rich in natural gas, has 31 percent of the active hydraulic fracturing crews in the field, followed by the oil-rich Permian with 30 percent and the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas and the Haynesville Shale in East Texas and Louisiana with 14 percent each, according to data from Houston investment advisory firm Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co.

Of the 450 available hydraulic fracturing fleets in the United States and Canada, only 70 are deployed in the field, Tudor, Pickering, Holt said. To weather the current crash, oil companies have tightened their budgets and are taking "frac holidays" in which they don't bring newly drilled wells into production — lowering demand for hydraulic fracturing services. Some industry experts believe that there are fewer than 50 active hydraulic fracturing fleets in the field but Tudor, Pickering, Holt Managing Director George O’Leary wrote in a research note that "both levels are putrid" and that either way, a recovery is not expected until the fourth quarter or the first quarter of 2021. "This is setting up to be the sharpest quarter over quarter active horizontal frac crew count decline in memory," O'Leary wrote. "Putting lipstick on a pig, it was a teeny-tiny bit comforting to see the month over month decline rate slow in May versus April, but it’s certainly quite bloody out there."

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San Antonio Express-News - May 24, 2020

Texas flounder regulations approved; season closure delayed a year

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission approved a six-week closure of southern flounder season set to go into effect in 2021. Flounder season will be closed from Nov. 1-Dec. 15. The minimum size limit will increase from 14 to 15 inches this year. The commission moved to delay the closure a year in consideration of the potential economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Language will be strengthened in regard to reporting under commercial finfish licenses. The wording will make clear that all harvests are to be reported to TPWD, not just those that are sold.

Commission chairman Reed Morian also asked the department to further examine a potential slot limit. The hope is to rebuild a fishery that has diminished over decades. TPWD cites biannual gill net and monthly bag seine and trawl net surveys as indications of a negative trend that has plagued flounder for years. As a result of the regulation changes, the department projects a 58 percent increase in spawning biomass over the course of a generation of flounder, which is approximately five years. The season closure is designed to protect spawning flounder during the fall run, when they are most susceptible to harvest. More escapement during the fall run would bolster recruitment. “CCA Texas appreciates the commission taking action that considers what is best for the resource while remaining sensitive to impacts that the current pandemic has had on recreational fishing guides,” CCA advocacy director Shane Bonnot said.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 23, 2020

Bexar County GOP chair denounces coronavirus as hoax by Democratic Party

Democrats fired back Saturday after the chairwoman of the Republican Party of Bexar County denounced the novel coronavirus crisis as a hoax at a rally outside City Hall. The chairwoman, Cynthia Brehm, told several supporters Friday that the coronavirus was a hoax perpetrated by the Democratic Party. Democrats quickly responded by issuing a statement that said Texas Republicans were downplaying the threat from the virus and had mismanaged the health crisis. They linked Brehm’s attitude concerning the virus to that of the state’s leadership: Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, both Republicans.

“From top to bottom, Texas Republican leaders continue to downplay and mismanage the coronavirus crisis. Texans continue to suffer because of their lack of leadership,” the Texas Democratic Party responded in its Saturday statement. In a video clip from KENS-5 TV that was widely disseminated on social media, Brehm rejected Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s and County Judge Nelson Wolff’s call to wear protective masks. She cited Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, calling the policy unconstitutional. “This is America,” she said, “and we shouldn’t have to be forced or mandated to wear a mask.” Asked what he had to say about Brehm’s charge at Saturday night’s daily coronavirus briefing, Wolff was clear.

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McAllen Monitor - May 22, 2020

Bishop says Catholic churches in the Valley will reopen Monday

Bishop Daniel E. Flores, of the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville, announced Friday that Catholic churches across the Rio Grande Valley will reopen on Monday, May 25, but with a number of conditions. In a letter, the bishop said anyone attending Mass will be required to wear a face mask, parishioners will be required to disinfect their hands as they enter and leave the churches; and social distancing will be observed.

He said every other pew will be used for seating and there will be a distance of six feet between families and individuals. Because of restrictive seating, the bishop says attendance at Mass will be limited to less than 50%. The bishop says he is encouraging parishioners to attend weekday services in order to alleviate the capacity of Sunday masses. He said the diocese will continue to livestream services for those unable to attend Mass. He said there will be special instructions in order to receive communion. The bishop is urging the elderly, those who complicated medical conditions, or anyone who feels sick, to stay home.

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McAllen Monitor - May 23, 2020

Phase 1 of Donna Superfund site cleanup complete

The first phase in a joint effort by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to rid the Donna reservoir of a source of cancer-causing contaminants has been completed just three months after the cleanup effort was announced. Officials removed 13,780 cubic yards of sediment from a half-mile stretch of canal believed to be the source of the polychlorinated biphenyls, which have contaminated the water and aquatic life in the waterway for at least 30 years. The reservoir and its associated network of canals supply fresh drinking water to the city of Donna and the surrounding areas.

“The removal of this massive amount of sediment is a crucial step towards restoring the site to its original condition and is just one example of the many ways TCEQ and EPA work together to clean up the Texas environment,” said TCEQ Commissioner Bobby Janecka in a news release Thursday. Janecka and state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, visited the site in mid-February to announce the $19 million cleanup effort of the 400-acre manmade lake. TCEQ contributed some $3.5 million to the EPA to help get the project underway. “Completing the sediment removal and treatment is vital to finally restoring the site and making it safer for the South Texas community,” said Ken McQueen, regional administrator of the EPA’s south central region which encompasses Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico and 66 Tribal Nations.

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Reuters - May 22, 2020

US shale bust slams rural economies as oil checks shrivel

Royalties from oil pumped on Paul Ruckman’s land allowed the South Texas retiree to build a six-bedroom, seven-bathroom vacation home. He had plenty left over, and donated some of it to Helena, Texas, an 1800s ghost town that draws hundreds to historic buildings and gunfight re-enactments. The worst oil bust in decades has slashed the bounty that flowed to millions of rural Americans like Ruckman, who said his royalty checks have plummeted 70% since January. “I imagine they’re going to be dropping quite a bit more,” said Ruckman, who owns the land with his brothers. The bust has erased tens of thousands of jobs in the drilling and service sectors, dried up local tax revenues and charitable largess that flowed along with crude oil to Texas, North Dakota and Oklahoma.

Thanks to modern drilling technology, shale has turned the United States into the world’s No. 1 energy producer, pumping as much as 13 million barrels per day (bpd) before prices crashed. It added about a percentage point to U.S. GDP between 2010 and 2015. Shale-related jobs lifted the employment rate in Texas and North Dakota to a multiple of the national average. Shale oil fed a global glut. OPEC and allied producers supported prices by cutting output, but this year Saudi Arabia and Russia briefly pumped more. Then fuel demand collapsed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Oil prices are about half January’s level, and many shale producers have shut wells. U.S. output could fall about 2 million bpd this year and next, Bank of America has estimated.

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El Paso Times - May 22, 2020

José Rodríguez: State leaders rank economy over public health:

Texas has reached a critical point in the fight against COVID-19. State leaders continue to reduce restrictions on movement and activity, even though we haven’t come close to a 14-day decline in new cases – the benchmark recommended by the Centers for Disease Control before re-opening the economy. In fact, there have been more than 1,000 new cases per day on average for the past few weeks. Yet Gov. Greg Abbott, prodded by a Republican right that is turning mask-wearing into another front in their “culture war,” is proceeding to roll back the protocols that have kept Texans safer, risking further outbreaks, and setting a tone that fails to meet the urgency of our times. Fewer people are staying home, observing social distancing, or wearing face coverings in public.

Meanwhile, local officials, trying to do right by their communities, have been prohibited by the governor from taking proven preventive measures like requiring masks in public or limiting business openings beyond what he decides is best. I appreciate that the governor delayed Phase II for El Paso County until May 29. However, the reprieve is short-lived. By only delaying for one week, the governor is ignoring the very metrics his Open Texas Plan references. For example, rolling back openings if the number of new cases increases for five days or more. Or taking into account whether our hospitalization rate, which has been steadily increasing, is actually declining before May 29. It’s not just El Paso that isn’t meeting the benchmarks in the governor’s Open Texas Plan. When it was announced, the testing goal was 30,000 tests per day. To date, the state has met that goal only a handful of times. Aside from that, according to health experts, we need at least 45,000 tests per day before we can re-open safely.

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Texas Observer - May 20, 2020

With storage space evaporating, the oil and gas industry will get to put its products back underground

Last month, as the COVID-19 pandemic pushed oil prices into negative figures, drillers in the state’s sprawling shale plays were still pumping and piping oil and gas to the Texas Gulf Coast as usual. But there was a problem: The massive storage tanks dotting the coastline, where tankers load and ship the product abroad, were filling quickly. With limited space to store crude, oil producers resorted to paying buyers to take the stuff off their hands. Then the industry had an idea: Why not just put it back in the ground? It’s an idea that has been successfully explored in the past. After all, the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve, where 641 million barrels of crude are stored in a network of underground salt caverns, underlies much of East Texas and Louisiana. The unique geology of the caverns makes them prime candidates to store oil and liquefied gas (known in industry parlance as liquid hydrocarbons) because the products can’t easily escape and taint nearby drinking water sources.

There’s not much space left in the reserve, however, which is why industry players have asked state regulators for permission to store oil and gas in “unconventional” geological formations. On May 5, their wish was granted. The Texas Railroad Commission (which regulates oil and gas producers, not railroads) voted at its regular meeting to temporarily allow the industry to store hydrocarbons underground outside of the usual salt caverns. The commission unanimously rolled back some provisions of Statewide Rule 95, which historically has prohibited storing hydrocarbons outside of salt caverns to prevent groundwater contamination. The rules were waived for a year; producers may store hydrocarbons underground for up to five years. Board members also lifted the requirement that producers undergo a public hearing before embarking on such a project, except in instances when a protest is made. “This is somewhat unprecedented, but it’s exciting that we’re affording [producers] as much opportunity as possible in this emergency situation,” Chairman Wayne Christian said at the meeting.

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CNN - May 23, 2020

Ken Paxton, a key Obamacare opponent, emerges as Trump's top warrior in mail-in voting battle

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, long at the forefront of Republican efforts to undo Obama-era policies through the courts, is emerging as a key warrior in President Donald Trump's growing fight against expanding mail-in voting amid the coronavirus pandemic. Paxton this week won a temporary victory in his battle with the Texas Democratic Party over whether fear of catching the disease should count as a reason to request absentee mail-in ballots under existing state law, after a federal appeals court halted a lower court judge's ruling saying ballot requests should be honored.

He's simultaneously engaged in a parallel fight with Democratic-run counties, and last week asked the state's Supreme Court to step in and stop county election officials from expanding voting by mail -- a move that critics say would disenfranchise millions of voters. That all comes as Paxton is leading the legal charge against the Affordable Care Act before the Supreme Court. He has also backed several of Trump's most controversial policies, including the administration's travel ban and its attempt to end the program protecting some undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children from deportation. Brendan Steinhauser, a Republican strategist based in Austin, said "without a doubt" Paxton has been an effective legal defender of Trump's policies, and added that Paxton has been one of the attorneys general most closely aligned with Trump. In response to a request for comment, Paxton's office referred CNN to previously issued press releases.

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ABC 4 - May 21, 2020

Texas lawmakers want to keep business with Mexico open -- but the border closed

As all 50 states take steps to re-open their economies, one thing remains closed: the U.S. border with our neighbors to the north and south. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security says the non-essential travel restrictions are now extended until June 22 for both Canada and Mexico. Texas lawmakers are working to maintain the important economic ties with Mexico, despite the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on trade at the border.

Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn says opening the border right now is too risky — but he admits a big part of re-opening the Texas economy depends on Mexico. “We share a common border, and like I said and said to friends in the past, I said we are like an old married couple. We can’t get a divorce, we got to make it work,” says Cornyn. But Texas Republican Congressman Will Hurd says “making it work” may be easier said than done. “The difference in the definition of what an essential business is,” says Hurd. “It’s not the same in Mexico as it is in the United States and that is impacting the supply chains.”

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ABC 13 - May 24, 2020

Crowds descend upon Texas waterpark on Memorial Day weekend in defiance of Abbott order

Big Rivers Waterpark is among the Texas amusement sites that has announced its reopening in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The New Caney leisure spot opened Saturday morning as a crowd of hundreds waited. Some eager visitors showed up several hours before the gates opened.

The park's opening is in apparent defiance of an order from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott amid the coronavirus pandemic. Water parks have been ordered to remain closed across the state. In order to mitigate the crowds for families' safety and comfort, the park will be limiting guest entry into the park to 2,020 guests, Big Rivers added. The park is also selling season passes to guests, but those would be sold by appointment only.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 22, 2020

Are you unemployed? You’re not alone, as number of Texans out of work hits record high

As Texas continues reopening for business, new statistics show that the state has hit the highest jobless rate — 12.8% —in recent history because of the coronavirus pandemic. That’s worse than the previous high, when the state’s monthly unemployment rate reached 9.2% in November 1986 during the oil bust, federal statistics show. “The COVID-19 pandemic has had a measurable effect on the Texas economy,” Texas Workforce Commission Chairman Bryan Daniel said in a statement.

In the Fort Worth-Arlington area, the unemployment rate for April was 13.1%, which is slightly above the statewide unemployment rate of 13%, but lower than the nation’s 14.4%, TWC statistics show. Last April, the unemployment rate in the Fort Worth-Arlington area was 2.8%. In Texas, it was 3%. Daniel and other officials say they are optimistic that the numbers will go down in the coming months as more businesses reopen their doors. “While we will continue to provide assistance to those seeking unemployment benefits, many employers are hiring and TWC is working to provide resources to job seekers as well as employers as the state opens up,” Daniel said.

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Texas Monthly - May 22, 2020

‘AKA Jane Roe’ finally gives Norma McCorvey the nuanced portrait she deserves

Has anyone been more misunderstood than Norma McCorvey? In 1973 she took on the pseudonym of “Jane Roe” as the plaintiff in a landmark Supreme Court case that legalized abortion in the United States. McCorvey went public a year later, authoring a memoir, I Am Roe, and initially embracing a role as a pro-choice advocate. Then, in 1995, she switched sides, becoming an evangelical Christian and a prominent anti-abortion activist who spoke three times at the March for Life. By 2017, when she died at 69 in Katy, the New York Times described her as “an almost mythological figure.”

At least, that’s the tidy conversion story that had always been told (in dozens of magazine profiles and newspaper features). The story changed this week with a revelation from a new documentary, AKA Jane Roe. Shortly before her death, McCorvey told filmmaker Nick Sweeney that she was paid by anti-abortion groups to champion their cause. Sweeney tracked down documents and sources verifying that McCorvey accepted nearly $500,000 from Operation Rescue and other anti-abortion organizations. “I took their money, and they took me out in front of the cameras and told me what to say,” she admits on camera. Not surprisingly, this confession made national headlines. It seems that once again, Norma McCorvey will be defined by her role as a symbol in the abortion wars. But McCorvey was a human being, not a symbol—and AKA Jane Roe urges viewers to remember that. Importantly, her “deathbed confession” doesn’t come until an hour into the nearly eighty-minute documentary. Its main focus is, instead, the parts of her complicated life that were often overlooked—from her childhood in Houston and Gainesville, Texas, growing up with an abusive mother, to battling addiction and trauma; from her complicated relationship with her own sexuality and her partner, Connie Gonzalez, to the inner workings of her role in both the pro-choice and anti-abortion movements. Most don’t know that McCorvey herself never had an abortion, yet she was involved in the landmark case that made it legal nationwide.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 24, 2020

Jonathan Tilove: The risks and rewards of covering COVID-19

Last Sunday, I returned from six days in the Panhandle, reporting on a coronavirus outbreak associated with meatpacking plants in Amarillo and, just north, in Cactus in rural Moore County. “No communities in America are being more sorely tested by a pandemic with no certain end or outcome than those at once sustained and threatened by a slaughterhouse in their midst,” I wrote. Nonetheless, I found the trip reassuring, even rejuvenating. The best thing about being a reporter is going places you otherwise might not go and spending time with people you otherwise might not meet, people like Rowdy Rhoades, the Moore County judge.

That evening, photographing cattle in a feedlot next to the JBS beef plant in Cactus, I locked eyes with my subject. I stared at the steer. The steer stared at me. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes in its review of operations at the JBS plant, cattle are “stunned, eviscerated and processed into beef halves” which are then cut up and boxed for shipment. A day earlier, two Teamsters officials gave me a tour outside the Amarillo Tyson plant. Do the cattle know what’s coming? Yes, I was told. “They can smell it.” Staring at the steer in Cactus, I contemplated his fate, even as he seemed to be contemplating mine. Was there a whiff of COVID to me? (Note to President Trump: Check out the diagnostic capabilities of cattle.)

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Gilmer Mirror - May 21, 2020

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick sends 2020 graduation video to Texas high school graduates

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick issued the following statement today announcing the release of a video graduation message to the Texas High School Class of 2020. The video was distributed to every school superintendent in Texas to be delivered directly to graduating seniors.

“Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many high school seniors across Texas will not be having the graduation ceremony they envisioned. This video is one way to let them know how proud I am of them for achieving this important accomplishment. It is a big deal to be the Class of 2020, and I know these students will aim high and go after their dreams. I asked a few of my friends and friends of friends to join me in congratulating the Class of 2020 and they were all very excited to share in this message.” Lt. Gov. Patrick’s graduation video also includes congratulatory messages from: Kim Kardashian West – Businesswomen, Model and Media Personality; Jaylon Smith – Linebacker, Dallas Cowboys; Greg Mancz – Center, Houston Texans; Chris Woodward – Manager, Texas Rangers; Clyde Drexler – NBA Hall of Famer, Houston Rockets; Michael Irvin – NFL Hall of Famer, Dallas Cowboys; Case Keenum – Quarterback, Cleveland Browns/University of Houston; Robert Covington – Forward, Houston Rockets; Josh Reddick – Right Fielder, Houston Astros; Chuck Norris – Actor, Martial Artist, Film Producer and Screenwriter; Justin Jackson – Forward, Dallas Mavericks; Darren Woodson – Dallas Cowboys Legend; Andy Dalton – Quarterback, Dallas Cowboys/Texas Christian University; Justice Eva Guzman – Texas Supreme Court

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County Stories

ABC 13 - May 21, 2020

Digital divide: How some Harris County students are being left behind

The need for computers is essential now more than ever before, according to the executive director of Comp-U-Dopt in the Houston-Galveston area, Colin Dempsey. "About one in every four families that are living at or below the poverty line in Houston don't have access to technology," Dempsey said. "This has always been our mission at Comp-U-Dopt, to provide technology to families who are historically underserved, and our mission has just been tripled during the crises." During the pandemic, the non-profit partnered with Communities In Schools to distribute computers across five school districts.

"We normally do about 2,000 computers a year. Now, we're going to be at about 7,000 by next month." Wednesday morning, the volunteers gave out 270 computers to families lined up at Durkee Elementary School. The computers come with an instruction packet on how to get internet access through a program set up in partnership with Xfinity. Samantha Franco has a sixth grader at home. She said they had been borrowing a computer through a family member, but now that online learning will continue through the fall, Franco waited more than an hour in line to get a computer for her daughter. "Since school is all from home, all I can do is wait," Franco said. "Patience is the key."

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City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 23, 2020

Nightlife returns to reopened Fort Worth, Arlington bars amid coronavirus pandemic

After months of relatively empty streets and sidewalks, Fort Worth’s West 7th bars came back to life in the wee hours of Friday morning and again Friday night. Bars there — like many across Texas — turned on the music, lit their neon signs and started pouring drinks for crowds of customers at midnight Friday. These bars have been closed since Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order in March, restricting restaurants and closing bars in efforts to lessen the spread of coronavirus. Most of the bars in the West 7th district were back up and running. The Durty Crow, The Local, Concrete Cowboy, Your Mom’s House, Reservoir and Bodega hosted between 10 and 40 people at any given point during their first two hours back in business Friday morning.

While bars in the area experienced a low turnout between midnight and 2 a.m. Friday, the next night brought lines of people waiting to get inside the establishments, which are restricted to 25% of capacity. Friday night and into Saturday morning, more Tarrant County bars returned to some semblance of normality. Outside the West 7th area, some bars waited until Friday night to reopen. The Usual, a bar on the Magnolia Avenue, was one of only a few such establishments to open in the district. Manager Tommy Fogle said The Usual didn’t want to reopen this early for public health concerns, but needed to financially. “It’s early for the type of bar this is, too,” Fogle said. “This is a bring 10 of your friends with you and socialize type of bar.” He said to make sure the bar is doing everything it can to keep its patrons safe, The Usual is overstaffed. The extra staff are being used to regularly sanitize everything customers touch. There will be two employees every day to watch the front door, check IDs and use a hand towel to open the door so customers don’t have to touch the handle.

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National Stories

New York Times - May 20, 2020

GOP voters back QAnon conspiracy theorist for US Senate

Republicans in Oregon have selected a Senate candidate who promotes the QAnon conspiracy theory, the latest sign that conservatives are increasingly willing to embrace a movement built on a baseless series of plotlines about President Trump battling a shadowy globalist cabal. Jo Rae Perkins was carrying about 50 percent of the vote in Oregon’s primary as of Wednesday afternoon, vanquishing three other Republican candidates to become the party’s nominee for the seat currently held by Senator Jeff Merkley, a Democrat. While the incumbent is considered a strong favorite, and Ms. Perkins’s embrace of fringe ideas could alienate mainstream voters, she has the backing of party leaders for a seat Republicans held as recently as 2009.

Ms. Perkins said in an interview that the vote in Tuesday’s election was “monumental” as she saw QAnon supporters around the state and the country back her campaign. “We are seeing more and more people getting emboldened as we see more and more information get out there,” she said. “And as people put together more and more pieces of the puzzle, they can see, yeah, this is real.” The conspiracy theory began in 2017 when someone claiming to have top-secret information began posting under a pseudonym to the online message board 4chan. Those continuing posts from the person identified as “Q” have woven a fantastical plot about the planet’s elites: a global cabal of politicians and celebrities controlling governments, media, banks and a child sex-trafficking ring. The posts portray Mr. Trump as a heroic mastermind working with patriotic members of government to dismantle the cabal and “deep state” actors, leading up to mass arrests of the likes of former President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and others. Adherents pore over each new Q message, hunting for clues and patterns, pointing out coincidences involving the number 17 because Q is the 17th letter of the alphabet and embracing theories such as the idea that John F. Kennedy Jr. faked his own death and is alive now posting as Q.

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New York Times - May 22, 2020

White House worries about Kelly Loeffler’s Senate prospects in Georgia

Questions about Ms. Loeffler’s stock trades, which she has answered repeatedly, dogged her during the day. Speaking outside a Waffle House, Ms. Loeffler, wearing a face mask, defended herself once again. “I’m in statistical tie for first,” she said. “Georgians see what I’m doing, this is a political attack based on no facts. We are running a very strong campaign. I have grass-roots operations in all 159 counties. I’m very proud of my track record in the Senate.” Much of Ms. Loeffler’s brief tenure in Washington has been marked by questions about the millions of dollars in stock sales she made shortly after she attended a briefing for senators with top government health officials in late January.

The Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department have been investigating those sales, reported by Ms. Loeffler and her husband, the financier Jeffrey Sprecher, in the weeks before the coronavirus pandemic rattled financial markets, along with similar transactions made by other senators. Ms. Loeffler has said that investment decisions for her vast wealth are made by outside advisers without her knowledge, and she maintains she did not take any action based on the January briefing. But for weeks, she has struggled to shift attention off her finances. Because Ms. Loeffler had little public profile before her appointment to the Senate, for many voters the questions about possible insider trading have been their introduction to her. Some Republicans believe that the easiest way for Ms. Loeffler to turn around her campaign would be for Mr. Trump to support her. “Most of this could be absolved or at least elided if President Trump was on board,” said Liam Donovan, a Republican strategist. But Mr. Donovan acknowledged that Ms. Loeffler was in something of a vise. “The entire logic of picking Kelly was predicated on ‘we’re losing the suburbs, so you pick a Buckhead mom to win back Buckhead moms,’” he said, alluding to the tony Atlanta enclave. “But that’s only tenable if you don’t have to squander your potential outflanking Doug Collins for Fox News dads.” Ms. Loeffler’s supporters in Washington want Mr. Trump to understand what he would be risking by abandoning the wealthy Ms. Loeffler: her husband, one top Senate Republican official noted on Friday, just donated $1 million to Mr. Trump’s “super PAC” last month, and the couple have directed tens of thousands of dollars more to key Senate races.

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Filter - May 21, 2020

The mischaracterization between drug use and homelessness

“Six months ago Jonny Brown admits he was in a dark place. Addicted to drugs, he’d lost his house and was sleeping rough.” It’s the lead to a million identically framed articles implying that drug addiction causes homelessness—and therefore, that avoiding drug use might prevent it. The media trope both reflects and fuels a common belief. A survey of 25 American cities by the United States Conference of Mayors in 2008, the year of the last financial crash, found that 68 percent of responding officials considered “substance abuse” to be the main cause of homelessness among single adults and unaccompanied youth. And indeed, this is how some people who use drugs and are homeless see their own experience.

In March, one week before schools and non-essential businesses were shut in response to the pandemic and most of us went into near-lockdown, I spoke with Snickers, a 33-year-old Toronto woman, outside the tarp-covered tent in the backyard of Sanctuary, a local charitable organization, where she was living with her partner while trying to get into social housing. “I’ve been on the streets eight years, due to addictions,” she said. “My life went spiralling out of control and I lost myself.” Such persistent stereotypes inflate the public perception of drug use among unhoused people far beyond reality, and suggest that illicit drug use has only one trajectory: the downward spiral. At the same time, it is true that there is a higher prevalence of substance use issues among homeless people than in the population as a whole. According to US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration figures last updated in 2011, 34.7 percent of “sheltered” homeless adults had “chronic substance use issues.”

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Dallas Morning News - May 22, 2020

Accused of racism, Biden apologizes for saying ‘you ain’t black’ if you’d vote for Trump over him

Former Vice President Joe Biden prompted an uproar Friday when he insisted that if any black voter doesn’t see him as the obvious pick over President Donald Trump, “you ain’t black.” Hours later, he apologized. By then, the Trump campaign had pounced, arguing that this was no ordinary gaffe but an outrageous instance of race-baiting and condescension from the likely nominee of a party that both relies on black voters and at times takes that support for granted.

“This was racially demeaning,” said Katrina Pierson, a senior adviser to Trump’s campaign and former Dallas-area tea party leader. “It’s very disturbing. … He truly believes that a 77-year-old white man should be able to dictate whether or not you’re black, based upon whether you support him or not.” The hashtags #youaintblack and #JoeBidenIsARacist exploded. In midafternoon, Biden apologized in a call with black business leaders. “I shouldn’t have been such a wise guy,” he said on the call, hosted by the U.S. Black Chambers. “I shouldn’t have been so cavalier.” The effort at damage control came after hours of pummeling by critics and hand-wringing by Democrats suddenly reminded of Biden’s ability to put his foot in his mouth, and his evolution from anti-busing, law-and-order senator to right-hand man to the first black president.

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New York Post - May 21, 2020

Scientists believe cannabis could help prevent and treat coronavirus

They have high hopes for a coronavirus breakthrough. A team of Canadian scientists believes it has found strong strains of cannabis that could help prevent or treat coronavirus infections, according to interviews and a study. Researchers from the University of Lethbridge said a study in April showed at least 13 cannabis plants were high in CBD that appeared to affect the ACE2 pathways that the bug uses to access the body.

“We were totally stunned at first, and then we were really happy,” one of the researchers, Olga Kovalchuk, told CTV News. The results, printed in online journal Preprints, indicated hemp extracts high in CBD may help block proteins that provide a “gateway” for COVID-19 to enter host cells. Kovalchuk’s husband, Igor, suggested cannabis could reduce the virus’ entry points by up to 70 percent. “Therefore, you have more chance to fight it,” he told CTV. “Our work could have a huge influence — there aren’t many drugs that have the potential of reducing infection by 70 to 80 percent,” he told the Calgary Herald. While they stressed that more research was needed, the study gave hope that the cannabis, if proven to modulate the enzyme, “may prove a plausible strategy for decreasing disease susceptibility” as well as “become a useful and safe addition to the treatment of COVID-19 as an adjunct therapy.”

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NBC News - May 22, 2020

Jeff Sessions stands up to former boss Trump on Twitter

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions stood up to his old boss Friday after President Donald Trump encouraged Alabama voters to reject Sessions in his bid to return to the U.S. Senate. Trump on Friday afternoon once again tweeted his endorsement for Sessions' rival, college football coach Tommy Tuberville, in the primary contest for the seat Sessions held before joining Trump's Cabinet. Trump tweeted, "Alabama, do not trust Jeff Sessions."

Sessions responded to the president, saying on Twitter, "Your personal feelings don't dictate who Alabama picks as their senator, the people of Alabama do." The president has slow-cooked over Sessions' decision in 2017 to recuse himself from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 election. In November 2018, Trump ousted Sessions as attorney general and replaced him temporarily with Matt Whitaker.

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Mediaite - May 24, 2020

‘Incalculable loss’: New York Times front page features names, obituary excerpts of 1,000 coronavirus victims

The New York Times unveiled an astonishing cover for Sunday’s paper, featuring the names of 1,000 victims of Covid-19. “Instead of the articles, photographs or graphics that normally appear on the front page of The New York Times, on Sunday, there is just a list: a long, solemn list of people whose lives were lost to the coronavirus pandemic,” The Times announced in a piece explaining the cover on Saturday.

“As the death toll from Covid-19 in the United States approaches 100,000, a number expected to be reached in the coming days, editors at The Times have been planning how to mark the grim milestone,” they wrote. “Simone Landon, assistant editor of the Graphics desk, wanted to represent the number in a way that conveyed both the vastness and the variety of lives lost.” According to a John Hopkins University tally, 96,983 people in the United States have died from the coronavirus. There is a nationwide total of 1.6 million cases. As the country approaches 100,000 deaths, states including Texas and Florida have already begun relaxing lockdown measures, allowing for businesses to reopen. “We knew we were approaching this milestone,” said Simone Landon, assistant editor of the Times graphics desk. “We knew that there should be some way to try to reckon with that number.” The 1,000 names shown on the cover represent just 1% of the total lives lost in the United States throughout this pandemic.

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Wall Street Journal - May 24, 2020

Coronavirus devastates black New Orleans: ‘This is bigger than Katrina’

Spring is usually harvest time for Big Sam Williams and other New Orleans musicians. Mr. Williams and his band, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, expected to play more than 25 shows at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in late April. During those weeks he can bring in $50,000, a big part of his annual income and enough to sustain him when the humid summer quiets the city’s streets. This year the Funky Nation is in his driveway, socially distanced and streaming live on Facebook for tips.

“There is no side job,” Mr. Williams, a trombonist, said. “This is what I do.” New Orleans and Louisiana are taking a direct hit from the coronavirus pandemic. More people in the state are currently on unemployment rolls—300,000—and more have died—2,500—than when Hurricane Katrina slammed the shores 15 years ago. The New Orleans area at one point had the worst coronavirus death rate in the U.S. As with Katrina, the burden is falling disproportionately on black Louisianians. Black residents make up 32% of the state’s population but 55% of its deaths from Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. The numbers are similar in New York, Chicago and across the country. Economists and civic leaders are warning that the deaths are only the start of what could be a devastating setback to black communities in America. Black workers are losing jobs at elevated rates and are less prepared for the shock. Many black-owned small businesses have been unable to access a government-supported loan program meant to keep them afloat.

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Newsclips - May 22, 2020

Lead Stories

KFOX - May 22, 2020

Texas now separating COVID-19 testing data

The Texas Department of State Health Services made a change to how it reports COVID-19 data, now separating out antibody testing from the total. Standard viral testing through a nose swab or saliva sample shows if a person is currently positive for the coronavirus. Antibody testing shows if someone previously encountered the virus through antibodies in the blood.

Up until Thursday night, the state included both test numbers together. Now separated out, the state reports 49,313 antibody tests as of May 20 and 800,433 total tests through May 21. Health experts say combining that data could show a false inflation of positive cases, as many states use that data to determine reopening plans. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently combines the two tests in its data, the Atlantic reported. The CDC is working to separate the data in the coming weeks.

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Dallas Morning News - May 21, 2020

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins calls tax appraisals ridiculous; tells everyone to protest

That collective gasping you’ve been hearing across North Texas these past few days is coming from homeowners opening their annual property tax appraisals and seeing huge increases that many will struggle to pay. There’s an old feeling about the way local government does its business — if they don’t get you on the rate, they will get you on the appraisal, and we can’t blame property owners, especially this year, for feeling raw about their tax assessments. After all, properties were assessed based on their value as of Jan. 1, before the coronavirus devastated the local economy, driving people out of work and into economic uncertainty in ways many have never experienced.

We can debate whether the assessments would be fair in normal times — and there is evidence in areas of Dallas County that they aren’t. But it’s plain they are unfair across the board now, and something needs to be done. Here’s the good news. In an interview with us Wednesday, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said he wholly agrees. “You can tell people Judge Jenkins said everybody file a protest. When the head of the government is telling you to protest the property tax bill you just got in the mail that ought to tell you what the government thinks,” Jenkins said. People need to file their protests now. The deadline is June 15. But leaving the burden on property owners is insufficient. So we were pleased that Jenkins is going beyond that. He said he has asked Gov. Greg Abbott to freeze appraisals in the hopes no one faces a higher value this year than they had last year. According to Jenkins, only Abbott has that power.

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Politico - May 21, 2020

House Dems clash over DCCC’s refusal to back Afro Latina in Texas primary

Texas' 24th Congressional District is precisely the kind of seat Democrats are targeting in November to cement or pad their House majority: A longtime Republican stronghold in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburbs where shifting demographics have put it in play. But a dispute over whether the party should embrace an Afro Latina educator with a hardscrabble upbringing — or remain neutral as she squares off against a female military veteran — is dividing House Democrats ahead of a July 14 primary runoff. The campaign arms for the Hispanic, Black, Asian and progressive caucuses are urging the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to throw its weight behind Candace Valenzuela, a former school board member who was homeless as a child. They want the DCCC to include Valenzuela in its coveted Red to Blue program, which would boost her profile by directing donors, as well as the DCCC's own resources, to her campaign. But the DCCC declined.

Valenzuela is running against Air Force veteran Kim Olson, who won the first round of the primary by 10 points. The longtime incumbent, GOP Rep. Kenny Marchant, is retiring after winning by just 3 points in 2018 against an underfunded candidate. POLITICO rates the general election contest a toss-up. “We urge you and the DCCC to nominate Candace Valenzuela, running in Texas’ 24th congressional district, to Red-to-Blue,” the minority lawmakers wrote in an April 24 letter obtained by POLITICO. “As a party that proudly fights for all Americans, we should continue to strive for the diverse representation our communities deserve. Texas’ 24th congressional district is a majority-minority district and should be represented by someone with ties to the community.“ The DCCC does not routinely endorse in open primaries, wary of alienating local voters by unfairly tipping the scales for a Washington-backed candidate. But the committee did so in a number of key 2018 races, including one in Texas, when officials thought the outcome of the primary would affect the party's ability to win the seat. In this case, DCCC Chair Cheri Bustos has signaled confidence in both Democratic hopefuls. The unusual ask comes from senior lawmakers who have been critical of Bustos’ record on diversity and willingness to back progressive candidates in the past.

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Los Angeles Times - May 21, 2020

News Analysis: Trump's obsession with Obama turns two-way race into a three-way tangle

More than three years after leaving the White House, Barack Obama appears to have taken up renewed residency. Not within its living quarters but, rather, inside President Trump's head. In a barrage remarkable even by Trump's norm-demolishing standards, the nation's 45th chief executive has spent a good deal of time lately savaging the 44th. Suddenly, a two-way race has turned into a three-way tangle.

That may have been somewhat inevitable, seeing as how Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, spent eight years in the White House as Obama's vice president; an attack on Obama is, by extension, a blow struck against his good friend and former workmate. But political calculation aside, the volume of attacks from the president and the level of personal vitriol are of a wholly different order, transcending the usual partisan sniping. Among Obama's trespasses, Trump has accused him — without substantiation or much clarity — of committing "the biggest political crime and scandal in the history of the USA, by FAR." Trump backers might argue that Obama started the latest round of vituperation. In a conference call this month with alumni of his administration, the former president described Trump's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic as "an absolute chaotic disaster" and criticized the Justice Department for saying it would drop its criminal case against former national security advisor Michael Flynn. "That’s the kind of stuff where you begin to get worried that basic — not just institutional norms — but our basic understanding of rule of law is at risk," Obama said. With 3,000 people dialing in, he must have known his remarks were bound to leak.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - May 21, 2020

Texas Supreme Court Justice Debra Lehrmann, husband test positive for coronavirus

Texas Supreme Court Justice Debra Lehrmann said Thursday she has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, becoming the first high-ranking state official with a known case of COVID-19. Lehrmann and her husband, Greg, suffered fevers and body aches early last week before getting swabbed at an Austin drive-through testing center, she said.

Their Houston lawyer son, Jonathan, his wife Sarah and their six-month-old son Jack abruptly ended their visit at the elder Lehrmanns’ Austin residence. Though testing hasn’t confirmed it, the three Houston Lehrmanns also are believed to have been infected, Debra Lehrmann said. “We have strictly adhered to the stay-at-home order since early March,” she said. “We’re fortunate because we’re all lawyers so we’ve been able to work at home. And of course, we’re not going to take any kind of risk whatsoever with an infant,” she explained. From the epidemic’s outbreak, she said, she and Greg Lehrmann cooked all of their meals at home. They wore masks and gloves whenever they went out. And they only ventured out to go to the grocery store, she said. At first, they went once a week but eventually managed to go just once every two weeks, she said. Every other weekend during the lockdown, Jonathan and Sarah would bring the baby, the Lehrmanns’ first grandchild, to visit in Austin, Debra Lehrmann said. They packed toilet paper for pit stops, avoiding public restrooms while en route, she said.

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Dallas Morning News - May 22, 2020

Joe Biden’s Texas backers in Congress defend White House hopeful amid sexual assault allegation

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s supporters in Texas’ congressional delegation are defending the Democratic presidential nominee over a sexual assault allegation recently made public by one of his former aides. Biden has repeatedly and unequivocally denied that he assaulted Tara Reade when she worked in his Senate office in the early 1990s. His endorsers in the Texas delegation are pointing to that response, along with several extensive media investigations into the allegation, to reiterate their strong support for the Democratic Party’s choice to take on President Donald Trump in the November election.

Many of those Texans are also citing their interaction with Biden over the years. “I know Vice President Biden’s character personally — for 30 years as a senator and eight years as Barack Obama’s vice president,” said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Dallas Democrat who is the dean of the Texas congressional delegation. “I appreciate how he has handled this.” She continued: “He took the allegation seriously, respected Tara Reade’s right to speak out and then called for full transparency.” The allegation has jolted the 2020 presidential race, particularly in the wake of the #MeToo movement that helped in recent years to bring many prominent men in politics, media and sports to account over their treatment of women.

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Dallas Morning News - May 21, 2020

Texas will test all residents at state supported living centers for coronavirus

Texas will soon begin coronavirus testing for all residents of state supported living centers, where people are at higher risk of developing life-threatening cases of COVID-19. The announcement Thursday by the Department of Health and Human Services comes after a coronavirus outbreak at a state-supported living center in Denton has already sickened 55 residents and 66 staff, according to county figures. One resident, a man in his 60s, died. In an email sent to families and obtained by The Dallas Morning News, the department said it is expanding coronavirus testing to all residents and is developing plans to test employees across the state’s 13 supported living centers, which house people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“The test kits have been ordered and are on their way,” wrote Associate Commissioner Scott Schalchlin. “We will let you know your loved one’s results — positive or negative — as soon as we have them.” The department didn’t immediately answer questions about the plan. The state recently announced widespread efforts to test all residents in Texas nursing homes and more people in prison. Gov. Greg Abbott, in a statement, said the testing push would also include patients and staff at the state’s 10 inpatient psychiatric hospitals. He said it would help the state “identify and mitigate these potential hot spots and protect our most vulnerable populations.” Previously, residents and patients were tested if they showed symptoms or had potential exposure to the virus. Across Texas, 161 patients and residents at psychiatric hospital and state supported living centers have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to state data. Fewer than 10 have died. Denton County Public Health tested almost all residents at the state supported living center there by the end of March, a county spokeswoman said at the time. The first cases of coronavirus on campus were made public March 21.

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Dallas Morning News - May 21, 2020

When should coronavirus testing be provided at meat and poultry plants?

As COVID-19 rages across the nation in meat and poultry plants, critical questions have emerged: Who regulates the industry and protects against further infections when an epic pandemic hits? Should testing be required at all plants? Dallas-area community leaders point to an outbreak at the Brakebush Bros. Inc. poultry plant in Irving when demanding that more be done to slow the disease at meat plants. At least 40 people who work there have been infected, demonstrating, the advocates say, the need for testing at facilities because of the easy, rapid spread of the virus.

Brakebush has said workers who aren’t feeling well should alert their supervisors and “seek proper health care.” And it says it has been following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protocols for how to safely keep the plant operating. But the plant has neither asked for nor received any state help in getting workers tested for the virus at the plant, state officials said. Those who have tested positive sought the testing at medical facilities. The ZIP code where the plant operates, 75061, now has the second-highest number of coronavirus cases in Dallas County, 331 as of May 19. That surpasses the downtown Dallas ZIP code, where the county jail has had a large outbreak of about 220 cases. ZIP code 75211 in southern Dallas has the most Dallas County cases at 412.

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WFAA - May 21, 2020

All I ask is that those leading the public prayer be young men,’ Wylie mayor writes in email

In an email posted online, the mayor of a small town north of Dallas says that women cannot lead prayer at public city council meetings because the Bible forbids it. Wylie Mayor Eric Hogue cited two New Testament passages in an email to another member of the Wylie City Council, who suggested some local students be allowed to lead the public prayer at the next council meeting on May 26.

“All I ask is that those leading the public prayer be young men,” Hogue wrote on May 17. “As a preacher for the Cottonwood Church of Christ, we take the two verses below literally.” He then quotes 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, which, according to his email, says: “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.” He then quotes 1 Timothy 2:11-12: “Let the women learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” Hogue verified the email's authenticity to WFAA when reached by phone late Wednesday. He clarified his beliefs. “I believe a lady can be president of the United States,” Hogue said. “I believe a lady can be CEO of a company, the superintendent of a school district. But I believe, and this is me, when it comes to [picking] somebody to lead the invocation at a city council meeting, because of those two sets of verses, I’m going to choose a male.”

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WFAA - May 20, 2020

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban won't rule out a 2024 presidential run

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has been outspoken about how reopening should be handled during the coronavirus pandemic. Cuban is part of the advisory group President Donald Trump created to give input on the process. At a virtual meeting Wednesday hosted by the Dallas Regional Chamber, Cuban spoke with WFAA’s Cynthia Izaguirre on a number of topics, including contact tracing and testing, safely reopening the economy, and if he has a future in politics.

Cuban did not throw his hat in the ring for the 2020 presidential election, but he won’t rule out the possibility of running in 2024. “I'm an entrepreneur. I'm always keeping my doors open,” Cuban said. But he insisted that a presidential run is “highly, highly, highly unlikely.” A big reason: his family voted against the idea and he recognizes the stress a campaign would put on them. To truly restore consumer confidence, Cuban believes we need a vaccine. But until that happens, he has some ideas for creating more jobs and improving the economy. “I think we need a federal jobs program so we can start hiring people who can have a positive impact on this country,” he said.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 21, 2020

Tarrant County reports 7 new COVID deaths; minorities make up majority of total deaths

Tarrant County reported seven more coronavirus deaths and 92 new cases on Thursday. The latest deaths included residents of Fort Worth, Keller, Arlington and rural Tarrant County and ranged in age from their 60s to 90s. The county has confirmed a total of 4,803 COVID-19 cases, including 139 deaths and 1,782 recoveries.

The latest deaths include an Arlington woman in her 80s, two Keller men in their 80s and 90s, and a man in his 60s who lived in unincorporated Tarrant County. The Fort Worth residents included a man his 60s, a man in his 70s and woman in her 80s. All had underlying medical conditions, health officials reported. Of the 139 COVID-19 deaths, 86 have been in Fort Worth, 14 in Arlington and 10 in Keller. Of the total 4,803 pandemic cases, 31% of the patients are Hispanic, 22% are white, 16% are black, 4% are Asian/Pacific Islander, 1% are labeled as “other” and 26% did not report a race. Of the total deaths, about 47% have been white, 27% have been black, 23% have been Hispanic, 3% Asian/Pacific Islander, and 1% American Indian. According to the most recent U.S. Census numbers, Tarrant County’s population is approximately 46% white, 29% Hispanic, 17.5% black, 6% Asian/Pacific Islander and 1% American Indian.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 22, 2020

Six of nation’s 15 fastest-growing cities are in Texas, data show. Can you name them?

The South continues to grow in population faster than any other region in the U.S., and nowhere is that truer than Texas, brand new Census Bureau data show. Of the 15 fastest-growing cities with 50,000 people or more, 10 are Southern, and six reside in the Lone Star State. At the very top is Frisco, Texas. Since the last census in 2010, Frisco’s population increased 71.1%, according to the bureau.

For comparison, the runner-up Buckeye, Arizona, grew 56.6%. New Braunfels, Texas, was right behind at 56.4%, rounding out the top three most rapidly exploding population centers in the country. Other Texas metros to make it on the list are McKinney, Cedar Park, Conroe and Round Rock. While the six Texas cities listed are the fastest-growing in the state, other cities experienced greater total growth overall — to the point that they are “among those that have added the most people this decade,” according to the Census Bureau. Five of the nation’s largest cities are in Texas, starting with Houston at No. 4, then No. 7 San Antonio, No. 9 Dallas, No. 11 Austin and No. 13 Fort Worth. Taken together, Fort Worth, Dallas, Austin, Houston and San Antonio added 933,600 people, from 2010 to 2019. “This equals 39.5% of the roughly 2.4 million increase by the top 15 numeric gainers.” From 2018 to 2019, the three cities that grew the most in terms of numbers were also in Texas. San Antonio took in 17,237 people, Austin gained 16,439, and Fort Worth welcomed 16,369.

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Houston Chronicle - May 21, 2020

Using cellphone data, national study predicts huge June spike in Houston coronavirus cases

Houston is one of several cities in the South that could see spikes in COVID-19 cases over the next four weeks as restrictions are eased, according to new research that uses cellphone data to track how well people are social distancing. The updated projection, from PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, found that traffic to non-essential businesses has jumped especially in Texas and Florida, which have moved aggressively to reopen. In Harris County, the model predicts the outbreak will grow from about 200 new cases per day to more than 2,000 over the next month.

“Some areas—particularly in the south—that have moved more quickly to reopen are showing a higher risk for resurgence,” the researchers wrote in a blog post. “If people in Houston and Palm Beach, Fla., for example, aren’t being cautious with masking in indoor crowded locations and with hygiene and disinfection, local governments may need to intervene again should they lose control of the epidemic.” Bexar County, which includes San Antonio, will also see an increase in COVID-19 cases according to the projection, but would still be below 100 new cases per day. Bexar reported 44 new cases on Wednesday, a Hearst Newspapers data analysis shows. And in north Texas, UT Southwestern Medical Center found in a study last week that Dallas County could see 800 new cases a day —- about three times what it’s seeing now — by late June if restrictions are relaxed. Scientists from across the country have been warning for some time of a possible “second wave” of COVID-19 this fall, but few have pointed to a timeline as early as June.

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Houston Chronicle - May 21, 2020

Harris County DA Kim Ogg seeks to overturn 91 more cases tied to disgraced ex-HPD cop Gerald Goines

Prosecutors have identified another 91 cases that they believe should be dismissed because of the role disgraced former Houston police officer Gerald Goines played in the convictions. Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said Wednesday that her prosecutors have begun filing requests to judges to begin the process of getting each case dismissed.

Prosecutors made a similar request to judges in February, citing about 70 cases between 2008 and 2019 in which defendants were convicted solely on Goines’ casework. Ogg said Wednesday’s court action came in part because of the accusations against Goines in the operation that claimed the lives of Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas — namely that Goines lied on the search warrant used to raid their home. “Rhogena Nicholas and Dennis Tuttle would be alive if a municipal judge had not signed a falsified warrant,” Ogg said. “If that magistrate had known Goines had lied on previous warrants, then I believe he would not have signed the warrant that led to their deaths.”

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Austin American-Statesman - May 21, 2020

Ken Herman: Trump wins. Trump loses. Either way, we could lose.

One of two things will happen Nov. 3. The nation either will re-elect Donald Trump or, having seen too much of this surreality show, it will come to its senses and oust him. That’s it. Those are the options. And, because this president is a problem that could outlast his presidency, both ballot-box outcomes present unprecedented perils. Let’s talk about it. This might not be for the squeamish. Four more years of Trump is a peril in plain sight. I’m all for making him ex-President Trump. But, like his presidency, his ex-presidency could be dangerous to our country. He could put our union in a precarious state without ever giving another State of the Union address.

We have good reason to believe we know how he’d behave in defeat. We have good reason because we know how he’s behaved in victory. The only thing less attractive than a sore loser is a sore winner. First, a review of the important tradition of respectful transition of power, a tradition that holds that defeated presidential candidates, starting with the night the votes are counted, do the right thing by gracefully conceding defeat and urging unity. 1992 was the most recent year we voted a president out of office. On the night he lost to Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush said, “The people have spoken and we respect the majesty of the democratic system. I just called Gov. Clinton over in Little Rock and offered my congratulations. ... I wish him well in the White House. ... May God bless his stewardship of this country.” And there was this handwritten “Dear Bill” letter the ousted Bush left in the Oval Office for the man who defeated him.

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KUT - May 22, 2020

Texas doctors struggle to keep their practices afloat during the pandemic

Physician practices in Texas are facing serious financial pressures as fewer patients come in to seek care during the coronavirus pandemic. According to a recent survey of more than 1,500 doctors in Texas, 68% report cutting their hours in the last several weeks. About 62% of doctors say they've had their salaries reduced. In Travis County, the situation is more dire – about 75% of doctors say their salaries were decreased. Dr. Brian Temple, who has a pediatric practice in the Austin area, is among them. He said he and other providers in his practice have had to cut their salaries by 30%.

“Most people think doctor’s offices are [jampacked] and they are just rolling in the dough,” he said. “Unfortunately, we are probably working more, answering questions, reassuring people … but none of that pays.” Temple said the pay cuts are an effort to retain staff in the coming weeks, but he said this isn’t feasible long term. “Our revenue is down 50-60%,” he said. “And not only from the fear of coronavirus, people are just not coming in, but also we are doing virtual visits, which tend to pay less.” Dr. Diana Fite, president of the Texas Medical Association, said her group conducted the survey because they began hearing stories of primary care and specialty care providers having trouble paying their bills and rent. “They just had the problem that patients were not coming in because they were worried about coronavirus,” Fite said. “And many of these physician offices have very small profit margins, especially physicians who take a lot of patients on Medicaid and Medicare.”

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Fast Company - May 22, 2020

Texas-size rivalry for Tesla’s Cybertruck factory heats up

In what feels a bit like a blue-collar version of Amazon’s famous HQ2 competition, the Associated Press has reported that Austin and Tulsa are rivals for a new Tesla “gigafactory” that would produce the company’s forthcoming Cybertruck. Tulsa civic leaders quickly jumped on the electric bandwagon, with Mayor G. T. Bynum tweeting a picture of the distinctive Cybertruck outfitted as a local police vehicle.

“Tulsa is a city that doesn’t stifle entrepreneurs—we revere them,” said Bynum, a Republican, in a statement. “And as Tesla continues to rapidly change transportation all around the world, I can’t imagine a better place for them to further that important work than Green Country.” The city’s iconic Golden Driller statue, built in the 1950s to honor the city’s ties to the oil industry, was even tweaked to instead celebrate electric vehicles. Its face was covered with a white “mask” designed to resemble Tesla CEO Elon Musk, its “Tulsa” belt buckle was covered with the word “Tesla,” and its chest was decorated with a red, tattoo-like rendition of the Tesla logo. Should the automaker build its factory with a rumored 10,000 jobs, it could become the largest employer in Tulsa, reported the Tulsa World. The company hasn’t publicly commented on the truth of the AP report. Musk recently hinted at his affinity for the state, though: He threatened to move Tesla’s “HQ and future programs” to Texas or Nevada in a public fight with local officials in California over shutdown orders that affected Tesla’s operations there. We reached out to Tesla for comment and will update if we hear back.

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El Paso Times - May 19, 2020

US-Mexico border to remain closed to 'non-essential' travel through June 22

The U.S.-Mexico border will remain closed to "non-essential" travel through June, according to statements issued by the Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday. "Our efforts over the last several months to limit non-essential travel have been successful and now is not the time to change course," said DHS Acting Sec. Chad Wolf in a statement. "The president has made it clear that we must continue to keep legitimate, commercial trade flowing while limiting those seeking to enter our country for non-essential purposes. Non-essential travel will not be permitted until this administration is convinced that doing so is safe and secure."

DHS first restricted all non-essential travel at the U.S.-Mexico border on March 20 and extended the restrictions April 20 for an additional 30 days. In a separate notification to be published in the federal register, DHS indicated the restrictions would remain in place until June 22. "We have been in contact with our Canadian and Mexican counterparts and they also agree that extending these restrictions is prudent at this time," Wolf said. "We appreciate our partnership with Mexico and Canada in ensuring that North America is working together to combat the ongoing global pandemic." “Non-essential” travel includes travel that is considered tourism or recreational in nature, DHS said. Commercial trucking and trade aren't affected by the restrictions.

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Associated Press - May 21, 2020

Divided Senate confirms Ratcliffe as intelligence chief

A sharply divided Senate confirmed John Ratcliffe as director of national intelligence on Thursday, with Democrats refusing to support the nomination over fears that he will politicize the intelligence community’s work under President Donald Trump. All Democrats opposed Ratcliffe, making him the first DNI to be installed on a partisan vote since the position was created in 2005. The tally was 49-44. Ratcliffe will take over the agency at a tumultuous time. The nation faces threats from Iran and North Korea, Russian disinformation campaigns to interfere in the U.S. elections and tensions with China over rising competition and the spread of the coronavirus.

At the same time, Trump has viewed the intelligence agencies with distrust and ousted or fired multiple officials. The Texas Republican seemed unlikely to get the position when he was nominated in February, as he had already been nominated for the job last year and then withdrew after Republicans questioned his experience. But senators warmed to him as they grew concerned about the upheaval in the intelligence community and wanted a permanent, confirmed director. Ratcliffe will replace Richard Grenell, the current acting director who has overseen some of the personnel changes. Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, has a thin intelligence background and is seen as a loyalist to Trump. As acting director, he ordered a review of the DNI office that Trump’s critics feared was an attempt to clean house. The last Senate-confirmed intelligence director, former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats, was popular with his former colleagues in Congress but left the post last summer after clashing with the president. Democrats allowed a quick vote on Ratcliffe’s nomination, dropping their usual procedural delays in a signal that despite their skepticism, they prefer him in the job over Grenell.

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CBS 11 - May 21, 2020

Texas drivers license offices to reopen in phases, residents will need to book appointments

Drivers license offices in Texas are set to begin reopening, but residents in North Texas will have to wait a bit longer than other regions. Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday announced that the offices will start reopening in phases next week with limited services. However, residents will need to book appointments through the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Per the reopening plan, the offices will reopen on the following schedule: May 26, 2020 — Northwest and West Texas regions Appointment scheduling begins May 22; May 29, 2020 — South and Central Texas regions Appointment scheduling begins May 26; June 3, 2020 — North and Southeast Texas regions Appointment scheduling begins May 29; For now, the offices will only be open for residents who need to get a license, CDL, learners permit or ID card and for those who need to take a driving test.

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ABC News - May 21, 2020

Naval Air Station Corpus Christi shooting terror-related, person of interest may be-at-large

A shooting that injured one security guard at the Naval Air Station Corpus Christi in Texas on Thursday has been determined to be terrorism-related, FBI officials said. The shooter, who has not been identified, was shot dead, but a second person of interest may be at-large, the FBI said. "The public should remain calm, and if you see something, say something," FBI officials said. The shooting unfolded at about 6:15 a.m. local time when the suspect sped through a gate, activating vehicle barriers which stopped the car, a defense official told ABC News.

The driver then got out of the car and began shooting, before being "neutralized," the defense official said. "We have determined that the incident this morning at the Naval Air Station Corpus Christi is terrorism related," said Leah Greeves of the FBI. "They are working diligently with local, state and federal partners on the investigation, which is fluid and evolving." "Electronic media" was discovered at the scene, said Justice Department spokesperson Kerri Kupec. Investigators are still working at the scene to go through the suspect’s car with a robot. “The Department of Justice’s counterterrorism section is working closely with the FBI, the US Attorneys Office in SDTX and other federal and local authorities to expeditiously investigate the circumstances of this event and all available evidence," Kupec said. The security guard suffered minor injuries and was released from the hospital later in the day, Navy officials said.

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County Stories

KUT - May 21, 2020

Travis County sees surge in senior requests for mail-in ballots

For years, those over 65 years of age were among the few voters in Texas who could legally ask for a mail-in ballot. Seniors along with disabled Texas voters, are among the limited categories allowed to cast a ballot by mail. And if this were any other election year, Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir would see about 1,000 requests for mail-in-ballots.

But as voting rights groups try to open up that right to all Texas voters, health concerns about the coronavirus have resulted in a huge surge in requests for mail-in ballots, DeBeauvoir has had to hire a new contractor and pay for more staff to process the requests and print up more mail-in ballots. “We are already at 16,000,” she said of mail-in ballot requests so far for the November election. Most of those, she said, are from those over the age of 65 who are taking advantage of the current law. Earlier this week it seemed that mail-in voting would be opened up to all Texas voters because of the coronavirus pandemic. On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Fred Biery in San Antonio granted a preliminary injunction clearing the way. His ruling covered Texas voters "who seek to vote by mail to avoid transmission of the virus."

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Dallas Morning News - May 21, 2020

New lawsuit seeks release of medically vulnerable Dallas County Jail inmates amid COVID-19 threat

Dallas faith leaders, joined by civil rights icon the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., urged a Dallas County court to consider the release of medically vulnerable inmates from the jail after a lawsuit was filed on Thursday. In a news conference via Zoom video, the clergy members criticized the lack of transparency from Dallas County Sheriff Marian Brown regarding the jail’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The lawsuit was filed against the sheriff on behalf of inmates David Daniels, Jodie Campbell and Keilie McCullar, who are detained in the jail. The complaints in the lawsuit echo similar concerns in a separate federal case filed last month. The Rev. Frederick D. Haynes III of Friendship-West Baptist Church said unprecedented decisions need to be made to release jail inmates who have not been convicted of a violent crime during the pandemic. He said a jail stay should not become a death sentence. “It’s criminal and unjust,” he said.

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City Stories

KUT - May 21, 2020

'Nobody's speaking with us': Communication lacking as Austin seeks to address Latinx COVID-19 cases

Latinx communities in Austin have been hard-hit by the coronavirus. Latinx patients account for nearly two-thirds of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the Austin area, and at some sites they are nearly four times more likely to test positive for the coronavirus. Officials said Thursday they're forming a task force to address that disparity, which was news to the Latinx advocates who called for one in the first place. At a media briefing Wednesday, Austin Public Health said it's convening the task force and developing a plan to bolster outreach in Latinx communities.

"We are absolutely going to do everything we can to improve the health amongst our Latinx community," said APH Director Stephanie Hayden. She said the health authority plans to set up a hotline and pass out informational flyers and it's working on in-person and online outreach opportunities. Shortly after the briefing, former Austin School Board Trustee Paul Saldaña said the announcement took him by surprise, as he hadn't heard much from local leaders about the task force. He and a coalition of other advocates called for one earlier this week after public health officials detailed the coronavirus' impact on Latinx communities in the Austin area last week. "Nobody's speaking with us," he said. "Nobody's reaching out to us." The spike in hospitalizations and positive cases was something public health officials said they feared from the start of the pandemic.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 21, 2020

Trump tweets about sending COVID money to Dallas for transit. What about Fort Worth?

Fort Worth transit agency Trinity Metro is getting a $55 million boost from the federal government to offset lost revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic. But it was Fort Worth’s neighbor to the east, Dallas Area Rapid Transit, that got a congratulatory tweet Wednesday from President Trump. DART, which covers a larger service area than Trinity Metro, is slated to receive $229 million in federal CARES Act aid. “Great news for the Dallas area! Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) will be receiving $229M in funding to keep front line workers, and the many riders that depend on transit, employed and safe,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “This will be critical to economic recovery!”

In Fort Worth, Trinity Metro officials said the money will be used to make ends meet. Trinity Metro operates mostly on sales tax revenue generated in Fort Worth and other member cities, and that revenue has declined sharply in the two months that North Texans have mostly avoided public areas while sheltering from the virus in their homes. The Regional Transportation Council, which is Dallas-Fort Worth’s official planning body and oversees federal transportation funding on behalf of the North Central Texas Council of Governments, also approved the funding for Trinity Metro. “The grant funds will primarily cover salaries, wages and lost revenues,” Bob Baulsir, Trinity Metro president and chief executive officer, said in an email. “Most importantly, the money will be used for the health benefits and protections for our employees and customers to ensure Trinity Metro maintains a safe and healthy working and riding environment.” The federal money — which for Fort Worth officially works out to $55,161,034 — also will offset the loss of fare box revenue. Trinity Metro waived the cost of fares for much of the past two months and allowed passengers to ride buses and trains for free — although the agency resumed collecting fares this week.

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D Magazine - May 21, 2020

How concerned should we be about Dallas’ shrinking ICU bed capacity?

Yesterday, the city of Dallas’ ICU bed occupancy crested 70 percent for the first time since the pandemic arrived. That number is an unofficial eyebrow raise for the people in charge. If sustained or exceeded, that level would require a plan to quickly expand capacity in the event of a rush of admissions. But top doctors, public health officials, elected leaders, and hospital representatives agree that Dallas is not there yet. Yesterday, 25 hospitals within the city of Dallas reported to Mayor Eric Johnson that 588 of their 828 ICU beds were now occupied, 71 percent. That was the highest since the pandemic began. But since April 21, total ICU bed occupancy in the city has hovered between 60 percent and 68 percent, a sign that Dallas’ beds were rotating patients out at a sustainable pace. (Keep in mind: that’s all ICU beds, not just those for COVID patients.)

Steve Love, president of the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council, said the rise “relates to surgeries and treatment that had been postponed previously and not related to COVID-19 patients.” Here is his full statement: “Our hospital COVID-19 patient population for the North Texas region has remained fairly constant over the past week. As businesses open up and restrictions removed or reduced, we will carefully monitor any increased admissions in COVID-19 patients to ensure we have capacity. The hospitals also have surge capacity over and above the current bed capacity and each hospital and hospital system has worked diligently to have a surge plan ready if needed. We obviously hope we do not have to activate our surge plans.” That surge plan includes turning operating rooms into de facto ICU beds, something Parkland Hospital did early on. A Parkland spokeswoman said total ICU capacity there is 116, with 98 reserved for COVID patients. Another 30 could be added from the neurosurgical ICU.

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Rivard Report - May 21, 2020

‘Stay Home’ vs. ‘Open Texas’: San Antonio OKs new emergency order

San Antonio City Council unanimously voted Thursday to approve Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s seventh “Stay Home, Work Safe” emergency order, which closely mirrors the statewide order Gov. Greg Abbott issued this week. “Literally most of it is cut and paste from the governor’s order,” said City Attorney Andy Segovia. The order allows most businesses and activities to open at limited capacities on Friday. Since residents now are allowed to get haircuts, tattoos, go to the movies, and even swim once pools are open, Council members Clayton Perry (D10) and John Courage (D9) suggested that it’s time for San Antonio to rename the “Stay Home, Work Safe” order to something that implies that more activity is allowed.

“We’re trying to get our businesses open – the governor’s trying to open Texas and we’re still hanging on to this stay-at-home order,” Perry said. He suggested the City adopt a new title for the emergency order such as “Greater. SAfer. Together,” a slogan and pledge developed by the local Economic Transition Team that asks businesses to follow health and safety guidelines. “People are still thinking that they can’t go outside at all,” Perry said. “People are confused. Stay-at-home order versus ‘Open Texas.'” Courage suggested “Remain Home” or “Remain Safe” to use a term lighter than “stay.”

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National Stories

Politico - May 21, 2020

Reopening reality check: Georgia's jobs aren’t flooding back

Georgia’s early move to start easing stay-at-home restrictions nearly a month ago has done little to stem the state’s flood of unemployment claims — illustrating how hard it is to bring jobs back while consumers are still afraid to go outside. Weekly applications for jobless benefits have remained so elevated that Georgia now leads the country in terms of the proportion of its workforce applying for unemployment assistance. A staggering 40.3 percent of the state's workers — two out of every five — has filed for unemployment insurance payments since the coronavirus pandemic led to widespread shutdowns in mid-March, a POLITICO review of Labor Department data shows.

Georgia's new jobless claims have been going up and down since the state reopened, rising to 243,000 two weeks ago before dipping to 177,000 last week. The state cited new layoffs in the retail, social assistance and health care industries for the continued high rate of jobless claims that have put it ahead of other states in the proportion of its workforce that has been sidelined. Georgia, which began pushing to resume economic activity on April 24, presents an early reality check as the White House amps up pressure on governors to lift shutdown orders and President Donald Trump’s economic advisers predict jobless claims will nosedive after the reopening. The state’s persistent unemployment numbers suggest that government restrictions aren’t the only cause of skyrocketing layoffs and furloughs — and that the economy might not fully recover until consumers feel safe. Georgia, one of the last states to impose widespread shutdowns, has loosened restrictions on a broad array of businesses and dine-in restaurants since its stay-at-home order officially expired on April 30. Only bars, nightclubs, theaters, live music venues and amusement parks remain fully shuttered through the end of May.

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CNBC - May 21, 2020

Trump says he won’t close the country if second wave of coronavirus hits

President Donald Trump on Thursday said “we are not closing our country” if the U.S. is hit by a second wave of coronavirus infections. “People say that’s a very distinct possibility, it’s standard,” Trump said when asked about a second wave during a tour of a Ford factory in Michigan. “We are going to put out the fires. We’re not going to close the country,” Trump said. “We can put out the fires. Whether it is an ember or a flame, we are going to put it out. But we are not closing our country.”

Trump has previously said there may be “embers” of the pandemic that persist in the U.S. past the summer, but he maintains that they will be stamped out. Health experts, including those in the Trump administration, have said that the virus will likely continue to spread through the fall and winter, and may become even more difficult to combat once flu season begins. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, told The Washington Post this week that he has “no doubt” there will be new waves of cases. “The virus is not going to disappear,” he told Post. “It’s a highly transmissible virus. At any given time, it’s some place or another. As long as that’s the case, there’s a risk of resurgence.” State leaders, not the federal government, have imposed harsh restrictions on residents and businesses to try to slow the spread of the disease. But with the U.S. economy straining under the social distancing rules, Trump has loudly called on the country to begin the reopening process.

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Associated Press - May 21, 2020

Coronavirus-triggered layoffs in US hit nearly 39 million

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits in the two months since the coronavirus took hold in the U.S. has swelled to nearly 39 million, the government reported Thursday, even as states from coast to coast gradually reopen their economies and let people go back to work. More than 2.4 million people filed for unemployment last week in the latest wave of layoffs from the business shutdowns that have brought the economy to its knees, the Labor Department said.

That brings the running total to a staggering 38.6 million, a job-market collapse unprecedented in its speed. The number of weekly applications has slowed for seven straight weeks. Yet the figures remain breathtakingly high — 10 times higher than normal before the crisis struck. It shows that even though all states have begun reopening over the past three weeks, employment has yet to snap back and the outbreak is still damaging businesses and destroying jobs. “While the steady decline in claims is good news, the labor market is still in terrible shape,” said Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC Financial.

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Wall Street Journal - May 21, 2020

Large tech companies prepare for acquisition spree

After pushing the pause button during the coronavirus pandemic, big enterprise-technology companies later this year are expected to go on a shopping spree for smaller tech firms, industry analysts say. The tighter market could leave fewer options for cash-strapped chief information officers, they say. “What this means for CIOs is likely higher prices and less choice,” said Crawford Del Prete, president of technology research firm International Data Corp. Mr. Del Prete said many large IT providers over the next few years will be looking to fill gaps or expand into new markets, in part by targeting embattled startups struggling to reignite sales and raise capital.

The gaps include areas such as cloud computing, collaboration, access management and other business continuity tools that saw a surge in demand during regional lockdowns. Microsoft Corp. said Tuesday that it was acquiring Softomotive, a robotic-process-automation maker that enables businesses to automate workplace tasks, a capability many businesses have turned to in order to keep daily operations running with a thinner workforce. Financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed. “For the largest players, we certainly see this immediate period as a potential opportunity to make plays to aggregate capabilities by acquiring smaller businesses that may need liquidity,” said J. Neely, managing director and global M&A lead at consulting firm Accenture PLC. Large companies across the economy are seizing similar opportunities to grow, sparking worries about market consolidation in several industries. Walmart Inc. has leveraged its position to grab more of the retail market, reporting a 10% increase in U.S. sales for the quarter ended May 1, with gains in stores and online.

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Politifact - May 19, 2020

Fact-check: Is Donald Trump ‘morbidly obese’?

President Donald Trump brought his health to the national coronavirus conversation on May 18 when he told reporters that he was taking hydroxychloroquine, a longstanding anti-malaria drug, as a preventative measure against COVID-19. Trump’s confidence in the drug against COVID-19 has not been supported by most studies. In fact, physicians say that the drug has serious side effects for patients, especially if they have pre-existing conditions such as heart problems. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told CNN’s Anderson Cooper she was concerned for other reasons. In the interview, Cooper asked Pelosi what she thought of Trump saying he is taking the drug. “I would rather he not be taking something that has not been approved by the scientists, especially in his age group and in his, shall we say, weight group,” Pelosi said. “He’s morbidly obese, they say.”

Pelosi’s comment probably was meant to get under Trump’s skin. Trump has ridiculed other people’s heights and weights in the past, while others have questioned whether he’s been accurate in describing his own height and weight. But morbid obesity, or severe obesity, is a term of science, and weight is a risk factor for COVID-19. We decided to see what we could find out. Pelosi’s office did not offer a comment. The White House did not respond to an inquiry for this article. Trump responded to Pelosi’s comments at a May 19 news conference, calling Pelosi “a sick woman” with “a lot of mental problems.” Officially, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not define the threshhold needed for someone to be considered “morbidly obese.” Instead, the CDC says that “Class 3? obesity, sometimes categorized as “extreme” or “severe” obesity, is defined as having a body-mass index, or BMI, of 40 or higher. Other medical sources list a definition of “morbidly obese” as equivalent to a BMI of 40 or higher.

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NPR - May 21, 2020

Trump Administration confirms US is leaving Open Skies Surveillance Treaty

President Trump's administration will give official notice of the U.S.'s intent to exit the Open Skies treaty, officials announced Thursday. The 34-nation agreement allows the U.S., Russia and other countries to fly their aircraft over each other's territory – increasing transparency and reducing the chances for perilous miscalculations. "Russia didn't adhere to the treaty, so until they adhere, we will pull out," Trump said, adding that there is "a very good chance" to reach a new deal. "We're going to pull out, and they're going to come back and want to make a deal." Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that "it has become abundantly clear that it is no longer in America's interest to remain a party to the Treaty on Open Skies."

Pompeo accused Russia of repeatedly violating the treaty and using it to further its expansion goals by refusing to allow flights over "Russian-occupied Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia" and asserting control over an airfield in Crimea. Echoing the president, he also suggested the U.S. might remain in the agreement if Russia changes its approach. "Effective six months from tomorrow, the United States will no longer be a party to the Treaty," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said. "We may, however, reconsider our withdrawal should Russia return to full compliance with the Treaty." The move quickly drew criticism from Democratic members of Congress. Trump's plan "directly harms our country's security and breaks the law in the process," said Rep. Eliot L. Engel, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

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USA Today - May 21, 2020

William Bryan Jr., the man who took video of the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, arrested on felony murder charge

The man who filmed the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery has been arrested on felony murder charges, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. William “Roddie” Bryan Jr., 50, was arrested Thursday and will be booked into the Glynn County Jail, the bureau announced. GBI Director Vic Reynolds said earlier in the month the department was investigating Bryan, while Kevin Gough, the man's attorney, had previously called on the GBI to clear his client's name. Bryan was also charged with criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment, the GBI announced in a statement. USA TODAY has reached out to Gough for comment.

In a statement, attorneys for Arbery's parents said they called for Bryan's arrest "from the very beginning of this process." They added Arbery's family was "relieved" to hear of Bryan's arrest. "His involvement in the murder of Mr. Arbery was obvious to us, to many around the country and after their thorough investigation, it was clear to the GBI as well,” attorneys S. Lee Merritt, Benjamin Crump and L. Chris Stewart said in a statement. Bryan's arrest is the latest in connection to the February shooting of Arbery, a 25-year-old black man. Gregory and Travis McMichael were arrested following a storm of public outcry after Bryan's video of Arbery's death was made public. The white father and son were both charged with murder and aggravated assault and a search warrant was executed at their home on Tuesday, according to the GBI.

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Newsclips - May 21, 2020

Lead Stories

Bloomberg - May 20, 2020

Biggest power demand plunge since Great Depression reshapes markets

The global plunge in electricity demand will drag on long after nations lift stay-at-home orders, leading to the biggest annual drop since the Great Depression and fundamentally reshaping power markets. As economies struggle to recover, worldwide electricity consumption will decline 5% in 2020, the most in more than eight decades, according to the International Energy Agency. In the U.S. last week, government analysts projected the nation’s biggest drop on record. And in Europe, analysts say a full recovery could take years. The prolonged slowdown will increase economic pressure on older, uneconomic power plants -- especially those that burn coal -- and help speed the transition toward cleaner and cheaper wind and solar. It will also contribute to the biggest annual decline in greenhouse gasses from energy ever recorded.

“This unprecedented drop in demand is foreshadowing the grid of the future,” said Steve Cicala, an economics professor at the University of Chicago. The world is “getting an early look at what high penetrations of renewables will do.” Part of the reason electricity consumption will not immediately bounce back when lockdowns end is that power demand largely mirrors economic activity. So generating plants won’t need to run at full tilt again until employment completely rebounds and factories operate at the same rate as before the virus. Even then, some sectors could lag for years. Demand from office buildings, for example, could be permanently depressed as companies allow people to continue working from home. Already, Twitter has told workers they can telecommute indefinitely, and JPMorgan Chase & Co. expects to keep its offices just half full for the “foreseeable future,” according to an internal memo seen by Bloomberg.

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CNN - May 20, 2020

'We've been muzzled': CDC sources say White House putting politics ahead of science

In the early weeks of the US coronavirus outbreak, staff members in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had tracked a growing number of transmissions in Europe and elsewhere, and proposed a global advisory that would alert flyers to the dangers of air travel. But about a week passed before the alert was issued publicly -- crucial time lost when about 66,000 European travelers were streaming into American airports every day. The delay, detailed in documents obtained by CNN, is the latest example to emerge of a growing sense of disconnect between the CDC and the White House.

In interviews with CNN, CDC officials say their agency's efforts to mount a coordinated response to the Covid-19 pandemic have been hamstrung by a White House whose decisions are driven by politics rather than science. The result has worsened the effects of the crisis, sources inside the CDC say, relegating the 73-year-old agency that has traditionally led the nation's response to infectious disease to a supporting role. Rising tensions between CDC leadership and the White House over the perception that the agency has been sidelined has been a developing story in the media for weeks. But now, mid- and higher-ranking staff members within the agency -- six of whom spoke with CNN for this story -- are starting to voice their discontent. Those six spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. "We've been muzzled," said a current CDC official. "What's tough is that if we would have acted earlier on what we knew and recommended, we would have saved lives and money."

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 19, 2020

Protesters blame Dallas meatpacking plant for virus deaths. ‘We are asking for justice.’

A group of former meatpacking workers, some of whom tested positive for coronavirus, and their families stood outside Quality Sausage Co. in Dallas on Tuesday night asking for someone to intervene and shut down the plant before more workers die. “I don’t understand why we have to come here and protest with masks and bring workers literally out of quarantine for them to listen,” Blanca Parra said in Spanish while holding a Veladora candle in honor of her husband, Hugo Dominguez, a forklift operator at the plant who died of COVID-19 on April 25.

“The virus was the gun that killed him but Quality Sausage was the hand that pulled the trigger,” Parra said. “We are asking for justice because the company and the people who made the decision to continue working and putting people at risk need them to be held accountable.” Parra filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the company on May 6, claiming Dominguez was told to report to work or face being fired even after his symptoms became evident. A second wrongful death lawsuit could be filed as soon as Wednesday morning against Quality Sausage Co., according to Carlos Quintanilla, who organized the protest and who works with the law firm representing Dominguez and the family of Mathias Martinez, who died on April 24.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 20, 2020

Gilbert Garcia: Anti-mask movement won’t let logic get in its way

On April 2, the nurses at Blake Medical Center in Bradenton, Fla., staged a protest outside their hospital, in part because they weren’t being provided masks to protect them from coronavirus infection. A month later, pro-Donald Trump activists in Phoenix, Ariz., staged a protest of their own outside a Honeywell factory that Trump was visiting. The factory manufactures N95 masks for hospital personnel and that was the primary reason for the president’s visit. But the MAGA contingent outside the Honeywell plant resented the very thought of people wearing protective face coverings. They questioned the validity of media-reported COVID-19 casualty numbers and harassed journalists on the scene for wearing masks. “The surgeon general tells you not to wear a mask,” a female protester scoldingly said to a young male reporter. “Why are you wearing a mask? Do you know more than the surgeon general?”

Of course, she was wrong. During an April 3 White House press briefing, Surgeon General Jerome Adams, with Trump standing by his side, explained why he advised people to wear cloth masks in public settings where they wouldn’t be able to maintain social distancing. In recent weeks, we’ve seen various members of the Trump administration wear masks in public, including Vice President Mike Pence and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin for a Capitol Hill visit on Tuesday with congressional Republican leaders. Nonetheless, the simple act of wearing a mask is now being framed by many on the political right as a surrender to the forces of totalitarianism; an admission that you’re a gutless snowflake willing to let power-mad bureaucrats strip you of your most basic freedoms. These dissidents regard cloth coverings as symbols of a societal emasculation (or e-mask-ulation, if you prefer). On Tuesday, Brenden Dilley, a Trump-worshiping host of a daily online talk show, and someone who has more than 47,000 Twitter followers, took to social media to rant about his contempt for those who wear masks.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - May 20, 2020

Texas Children’s to build $450 million hospital, its first outside of Houston, in Austin

Texas Children's plans to build a pediatric and women's hospital in Austin, officials announced Wednesday, the elite Houston institution’s first hospital outside the Houston area. The plan, which comes two years after Texas Children’s began testing the market with the first of a planned network of clinics around the state capital, calls for a 48-bed, 360,000 square foot hospital to open in north Austin in late 2023. Officials estimate the project will cost $450 million. “Texas Children’s, like Austinites, dwell in possibilities,” Mark Wallace, president of Texas Children’s, said in a press release. “Every facet of our new hospital will be designed, engineered and tailored with … families’ needs and desired experience.”

Texas Children’s will face formidable competition from Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas, a smaller and younger but well-regarded hospital owned by the Seton Healthcare Family and affiliated with the University of Texas- Austin's medical school. It boasts Dr. Charles Fraser, one of the world’s preeminent pediatric heart surgeons, who came from Texas Children’s. The Texas Children’s hospital will include neonatal and pediatric intensive care; labor, delivery, recovery and postpartum care; an emergency center; diagnostic imaging and operating rooms; an epilepsy monitoring unit; a sleep center; and an on-site urgent care location.

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Houston Chronicle - May 20, 2020

Halliburton slashes dividend by 75 percent

Houston oil-field service giant Halliburton has slashed its dividend by 75 percent as the company's latest cost-cutting measure to adapt to record-low oil prices. Halliburton's board of directors said Wednesday that the company would pay a second-quarter dividend of 4.5 cents per share, a 75 percent decrease from the 18 cents per share during the first quarter. The new dividend is the company's lowest since the first quarter of 1986 when the company 1.07 cents per share.

In another cost-cutting measure, the board approved a 20 percent reduction to the annual retainer for its members. The move follows salary reductions already taken by the members of the board's executive committee. The cost-cutting measure comes as West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, is trading at about $32. The global response to the coronavirus pandemic have cut demand for oil and exacerbated a global supply glut, reducing demand for Halliburton's products and services, especially those in shale plays across the United States. The company has laid off at least 5,000 employees since the beginning of the year. Bill Herbert, an oil-field service company analyst with Houston energy investment bank Simmons Energy, estimates that the dividend cut will save Halliburton $475 million per year, money that he said could be used to pay down debt. "Halliburton has repeatedly asserted that it would not live outside of free cash flow in order to support the dividend and would, accordingly, review the dividend quarterly," Herbert said.

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Houston Chronicle - May 20, 2020

Texas restrictions on mail-in voting back in effect as runoff elections loom

With early voting starting in just six weeks for primary runoff elections, it remains unclear whether Texas will expand the use of mail-in ballots to protect voters from contracting the novel coronavirus at the polls. The Texas Supreme Court held its first hearing on the matter Wednesday, even as the federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals blocked a San Antonio judge’s temporary order that made mail-in voting more accessible during the pandemic. The Fifth Circuit’s intervention marked the fourth reversal in a week of ping-ponging rulings as judges in different venues overrule each other, and the availability of mail-in voting to most Texans has been widened, then contracted, then widened, then contracted again.

The cases are likely headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which Gov. Greg Abbott predicted will happen “pretty quickly” on Tuesday in an interview with Austin ABC-affiliate KVUE. In the meantime, Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton, who contends that more mail-in ballots means more chances for voter fraud, applauded the Fifth Circuit’s ruling. “Protecting the integrity of elections is one of my top priorities, and allowing universal mail-in ballots would only lead to greater fraud and disenfranchise lawful voters,” Paxton said. “Law established by the Legislature must be followed consistently, including carefully limiting who may and may not vote by mail.” But this is hardly the end. The cases now stand before appellate courts at the state and federal level that have taken opposite approaches to the issue so far: the New Orleans-based Fifth Circuit, known as the most conservative circuit court in the nation; and the Texas 14th Court of Appeals in Houston, which has a Democratic majority.

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Houston Chronicle - May 21, 2020

COVID-19 outbreak at Harris County Jail was the "nightmare scenario." Then it actually happened.

Raul Razo and three buddies were knocking out their daily situps and pushups in their 72-man tank at the Harris County Jail in late March when they were overcome. All four were gasping for air. “Uno por uno. Uno por uno,” Razo told his wife in a phone call punctuated by dry coughs. One by one they’d abandoned their workout and slogged off to their bunks. The next day they lay within arms’ reach of one another in their tight fortress of metal-frame beds, shaking with chills and passing up meals. They had crushing headaches, achy bones, sore muscles, chest pain, nausea, diarrhea and unrelenting fever. “I can’t taste. … I can’t smell. My eyes can’t cry,” Razo, 48, recalled. He counted more than 10 men on the pod who came down with symptoms and were transferred to “hot” tanks, where they spent weeks battling the illness in solitary cells. Most of the sick inmates never visited the clinic. Clinic staff came to them instead, listening to their breathing and doling out Tylenol while wearing face shields, booties and full protective suits.

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez had been bracing for this grim scenario since he first heard of the strange new illness sweeping the globe — the virus would race through the jail, infecting inmates and workers. With nearly 9,000 people packed together, sharing sinks, showers and phones, social distancing would be impossible. As officials argued over plans to reduce jail population, frightened inmates tried to set mattresses on fire, employees bought thermometers at local drugstores, whole clusters of cells became makeshift sick tanks, and the medical staff struggled to contain a virus that no walls or guards could keep at bay. By mid-May, more than 1,000 inmates and jail staff had contracted COVID-19. The infections at the jail made up more than 10 percent of all the county’s confirmed cases. Jails and prisons soon would make up some of the biggest clusters of sick people across the country. Dr. Naomi Lockett was sitting in her office in the jail’s main clinic March 11 when her phone buzzed. Her stomach lurched when she saw the notification: The first case of community spread had hit Houston. She crossed the hall into the medical director’s office. “We’re in trouble,” she said to Dr. Laxman Sunder. Nearby, Dariel Newman, a head nurse, got a call from his wife asking if he’d seen the news. Officials had canceled the rodeo.

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Houston Chronicle - May 21, 2020

Houston firm tied to billionaire family took PPP funds

Pressure is mounting on a Houston oil equipment builder to return $10 million in federal funding intended for small businesses after a corporate watchdog group revealed Wednesday that a business entity controlled by Purdue Pharma’s Sackler family is the company’s largest shareholder. Piton Capital Partners, a company managed by Sackler family investment fund Kokino, owns a nearly 12 percent share in Gulf Island Fabrication. The billionaire family also controls one of 10 board seats in the company through Kokino portfolio manager Robert Averick. Gulf Island received a $10 million loan in April through Congress’ Paycheck Protection Program. The federal program offers forgivable loans to small businesses with the agreement they do not lay off their employees during the pandemic.

Public Accountability Initiative, a corporate watchdog group based in Buffalo, N.Y., first reported the Sackler family connection to Gulf Island in a report published Wednesday. Members of the Sackler family founded and own Purdue Pharma, the Stamford, Conn.-based maker of the highly addictive opioid OxyContin that was a target of numerous lawsuits in the wake of the nation’s opioid crisis. The family, which Bloomberg estimated to have a net worth of $13 billion in 2018, is not involved in the day-to-day operations of Gulf Island, however. “The PPP was created to help struggling small businesses, not big corporations with access to major investors and borrowing capacity,” said Derek Seidman, a research analyst with Public Accountability Initiative. “A worldwide leader in the energy industry should not be taking bailout money that small struggling businesses desperately need.”

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Dallas Morning News - May 20, 2020

Small Frisco company wins huge Texas COVID-19 contract. Lawmakers question if it’s up to the $295M job

A little-known, Frisco company whose owner has lofty goals to buy the Dallas Cowboys has won a $295.3 million state contract to track down Texans potentially infected with the coronavirus, though both Republican and Democratic lawmakers raise questions about the business’ ability to do the job. MTX Group Inc. won the 27-month contract in a whirlwind bidding process, beating out 10 mostly big-name corporations, such as IBM, AT&T Global Business Services and Accenture LLP. The comparatively tiny Frisco firm agreed to manage an ambitious, state-led effort for contact tracing, which public health experts say is vital to containing the spread of COVID-19.

The push, entirely paid for with federal dollars, aims to detect who has been exposed to people infected with the virus; monitor such people for symptoms; and instruct them how to get tested and where, according to a copy of the contract obtained by The Dallas Morning News. While the biggest deal MTX Group snared before its new Texas gig carried only about one-sixth the price tag, the SalesForce app developer is on the hook to create a virtual call center before the end of this month and eventually hire, train and staff it with as many as 1,000 contact tracers. The company also will coordinate its tracers’ work with that of up to 4,000 others hired by state and local health departments, public universities and nonprofit groups, said Chris Van Deusen, a Department of State Health Services spokesman. MTX Group already has a web-based tool it developed this year for COVID-19 contact tracing that has been deployed in several states. One Fort Worth epidemiologist questioned whether MTX’s tracing plan incorporates enough time to conduct what can be complex interviews. On Wednesday, company founder and chief executive Das Nobel, who moved to Frisco from upstate New York early last year, declined to comment.

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Dallas Morning News - May 20, 2020

Teacher group says June 1 too soon for in-person classes

Texas shouldn’t rush to reopen campuses for summer school because many safety precautions still need to be in place, a teacher group said in a news release Wednesday. The Texas State Teachers Association said Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan to allow for schools to reopen on June 1 will only put children and employees at risk because coronavirus remains a threat. “By rushing to allow school buildings to reopen on June 1, less than six weeks from now, Gov. Abbott is creating an illusion that the worst of this health crisis is behind us. It is not," TSTA President Noel Candelaria said in a news release. “People are still getting sick and dying in large numbers, and reopening school buildings too soon will increase the peril.”

On Monday, Abbott announced the next phase of reopening Texas during the ongoing pandemic, including allowing public and private schools to resume classes on campuses. Many districts, including Dallas, have already made plans to hold summer programs online. But TSTA officials worry that some districts will move too fast to reopen. They demanded that state and local leaders across Texas agree to enforce safety requirements before reopening buildings to students and school employees. The teacher group’s demands include ensuring that there is enough protective gear for everyone in a school workplace, that detailed steps are followed to enforce social distancing, and that sanitation practices and strong enforcement are set.

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Dallas Morning News - May 20, 2020

Four children at Cook Children’s Hospital treated for rare syndrome connected to coronavirus

Four children at Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth have been treated for a rare syndrome that could be linked to COVID-19, the hospital confirmed Tuesday. The patients at Cook Children’s ranged in age from 6 to 14 and have been treated since May 9, the hospital said. All children had previously been exposed to COVID-19 before coming to the hospital. The condition, which is known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome, or MIS-C, has symptoms including fever, stomach pain and rashes, conjunctivitis and swelling, the hospital said in a news release. Severe cases can cause multi-organ dysfunction, shock from low blood pressure, and lethargy.

The syndrome presents similarly to Kawasaki disease, another rare condition with no known cause that appears in children and causes the body’s blood vessels to become inflamed. “Of particular concern to us is inflammation of the heart and surrounding major blood vessels which is also seen in Kawasaki’s disease,” Dr. Nicholas Rister, an infectious diseases physician at the hospital, said in a written statement. “We have seen this same thing in several of these COVID inflammatory disease patients. Minimizing the degree of inflammation in these children, while providing supportive care for any organ damage, has been a key component of treatment.” Three of the children tested negative for COVID-19, while one tested positive, the hospital said. One patient is being treated in a pediatric intensive care unit, while the other three have been released from the hospital.

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Dallas Morning News - May 19, 2020

Which North Texas city has the best parks?

Plano earned the highest ranking among area cities and came in 17th nationally on The Trust for Public Land’s 2020 annual parks study. The nonprofit evaluates park quality and access in the 100 largest cities across the U.S. The study considers how many acres are set aside, what percentage of land is used, how much money is spent per resident and how many people live within a 10-minute walking distance of a park. “Parks are essential to the quality of life, economy and health and public safety,” said Robert Kent, Texas state director for The Trust for Public Land.

Plano ranked significantly higher than other area cities, including Dallas (54th), Arlington (59th), Garland (83rd), Irving (89th) and Fort Worth (94th). The Collin County city also received high marks for is its large median park size of 13.5 acres. That’s more than double the national average of 5.2 acres, according to the study. Plano was the only area city to earn above-average scores for park access. About 75% of residents are within a 10-minute walk to a park. Nationally, only 72% of residents in other cities live that close. On the downside, Plano did not fare as well in its scores for park amenities, such as dog parks, recreation and senior centers, the report states. The park system helps the city offer “a great quality of life” and has played a role in drawing in large businesses that want a good place for their employees to live, Kent said. The city spends about $225 per resident on parks, according to the study.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 20, 2020

Kim Abernathy: Calls about child abuse drop; that’s a red flag

In recent weeks, phone calls to the state’s child abuse hotline have fallen substantially. At first, this might sound like a good thing, but it worries child advocates who fear for the safety of children in our community. Since shelter-in-place orders began, many children are trapped in homes where substance and alcohol abuse, domestic violence and food insecurity are commonplace. They are not attending school physically, so teachers, the No. 1 reporters of child abuse, do not see the whole child, in person.

Texas Department of Family and Protective Services reports more than 8,000 fewer calls to its child abuse hotline in April compared with this time last year. And its online reporting, a tool used primarily by teachers and service professionals, is down 56 percent. In addition to the decline in calls to the state’s child abuse hotline, the FBI released the following statement in regard to child abuse amid the pandemic: “Due to school closings as a result of COVID-19, children will potentially have an increased online presence and/or be in a position that puts them at an inadvertent risk. Due to this newly developing environment, the FBI is seeking to warn parents, educators, caregivers, and children about the dangers of online sexual exploitation and signs of child abuse.” Normally, ChildSafe’s education and prevention team conducts in-person and online training for teachers and mental health professionals so they learn how to recognize and report child abuse. Last year, we taught the program to more than 30,000 educators, coaches, counselors and auxiliary staff in five Bexar County school districts, many private schools and several universities.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 20, 2020

San Antonio’s population growth ranked second largest in nation

San Antonio continues to record impressive population growth, ranking second nationally in increase in population in a single year, new census numbers show. The city added 17,237 people between July 2018 and July 2019, pushing its estimated population to 1,547,253, according to census data released late Wednesday. San Antonio’s growth was outpaced only by Phoenix, which added more than 26,000 residents during the same one-year period, driving its population to nearly 1.7 million people.

Austin lagged slightly behind San Antonio, ranking third nationally with an influx of 16,439 new residents as its total population inches closer to the 1 million mark. The estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau focused on cities with 50,000 residents or more. This is the second consecutive year that San Antonio ranked second nationally in growth in raw numbers in a single year. Two years ago, the city topped the list. San Antonio ranked third nationally among U.S. cities showing the strongest numeric growth since 2010. The city added 221,092 residents in that time frame. It was outranked only by Phoenix, which gained more than 234,000 people, and Houston, which recorded an influx of nearly 225,000 people in that nine-year period.

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KERA - May 20, 2020

As coronavirus spreads, so do scams

COVID-19's spread has shut down businesses, seen unemployment rates skyrocket and upended individuals' lives and shaken social norms. It's also emboldened some business owners and individuals to scam the public. During disasters and emergencies, a business selling items at an exorbitant price, or price gouging, is the most common scam, according to Attorney General Ken Paxton’s Consumer Protection Division. Under The Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Consumer Protection Act, anyone found guilty of selling necessary items at an excessive price when a disaster strikes is required to refund consumers and may be held liable for up to $10,000 per violation. Violators are also on the hook for an additional $250,000 if the victims are elderly.

As of late last week, Paxton's office has received and processed 10,072 complaints regarding COVID-19, 8,586 of which allege price gouging. Complaints, noted AG spokesperson Kayleigh Date, do not mean all allegations are true. Paxton's office has filed lawsuits against two companies alleging price gouging. "Common items complained about include toilet paper, bottled water and hand sanitizer, and the two regions with the majority of complaints are Houston and Dallas," Date said via e-mail. In March, Paxton filed suit against Auctions Unlimited after listing an auction on its website for more than 750,000 face masks — that listing included face masks, N95 particulate respirators, hand soap, all-purpose cleaner and disinfectant wipes. Owner Tim Worstell admitted to receiving warnings from law enforcement but continued forward, listing N95 respirator masks as high as $180 for a package of 16 masks — more than double the average retail price. Last month, Cal-Maine Foods, Inc., the dominant egg supplier in Texas, was sued for increasing the price of eggs by 300%.

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Rivard Report - May 20, 2020

The nonhuman touch: Pandemic hastens push for AI, robotics

On average a package gets touched by 21 people before it reaches its final destination, Plus One Robotics co-founder and CEO Erik Nieves said. “You are the 22nd touch when you receive that package on your doorstep,” Nieves said. Plus One Robotics’ artificially intelligent packaging robot, which works along with human employees to process packages for shipping to lessen the frequency of human handling, is an example of the kind of product drawing attention since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. While the adoption of AI was already taking place, Nieves and other AI developers are seeing their sales grow and demand for AI capabilities jump forward.

For Port San Antonio-based Plus One’s packaging robot, Nieves attributes the acceleration in interest to consumers wanting fewer people touching their packages and companies wanting to better socially distance their employees. Using robots as spacers between human workers seemed like a good investment for companies to make sooner than later, Nieves explained. Because adopting robotics and AI takes considerable financial, human, and technological resources to implement, a company’s decision to adopt these technologies is usually a part of its long-term strategic plan. But the current health crisis has sped up the timeline, said Mark Leung, associate professor of management science and statistics at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Leung said he believes the outbreak caused some companies to adopt lower-level tech to deal with the sudden surge in demand and sudden shortage of labor because of stay at home orders. “For example, fast food [restaurants] told the customers to use apps ordering online and have Grubhub deliver orders,” Leung said. “This is still an adoption of robotics and AI in the real world, but at a slightly less advanced and automated level. Keep in mind that app is a form of ‘software robot’ and AI machine.” Leung has been studying the adoption rate of technology and AI since January, when the coronavirus outbreaks began. He said it is likely the current crisis will make companies both small and large rethink their business models.

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KHOU - May 20, 2020

Girlfriend accused of breaking former Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's ribs, hitting him with pot at their Houston home

Former Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst is recovering from injuries after two alleged attacks by his "live-in" girlfriend, the Harris County District Attorney's office told KHOU 11 News. Court records show 40-year-old Leslie Ann Caron was arrested and charged with injury to an elderly person. From the DA's Office: Caron is accused of kicking Dewhurst, 74, in the ribs during an argument on May 13. Dewhurst told police she left their home but came back on May 17 and kicked him in the ribs again.

He said Caron also hit him with a pot, scratched him and bit him. Dewhurst went to the doctor and X-rays confirmed he had two broken ribs. Caron was arrested Tuesday afternoon and booked later that night, according to court records. Her bond was set at $10,000, and she was issued a no-contact order. Dewhurst issued the following statement Wednesday afternoon: "I’m not interested in filing any charges against Leslie. She’s a remarkable woman with many fine attributes. I wish her all the best in life." However, prosecutors will have the final say on charges against Caron.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 20, 2020

UT students to return for the fall semester, but leave after Thanksgiving

The University of Texas on Wednesday said it will begin the fall semester as scheduled on Aug. 26, but will continue operations remotely after Thanksgiving for fear of spreading the coronavirus. In a letter to the university, UT President Gregory L. Fenves said COVID-19 is expected to be active this fall, and officials hope to avoid the possibility of students becoming infected during the Thanksgiving break and then spreading the virus to classmates upon their return. After Thanksgiving, students will participate in reading days and final exams remotely.

The news comes days before the university hosts a virtual graduation ceremony for the class of 2020. Initially, university officials had planned to hold an in-person ceremony in the late summer or fall. Now, Fenves says an in-person commencement ceremony will not be possible until some point in 2021. The date and plans for this event will depend on the evolving COVID-19 situation, and we will update our graduates as soon as we have a clear sense of when we can host all of them safely,” Fenves said in the letter.

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El Paso Times - May 13, 2020

Ann Beeson: Pandemic reveals profound truths about Texas' public policies that place profits over people

Sheltering in place and working from home in Austin for over six weeks now, my life has been filtered through what I can witness and share through a Zoom camera. That is revealing the universality of human experience as well as stark differences based on our circumstances. I watched my son adjust to college online and played the ukulele for my mom’s virtual birthday party. I felt sad when I couldn’t hug a friend who is grieving the loss of her mother and scared by the high rate of infection in cities where my loved ones live. These virtual windows have also brought my privilege into sharper focus, as I’ve watched friends lose their jobs and co-workers struggle with faulty internet access, cramped living spaces and family financial insecurity.

Like a scary camera we’ve turned on ourselves, the pandemic is exposing hard truths about our society that we have overlooked for too long. Families are waiting for hours at their local food bank. Students are locked out of learning because they still have no internet access at home. People are dying from the virus because they have no insurance or live miles from a hospital. Race and class disparities are made stark by witnessing workers on the front lines without paid sick leave or savings. Extended families are holed up in cramped apartments unable to pay rent, while the 1% relax in vacation homes as they wait for the stock market to recover. The coronavirus has exposed a profound truth: Public policies affect whether people live or die. Now the question is whether we will finally see what’s been right in front us all along, or stick our heads in the proverbial sand, again. I worry that Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to start reopening parts of the economy puts politics above people’s health and threatens our communities and future prosperity.

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County Stories

San Antonio Express-News - May 20, 2020

Bexar County set to offer $450 stipend to those participating in retraining program

Bexar County officials are looking to put $450 per week into the hands of thousands of unemployed workers while they’re trained for new, post-coronavirus careers. The plan, which marks the first time the county will pay people to get job training, takes aim at two of the area’s major weaknesses: a low-skilled workforce and low wages. County officials Tuesday set aside $35 million in federal CARES Act funding, out of a total of nearly $80 million, to develop a training program for 5,000 workers.

Both Bexar County and San Antonio are planning to unveil separate workforce development plans funded with CARES money. More than 100,000 workers have filed unemployment claims in the city since mid-March. Under the county’s plan, trainees would receive the weekly stipend while they take classes at Alamo Colleges campuses in fields such as health care and information technology, Precinct 2 Commissioner Justin Rodriguez said. The stipend amount was based on what someone would earn working 30 hours a week at $15 an hour. It’s designed to replace that income so the recipient can train for a higher-paying occupation.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 20, 2020

Tarrant County reports 68 new coronavirus cases, 2 deaths in Fort Worth, Arlington

An Arlington man in his 40s and a Fort Worth man in his 70s have died from the coronavirus, Tarrant County health officials reported Wednesday.

One of the two men had underlying health conditions, according to health officials, but they did not report which one. The county confirmed 68 new COVID-19 cases for a total of 4,711, including 132 deaths and 1,716 recoveries. More than half of the total coronavirus cases in Tarrant County have been in Fort Worth with 2,484 cases, including 83 deaths. Arlington has been the second-most struck city in the county with 860 cases, including 13 deaths.

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City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - May 20, 2020

Large events in Austin not likely through end of 2020, officials say

Large events like the Austin City Limits Music Festival or Texas Longhorns football games are not likely through the end of the year as the coronavirus pandemic continues, Austin Public Health officials said Wednesday. “The large events are the first thing that we turned off and are going to be the last thing we’re going to turn back on because of that risk of exposing lots of people to one another, particularly individuals of the same household,” Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said.

Austin is currently in Stage 3 of its reopening plan, which allows low-risk people to gather, shop and dine out in groups of 10 or fewer. Escott said the city would have to move into Stage 1, the safest level of the plan, to consider large events again. In Stage 1, high-risk residents would have to avoid gatherings of 25 people or more. The size of gatherings for low-risk people during Stage 1 has not yet been determined. “We are working on a plan to help forecast what we think is going to be reasonable, but looking through the end of December, we don’t have any indications at this stage that we would be able to mitigate risk enough to have large events, particularly ones (with) over 2,500 (attendees),” Escott said. While what Escott said is not an official recommendation, a city spokesperson said the doctor’s comments reflect what Austin Public Health is currently thinking regarding large events.

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Houston Chronicle - May 20, 2020

Acevedo, advocates spar over relevance of race in past month's 5 Houston police killings

Five civilians have been killed during encounters with Houston police this past month, turning heads in the local criminal justice community and inciting calls for reform from minority advocacy groups. Mayor Sylvester Turner and Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo on Tuesday defended the agency and urged the public to look at each case individually. In the most recent encounters, they said, the officers’ actions appeared to be justified under the department’s use-of-force policy. “What we have to respond to is the actions of individuals,” Acevedo said. “It saddens me that people look at race. What we need to look at is that behavior.”

The repeated explanations didn’t satisfy some of the advocates who called in to a Houston City Council public forum to raise red flags about the apparent uptick of officer-involved shootings. All five of the people shot and killed by police were black or Hispanic. “We are targeting our men and boys of color,” Monique Joseph, Houston field officer for Texas Advocates for Justice, said during the meeting. Criminologists acknowledged the spate of shootings as significant, and possibly a fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. They were hesitant, however, to label them as a trend. It’s difficult to know whether any increases in incidents are flukes that could be balanced out by fewer shootings later in the year, said Kevin Buckler, professor of criminal justice at University of Houston-Downtown. The end of the Great Recession in 2009 also coincided with a jump in Houston police shootings, lending some credence to hypotheses that a poor economy can lead to rises in crime, he said. “It’s hard to completely connect the dots, but there does seem to be something there,” Buckler said. “A reasonable person could connect those things together.”

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National Stories

Los Angeles Times - May 20, 2020

Free money: Amid the coronavirus, a monthly paycheck from the feds doesn’t seem crazy

The notion of the federal government handing out free money used to be a liberal dream and a conservative nightmare. No more. The coronavirus outbreak, which plunged the nation into an economic free fall, has created an opening for governments and nonprofits to experiment with giving money directly to Americans, with no strings attached. In Los Angeles, thousands have been handed “Angeleno cards” — no-fee debit cards loaded with $700 to $1,500. Across the nation, food stamp recipients are getting a $1,000 check from a private effort whose leaders include former presidential candidate Andrew Yang.

The federal government, with near-unanimous support from Democrats and Republicans, is sending up to $1,200 to most people to blunt unprecedented job losses. Democrats in the Senate and the House have proposed even larger monthly payments. During the 2020 presidential campaign, Yang proposed a universal basic income, with the U.S. providing $1,000 every month to every American adult. It seemed an unlikely proposal, but now leading Democrats have warmed to the idea. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said last month on MSNBC that a “guaranteed income” may be “worthy of attention now.” Yang described the recent cash infusions as a common-sense solution when the nation’s economy is experiencing “10 years’ worth of change in 10 weeks.” These payments, he said, are laying the groundwork for broader, more ambitious programs.

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Los Angeles Times - May 20, 2020

A new high for coronavirus deaths in California as counties push ahead with reopening

California recorded 132 new coronavirus-related fatalities Tuesday — the most in a single day since the pandemic began — as counties across the state continue cementing plans to reopen their economies. California recorded 132 new coronavirus-related fatalities Tuesday — the most in a single day since the pandemic began — as counties across the state continue cementing plans to reopen their economies.

While the death count continues to rise, other metrics show significant progress, enough that even some of the most cautious local health officials have agreed to begin slowly reopening businesses and public spaces. The number of newly identified coronavirus cases across California declined from the previous week, and hospitalizations have dropped more than 15% from a peak six weeks ago, according to a Times analysis. In Los Angeles County, which has become the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in California with more than 1,900 deaths and nearly 40,000 cases, officials have cautioned that reopening the economy will be more difficult than in other parts of the state. County officials on Tuesday announced a goal of reopening more of the economy by July 4. The mission is to reopen retail businesses, restaurants and malls at a steady pace while trying to avoid additional outbreaks. “We have to do a lot of things right so we can actually get to that date,” L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. The proposed timeline was unveiled during a meeting of the county’s Economic Resiliency Task Force, which has been charged with developing plans for helping restore the region’s battered economy.

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Washington Post - May 21, 2020

Democrats warn Republicans they will regret backing Trump's defiance of congressional oversight

Senior Democrats have a warning for Republicans supporting President Donald Trump's blockade of the House's attempts to review and monitor the federal response to the coronavirus crisis: Reap what you sow. For several weeks, the Trump White House has denied requests for senior administration officials to appear at hearings run by House Democrats to discuss the pandemic, while allowing some of those same Cabinet secretaries and agency chiefs to appear on the other side of the Capitol.

This has left Senate committees, run by the Republican majority, hosting high-profile hearings for three straight weeks - and over on the House side, Democrats have been largely silent, unable to draw witnesses officially dealing with the crisis. That's why prominent Democrats want Republicans to know they have established a precedent that will leave them on the short end of cooperation for oversight requests from any future Democratic administration. "So all of these things, you know, I don't believe in unilateral disarmament. If this is the way you're going to operate things in your own majority, then don't expect that somehow comity is going to return," Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said Tuesday in an interview. The standoff threatens to forever alter the balance of power in congressional attempts to conduct oversight of Trump and future administrations. So far, the numbers are bleak. Since the virus outbreak in early March, House Democrats have sent at least 203 letters to agencies, 173 directly related to the pandemic, and almost all have been rejected or have yet to receive a response, according to data compiled by Democratic advisers, according to data compiled by Democratic advisers. Nine requests to Cabinet officials for either a formal hearing or just a briefing, sometimes by videoconference, have been rejected.

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Washington Post - May 20, 2020

Trump threatens funding for Michigan, Nevada over absentee, mail-in voting plans

President Donald Trump on Wednesday threatened to "hold up" federal funds to Michigan and Nevada in response to the states' planned use of absentee and mail-in ballots in upcoming elections as a means to mitigate risk of exposure to the coronavirus. In morning tweets, Trump did not specify which funds he might withhold, and he has not always followed through with similar threats. But his message comes as many states grapple with how to safely proceed with elections. Amid the pandemic, Trump has repeatedly railed against mail-in voting, claiming with scant evidence that it is subject to widespread fraud and has hurt Republicans in previous elections.

Trump took aim at Michigan a day after its secretary of state announced a plan to send absentee ballot applications to all of its 7.7 million voters for the state's primary elections in August and general elections in November. "Breaking: Michigan sends absentee ballots to 7.7 million people ahead of Primaries and the General Election," Trump wrote in his tweet, incorrectly describing the move to send applications for ballots. "This was done illegally and without authorization by a rogue Secretary of State. I will ask to hold up funding to Michigan if they want to go down this Voter Fraud path!" Trump tagged the Treasury Department among others in his tweet. Michigan Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson responded to Trump with a tweet of her own, noting she has a name.

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CNBC - May 20, 2020

Swing state voters are sharply divided over coronavirus, CNBC/Change Research poll finds

Voters in swing states are sharply divided along partisan lines over the coronavirus pandemic with just under six months to go before Election Day, according to a new CNBC/Change Research poll. Democrats and Republicans in the key electoral states of Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin disagree over whether there is likely to be a second wave of Covid-19 cases and who is to blame if there is. Republicans were far more likely to say that corporations should be shielded from liability if their customers or employees contract the virus and sue, while Democrats said they were taking more precautions, such as wearing masks and avoiding restaurants.

The survey polled 5,408 likely voters in battleground states from Friday to Sunday and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.9 percentage points. The data sheds new light on the battle between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, which is being waged in the shadow of the worst public health crisis in living memory. Some of the data in the survey is good news for the president. In a hypothetical match-up, Trump holds a narrow, 48%-46% lead over Biden among all the battleground voters surveyed, including a 41%-32% lead among independents. He also leads Biden 51%-40% in who would do a better job handling the economy. The two are in a statistical tie over who would do a better job handling coronavirus. But the survey results also showed that independents are far more likely than Trump to be concerned about a potential second wave in coronavirus infections and will blame Trump if it does.

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NPR - May 20, 2020

Researchers: Nearly half of accounts tweeting about coronavirus are likely bots

Nearly half of the Twitter accounts spreading messages on the social media platform about the coronavirus pandemic are likely bots, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University said on Wednesday. Researchers culled through more than 200 million tweets since January discussing the virus and found that about 45% were sent by accounts that behave more like computerized robots than humans. It is too early to say conclusively what individuals or groups are behind the bot accounts, but researchers said the tweets appeared aimed at sowing divisions in America.

"We do know that it looks like it's a propaganda machine, and it definitely matches the Russian and Chinese playbooks, but it would take a tremendous amount of resources to substantiate that," said Kathleen Carley, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, who is conducting a study into bot-generated coronavirus activity on Twitter that has yet to be published. Researchers identified more than 100 false narratives about COVID-19 that are proliferating on Twitter by accounts controlled by bots. Among the misinformation disseminated by bot accounts were tweets that conspiracy theories about hospitals being filled with mannequins, or tweets connected the spread of the coronavirus to 5G wireless towers, a notion that is patently untrue. Such bogus ideas on the Internet have caused real-world harm. In England, dozens of wireless towers have been set on fire in acts officials believe have been fueled by false conspiracy theories linking the rollout of 5G technology to the coronavirus.

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Newsclips - May 20, 2020

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - May 20, 2020

‘They’re forcing us into bankruptcy’: Day cares still on the ropes despite Texas reopening order

Gov. Greg Abbott has allowed Texas day cares to reopen to all families, but the owners of many Dallas-area facilities said little had changed Tuesday. Many parents are keeping their children at home. Day cares were never required to close completely, because they were designated essential for the children of essential workers. But when parents began working from home, their children went with them. The governor’s office has distributed a checklist to day cares for reopening to all parents, including safety measures, altered drop-off and pick-up procedures and new rules for class sizes.

Dr. Ora Watson, the owner of For Keeps Sake in South Dallas, said the center typically cares for 80 children on weekdays but now is serving only 12. There have been a couple more inquiries in the last day, though, and there are signs more customers may begin coming. However, even if all the enrolled children needed day care, she said, new social-distancing guidelines would make it impossible for the center to take all of them. For example, the governor’s office has mandated new ratios of children per caregiver depending on age, limiting the number of kids that can be in the same room at the same time. “We have a new set of minimum standards from the state,” Watson said. “And we have to make sure we meet all the social-distancing requirements within our center. We have to meet the modified child-care ratios. ” For now, staff members at For Keeps Sake have been able to keep their jobs because of the hope for state government assistance, but Watson said that money may not come until June.

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Texas Observer - May 20, 2020

Home wasn’t safe. Then COVID-19 made it seem like the only option.

Last year, the Noah Project of Abilene celebrated its 40th year as a trusted resource for victims of domestic and family violence across 10 largely rural counties in West Central Texas. Noah recently finished an expansion project that gave the shelter much needed growth, upping its capacity by about 30 percent, adding eight rooms and 24 beds. From 2013 to 2019, the shelter—the largest one between Dallas and El Paso—has seen a nearly 90 percent jump in clients. When shelter-at-home orders went into effect in March, the Noah Project felt especially thankful for the extra building space, as it anticipated a rise in clients. Victims would now be forced to share close quarters with abusers to keep a deadly virus from spreading and could be facing added stressors —strained income, job loss, child care and homeschooling—and health anxiety, which when compounded can give way to potentially volatile abuse. Home for many is not a safe space: In 2018, 174 women were killed by a male intimate partner across 64 Texas counties, the highest number of women killed in the past decade, according to the Texas Council on Family Violence (TCFV). Of those, 67 percent were killed at home.

The shelter prepared for the worst, stocking all rooms with disinfectant, face masks, hand soap, and more cleaning supplies. However, that anticipated surge never came. In fact, the rural shelter’s numbers fell sharply. “I don’t think anyone here has ever seen our residential shelter numbers this low,” Jan Morrison, Noah Project’s development director, tells the Observer. “It’s a complete anomaly. The silence is worrisome because we know it’s not a reflection of what’s actually happening out there.” While the shelter typically houses around 60 people a day, since COVID-19 swept through Texas, it’s averaged 15 clients daily—slicing the occupancy by three-fourths. The shelter experienced the same dramatic decline in hotline calls as well. “It’s very strange. This is not usually what it’s like around here,” says Morrison. “We are all very wary of the noticeable drop in clients. We feel like this is the calm before the storm.” The Noah Project isn’t alone in reporting a significant and troubling decrease in domestic and family violence victims seeking services amid COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. Other rural shelters have also seen a similar trend, a contrast to what some, albeit not all, emergency centers in major metro areas like Houston, San Antonio, and Austin are experiencing. San Antonio Police reported an 18 percent increase in family violence calls in March compared with the same month last year, while Austin, despite a decline in overall arrests in March, saw domestic violence arrests up 17 percent compared with March 2019. Reports show that calls to the Houston Area Women’s Center spiked 40 percent since stay-at-home orders began, and calls to the Houston-based nonprofit Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse also rose.

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Houston Chronicle - May 20, 2020

Medical leaders have mixed opinions on latest phase of Abbott’s reopening of Texas

Texas Medical Center leaders Tuesday expressed support for the latest phase of Gov. Greg Abbott’s reopening of the state’s economy, arguing that even if they disagree with some of the calls, it’s a reasonably cautious approach given the tightrope he needs to walk. The leaders, many of whom supported Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s more hard-line attitude about waiting for COVID-19 cases to decline before ending the stay-at-home order, said they nevertheless like the way Abbott is allowing businesses to open in stages and pausing in between to look at the data.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of shutting down the world and just waiting for the virus to pass because it’s going to be with us for a significant amount of time still,” said William McKeon, president of the medical center. “I appreciate Gov. Abbott’s methodical approach, closely watching the numbers, surrounded by medical experts, as he attempts the difficult task of trying to balance two conflicting forces — controlling the spread of the virus while we learn to live with it.” Abbott pressed ahead with the state’s reopening Monday, allowing child-care facilities to fully reopen and nearly all businesses and activities to resume at limited capacity. Restaurants can double their capacity to 50 percent, and bars, bowling alleys and bingo halls can reopen at 25 percent. Youth and professional sports can resume later this month, although fans will be allowed only at youth events.

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Houston Chronicle - May 19, 2020

Lawmakers question $295M emergency deal to expand Texas contact tracing network

Texas lawmakers are questioning the hastily-awarded, multi-million dollar contract that put a little-known company in charge of the state’s effort to track down people who may be infected with the coronavirus. Hearst Newspapers reported last weekend that Texas will give MTX Group up to $295 million over a 27-month period to hire contact tracers and create a call center to find people who were exposed to the virus. Building up a force of contact tracers is key to the state’s strategy for limiting the spread of coronavirus as Texas reopens its economy. The Texas Department of State Health Services, which is administering the contract, could not cite another state in which MTX has performed the same level of work.

It said the company has helped build and run a coronavirus call center in New York City, but was unable to say whether the company has ever hired, trained and managed a fleet of tracers. Legislators from both parties say they were caught off guard by the contract award and questioned whether it was an appropriate use of federal dollars. A history of contracting troubles at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission only compounds the worry, they say. “There was no heads-up,” said Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, a member of the powerful Senate Finance Committee that writes and oversees the state budget. Bettencourt said Tuesday he had gotten a copy of the contract and was going to spend the afternoon reading it. “$300 million is a big contract by any definition and the fact that it comes through during an emergency period of time may allow it to not have any legislative review, but there’s going to be a lot of questions about it,” Bettencourt said. “This is a concept that has opposition to it.”

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - May 19, 2020

Gov. Greg Abbott says ‘All the trends are going good’ as Texas reopens

Gov. Greg Abbott justified his expanded re-opening of the Texas economy during a national television interview on Monday by pointing to COVID-19 data heading in the right direction and saying it’s time to end “government forced poverty.” Texas reported 11 coronavirus deaths on Monday, its lowest daily death total in more than a month. During an interview on Fox News, Abbott told host Sean Hannity about that statistic, and how a day earlier the state had reported its lowest hospitalizations since the middle of April. Texas reported 1,512 hospitalizations of coronavirus patients on Sunday.

“All the trends are going good in Texas and Texas is opening up businesses,” Abbott said. While he focused on the 11 deaths reported on Monday, Abbott did not address the previous four days when 178 deaths were reported — the worst four-day stretch in the state since the pandemic hit. After Abbott was on Fox News on Monday, state health officials released new hospitalization figures that showed that number has increased back up to 1,732 people. A Hearst Newspapers analysis published Monday found that Texas still has not met key criteria for reopening suggested by Abbott’s public health advisers, including a 14-day decline in total coronavirus cases, ability to administer 30,000 tests for the disease per day, and a force of 4,000 workers available to identify and trace those who have contact with COVID-19 patients.

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Houston Chronicle - May 19, 2020

Ken Paxton joins Republican AGs pressing for dismissal of Michael Flynn’s criminal case

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton this week joined 14 other Republican state attorneys general in support of the Justice Department's move to stop prosecution against Michael Flynn, a former national security adviser to President Donald Trump. The group, led by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost of Ohio, argue in a court filing that “the federal judiciary has no authority to make the executive branch pursue (or continue to pursue) a criminal conviction.”

The attorneys general also argue in the brief that U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan should drop the case without making any comment “because such punditry disrobes the judiciary of its cloak of impartiality.” Flynn pleaded guilty in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation to lying to the FBI about conversations with the then-Russian ambassador to the United States. On April 30, Attorney General William P. Barr’s moved to dismiss the case against him — much criticized by Democrats as a political move. Paxton himself is under criminal indictment on felony securities fraud charges, to which he’s pleaded not guilty. His trial has been delayed for almost five years because of various side issues, including disagreements over where his trial should be held and a drawn-out battle over how much special prosecutors in the case should be paid.

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Houston Chronicle - May 19, 2020

NASA’s head of human spaceflight resigns one week before historic launch

Douglas Loverro, NASA’s head of human spaceflight, has resigned one week before the agency and SpaceX are set to resume astronauts launches from Florida. Loverro surprised the aerospace community by resigning on Monday, just seven months into his position as associate administrator for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations. He oversaw all programs involving astronauts, including the International Space Station, Artemis moon mission and the Commercial Crew Program that will launch astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken on May 27. Loverro’s deputy associate administrator, Ken Bowersox, will serve as the acting associate administrator for Human Explorations and Operations.

NASA did not say why Loverro resigned. “Loverro hit the ground running this year and has made significant progress in his time at NASA,” NASA said in a statement. “His leadership of (Human Exploration and Operations) has moved us closer to accomplishing our goal of landing the first woman and the next man on the Moon in 2024.” More immediate, however, is the launch next week where Hurley and Behnken will head to the International Space Station on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft. They will be the first astronauts to launch from U.S. soil into orbit since 2011, when NASA retired the space shuttle.

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Houston Chronicle - May 19, 2020

‘Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should’: Local leaders urge caution as Texas reopens

As Houston and Harris County tightened restrictions on businesses and daily life in March, local leaders often thanked residents here for heeding their calls. Those efforts and sacrifices, Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said, helped the region escape the dire circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic emerging in other pockets of the country. Now, as Gov. Greg Abbott gradually opens the state’s economy, the local leaders are urging their constituents to remain vigilant, even as many restrictions are lifted.

The governor cited rising testing capacity and the falling percentage of new cases for beginning to reopen earlier this month. On Monday, he also noted the availability of hospital beds, which have remained well within capacity here, and the falling percentage of people who have tested positive. “Our focus is to keep you safe while also restoring your ability to get you back to work,” said Abbott. The governor’s orders override local restrictions and now map out a way for nearly all businesses to open in some fashion. Local residents have been able to frequent restaurants, retail stores, malls, and movie theaters with limited capacities since May 1. A new order Monday expanded those capacities and added gyms, childcare centers and massage businesses to the mix, with bars, bowling alleys and others joining Friday.

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Houston Chronicle - May 19, 2020

Texas Democratic Party official appointed interim Harris County clerk

Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday appointed an attorney and Texas Democratic Party official as interim county clerk. Christopher Hollins, vice finance chairman for the state party, will serve until a new clerk can be elected in November. Incumbent Diane Trautman, who was elected in 2018, announced May 9 she would step down because of health issues. The court voted 3-2 along party lines to approve Hollins. Five public speakers urged court members to choose Teneshia Hudspeth, Trautman’s chief deputy. County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis said Hollins’ pledge to serve only on an interim basis factored in their decision.

Hollins was selected after 10 p.m., more than 12 hours after Commissioners Court convened, and was unavailable for comment. He previously worked as a senior manager at the consulting firm McKinsey & Company and intern at Goldman Sachs and the White House Office of Presidential Personnel during the Obama administration, according to his personal website. He has never held elected office. Hollins faces a difficult task. He will be in charge of running July’s primary runoff as well as November’s general election — potentially the highest turnout contest in county history — during the coronavirus pandemic. Harris County in April invested $12 million to expand mail voting to any resident fearful of contracting coronavirus at polling places. A pending court case could derail those plans, however, and leave the county will little time to adjust. Countywide voting, Trautman’s signature accomplishment, has never been tested in a presidential election. Elections have flummoxed even experienced county clerks, from both political parties, as Harris County’s massive population, geographic expanse and aging voting machines present challenges. Both elections Trautman oversaw during her brief tenure had problems.

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Houston Chronicle - May 19, 2020

Texas mail-in voting temporarily expanded — again — as federal judge overrules state Supreme Court

U.S. District Court Judge Fred Biery on Tuesday granted the Texas Democratic Party's motion to temporarily allow counties to issue mail-in ballots to voters concerned about the risk of contracting COVID-19 at a polling place in upcoming elections. “One's right to vote should not be elusively based on the whims of nature,” Biery wrote. “Citizens should have the option to choose voting by letter carrier versus voting with disease carriers.” It's the latest development as back-and-forth court orders have been issued at both the state and federal levels. And the state is appealing this decision, too.

Just Friday evening, the Texas Supreme Court had issued a stay halting the expansion of mail-in voting. And that decision came just a day after a Texas appellate court had upheld a state district judge's ruling allowing the expansion. Texas is one of the few states that still require voters younger than 65 to have an excuse to cast a ballot by mail, such as a disability. Fewer than 7 percent of Texas voters mailed in ballots in 2018. Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, whose office represents the state, expressed his disapproval with the order Tuesday. Paxton has argued that risk of catching COVID-19 is not the same as having a “sickness or physical condition,” as the state election code defines “disability.” “The district court’s opinion ignores the evidence and disregards well-established law,” Paxton said. “We will seek immediate review by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.”

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Dallas Morning News - May 19, 2020

The UIL is working on a plan allowing limited summer strength and conditioning to start June 8

The University Interscholastic League (UIL) is working with state officials on a plan allowing limited in-person summer strength and conditioning starting on June 8, marking a significant step toward the viability of the 2020 high school football season. The Dallas Morning News obtained a memo sent to coaches and athletic director on Tuesday morning notifying them of the decision.

“UIL is aware of Governor Abbott’s May 18 announcement and is actively working with appropriate state officials to allow schools to begin limited summer strength and conditioning and marching band activities on June 8, 2020,” a UIL spokeswoman said in a statement. “As soon as the details of that plan are finalized, UIL will release them to schools to allow time to plan and prepare for bringing students back to campus for these purposes.” The decision comes a day after Gov. Greg Abbott announced the second phase in his plan for re-opening Texas, which included the return of professional and youth sports on May 31. Abbott’s latest announcement also allows private and public schools to start summer classes on June 1.

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Dallas Morning News - May 19, 2020

Dallas Morning News Editorial: To mask or not to mask. It isn’t really a question

Such are our political divisions now that we seem determined to express them even when it comes to the most simple response to the coronavirus. To mask or not to mask, that is the question. The idea is that to wear a mask, or to practice social distancing, suggests a communal spirit of togetherness. On the other hand, to decline to wear a mask or to avoid gathering is to signal one’s independence from the herd, a kind of bold individualism that’s woven into Texan DNA.

But nothing about the choice to wear a mask or socially distance should be about our feelings or our personal identity. It should be about the facts. And if we look at the facts, the answer to whether we should wear a mask and keep our distance is easy. Consider this work by the UT Southwestern Medical Center. Based on predictive modeling, scientists there estimate that confirmed coronavirus cases would have been significantly higher than they are today had Dallas County officials not put into place social distancing measures when they did. From the middle of March through early May — the heart of the stay-at-home lockdown — Dallas County reported 6,100 coronavirus cases, UT Southwestern says. Had the lockdown been delayed by one week, Dallas County would have had 24,000 coronavirus cases. And had the lockdown begun two weeks later, the number of infections in the county could have reached 93,000.

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Dallas Morning News - May 20, 2020

11 immigrants sue ICE, seeking release from Alvarado detention center where coronavirus has spread

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Jane Boyle ordered an expedited response from the U.S. attorney’s office in Dallas by May 29 on a lawsuit seeking the release of 11 immigrants being held at the Prairieland detention center in Alvarado, where a coronavirus outbreak has spread. In a federal court filing entered Friday, the immigrants from countries including Mexico, Nicaragua and Kyrgystan are suing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in a bid for release from the civil detention center in Alvarado, arguing they are medically vulnerable to the deadly coronavirus.

The suit is one of dozens around the nation that seeks the release of immigrants in the nation’s civil detention system, where more than 1,100 immigrants have contracted coronavirus. Immigration attorneys and public health experts have warned for weeks that the detention centers, jails and prisons are petri dishes for deadly coronavirus contagion. But the Prairieland case has highlighted the dangers of routine transfers between lockups during a public health pandemic. The Dallas Morning News first reported April 20 on the transfer to Prairieland of about two dozen immigrants from a Pennsylvania jail where an outbreak had occurred. Several of those immigrants later tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the immigrants and their families. The immigrants are particularly vulnerable to the deadly contagion and are unable to safely distance from each in the close quarters at Prairieland, a detention center now holding nearly 500 immigrants, according to the suit. As of Tuesday, 45 immigrants at Prairieland have tested positive for coronavirus, according to ICE.

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Dallas Morning News - May 19, 2020

Dallas County will send $72 million to cities after clashing with the state over federal coronavirus relief aid

Dallas County will begin distributing more than $72 million in federal aid to its cities as the cost of battling the coronavirus piles up. The decision to share the money with cities comes after county leaders here and across the state unsuccessfully lobbied the governor to send more resources to smaller municipalities within the largest counties, according to letters obtained by The Dallas Morning News. It is another wrinkle in the ongoing clash between local and state officials in how to respond to the public health crisis.

The 12 largest counties and six largest cities in Texas — including both Dallas County and the city of Dallas — received $3.2 billion in funding directly from Washington. Eleven county judges signed a letter saying they hoped to receive more when the federal government sent another $8 billion to the state, part of the so-called CARES Act. However, state officials said the direct payments from Washington cover all residents inside the county boundaries, preventing it — by federal law — from sending more money. The coronavirus relief bill passed by Congress prohibits states from sharing more than 45% of its total funding with local governments. Dallas County’s direct payment from Washington was $250 million. It will ship about 29% of it to 29 of the 30 cities within its boundaries — excluding the city of Dallas which received its own funding of about $270 million.

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Dallas Morning News - May 19, 2020

Why aren’t coronavirus recoveries always reported?

As public officials and health experts continually refer to new coronavirus cases and deaths to find clues to when restrictions on daily life can be lifted safely, many people are eager for news on another, more reassuring metric: coronavirus recoveries. Health departments across North Texas report COVID-19 statistics daily, and Tarrant, Collin and Denton counties regularly report new recoveries alongside the new infections. But other places, including Dallas County, don’t. The state provides recovery numbers, but the figures aren’t reported at the national level. So why isn’t recovery data always reported? Here’s what you need to know.

Health experts say that during outbreaks like COVID-19, recovery data is scarce and not always accurate. Most COVID-19 cases are mild, and because many places in the United States, including Texas, lack significant testing capacity, it’s possible many people have had the virus and not known it and aren’t included in the totals. There’s no reporting requirement for health care providers or patients in Texas, so numbers are only estimates, health experts say. It’s like when people with the flu visit the doctor but don’t call back or return unless their symptoms get worse. If they go home and get better, they typically don’t update the doctor. Even if people with COVID-19 do report back, there’s no way for the information to be included in county or state data because there’s no requirement or method for health care providers to document it, said Dr. Beth Kassanoff, an internal medicine physician with North Texas Preferred Health Partners and the 2021 president-elect of the Dallas County Medical Society.

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Fox News - May 19, 2020

Texas police union voices outrage after recently released career criminal fatally stabs grandma, 80, in broad daylight

A Texas career criminal who was recently released from jail despite being arrested nearly 70 times is accused of fatally stabbing an 80-year-old woman out shopping Saturday, police said. The suspect, 38-year-old Randy Roszell Lewis, was shot and killed by a responding officer who was flagged down by witnesses at the scene. Police said the man was armed with a 6-inch blade.

he incident sparked outrage from the Houston Police Officers' Union, which blamed the "total failure" of criminal justice reform for his release weeks earlier -- without paying bail. Lewis allegedly stabbed 80-year-old Rosalie Cook in the chest as she returned to her car after shopping inside a Walgreens in Houston. She was pronounced dead at a local hospital. Her son, Chuck Cook, said his mother was a “perfect” grandma to six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. “Nobody should have to go through this, an 80-year-old woman, disabled, had to walk with a cane,” Cook said. Police said officers were already in the area after receiving calls around 10:15 a.m. about a man matching Lewis’ description demanding money from shoppers at knifepoint by a nearby grocery store.

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Fox News - May 18, 2020

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to Fox: Media gets testing wrong on purpose

Lt. Governor of Texas Dan Patrick called in to the Brian Kilmeade Show to discuss the steps Texas, and the nation, are taking to safely reopen their economies. The Lt. Governor thinks it is of particular importance that sports and sports venues open up sooner rather than later.

"There's no reason we can't put in 25% of the fans in a stadium," Patrick said. "You take their temperature when they go through security, that's easy. You ask them to wear a mask. The computers can put out seating charts that are very easy to formulate," he added. The Lt. Governor also pushed back on some media outlets who report on rising coronavirus case numbers without adding the necessary context of increased testing ability. "This is really interesting. You don't get it wrong and Fox doesn't get it wrong but almost everyone else seems to get it wrong including local media and I think the national media, they get it wrong on purpose," said Patrick. "The more testing you do, the more positive cases you're going to have because you're revealing the people who have it that you wouldn't know otherwise unless you tested them. So, of course the positive cases go up and I see the local newscasts, the national newscasts every day with this headline that I think frightens people," he continued.

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McAllen Monitor - May 19, 2020

Abbott kicks property tax rate decisions back to local governments

Gov. Greg Abbott has responded to members of a Democratic congressional delegation’s pleas to alleviate tax burdens on Texans during the COVID-19 pandemic. U.S. Reps. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, and Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, were among the 10 members of the delegation who penned a letter to Abbott on May 13 calling for him to suspend any raises, interest and penalties on property taxes for the current taxable year. In Abbott’s response Tuesday, he stated his support for lessening the tax burden on Texans, but explained that local governments set the property tax rates, not the state.

“Property owners shouldn’t be saddled with rising property taxes while dealing with a pandemic,” Abbott said in a news release. “As a result, local governments, who set property tax rates, should find ways to reduce the tax burden on Texans. Whether we’re facing times of challenge or times of prosperity — raising taxes on the people of Texas is never the answer.” In his letter, Abbott said he disagreed with the delegation’s suggestion to raise property taxes at the conclusion of the pandemic. “While you ‘believe in raising property taxes when times are good,’ I do not,” Abbott stated in his letter. “We have a fundamental disagreement on this point. Just because times are good does not mean the government needs to take more hard-earned money from Texans.” Abbott goes on to encourage local governments against adopting property tax rates that will result in an “increase in the tax burden.

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Broadband Breakfast - May 19, 2020

Opportunity Zones developing quickly, say Trump advisers Scott Turner and Brooke Rollins

Opportunity Zones are performing well, said several Presidential Cabinet members in a Monday meeting. Opportunity Zones, low-income areas where private corporations can receive tax benefits to stimulate economic development, were created in 2018 as a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. There are currently Opportunity Zones in all 50 states. Members of the cabinet spoke to President Donald Trump about the zones and said that their development was impressive, in spite of the economic turmoil caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Scott Turner, Executive Director of the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council, said that the efforts would continue amidst the current recovering economy. "Yes, COVID is here, but our mission and the spirit is still the same, and now we're just going to ramp it up," he said. The positive report on Opportunity Zones came the same day as Wall Street had its best day in six weeks, prompted in part by promising initial results in a vaccine trial. Still, full economic recovery is expected to take some time, with Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell saying in a CBS interview Sunday that “we won’t get back to where we were by the end of the year, it’s not likely to happen.” Brooke Rollins, Director of the Domestic Policy Council, said that the Opportunity Zone efforts were among other successes of the administration. "In just a few years," she said, "we had the lowest poverty rate in the history of our country for our African American population, our Hispanic population, our veteran population, our high school graduate population, our people with disabilities."

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Fort Worth Business Press - May 19, 2020

Pier 1 to shutter all stores, citing retail uncertainty following pandemic

Light a scented candle for Pier 1 Imports Inc. The Fort Worth-based home furnishing retailer announced Tuesday, May 19, that it has sold its last hanging wicker chair. In its statement, company officials laid part of the blame on the pandemic, which it says has hindered “our ability to secure such a buyer and requiring us to wind down.” The company said it will seek bankruptcy court approval to start an orderly wind-down of its business operations as soon as possible given current COVID-19 store closures.

The company is planning to sell its inventory and remaining assets, including intellectual property and e-commerce business through a court-supervised process. The company has proposed July 1, 2020 as the asset bid deadline, July 8, 2020 as the auction date and July 15, 2020 as the sale hearing date. “This decision follows months of working to identify a buyer who would continue to operate our business going forward,” CEO and Chief Financial Officer Robert Riesbeck said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the challenging retail environment has been significantly compounded by the profound impact of COVID-19, hindering our ability to secure such a buyer and requiring us to wind down.” The company will start liquidation sales as soon as stores can reopen in compliance with guidelines from states and health officials. Its debtor-in-possession lenders have agreed to allow the retailer to overdraw its DIP loan by about $40 million to support its continued operations through the wind-down period.

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The Hill - May 19, 2020

Texas, North Carolina, Arizona see rising cases as they reopen

Texas, North Carolina and Arizona are among the states seeing rising numbers of coronavirus cases, intensifying concerns as they seek to reopen shuttered economies. Texas saw its largest one-day increase in cases on Saturday, with 1,801 new cases. North Carolina also saw its largest single-day jump on Saturday with 853 new cases. And Arizona reported 462 new cases that day, close to a record high.

The seven-day average in new cases in all three states has also been rising, according to data compiled by The New York Times. The data illustrate the risk of states reopening even amid ongoing outbreaks. Texas and Arizona are both relatively far along in reopening, having given the green light to businesses like restaurants and barber shops, though they have cautioned to open with limited capacity and other safety measures. North Carolina is less far down the road toward opening but has entered its first phase, allowing retail stores to open with precautions. Texas and Arizona are both led by Republican governors, while North Carolina has a Democratic governor. One reason for the increasing number of cases in all three states is that they are all seeing a significant rise in testing, which means more people carrying COVID-19 are being identified.

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Associated Press - May 18, 2020

Texas salon owner travels to Michigan to back defiant barber

A Texas salon owner who was sent to jail for opening her business during the coronavirus outbreak called Michigan’s governor a “tyrant” on Monday as she stood next to a barber whose license was suspended for cutting hair. “Gretchen, the state of Michigan will vote you out,” Shelley Luther declared, referring to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Luther traveled to Owosso, a small Michigan town, to express support for Karl Manke, a 77-year-old barber who reopened his shop for more than a week before state regulators suspended his license. Luther, the owner of Salon a la Mode in Dallas, was sentenced to a week in jail for flouting public health orders intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

She was released less than 48 hours later when Gov. Greg Abbott dropped jail as a possible punishment for violations. One of her first customers after jail was U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Luther told the crowd that she reopened to pay bills, support her employees and offer much-needed services in a clean salon. “Why does your governor think that it’s OK to open up for marijuana, liquor sales?” said Luther, whose boyfriend grew up an hour away in Frankenmuth. “Can’t you get an abortion? But you cannot get your hair cut. What is wrong? “Stop being a tyrant,” Luther said of the governor. ”Open up. You don’t get this control. We control you. We have the power.” Whitmer has defended the business restrictions as an important way to stop the virus. She relented a bit Monday by announcing plans to reopen bars and restaurants Friday in the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula, which haven’t been hit as hard as the rest of Michigan.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 19, 2020

San Antonio Express-News Editorial: What helps voters helps democracy

Life is always fragile, but especially these days as we approach 100,000 Americans dead from the novel coronavirus and millions fearing the same fate. With our psyches battered — and our security threatened — a pandemic is no time to imperil the very institutions that help us maintain our strength. One of those institutions is the vote, the single most important feature of our democracy. A number of voting rights advocates, as well as the Texas Democratic Party, fearing the novel coronavirus may keep potential voters away from the polls, are pushing to remove restrictions against voting by mail — a move that is both wise and reasonable.

In Texas, voters 65 and older can request mail-in ballots. But those younger than 65 must be disabled; out of the country on Election Day as well as during early voting; or be in jail but still eligible to vote. There are questions about why those younger than 65 should be denied the right to vote by mail and whether fear of catching COVID-19 qualifies as a disability. Litigation is moving through federal and state courts as we get closer to the July runoff. That makes the Texas Supreme Court’s recent decision to temporarily block the expansion of mail-in voting for those concerned about catching COVID-19 disheartening, baffling and potentially dangerous to one’s health. What’s painfully frustrating is how the issue of voting by mail has been framed in rote partisan terms. “Protecting the integrity of elections is one of my most important and sacred obligations,” Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement. “The Legislature has carefully limited who may and may not vote by mail.” Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, responded forcefully.

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City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 19, 2020

Fort Worth man threw 400-person, coronavirus-themed parties because he was ‘bored’

Hundreds of people crammed into a warehouse in downtown Fort Worth on Friday and Saturday night to celebrate a bar director’s birthday in spite of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Corey Mobley said he decided to have a party for his 37th birthday at the last minute and invited hundreds of his friends to the secret location. The rain on Friday night kept some people away, so he decided to have a second round on Saturday. “I was bored and there’s nothing else to do,” he said about the parties.

Mobley is the director of operations and founder of Whiskey Garden’s Turtle Races, an event usually held every other Monday in which an array of turtles race to a finish line. He plans and hosts parties for the bar and throws an annual birthday party, he said. Since the bars are closed, he decided to have the warehouse parties instead. On Friday, 300 to 400 people filled the warehouse. On Saturday, hundreds more showed up. Mobley broke open a coronavirus-themed pinata filled with mini bottles of Rumple Minze, and photos show the crowd of people packed together to take a picture. When asked if he felt that hosting the party was irresponsible, Mobley said he had no comment. He added that he and fellow service industry workers are ready to go back to work, and he is glad Gov. Greg Abbott is reopening businesses. Bars can reopen this Friday at 25% capacity.

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Community Impact Newspapers - May 19, 2020

'We are a different folk today': Houston Area Survey captures changing attitudes in 2020

In the 39th year of the annual Houston Area Survey, Houstonians revealed a growing trust in one another, a strengthening empathy around differences and an increasingly positive outlook for their futures. Before the coronavirus outbreak, the area enjoyed a "steady state of optimism," with 69% of respondents saying their job prospects were positive, said Rice University sociologist Stephen Klineberg, who shared the results via a livestream hosted by the Kinder Institute on May 18.

While the survey did not capture Houstonians' attitudes in the midst of the crisis, it did paint a picture of economic vulnerability and shifting political attitudes in the region. "It's going to be very interesting, as we know, to do this survey again as we will in the fall of 2021 to see how we've recovered and how we've dealt with the tremendous challenges that lie ahead," Klineberg said. The survey reached 1,001 randomly sampled adults in Harris County by phone. Here are five takeaways from this year's survey. The full survey results can be found at the Kinder Institute.

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National Stories

KSAT - May 19, 2020

U.S. legislators pass bipartisan bill mandating Holocaust education nationwide modeled on Texas curriculum

A two-year effort to ensure that the victims of the Holocaust won’t be forgotten reached a milestone last week. A federal bill passed last week secured $10 million over the next five years for Holocaust education in schools nationwide. In April of 2018, bipartisan legislators and a Jewish nonprofit called Hadassah worked together to propose the Never Again Education Act.

"My father was a refugee from Germany and he served in the U.S. Army in WWII but he had relatives who went through the camps, relatives who didn't survive and relatives who did survive," said Marion Bernstein, the president of San Antonio's chapter of Hadassah, an international Jewish nonprofit supporting a spectrum of missions. Bernstein has dedicated years ensuring Holocaust education will continue for future generations. “Our children and grandchildren have no idea they don’t have that immediate connection and soon the last of the survivors will be gone and when that happens we don’t want this to be forgotten,” Bernstein said.

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Los Angeles Times - May 19, 2020

The woman behind ‘Roe vs. Wade’ didn’t change her mind on abortion. She was paid

When Norma McCorvey, the anonymous plaintiff in the landmark Roe vs. Wade case, came out against abortion in 1995, it stunned the world and represented a huge symbolic victory for abortion opponents: “Jane Roe” had gone to the other side. For the remainder of her life, McCorvey worked to overturn the law that bore her name. But it was all a lie, McCorvey says in a documentary filmed in the months before her death in 2017, claiming she only did it because she was paid by antiabortion groups including Operation Rescue. “I was the big fish. I think it was a mutual thing. I took their money and they’d put me out in front of the cameras and tell me what to say. That’s what I’d say,” she says in “AKA Jane Roe,” which premieres Friday on FX. “It was all an act. I did it well too. I am a good actress.”

In what she describes as a “deathbed confession,” a visibly ailing McCorvey restates her support for reproductive rights in colorful terms: “If a young woman wants to have an abortion, that’s no skin off my ass. That’s why they call it choice.” Arriving in an election year as the Supreme Court is considering a high-profile abortion case with the potential to undermine Roe vs. Wade and several states across the country have imposed so-called “heartbeat laws” effectively banning the procedure, “AKA Jane Roe” is likely to provoke strong emotions on both sides of this perennial front in the culture wars. Director Nick Sweeney says his goal was not necessarily to stir controversy, but to create a fully realized portrait of a flawed, fascinating woman who changed the course of American history but felt she was used as a pawn by both sides in the debate. “The focus of the film is Norma. That’s what I really want people to take away from the film — who is this enigmatic person at the center of this very divisive issue,” he says. “With an issue like this there can be a temptation for different players to reduce ‘Jane Roe’ to en emblem or a trophy, and behind that is a real person with a real story. Norma was incredibly complex.”

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Arizona Republic - May 19, 2020

Laurie Roberts: New poll shows Sen. Martha McSally losing ground to Mark Kelly and that's not even the bad news

From the Republican uh-oh department: Arizona Sen. Martha McSally is sliding in the polls, dropping four percentage points in a month. McSally now trails Democrat Mark Kelly by 13 points, according to the latest tracking poll by OH Predictive Insights. While the April poll of 600 likely voters favored Kelly 51% to McSally’s 42%, in May it’s now 51%-38%. The poll shows independents breaking more than 2-1 for Kelly. “McSally is doing terribly,” pollster Mike Noble told me on Monday. “There’s no way to find a bright spot on that one.” And that’s not even the bad news for McSally.

The bad news comes from Maricopa County, where Republicans rule. At least, they did rule, until Democrat Kyrsten Sinema defeated McSally there in 2018 -- stealing 88 mostly-suburban precincts that normally would go to the Republican nominee. McSally's declining support lies within the 4 percent margin of error in the May tracking poll, a blend of live and automated calls made between May 9 to May 11. But her Maricopa County numbers are a disaster. In May 2019, this same tracking poll showed Kelly up over McSally, 46%-41%, among likely voters in Maricopa County. In May 2020, Kelly has climbed to 54% in Maricopa County while McSally has dropped to 36%. Just think about that for a moment. Kelly has gone from a five-point advantage in Maricopa County to an 18-point cruise.

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Washington Post - May 19, 2020

Barack Obama tries out his message on the new young voters

The 2020 election has been hyped by some experts as the presidential race where young voters would show the full impact of their political power. Following their record-breaking participation in the 2018 midterms, they showed potential to be a pivotal voting bloc in the following presidential election. But their low turnout during the Democratic primary race — particularly for the candidate who was most popular with young voters — brought that optimism back to reality. Former president Barack Obama, who made record strides in appealing to young voters, hopes to mobilize them to get more involved in the political process. His addresses this past weekend to 2020 graduates gave us our best sense yet of how he’ll reach out.

As Democratic pollster Geoff Garin previously told The Washington Post’s Jacqueline Alemany: “The gold standard for candidates for mobilizing and exciting young voters is Barack Obama in 2008 and there aren’t a lot of Barack Obamas and not a lot of moments like that one.” In the online event #GraduationTogether, Obama sought to inspire graduates, who aren’t getting the typical dose of fanfare over their achievement because of the coronavirus pandemic, by challenging them to channel their anger and disappointment into the voting process. He said: "This pandemic has shaken up the status quo and laid bare a lot of our country’s deep-seated problems — from massive economic inequality to ongoing racial disparities to a lack of basic health care for people who need it. It’s woken a lot of young people to the fact that the old ways of doing things just don’t work; that it doesn’t matter how much money you make if everyone around you is hungry and sick; and that our society and our democracy only work when we think not just about ourselves, but about each other."

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AFP - May 20, 2020

U.S. borders with Canada, Mexico closed another month

The US government on Tuesday extended for another month restrictions on non-essential travel across the borders with Canada and Mexico to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. The US Department of Homeland Security said the closure, first ordered on March 20 and due to expire Wednesday, will be extended until June 22 and reviewed every 30 days. "Non-essential travel will not be permitted until this administration is convinced that doing so is safe and secure," said interim DHS chief Chad Wolf.

"We have been in contact with our Canadian and Mexican counterparts and they also agree that extending these restrictions is prudent at this time. We appreciate our partnership with Mexico and Canada in ensuring that North America is working together to combat the ongoing global pandemic," he said. In Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced earlier that the Canada-US border will remain closed to all non-essential travel for another month, until June 21 to fight the spread of the coronavirus. The world's longest international frontier at 8,900 kilometers (5,500 miles) was closed to travellers on March 21, but trade in goods has continued.

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Mediaite - May 19, 2020

Neil Cavuto doubles down on Trump Hydroxychloroquine criticism: FDA warning ‘should suffice the argument right there’

Neil Cavuto doubled down on his criticism of hydroxychloroquine — an unproven drug to prevent Covid-19 that President Donald Trump admitted he takes —after the Fox News host faced criticism from Trump and the White House. “The president revisiting an issue that touched a lot of controversy with yesterday that the use of hydroxychloroquine saying that I was not fairly characterizing it,” Cavuto said after Trump was done speaking in the White House. “What has not been misinterpreted is that there have been at least four prominent studies on the use of hydroxychloroquine for other issues beyond lupus and malaria for which it is more popularly used and for which there is not been any noteworthy problems. The issue is whether it is advisable to take to ward off Covid-19.”

“As a preventative, when the Food and Drug Administration is saying is not advisable — out of clinical trial basis, it is risky to do — that should suffice the argument right there,” Cavuto said. On Monday afternoon, Trump told reporters that he has taken the drug for the past week-and-a-half and “feels fine,” he said. Right after Fox cut away from Trump, Cavuto immediately told viewers, “That was stunning.” “Whatever benefit the president says this has — and certainly has had for those suffering from malaria, dealing with lupus — this is a leap that should not be taken casually by those watching at home or assuming, ‘well, the President of the United States says it’s okay,’” Cavuto said on Monday. Trump quickly called Cavuto and Fox News out for his statement, retweeting and tweeting a slew of statements outspoken against Cavuto’s comments. In his final tweet about Cavuto Monday, Trump said Fox “is no longer the same,” that he misses Roger Ailes, and that he’s looking for a new network to watch. On Tuesday, Trump also doubled down on his usage of hydroxychloroquine and called a study against the drug “a Trump enemy statement.”

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Newsclips - May 19, 2020

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - May 19, 2020

Rising cases, inadequate tracing put Texas at risk during reopening

Texas has failed to meet key criteria designed to guide the reopening of the state, even as Gov. Greg Abbott pushes to lift more public health restrictions, a Houston Chronicle analysis shows. Mark McClellan, one of the chief medical advisers on Abbott’s strike force and a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, listed key criteria in late March for rolling back the reopening, including being unable to properly trace the source of new infections, a sustained rise in cases for five days or coronavirus patients overwhelming the hospital system. A Chronicle analysis of public data shows the state is in good shape in terms of hospital beds, but the number of new cases is continuing to climb. Since April 24, when Abbott first started rolling back restrictions put in place to control the virus, Texas has seen a 55 percent increase in new cases per day.

And many major cities, including Houston, still lack the manpower to trace the source of all new infections. Abbott also has placed a lot of weight on the declining positive test rate, which dropped to 5.2 percent as the state started offering testing to people without symptoms. And he cited the comparatively low number of deaths in Texas, roughly 4.7 per 100,000, which ranks 41st nationally. As the state moves into phase two of reopening, Abbott said that every decision has been supported by his team of medical experts. “That commitment to data, to doctors, underpins today’s announcement,” he said. Still, some experts say a more robust system is needed to sustain the economy as it reopens. “I think we need to dramatically scale up the amount of testing in the workplace,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, an expert on vaccines at the Baylor College of Medicine. “A second problem is that our ability to do contact tracing is incredibly limited.”

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Dallas Morning News - May 19, 2020

Royce West says John Cornyn’s ‘Restful Royce’ taunt plays off racist stereotype of lazy African-Americans

State Sen. Royce West accused Sen. John Cornyn of engaging in “dog whistle racism” on Monday, after the Republican’s campaign mocked him as “Restful Royce.” “Cornyn’s and his team’s choice of words … plays in to longtime racial stereotypes of African Americans being lazy,” said West spokesman Vince Leibowitz. The Dallas Democrat’s campaign was finalizing a web ad focusing on the epithet and other statements or positions that he views as racist, as when Cornyn declined to repudiate President Donald Trump for telling four nonwhite congressmen to “go back” home, even though they’re all American citizens. Cornyn’s campaign rejected the allegation, insisting the mocking nickname pertains not to West’s race but to his lackluster campaign.

“‘Restful’ is a pseudonym for ‘quiet,’ ‘calm,’ ‘tranquil’ and ‘leisurely’ – all words that describe the pathetic campaign that West has been running; one that lacks any sort of policy depth, financial backing or inkling of grass-roots support,” said Cornyn campaign press secretary Krista Piferrer. “However, lest we continue to ‘offend’ Royce, and considering his defense of Wendy Davis’ radical positions on abortion and his radical desire to eliminate the oil and gas industry, we will now start calling him Radical Royce. You’re welcome.” West is vying with former Air Force helicopter pilot M.J. Hegar in a July 14 primary runoff. The winner will face Cornyn in November as he seeks his fourth six-year term. Throughout the campaign, Hegar has largely ignored rivals for the nomination and kept her sights trained on Cornyn. West has been more eager to focus on the fight at hand by contrasting his own views with those of Hegar, but Cornyn’s taunts provided an opening and he has sought to capitalize.

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Associated Press - May 18, 2020

Trump says he has taken unproven malaria drug

President Donald Trump said Monday that he is taking a malaria drug to lessen symptoms should he get the new coronavirus, even though the drug is unproven for fighting COVID-19. Trump told reporters he has been taking the drug, hydroxychloroquine, and a zinc supplement daily “for about a week and a half now.” Trump spent weeks pushing the drug as a potential cure for COVID-19 against the cautionary advice of many of his administration’s top medical professionals. The drug has the potential to cause significant side effects in some patients and has not been shown to combat the new coronavirus.

Trump said his doctor did not recommend the drug to him, but he requested it from the White House physician. Trump repeatedly has pushed the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine with or without the antibiotic azithromycin, but no large, rigorous studies have found them safe or effective for preventing or treating COVID-19. They can cause heart rhythm problems and other side effects. The Food and Drug Administration has warned against the drug combo and said hydroxychloroquine should only be used for coronavirus in formal studies. Two large observational studies, each involving around 1,400 patients in New York, recently found no benefit from hydroxychloroquine. Two new ones published Thursday in the medical journal BMJ reached the same conclusion.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - May 18, 2020

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott says day cares can open immediately, bars can reopen Friday at 25%, summer school June 1

Gov. Greg Abbott announced daycare centers can reopen immediately, while on Friday, bars and other entertainment venues will be able to partially reopen and restaurants can begin allowing more customers inside. With bars opening at 25% capacity, restaurants may move up to 50% capacity. Besides bars, bingo parlors, bowling alleys, rodeos and aquariums can also open on Friday. By May 31, Abbott said youth sports and overnight camps can resume, along with professional sports (without fans). And by June, summer school can resume at public and private schools, including at universities.

The announcement is the latest in Texas’ march to reopen the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic. While the state has seen an uptick in new COVID-19 cases since the reopening began on May 1, Abbott pointed to metrics that he said show the state is containing the virus’s spread. Hospitalizations remain steady. And as testing across Texas has increased in recent weeks, the percentage of tests coming back positive has continued to drop, he said. “We are getting through this, but now more than ever we need to work together as one Texas," Abbott said of the phase 2 reopening. “Be a good neighbor.” The latest round of reopenings will come one week later in two areas around El Paso and Amarillo, which have experienced recent outbreaks of COVID-19. The four counties that include and surround Amarillo are dealing with a huge spike in cases in the meatpacking industry. El Paso has also seen a big increase in cases, which prompted local leaders to recently ask Abbott for an exemption from the next round of reopening. One sector that Abbott said cannot open yet is theme parks, which he said face unique challenges.

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Dallas Morning News - May 18, 2020

Sharon Grigsby: It’s not a hoax: Nurses in Parkland’s coronavirus ‘red box’ ward speak out

It shouldn’t have taken a global pandemic for us to recognize the indispensable importance of nurses. But in this hour, we need to hear these stories of courage and self-sacrifice. As my generation trail-blazed new opportunities with job-status bragging rights, the “helper” professions too often have been left in the dust. But today’s unprecedented health crisis provides much-needed perspective on what kind of jobs really matter and who is actually essential. It’s nurses’ 9/11 moment, the catastrophe that causes us to reframe them as the heroes they are: Women and men putting their own lives at risk to save others — without thinking it’s anything out of the ordinary.

“I’m just doing my job,” Parkland nurse Tyler Brookshire told me last week. “This assignment just happens to be what it is right now.” Tyler was one of five nurses who gave us a virtual look inside the third-floor 116-bed Tactical Care Unit, where Parkland Memorial Hospital cares for all its coronavirus patients. About 300 staff members play vital roles in the unit, nicknamed “the red box” because of the bright color of the paint applied to all entry and exit points and the strict security for getting in and out of the space. The nurses, who like their colleagues volunteered — at no additional pay — for this assignment, recognize that they are part of once-in-a-lifetime medical work. “But that’s not what it’s most about,” nurse Rebecca Berry said. “It’s what our job always is — healing and helping patients get back home to their families.” “It’s an honor and privilege to be a nurse at this time,” nurse Liyu Daniel added. “We don’t do it to be glorified. We do it because it’s a calling.” Throughout the morning I spent with them last week, they returned again and again to stories of the support from their families, the work of all their colleagues and the big-hearted response of North Texans everywhere.

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Dallas Morning News - May 18, 2020

Texas GOP leaders call out coronavirus enforcement in big cities while border crackdowns drew scant notice

When Gov. Greg Abbott told businesses to close and residents to stay home amid the coronavirus pandemic, he gave local officials power to jail and fine those who defied the order. But when big cities led by Democrats tried, he and other state GOP leaders called it government overreach. Two days after Dallas salon owner Shelley Luther was jailed, Abbott axed confinement as a penalty altogether. The governor overrode Houston’s policy to fine residents who didn’t wear masks before it could be enforced. And last week, Attorney General Ken Paxton threatened action against local policies he’s deemed “unlawful.” Meanwhile, those same leaders have been silent about far more aggressive crackdowns in Texas communities along the U.S.-Mexico border, where local officials say strict enforcement was needed to avoid an overwhelming surge of coronavirus cases.

According to a Dallas Morning News analysis of the most recent data from eight counties and nine cities across the state, the most populous areas relied largely on voluntary compliance to enforce stay-at-home orders. In just three border counties, by contrast, local authorities issued at least 2,600 citations and made 200 arrests for violations such as not wearing face masks, having too many people in the same car and breaking adult curfew. The city of Laredo issued almost six times as many citations as the state’s five most populous cities and counties combined. Enforcement in Dallas and statewide has eased as Abbott has begun reopening more sectors of the economy. But, for weeks, the South Texas border was one of the few places where police enforced stay-at-home orders to the full extent of the law.

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Houston Chronicle - May 18, 2020

Tesla request reveals deep divide among agencies over battery power

A simmering dispute between the state’s electric grid manager and the Public Utility Commission has burst into view over a request by Tesla to make it easier to develop battery storage systems in Texas. The electric carmaker’s request before a committee of Electric Reliability Council of Texas, wouldn’t normally attract much attention. But Texas regulators and ERCOT have been struggling for more than two years over how to accommodate developing battery storage technology that experts predict could accelerate demand for renewable energy sources and ultimately reduce electricity prices.

Large batteries can be charged from solar units or other forms of energy at night when power is cheapest and the stored energy sold when prices peak during midday. But Texas has been slow to adopt the technology, treating battery storage as a form of power generation and retail consumption with big cooling systems instead of just one integrated network. One Texas regulator said he’s embarrassed by the time it has taken for the state to nimbly embrace new technology. “This is the kind of thing Texas should be able to adopt to,” Commissioner Arthur C. D’Andrea said. “When there is a new technology, a new way of doing things, we embrace it and pull it into the market and we make it work.”

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Houston Chronicle - May 18, 2020

Illegal immigration is not a drain on Texas economy, new study finds

The state of Texas made more than $420 million off immigrants living in the state illegally in 2018, according to a new Rice University study. The study, which replicates an outdated state comptroller report, finds that for every $1 the Texas state government spends on the estimated 1.6 million people living in the state illegally, it brings in $1.21 in tax revenue. While the study found the state economy benefiting from immigrants living in Texas without legal authorization, it did not address one of the greatest costs: Roughly $1 billion in uncompensated health care expenses and law enforcement expenses covered by local governments and not reimbursed by the state.

The study fits into a growing body of research on the boon that immigration can be for the economy, including a recent study that found immigrants in Houston are responsible for more than 26 percent of the area’s gross domestic product and have accounted for a third of the region’s population growth over the past decade. “Immigration reform in the United States appears nearly impossible today, as it has been for twenty years. The probabilities of it happening may, however, increase if we deal first and separately with the undocumented population through an understanding of what they contribute to the U.S. economy,” the study, by José Iván Rodríguez-Sánchez, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Baker Institute, says. “The Texas case demonstrates that they add more than they take from the economy.” The study comes as the Trump administration has restricted even legal immigration amid the coronavirus outbreak, arguing in part that it will put a chill on economic recovery, and as Republicans have characterized unauthorized immigrants as a drain on the economy.

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Houston Chronicle - May 18, 2020

Fertitta urges Trump administration to set aside help for restaurant chains

Houston billionaire Tilman Fertitta on Monday urged President Donald Trump to peel off some of a popular paycheck protection program meant to help small business during the coronavirus outbreak for large restaurant chains like his. Fertitta was among a group of restaurant executives and industry leaders at the White House for a meeting with the president and several key members of his administration. During the meeting, which featured a lively exchange between Trump and the Houston restaurateur — who the president referred to as “a friend of mine for a long time” — Fertitta said he initially received a paycheck protection loan, but returned it after he realized "I would’ve been that billionaire that took the money from the little business."

“I took the money and sent it back and did not spend a dollar of it,” Fertitta told Trump. Fertitta said he “caught so much criticism because I was the first person who did lay off 40,000 employees” as the outbreak began. He said he had to borrow $300 million to keep his companies afloat and “it wasn’t enough to hire back all of my employees.” He had hoped to use a paycheck protection loan to do that. Fertitta asked the administration to “add a category for the larger private restaurateur that could go out and take this money, and put it in a different bucket so it wouldn’t be me taking this money away from the little beauty salon.” The program, available to companies with 500 or fewer employees, provides loans of up to $10 million that can be forgiven if 75 percent of the proceeds go toward keeping workers on the payroll and paying eight weeks of wages. Restaurant, hotel chains and other franchise businesses with fewer than 500 employees per location are also eligible. Fertitta said his restaurants average about 150 employees per location. The president appeared sympathetic, telling Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to "take a look at it" and "do the best you can."

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 18, 2020

As Fort Worth’s American Airlines battles COVID, are bankruptcy or job cuts possible?

When Boeing’s chief executive predicted that one of the United States’ largest airlines would go out of business because of the COVID crisis, many industry observers speculated that the unidentified company he was referring to was American Airlines. The Fort Worth-based airline is losing $70 million a day, company executives said during a recent earnings call, and has more debt than the nation’s other major carriers. Any misfortunes at American would be bad news for the Dallas-Fort Worth economy, where the airline employs about 33,000 people and is North Texas’ largest employer. But several people who follow the air travel industry closely say they believe American can survive the pandemic without filing for bankruptcy protection. To do so, they say, American must become a smaller company, with fewer airplanes and a smaller payroll.

Spencer McGowan, founder of Dallas-based McGowan Group Asset Management and host of a weekly NetWorth Radio show on KLIF-AM, said he believes American can get through the crisis without filing for bankruptcy — but the company will need to cut jobs. “I think the net result is, they will have to downsize by about 5,000 jobs, a majority of them here in North Texas,” McGowan said in a phone interview. “I think that’s going to have to happen, unfortunately.” But McGowan said his firm’s review of American’s finances for investors shows the company is well-managed and has enough cash to pay its bills until the public appetite for air travel returns, mostly likely toward the end of 2021. American, Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines all received billions of dollars in federal assistance under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, which has enabled them to keep operating with near-empty planes without cutting jobs.

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Law.com - May 18, 2020

Juror walks off to take phone call as Texas tests first jury trial via Zoom

In what might be a first across the United States, Texas judges on Monday invited a jury pool to a court proceeding over video teleconference. And they found jury selection unfolded pretty seamlessly over about an hour and a half, with only one hiccup: A juror wandered off screen during a break and couldn’t hear the judges calling him back. Senior Judge Keith Dean said it was the digital version of at the courthouse, when court staff occasionally have to track down a juror in the hallway taking a phone call. As the coronavirus pandemic shuttered courthouses across the nation this spring, Texas emerged as a leader in embracing Zoom video conferences for judges to continue holding court proceedings remotely. Texas judges have already been using the technology for bench trials—but a jury trial is another matter.

Monday’s hearing in an insurance dispute was actually a “summary jury trial,” which is an alternative dispute resolution process in which the parties participate in a one-day jury trial, followed the next day by a mediation session to attempt to settle the dispute. The jury selection was livestreamed on YouTube, and the rest of the proceeding was private. “For centuries, if you had jury duty, you have to go to the courthouse. In this case, the courthouse has come to you,” said Dean, a senior judge and mediator in the Dallas-Fort Worth region who previously served as judge of the 265th District Court and the Dallas County Criminal Court No. 5. For the first 30 minutes of the proceeding, 470th District Judge Emily Miskel of Collin County welcomed all of the 26 prospective jurors—another three people failed to report to jury duty—and asked what type of device they were connecting with, and patiently walked them through how to set up their their audio and video correctly.

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Brownsville Herald - May 18, 2020

Cornyn seeks clarity after Zapata decision protecting peace officers overseas

.S. Sen. John Cornyn has filed the Jaime Zapata and Victor Avila Federal Law Enforcement Protection Act that would clarify that federal law protects federal officers and employees serving overseas. Cornyn filed the bill after the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals’ in January vacated the murder convictions of Jose Emanuel Garcia Sota, aka “Zafado,” and Jesus Ivan Quezada Pina, aka “Loco,” who were convicted of murdering Zapata Zapata, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent and Brownsville native, was killed Feb. 15, 2011, at a roadblock near San Luis Potosi, Mexico, in an attack by suspected members of the Zetas drug cartel. Agent Avila was wounded in the attack.

Although the men accused of killing Zapata were found guilty and received life sentences, their murder convictions were vacated and remanded to a lower court because they were killed outside the United States. A portion of the court ruling states “Because we vacate the defendants’ convictions under 1114, we remand their case for a limited resentencing in which the district court may determine whether to modify its sentence in light of our vacatur.” Cornyn’s bill, which was filed on Thursday, would “clarify that federal law clearly and unequivocally protects federal officers and employees serving overseas.” “Federal law enforcement officers make incredible sacrifices to protect Americans both on and off American soil, and they deserve our support no matter where they’re stationed,” said Cornyn in a statement. “This bill in honor of the brave Special Agents Jaime Zapata and Victor Avila will make it clear once and for all that we have our federal agents’ backs.”

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D Magazine - May 18, 2020

Fortunate Son Doug Deason’s father made a fortune. Doug decided to spend part of it to transform criminal justice in America.

On a hedgerow-lined Preston Hollow street, Doug Deason waited for his guests to arrive. By 6:30 on a sweltering September evening in 2014, they began to stream through the wrought-iron gates and up to the valet as the men and women who would soon run the Texas government milled around tax consultant G. Brint Ryan’s three-story, 20,000-square-foot Strait Lane home. Even the doghouse was decadent. The family Cavapoo and Peekapoo had their own scale model of the mansion, complete with Ionic columns and air conditioning. Everyone at the fundraiser—the givers and the politicos—knew Doug’s dad, Darwin. A big-dollar Republican benefactor, Darwin is one of Dallas’ most colorful bon vivants, spending as much as half of the year aboard his 205-foot yacht Apogee. Now single, Darwin has been married at least six times. He made his money selling a computer services business to Xerox.

Now, in Ryan’s great room, with its coffered ceiling, Doug stood at the center of a gathering he’d organized for the county GOP as a member of its finance committee. With help from Ryan, the finance chair, they’d managed to wrangle just about every incoming Republican statewide, along with a passel of local candidates and a few North Texas congressional incumbents. That meant nearly the entire future Texas executive branch had schlepped north at Doug’s invitation to make a withdrawal from Dallas’ electoral ATM. Doug, on the other hand, had for the most part worked in quiet corners of his father’s business services, construction, and data processing empire. Easygoing and affable, with a voice tinged more by the Ozarks than the Park Cities, he seemed like a more laid-back version of Darwin. But get him going on welfare (“Women are incentivized to have babies out of wedlock, for example, with different fathers.”) or even government laboratories (“The U.S. should not be in research. We should sell our labs to private industry.”), and some of that Deason intensity would blaze through. Only through capitalism, he argued, could the poor lift themselves out of poverty. The event itself, however much it felt like a passing of the torch, was largely beside the point; there would be more just like it. Doug had to admit that it was cool to text the governor, but the real question before him that evening was what he should do with this bounty of political gratitude. “I’ve got every single statewide elected official’s cellphone number and I know them personally,” he said. “That’ll probably last two weeks.” He was being modest; in truth, Deason-level access doesn’t have a short shelf life. And that’s what this would all come down to: access and what can be done with it. This was the day Doug decided to use his good fortune to help the kind of felon he might have been in another life. The charges back then were overblown. But what if he hadn’t been a Deason? Doug is the rare ultra-rich conservative white guy willing to admit that life might have turned out differently had he been born, say, a black man from a South Dallas neighborhood with a high incarceration rate.

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Politifact Texas - May 18, 2020

Fact-checking Gov. Abbott’s ‘GREAT NEWS’ about Texas coronavirus recoveries

The claim: "The number of Texans who have RECOVERED from #COVID19 now exceeds the number of active COVID cases for the past 2 days. That’s exactly what we want to see. Texas ranks 3rd highest among states for number of people who have recovered from #coronavirus." — Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Abbott made the claim on Twitter May 4, ahead of his announcement that Texas would commence the second phase of its reopening after a statewide stay-at-home order had lifted. PolitiFact rating: Half True. The available figures on cumulative COVID-19 recoveries by state show that Texas ranked third at the time Abbott made the statement — but that data has limitations.

A better metric for comparison is the recovery rate of the virus, given Texas’ population size. Using this measure, Texas ranks 16th among those states with data. Abbott’s statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details. Discussion: Recovery statistics are not a factor that indicate a state’s readiness to reopen, according to guidelines from the White House. The guidelines, released in April, highlight certain criteria states should meet before opening: a downward trajectory of COVID-19 or flu-like symptoms, a downward trajectory of positive tests as a percent of total tests and a robust testing program for healthcare workers, including antibody testing. "Recovery, even if it were measured properly, does not reflect interventions because we have almost none," said Dr. Myron Cohen, director of the Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Medicine. "Such statistics are generally used to measure the success of a health care system when testing and treatments might be robust." The raw counts of recovered cases available show that Texas did rank third as of May 4, but there is a lot to unpack with this data. Abbott’s office did not return a request for comment seeking information about the data behind his statement.

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KUT - May 18, 2020

Is it safe to go to the gym? An infectious disease expert weighs in.

Monday is the first day since the coronavirus lockdown that gyms in Texas will be allowed to open up. But there are limitations. According to Gov. Greg Abbott's orders, gyms can open up to 25% capacity. Gymgoers are asked to stay six feet apart and wear face masks. Gym owners are also asked to sanitize all of their workout equipment and surfaces. Dr. Rama Thyagarajan is assistant professor of internal medicine at Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin. She's also an infectious disease specialist.

She told Texas standard host David Brown on Monday that those who are considering going to the gym need to think about whether doing so could risk their health. One consideration is whether they have preexisting health conditions that could make them more vulnerable to the virus. Air droplets from coughing, a sneeze or even talking to someone within six feet pose the biggest risk for spreading the coronavirus. Droplets can also stay on gym equipment for a time, and and then be picked up by the next user. "So it's more about secretions rather than sweat," Thyagarajan said.

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Governing - May 19, 2020

Rockdale turns to bitcoin mining to survive

The small Texas town of Rockdale forever changed in 1952 when the Aluminum Company of America opened the country’s largest smelting operation just down the road. The huge investment put thousands to work and added millions of dollars to the local tax base while supplying the material to make everything from jet planes to pots and pans. An article in the Saturday Evening Post that year summed up the situation by proclaiming Rockdale “The Town Where It Rains Money.” Fifty-six years later, the small city’s fortunes would eventually dry up. In 2008, Alcoa, as the company came to be known, announced it would begin shutting down its operations in Rockdale, citing problems with the power supply and overall market conditions. By 2014, all aluminum production had ceased at the Texas facility. Another 450 workers lost their jobs when the onsite power plant and nearby coal mine that fed it were also shuttered.

Today, there are new players in town, anxious to reverse the town’s fortunes by means not easily understood. At least two bitcoin mining operations are setting up shop, one of them under the roof of the idled Alcoa plant. Rows of mining computers (servers), 16 feet tall and extending the length of three football fields, occupy space once filled with caldrons of molten metal. Tom Maldonado, who worked at the aluminum plant for 35 years, understands every aspect of the aluminum-making process. Mining bitcoin however, is another matter. “I’ve tried to read about it, to figure it out,” he says. “I really can’t grasp how it actually works.” The Saturday Evening Post introduced a prosperous Rockdale to the world when it published its article in 1952. Last year, an article in Wired was much less flattering. The Hard-Luck Texas Town That Bet on Bitcoin—and Lost details a promised $500 million investment in the city by Bitmain, a Chinese company that makes computers used to mine cryptocurrency. But as the price of bitcoin plunged throughout 2018, Bitmain shelved its plans to build the largest mining facility of its kind at Alcoa’s retired aluminum plant.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 19, 2020

Voter registration has flatlined in big urban counties

The rate of new voter registrations has nosedived in Travis, Harris and Dallas counties during the coronavirus lockdown, according to an American-Statesman analysis. With the vote-rich counties historically voting Democratic, if lockdown measures persist through, or return in, the fall, weak voter registration in Texas’ major urban counties could have key political implications, hindering hopes of a large Democratic turnout.

“Think about UT,” said University of Texas government professor Daron Shaw. “Students are a core Democratic constituency. The notion there’s going to be face-to-face voter registration drive on the West Mall this fall is pretty dubious to me.” “And what about Madison, UNC-Chapel Hill, or Florida State?” he said, naming big universities in key swing states. The findings, through interviews and data collected through requests under the Texas Public Information Act, extend to fast-growing suburban counties on the fringes of Austin.

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Victoria Advocate - May 17, 2020

Oil, gas experts worry about downturn's strain on independent producers, service companies

As the U.S. oil & gas rig count plunges to a record low for the second week in a row, oil and gas experts are beginning to worry about the long-term effects of the downturn, especially on smaller, independent oil producers. Spencer Klotzman, a Victoria attorney who specializes in oil, gas and mineral law, said such companies are particularly susceptible to the downturn not just because of their size compared to giants such as Exxon and ConocoPhillips, but because of their reliance on private equity firms rather than banks. “The big lesson of the 2014 crash was that banks really stopped lending to a lot of these producers, so private equity stepped in,” Klotzman said.

It’s likely these private investors may pull out, and that acreage currently being developed by small companies may get transferred to larger companies, he said. “During the downturn, a lot of what happens is dependent on who their investors are and their tolerance,” he said. “It seems almost inevitable there will be some consolidation of acreage.” Earlier in May, the Texas Railroad Commission dismissed a vote on prorationing oil rates, which some people, including Klotzman, believed could have helped stabilize the price of gas and help smaller companies survive.

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Associated Press - May 18, 2020

Early coronavirus vaccine results are encouraging, manufacturer says

An experimental vaccine against the coronavirus showed encouraging results in very early testing, triggering hoped-for immune responses in eight healthy, middle-aged volunteers, its maker announced Monday. Study volunteers given either a low or medium dose of the vaccine by Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Moderna Inc. had antibodies similar to those seen in people who have recovered from COVID-19. In the next phase of the study, led by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, researchers will try to determine which dose is best for a definitive experiment that they aim to start in July.

In all, 45 people have received one or two shots of the vaccine, which was being tested at three different doses. The kind of detailed antibody results needed to assess responses are only available on eight volunteers so far. The vaccine seems safe, the company said, but much more extensive testing is needed to see if it remains so. A high dose version is being dropped after spurring some short-term side effects.

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County Stories

12 News Now - May 17, 2020

Dozens of arrests made at Go Topless Jeep Weekend on Bolivar peninsula

At least 140 people have been arrested in connection to Go Topless Jeep weekend, according to the Galveston County Sheriff's Office. This year, the sheriff's office added roughly 40 Texas DPS state troopers to help with enforcement. Thousands have gathered on Bolivar Peninsula to celebrate the annual event that draws crowds from all across Southeast Texas. Go Topless Jeep Weekend comes at a time where beaches across the state are reopening following the coronavirus pandemic.

"We been in quarantine and like, I need to get out and party," beachgoer Chelsey Coyer said. The 140 arrests were made Friday, Saturday and Sunday. At last year's Go Topless event, chaos erupted. Roughly 80 people were arrested and six people were taken to the hospital. The Galveston County Sheriff Office is advising folks to act responsibly, while out on the beach. "You have a good time, there is no issue but when you start acting silly, like the sheriff said in previous interview, we got a jail that has a whole lot of empty cells," Sergeant Mark McGaffey said. The Galveston County Sheriff's office said it's difficult to enforce social distancing given the size of the crowd at the beaches.

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Houston Chronicle - May 18, 2020

With clerk resigning, Harris County mulls switch to elections administrator

A week after Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman announced she would resign due to health concerns, Commissioners Court on Tuesday plans to debate whether to appoint an independent administrator to run county elections. After Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis inquired about how to do so, the County Attorney’s office prepared a four-page memorandum last week detailing how to switch to an elections administrator, which most major counties in Texas have done. Ellis said partisan elections administration can unfairly inject politics into what is supposed to be an apolitical process. “In more extreme cases, the politicization of decisions may paralyze the entire process,” Ellis said in a statement.

The move would put a single office in charge of running elections and managing the voter roll, both gargantuan tasks in the state’s largest county, which has 4.7 million residents. Voter registration is currently the responsibility of the tax assessor-collector, owing to the office’s historic role collecting poll taxes. The county clerk’s office administers elections. The nonpartisan model is successful because a centralized elections department can more efficiently update voting infrastructure, like machines and poll books, based on changes to the roll, said Hidalgo County Elections Administrator Yvonne Ramón. “I don’t care how perfect our elections are running, how the machines and everyone is trained — if my voter registration data base is not up to date… then we’re not as good as we should be,” said Ramón, who also is president of the Texas Association of Elections Administrators.

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KUT - May 18, 2020

Grocery stores In Travis County won't be polling sites during the July election

Travis County voters won’t be able to cast their ballots in grocery stores during July’s runoff election. Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said the option is too risky during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Grocery stores are out of the question,” she said. “They are doing everything they can to feed us and we are entirely grateful for their extra efforts, but there is no way to provide safe voting and proper social distancing for that group of people when we already have such crowded conditions in the grocery stores.”

Travis County residents have been voting at grocery stores since the 1990s; they quickly became, by far, the most popular voting sites in Austin. They are not the only locations that won’t be available during the election. DeBeauvoir said other sites – including Austin Community College campuses – have decided not to open their doors to voters during the pandemic. “We have had some locations that have said, ‘No, we don’t want to take the risk,’” she said. “And you know, that’s their prerogative.”

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City Stories

Patch - May 18, 2020

5,000 computers for Houston-area students in need

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Diane Morales' hours were slashed at work. Financially strained and now teacher to her kids, who had no computer to complete their assignments, Morales turned to Communities In Schools of Houston (CIS). CIS Student Support Specialist Roy Reyes talked Morales through the uncertainty and grief her family was feeling. He also arranged for her children to receive a computer. Morales' family is among thousands of pre-registered families receiving computers from CIS and Comp-U-Dopt this month to help students with schoolwork and more.

"I've been doing my best to help [my children] using the district's packets and my phone," Morales said. "I am so grateful for this computer and all of the support provided." CIS provides comprehensive services for students and families trying to cope with hardships, doing whatever it takes to help break down barriers to students' success. Since campuses closed in March, students have reported the lack of technology as one of their biggest challenges to continuing their education and accessing much-needed resources. "As our team of CIS student support specialists reach out to families every day, the lack of computers continues to be a significant challenge for so many," CIS of Houston CEO Lisa Descant said. "We're excited to team up with Comp-U-Dopt to help direct computers to thousands of deserving students." Comp-U-Dopt and CIS are distributing 5,000 computers throughout May to students at participating schools in Aldine, Alief, Fort Bend, Houston, Southwest Schools, and Spring Branch public school districts.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 19, 2020

Austin City Council to discuss coronavirus spending, homeless count

Austin City Council members on Tuesday will continue discussions on a spending framework for hundreds of millions of dollars aimed at lessening the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, and hear an update on the annual point-in-time count of the city’s homeless population. The council already has pumped more than $30 million into relief efforts targeting individuals, businesses, nonprofit organizations, musicians, venues and childcare services since social distancing orders went into effect in March. However, funds from the federal CARES act, which will bring an estimated $240 million to the community, still need to be divvied up.

Council members have said they hope to use the influx of cash to address the immediate needs of people struggling to get by, while also building programs that can continue after the current crisis abates. Such initiatives include establishing an Austin Civilian Conservation Corps to provide jobs related to conservation and sustainability, like wildfire brush removal, planting trees or building urban farms and orchards, and a Healthy Streets program to provide more safe outdoor recreation space. Council members have not indicated how much funding might go to each program. While the majority of discussion from the council in recent months has circled around the response to the coronavirus, Austin’s homeless crisis has not fallen out of focus. The homeless community has been identified as one of the most vulnerable populations to the virus. The Salvation Army’s downtown shelter was forced to close for several days in April for cleaning after experiencing an outbreak.

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National Stories

CNBC - May 19, 2020

Jamie Dimon says coronavirus crisis is ‘wake up call’ for a more inclusive economy

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said Tuesday in a memo that the coronavirus crisis should be used to build an economy that offers opportunities for “dramatically more people.” The memo, issued ahead of his bank’s annual shareholder meeting, served as an update to the New York-based bank’s response to the pandemic. Dimon also detailed the steps his firm has taken to support customers and employees since the crisis began two months ago, as well as his thinking about returning employees to work sites.

“It is my fervent hope that we use this crisis as a catalyst to rebuild an economy that creates and sustains opportunity for dramatically more people, especially those who have been left behind for too long,” Dimon said. “The last few months have laid bare the reality that, even before the pandemic hit, far too many people were living on the edge.” Since the pandemic took hold in the U.S., 36.5 million people have filed unemployment claims, and the toll has hit lower-income workers hardest: Nearly 40% of households with incomes of less than $40,000 have reported a job loss, the Federal Reserve said last week.

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The Hill - May 19, 2020

Biden's virtual campaign speech repeatedly interrupted by geese

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, was met with repeated interruptions during his virtual campaign speech on Monday even as he delivered it from the comforts of his own Delaware residence. While delivering remarks during his campaign event outside on Monday afternoon, Biden was interrupted multiple times by repeated honking from Canada geese at a pond located on the other side of his residence.

Biden had been addressing the Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) Victory Fund during a live-streamed speech in which he knocked President Trump and accused him of fanning flames of “hate, fear and xenophobia” toward Asian Americans amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But his fiery remarks apparently made no difference to the geese just outside his house, as they continued to squawk throughout his speech on Monday. At one point, Biden even took a moment to address the honking during the virtual event. “You're going to hear, there's a pond on the other side of my property here. A lot of Canadian geese. If you hear them honking away, they're cheering, that's what they're about,” Biden said.

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New York Daily News - May 19, 2020

Trump vaccine czar forgoes $3M windfall as ex-firm’s stock soars -- and he flip flops on conflict

First it wasn’t a conflict, then it was. Either way, President Trump’s vaccine czar Moncef Slaoui agreed Monday to forgo millions in stock options in the Boston biotech firm that claimed blockbuster early progress in its trial of a coronavirus vaccine. “Dr. Slaoui is divesting all of his equity interest in Moderna so that there is no conflict of interest with Dr. Slaoui in his new role,” the company said in a statement after the News reported Slaoui’s massive windfall. The statement said Slaoui plans to donate the outsized profits to cancer charity.

Slaoui added a whopping $3.4 million to his bottom line as Moderna Therapeutics’ stock soared by more than 30% in early trading Monday. It closed up a more modest 20%. Slaoui, a former director of the company who was named Trump’s vaccine czar last week, apparently had a change of heart Monday about the ethics of pocketing the cash. A morning tweet from his account said: “There is not a conflict of interest and there has never been,” reported Business Insider. He later deleted the tweet.

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CNN - May 15, 2020

Dr. Kent Sepkowitz: A surprising way you may risk getting Covid-19

Much of what we understand about the transmission of infectious diseases is derived from odd outbreaks in far-flung places. For example, we learned more about measles from its rapid spread on an isolated Polynesian island in 1911 and about influenza from people stuck on a grounded plane in Alaska in 1979. Add to this important list a startling and revealing outbreak of Covid-19 affecting as many as 52 of 61 people at a choir practice in March. The story was detailed this week in a new report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Public health officials in Skagit County, Washington, which lies between Seattle and the Canadian border, meticulously reconstructed the outbreak. The area had already seen a nursing home outbreak in nearby Kirkland, and testing and local expertise were therefore available.

After interviewing everyone involved in the March 10 choir practice, and determining precisely how the chairs been arranged and where each choir member had been sitting, standing and later mingling, the investigators determined that one person with mild respiratory symptoms (and who later tested positive for Covid-19) had likely triggered the outbreak. They found that, at the start of the practice, all 61 members sang together in a room for 40 minutes. Then they split into two groups in two rooms for an additional 50 minutes. Next came a 15-minute break, where the whole group chatted and snacked on cookies and oranges. Finally, the large group returned to their seats in the main room and practiced for another 45 minutes before re-stacking their chairs and leaving. Within the next five days, 49 people developed symptoms of Covid-19. The early development of symptoms was remarkable (at a median of 3 days versus 5 days in most other reports) and may relate to the intensity of the exposure. Three additional cases developed symptoms over the next week.

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NBC News - May 18, 2020

Saudi arms sale was a second area of investigation for fired State Department watchdog

Ousted State Department Inspector General Steve Linick was investigating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s decision to greenlight arms sales to Saudi Arabia against the will of Congress when he was abruptly removed from his post, congressional officials tell NBC News. The probe into the Saudi arms sale is the second known investigation into Pompeo’s activities that Linick is known to have been pursuing when he was fired by President Donald Trump on Friday evening, in a letter to Congress explaining that the administration no longer had confidence in Linick. The inspector general was also looking into allegations Pompeo enlisted a political appointee to perform personal chores like picking up dry cleaning, NBC News previously reported.

Three officials from different congressional committees say investigators on Capitol Hill believe that Linick’s investigations into the Saudi arms sale and Pompeo’s use of the political aide contributed to his firing. A White House official has said that Pompeo recommended to Trump that Linick be fired, and that Trump agreed. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., confirmed Monday that Linick was looking into the Saudi arms deal. “His office was investigating — at my request — Trump’s phony declaration of an emergency so he could send weapons to Saudi Arabia,” Engel said in a statement. “We don’t have the full picture yet, but it’s troubling that Secretary Pompeo wanted Mr. Linick pushed out before this work could be completed.” Engel urged the Trump administration to comply with a request for related records jointly issued late last week by Engel’s committee and by Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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Houston Chronicle - May 18, 2020

Total backs out of deal with Oxy to buy Anadarko assets in Ghana

Total has backed out of its deal with Occidental Petroleum to buy Anadarko assets in Ghana, citing low oil prices driven by the coronavirus pandemic. The French energy major on Monday said it decided not to complete the purchase “given the extraordinary market environment and the lack of visibility that the Group faces, and in light of the non-operated nature of the interests of Anadarko in Ghana.” Proceeds from Oxy's sale of Anadarko’s Africa assets was to repay investors who funded the Houston oil and gas company’s $38 billion acquisition of The Woodlands-based Anadarko in August.

“This decision not to pursue the completion of the purchase of the Ghana assets consolidates the Group’s efforts in the control of its net investments this year and provides financial flexibility to face the uncertainties and opportunities linked to the current environment,” Total Chief Executive Patrick Pouyanné said in a statement. The collapse of the deal with Total adds to the financial woes facing debt-addled Oxy, which this month warned it may not be able to sell its assets quickly enough to repay debt incurred in the Anadarko deal. Oxy was planning to sell $15 billion of Anadarko assets by 2021, but their value has plunged during the recent oil crash while travel restrictions during the pandemic has disrupted the market for asset sales.

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Newsclips - May 18, 2020

Lead Stories

Axios - May 18, 2020

Veteran Clinton pollster Doug Sosnik on Biden's best path to 270

Doug Sosnik, who was the White House political director during President Clinton's successful re-election race, writes for Axios that during President Trump’s first term, the country completed a political realignment that began in 1992. Why it matters: With this realignment, the electoral college map is changing for the first time since 1992. So Trump is running on different terrain than in 2016.

The realignment: Changing demographics: The fastest-growing demographic groups — nonwhites and millennials (now the largest voting bloc) — are D-friendly. Women are increasingly abandoning the Republican Party. More-educated voters are increasingly Democratic. Suburbs, which constitute an increasing share of the U.S. population, are moving D. What to watch Rust Belt's traditional battlegrounds: Trump’s chance of winning Michigan, which he carried by 11,000 votes in 2016, has been significantly reduced by the impact of COVID-19 in the state, which has suffered the fourth most deaths in the country. Pennsylvania has almost been as hard hit as Michigan (fifth most deaths). Of the three Rust Belt states, Trump is best positioned in Wisconsin, where his job approval has remained higher than the national average.

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CNBC - May 17, 2020

Powell says GDP could shrink more than 30%, but he doesn’t see another Depression

The U.S. economy could shrink by upwards of 30% in the second quarter but will avoid a Depression-like economic plunge over the longer term, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell told “60 Minutes” in an interview aired Sunday. The central bank chief also conceded that jobless numbers will look a lot like they did during the 1930s, when the rate peaked out at close to 25%, However, he said the nature of the current distress coupled with the dynamism of the U.S. and the strength of its financial system should pave the way for a significant rebound.

Asked by host Scott Pelley whether unemployment would be 20% or 25%, Powell said, “I think there’re a range of perspectives. But those numbers sound about right for what the peak may be.” Pressed on whether the U.S. is headed for a “second depression,” he replied, “I don’t think that’s a likely outcome at all. There’re some very fundamental differences.” In a part of the interview that did not air, Powell said shrinkage of U.S. economic growth “could easily be in the 20s or 30s,” according to a CBS transcript. He said that growth could return in the third quarter. “I think there’s a good chance that there’ll be positive growth in the third quarter. And I think it’s a reasonable expectation that there’ll be growth in the second half of the year,” Powell said. “I would say though we’re not going to get back to where we were quickly. We won’t get back to where we were by the end of the year. That’s unlikely to happen.”

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Dallas Morning News - May 17, 2020

As more Texas businesses open, health experts watch and wait

With gyms and more businesses set to reopen Monday, Texas is closer to reaching some of its goals for fighting the coronavirus. The number of daily tests has grown. The percentage of tests that come back positive has shrunk. The state now has 2,000 people in place to track down those who may have come into contact with infected people. Texas has some of the lowest death and infection rates in the country, and hospitals have never come close to filling up. As part of the first wave of states to emerge from its lockdown, Texas will also be on the forefront of seeing the effects of loosened coronavirus restrictions.

This week, health officials could get their first indication of how the epidemic will grow during the summer months. Challenges remain. The state has yet to consistently run 30,000 tests a day, a goal Gov. Greg Abbott set at the end of April. And the state still needs to hire more contact tracers. Researchers plan on closely watching the effect of the reopening, although incomplete data makes that difficult. Some parts of the state are faring better than others. Many experts expect a surge of cases this summer and say the state needs a more detailed, tailored plan to make sure the return to work is safe. “I'm trying not to put a lot of emphasis on jumping up and down and saying, ‘We opened the state too early,’” said Dr. Peter Hotez, an expert on infectious diseases and vaccines at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. “That's been done, and now it's gotta be all hands on deck.”

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ProPublica - May 16, 2020

Two coasts. One virus. How New York suffered nearly 10 times the number of deaths as California.

By March 14, London Breed, the mayor of San Francisco, had seen enough. For weeks, she and her health officials had looked at data showing the evolving threat of COVID-19. In response, she’d issued a series of orders limiting the size of public gatherings, each one feeling more arbitrary than the last. She’d been persuaded that her city’s considerable and highly regarded health care system might be insufficient for the looming onslaught of infection and death. “We need to shut this shit down,” Breed remembered thinking. Three days later in New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio was thinking much the same thing. He’d been publicly savaged for days for not closing the city’s school system, and even his own Health Department was in revolt at his inaction. And so, having at last been convinced every hour of delay was a potentially deadly misstep, de Blasio said it was time to consider a shelter-in-place order. Under it, he said, it might be that only emergency workers such as police officers and health care providers would be allowed free movement.

In San Francisco, Breed cleaned up her language in a text to California Gov. Gavin Newsom. But she was no less emphatic: The city needed to be closed. Newsom had once been San Francisco’s mayor, and he had appointed Breed to lead the city’s Fire Commission in 2010. Newsom responded immediately, saying she should coordinate with the counties surrounding San Francisco as they too were moving toward a shutdown. Breed said she spoke to representatives of those counties on March 15 and their public health officials were prepared to make the announcement on their own. On March 16, with just under 40 cases of COVID-19 in San Francisco and no deaths, Breed issued the order banning all but essential movement and interaction. “I really feel like we didn’t have a lot of good options,” Breed said. In an interview, California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said it was critical to allow Northern California counties to rely on their own experts, act with a degree of autonomy and thus perhaps pave the way for the state to expand on what they had done. And three days after San Francisco and its neighboring counties were closed, Newsom, on March 19, imposed the same restrictions on the rest of California. Breed, it turns out, had sent de Blasio a copy of her detailed shelter-in-place order. She thought New York might benefit from it. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, however, reacted to de Blasio’s idea for closing down New York City with derision. It was dangerous, he said, and served only to scare people.

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Dallas Morning News - May 15, 2020

Texas regulators drop cases against salons, barbershops that defied coronavirus closure order

Barbershops and salons that defied a statewide order to close will not be penalized by state regulators after Gov. Greg Abbott changed shutdown rules in response to the jailing of a Dallas salon owner. The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation has dropped 200 enforcement cases against barbers and cosmetologists who allegedly kept working in April and early May, despite Abbott’s order to close amid the coronavirus outbreak. The agency also dismissed around 180 complaints that had been filed but not yet investigated, spokeswoman Tela Mange said.

The move comes after Abbott amended his order amid GOP outcry over the jailing of Shelley Luther, who reopened her Dallas salon in defiance of local and state stay-at-home orders. Abbott eliminated confinement as a punishment and made the change retroactive. In doing so, the licensing agency said it "allows for the reopening of cosmetology and barbering establishments retroactively to April 2, 2020,” meaning those businesses were not required to close. A spokesman for Abbott’s office did not immediately respond. It’s unclear whether he agrees with the licensing agency’s decision. Abbott has repeatedly warned that businesses that violate his order could face fines or a suspension of their state-issued license to operate. The licensing agency oversees cosmetologists, barbers and massage therapists, among other professions.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - May 17, 2020

Jim Holley: Far West Texas nearly immune to Covid 19; locals want to keep it that way

It’s been a couple of months since I’ve taken to the road tracking down Texas tales. As you can imagine, driving around the state taking in the sights and visiting with folks has been difficult, if not dangerous. Instead of visiting Palestine, Paducah, Knickerbocker, Uncertain and other places on my list, I’ve been holed up for much of the time in this pleasingly scruffy little town that some have taken to calling Big Bend’s “un-Marfa.” Of course, “holed up,” is not exactly the apt metaphor for this wide-open part of Texas, where I can stroll past the high school a block away (home of the fighting Marathon Mustangs) and see rugged mountains in the distance, a vista that offers miles and miles without a light, a vehicle or another house to interrupt my view. It’s quiet out here.

Unless the train is coming through town, a loud, lonesome whistle heralding its approach, about the only thing I hear is the soughing sound of doves settling in for the night - that and Bo the Houston rescue cat whining for dinner. As far as we know, residents of this Brewster County hamlet have barely been affected by Covid-19. The county itself, geographically the largest in the state, has reported only one person testing positive, and that person has recovered. With testing now ramping up, that number could increase, but medical authorities are hopeful. Most folks are being cautious. Sam Stavinoha, a young man from San Antonio who bought Marathon’s only grocery store not long ago, has installed plexiglass at the cash register and his employees are wearing masks. French Grocery customers are offered a mask if they’re not wearing one and are required to use hand sanitizer at the front door. Sam is also using this relative down time to upgrade the store’s offerings. He’s growing fresh vegetables out back and has hired talented local craftsman and jack-of-all-trades Tim Thayer to put in a rustic stone patio and custom-built picnic tables. Sam envisions the historic French Grocery as both place of business and community center. Open from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. seven days a week, it’s where people during normal times bump into each other, where they catch up on things.

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Houston Chronicle - May 16, 2020

Why Trump v. Biden will likely be closest Texas presidential race in decades

The coronavirus pandemic threw a spotlight on health care coverage and the future of Texas’ beleaguered oil industry ahead of what is shaping up to be the closest presidential election in the state in decades. Just a few months ago, President Donald Trump and the Republican Party were leading with a booming American economy and grim warnings about socialism as they anticipated a race against Bernie Sanders. Instead, it’s former Vice President Joe Biden who has all-but sealed the Democratic nomination, and Texans are now grappling with record unemployment and related loss of health insurance. The early jabs show just how important both camps see those issues as they make their case to voters here.

The Trump campaign’s message is that the president is a champion to the state’s reeling oil and gas industry and Biden is a threat. Biden hasn’t signed onto or even endorsed the Green New Deal, but he did call it a “crucial framework” and that’s enough for team Trump. “We cannot afford to have Joe Biden and the Democrats enact these Green New Deal policies that would just destroy the Texas economy, put tens of thousands of people out of work and just re-engineer our country to fit some coastal dream that would be more fit in a state like California,” Trump Victory Director of Regional Communications Rick Gorka told reporters in a conference call on Tuesday. For Biden’s camp, the very health and safety of Americans hangs in the balance as Trump continues to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, threatening the health coverage of millions of Americans — including over 1.6 million Texans who have already lost jobs and, as a result, their employer-based health coverage, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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Houston Chronicle - May 18, 2020

Dire prospects for Houston's commercial real estate market as pressures mount

A sales brochure for downtown’s 609 Main touts the property’s posh amenities: a stylish cafe where baristas pour third-wave coffee, a state-of-the-art fitness center and a conference and event space large enough for 300 guests. The 1.1 million-square-foot tower, which opened in 2017 and hit the market last year, drew interest from multiple buyers and was poised to set a price record for the sale of a Houston office building. But then came COVID-19 and an unprecedented oil bust, a one-two punch that threw Houston’s commercial property market into a tailspin.

Since mid-March, developers have shelved building plans and office tenants have are wary about signing new leases. Shopping center owners with tenants who can’t pay the rent are struggling to stay afloat. Prospective buyers of trophy office towers like 609 Main are taking a pause. Commercial real estate in Houston is facing a reckoning some say could mirror the dark days of the 1980s when the U.S. economy entered a recession and oil prices plummeted. Toward the end of that decade, Texas became the epicenter of a national real estate collapse. In Houston, property values tumbled and the office vacancy rate soared to 30 percent. Amid vast uncertainty, analysts have suggested myriad scenarios for the city’s commercial property market. Some say retail centers will suffer the most pain as the pandemic accelerates consumers’ penchant for online shopping. Others wonder if companies will leave the urban core, drawn to office buildings in the suburbs where it’s less dense. “You may keep the same amount of office space but maybe you won’t want it in the city anymore,” Victor Calanog, head of CRE Economics at Moody’s Analytics REIS, said in a recent presentation to clients. “Maybe there will be a resurgence in demand for suburban office.”

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Houston Chronicle - May 18, 2020

Chris Tomlinson: Roads and cars will change, companies could make a lot of money

Falling gasoline prices, weakening supply chains and stalling economic growth are putting the brakes on road projects and electric vehicle sales, but these headwinds will only delay, not stop, the necessary overhaul of the U.S. transportation system. As the Coronavirus Recession drags on, governments will boost infrastructure spending to put Americans back to work. We should make roads and rail our top priorities because the inexpensive movement of people and goods is what underpins economic strength. In regular times, more than 100 million Americans drove to work, 26 million children rode 500,000 school buses, and 30 million trucks traveled 800 million miles a day. We spend a lot of time, fuel and cash getting around, and there are plenty of opportunities to become more efficient.

For years, automakers have summed up the future of transportation with the acronym ACES: autonomous, connected, electric and shared. Over the next 20 years, we will transition to electric taxis that drive themselves using 5G networks to communicate with other cars and the roads themselves. While that may sound like science fiction, companies and governments are spending billions of dollars every year to make ACES a reality. The nation whose businesses perfect ACES tools the quickest will dominate the transportation industry for decades. General Motors CEO Mary Barra reiterated the company’s commitment to electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles on this month’s earnings conference call. She is prioritizing the Cruise autonomous vehicle as part of “our vision of a world with zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion.”

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Houston Chronicle - May 18, 2020

Report: Hydraulic fracturing demand expected to bounce back in the fall

Demand for hydraulic fracturing services in shale plays across the United States is expected to reach rock bottom in May and stay low in the summer before a recovery begins in the fall, the Norwegian global energy research firm Rystad Energy reported. Hydraulic fracturing crews have been deployed to a record-low 92 oil wells through May 14 and are expected to begin the process of bringing between 300 and 330 wells into production by the end of the month, the firm reported. A modest recovery is expected to take place in the third quarter but depends on for prices West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark for crude oil, improving, Rystad reported.

"Stable WTI oil prices in the low- to mid-$30s are required to see this recovery in selected core acreage positions operated by producers with strong balance sheets,“ Rystad Energy Head of Shale Research Artem Abramov said. The Permian Basin of West Texas and southeastern New Mexico is expected to see the biggest decline but Rystad projects that the region will nonetheless make up one-third of the wells being completed in May. Some 34 wells are expected to be completed in the Eagle Ford Shale of South Texas in May while 20 are expected to be completed in the Bakken Shale of North Dakota and another eight wells in the Anadarko Basin of Oklahoma, Rystad projects. Another 15 to 25 wells are expected to be completed in the Haynesville Shale of East Texas, the firm reported.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 17, 2020

‘We’re all on the same side. This is life and death.’

The funeral cortege for Police Chief Marvin Trejo departed Morrison Memorial Chapel in fog and drizzle Friday. But by the time it reached Memory Gardens Cemetery 55 miles south in Amarillo, the day had blossomed into such a glorious spring offering that few of the many mourners remained in their cars. Instead, they gathered around the graveside service and, some masked but more not, lingered in a long reception line to offer Trejo’s family hugs, squeezes and intimate words of solace.

Trejo, 58, who had been a member of the Dumas department for a quarter century and its chief for a year, died of COVID-19 the previous Sunday. He was the ninth casualty of the pandemic in Moore County, an agricultural patch of the Texas Panhandle with fewer than 21,000 inhabitants but by far the highest infection rate in the state of Texas. Not incidentally, it also has one of the state’s largest meatpacking plants, which in one state after another have proven to be the hottest of hot spots. Trejo’s death was a tough, deeply felt loss. “Everybody’s close in this community,” said Rowdy Rhoades, the Moore County judge and former Dumas mayor, who swore Trejo in as chief last year. “Everybody knows everybody.? The JBS beef plant is 13 miles north of Dumas in the town of Cactus, home to 3,200 people — about the same number of people, mostly immigrants and refugees speaking a score or more different languages, who work in a factory that provides beef to 10 million people a day. Presidential Donald Trump, in an April 28 executive order, declared such beef, chicken and pork processing plants too essential to the nation’s food supply to be permitted to close.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 17, 2020

Austin American-Statesman Editorial: Paxton’s actions hinder efforts to keep us safe

Amid the worst public health emergency in more than a century, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is threatening to go after local officials who wish to keep us safer. You read that correctly. Given Texas’ long reputation for its elected state officials who use their office to try to override the decisions of local governments, typically if they’re led by Democrats, Paxton’s actions smack of political maneuvering in a pivotal election year. More troubling, they hinder the efforts of well-meaning local officials to keep us all safe.

On Tuesday, the Republican attorney general’s office sent a letter to Austin and Travis County officials, directing that they modify their stay-at-home orders to match looser statewide restrictions issued by Gov. Greg Abbott. Paxton threatened legal action if they don’t comply. The next day, Paxton asked the Texas Supreme Court to order election officials in Travis and four other Democratic-leaning counties to heed his legal interpretation that fear of contracting the coronavirus — reasonable considering it has claimed more than 85,000 American lives so far — is not a valid reason for voters to ask for mail-in ballots. In a separate case in April, Travis County state District Judge Tim Sulak, responding to a lawsuit filed by the Texas Democratic Party, ordered voting by mail be available to anyone who requests a ballot. Paxton wanted the judge’s order put on hold; on Thursday an appeals court ruled against him, but the legal fight is far from finished. In taking exception to Austin’s stay-at-home rules, Paxton said they go too far because they require everyone over age 6 to wear a face covering when leaving their residence. Abbott’s statewide order encourages use of masks but doesn’t mandate it.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 15, 2020

After Statesman inquiry, lawsuit aims to keep Texas Teacher Retirement System’s lease under wraps

The Teacher Retirement System of Texas describes itself as committed to public transparency and says it’s no longer trying to prevent disclosure of the full terms of its multimillion-dollar office lease in the luxury Indeed Tower high-rise under construction in downtown Austin. But that hasn’t stopped a development company in which the taxpayer-funded retirement system has a big financial stake from continuing the state agency’s nearly yearlong legal effort to conceal the information following multiple American-Statesman requests for it.

The company — TC Austin Block 71 LLC — has filed a lawsuit against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, seeking to overturn a recent decision by Paxton’s office that the lease is not exempt from public disclosure and requiring the Teacher Retirement System to provide it to the American-Statesman without redacting its terms. TC Austin Block 71 LLC is building the 36-story office tower on West Sixth Street, and it counts the retirement system as a large investor in the project. The retirement system, which oversees benefits for about 1.6 million Texas teachers and school employees, said in a written statement this week that it has no objections “to disclosing any part of the lease” in the latest legal skirmish over it. But it also said it won’t comply with Paxton’s ruling and release the document without redactions until the lawsuit by “the third party” is resolved. TC Austin Block 71 LLC is 95% owned by an investment entity called SREEF II Block 71 Member LLC, according to documents reviewed by the Statesman. SREEF II stands for Strategic Real Estate Equity Fund. The Teacher Retirement System agreed to invest $230 million in SREEF II in 2017 — the same year that the Indeed Tower project was announced by development company Trammell Crow — giving the retirement system a large but indirect ownership position in the building.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 17, 2020

Maria Anglin: We were all in this together — until we weren’t

Looking toward the heavens last week, it became clear our fundamental differences might get in the way of our getting past the time of the coronavirus. Clearly, we are not in this together. On Monday, someone flew a plane pulling a banner that read “SAYCHINESEVIRUS.com,” presumably in protest of the San Antonio City Council’s resolution against anti-Semitic and anti-Asian hate speech stemming from COVID-19 fears. The plane, according to reports, spread its message of rebellion over the city.

And while flying a plane with a banner is more showboaty than holding a picket sign made with poster board and a Sharpie, it’s a legitimate way to advertise an opinion: Nobody’s going to tell ME what not to say. Even if that sentiment is volatile, offensive or provocative — especially if it’s any of those. The idea, of course, is to protect Americans’ right to free speech at a time when fear looms from every door handle. If we believe the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, then we should be grateful that someone stepped up to take the coronavirus shift. But a plane with a banner to defend someone’s right to say “kung flu” seems a bit much a month after the San Antonio Food Bank announced it was running low on food. Remember that aerial photo that went viral? The one with thousands of cars waiting for food? A lot of us do. The next day, a tornado warning set off phone alerts in the north central part of the city. Take shelter now, the alert urged. Considering that San Antonio has been taking shelter since mid-March, it seemed a bit much.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 15, 2020

James Avery Artisan Jewelry is closing its Fredericksburg workshop

James Avery Artisan Jewelry is closing its workshop in Fredericksburg, one of several the South Texas jewelry empire operates in the Hill Country. The Fredericksburg Craftsman Center at 108 Industrial Loop will shut down July 12 “due to unforeseen business circumstances,” and the closure “is expected to be permanent,” the company told the Texas Workforce Commission in a notice this week.

Eighty-two employees in manufacturing operations are being laid off, but foundry workers are not affected. A foundry operation in the facility will stay open, said spokeswoman Amy Zink. Some laid-off employees will be offered transfers to the Kerrville Craftsman Center, based on criteria such as skill level and performance, the retailer said. Workers who aren’t offered a transfer will receive four to eight weeks of pay, up to two weeks of accrued sick paid personal time and health insurance for six months. The retail sector has been hit especially hard by the coronavirus pandemic, resulting in a welter of store closures and layoffs. Retail sales in April plummeted a record 16.4 percent from a month earlier, the Commerce Department said Friday. James Avery announced in mid-March it was closing its stores and most of its manufacturing facilities.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 15, 2020

USDA knocked for 'unfathomable' $39M contract awarded to San Antonio event planner

A San Antonio event and wedding planner with no experience in food distribution has been awarded a $39.1 million federal contract to purchase, box and transport surplus food for distribution to needy families during the coronavirus pandemic. Gregorio Palomino, owner of CRE8AD8 LLC (pronounced “Create A Date”), was a big winner when the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced $1.2 billion in grants for its Farmers to Families Food Box Program. “We were very surprised,” Palomino said in an interview. Palomino won a contract despite lacking a required government license to operate a produce company.

“It’s been applied for,” he said. Industry experts were nonplussed the government chose a company that plans weddings and corporate parties over experienced food distributors that submitted bids. “We knew that we easily could do this because instead of putting tchotchkes in a bag that is going to go to a conference attendee, this is the same exact thing except it’s just food going into a box,” Palomino said. Tom Stenzel, president and CEO of the United Fresh Produce Association, called Palomino’s comparison “outrageous” and “ridiculous.” “I don’t know them personally, but I have my doubts about their capabilities,” Stenzel said. His association, based in Washington, D.C., represents growers, processors, distributors, wholesalers and other businesses across the produce supply chain.

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KUT - May 17, 2020

Texas Café owner markets Corona Killa, Corona-ritas to survive shutdown

Restaurant doors are cautiously opening again in Texas, but nothing is quite the same with the continuing threat of the pandemic. Eateries have had to get creative to survive, and learn how to protect their customers and staff. Jerry Morales is the amiable, animated owner of Gerardo's Casita, in Midland, Texas. With menus in hand, he greets customers who are just venturing out after seven long weeks of quarantine. "Y'all been doing alright, staying safe?" he asks.

Wendy Holland, a Mary Kay beauty consultant, looks up grinning from a plate of beef tacos with pico de gallo. "We do a lot of cooking, but I'm a little tired of what I cook," she says with a laugh. "Ready for a little change today." The dining room is classic Tex-Mex décor — sombreros, beer signs and a Mexican flag. But most of the tables have been removed or roped-off to create a 6-foot buffer between diners. That's what the governor ordered earlier this month when he allowed restaurants to open at 25% of capacity. Morales closed Gerardo's and his two other restaurants in one world, and reopened in another. Across the country, more than 8 million restaurant employees have been laid off or furloughed, and the industry has lost at least $80 billion in sales, according to the National Restaurant Association. Now that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has allowed restaurants and other businesses to reopen, the state is "embarking on a grand experiment in public health," one doctor here warned. For a restaurateur, it means unimagined challenges.

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KUT - May 18, 2020

As gyms reopen in Texas, many details are left to the owners

Desirae Pierce and her teachers at Breath and Body Yoga have been doing classes over Zoom for the past two months. Today, they'll start holding small, in-person classes at the Tarrytown studio. While online classes were popular, Pierce says, she's excited to bring back an in-person practice. "I'm hopeful that we can all begin to put one foot forward,” she said. “I don't know if we can live at home for an extended period of time."

Gyms and exercise facilities are allowed to reopen today under the latest phase of Gov. Greg Abbott's plan to restart the Texas economy. The order states gyms can operate only at 25% capacity, and locker rooms and showers must stay closed. That leaves other details about how to operate up to individual gym owners. Depending on the room at the studio, Pierce said, only six or seven people will be allowed in a class so they can stay 6 feet apart. ?The instructors won't be there, though. Pierce said she wants to start slow, so they'll still be leading classes over Zoom. Students will follow along on a TV in the studio.

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Associated Press - May 18, 2020

Transportation agency hacked in 2nd Texas government attack

Texas’ transportation agency has become the second part of the state government to be hit by a ransomware attack in recent days. On Thursday, someone hacked into the Texas Department of Transportation’s network in a “ransomware event,” according to a statement the department posted on social media Friday. The departments’ website says some features are unavailable due to technical difficulties, but it is not clear what functions were affected by the attack. Agency officials did not respond to emailed questions Sunday.

The hack comes days after another ransomware attack took down the websites and case management systems of Texas’ appellate and high courts. The courts and transportation agency both said they are working with the FBI to investigate. Hackers use ransomware to invade computer systems and encrypt files in an effort to extort payments to unlock them. Upon detecting the hack, staff at the transportation department “immediately” isolated the affected parts of the network and “shut down further unauthorized access,” according to the statement. James Bass, the department’s executive director, said his staff is “working to ensure critical operations continue during this interruption.” The hacks follow a ransomware attack of unprecedented size that hit more than 20 local governments in Texas last summer.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 17, 2020

Rural Texas counties have reopened from COVID more quickly. They’ve also tested less.

When Archer County Judge Randy Jackson got the call about two weeks ago from the state offering a pop-up mobile testing site, he turned it down. As metro areas across Texas report hundreds of new cases of the novel coronavirus daily, Archer County just received its first confirmed case Friday. With a population of roughly 8,500 near the Texas-Oklahoma border, the county has developed its own system, screening residents for symptoms, and sending them north to Wichita Falls or south to Olney to be tested, Jackson said. “We’re spread out more and we don’t have the industry like bigger urban areas do, so we kind of had to initiate our own protocol,” Jackson said. “We’re taking care of ourselves.”

Archer County is one of more than 100 Texas counties that have five or fewer active COVID-19 cases and have been approved by the Texas Department of State Health Services to reopen their businesses at 50% capacity as a result — while the remaining counties are restricted to 25% capacity. The greater capacity was a facet of Gov. Greg Abbott’s phased approach to reopening Texas businesses he announced last month. There is criteria in place to bring that increased capacity down to 25% if a county surpasses certain thresholds, including more than three positive cases per 1,000 residents. But for many of the North Texas counties permitted to reopen at double the capacity, fewer cases have been coupled with far less testing. Their populations are a small fraction of Tarrant County’s more than 2 million residents — with some surrounding counties with as few as 9,000 people. But state data shows many have conducted far fewer tests per capita than some of the region’s more populous counties.

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KVUE - May 16, 2020

UT researcher says hospitals should prepare for surge in the coming weeks

As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise, so does the number of deaths and hospitalizations. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, Travis County's death rate is the highest among the five largest counties in the state with 3.1%. "I think it's important for people to continue to realize that we're still in the midst of a pandemic," said Dr. Spencer Fox, who is part of the University of Texas COVID-19 modeling

As of Saturday, it's predicting that Austin-Travis County, Georgetown and Round Rock have a 71% chance that a peak in deaths will pass within the next two or three weeks. "There is quite a bit of uncertainty in how pandemic trajectory will look as businesses start to reopen, but I think it's very prudent based on the data we're seeing today for hospitals and health care facilities to prepare for surges in cases in the coming weeks." According to Travis County, we have 98 patients hospitalized in Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell counties, up from 88 on Wednesday. "We don't know if the next few weeks we'll see a steady increase that will give hospitals time to steadily ramp up capacity as that comes, or we'll see a large surge from an exponentially growing epidemic that could be catastrophic for hospital capacity," said Fox. In a press conference this week, Dr. Mark Escott said Austin Public Health will be using this data to determine how policies may change.

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USA Today - May 17, 2020

John Moritz: Abbott can do what he’s doing, legal experts agree

An email shopped around to news outlets around Texas poses this question: What authority does Gov. Greg Abbott have to order businesses closed and freedoms limited during the present coronavirus pandemic? The email sender, who described himself as a concerned citizen, included the text of several portions of state law dealing with a governor’s power during a disaster. The law defines disaster as “the occurrence or imminent threat of widespread or severe damage, injury, or loss of life or property resulting from any natural or man-made cause, including fire, flood, earthquake, wind, storm ... epidemic” and several other examples

“A simple reading of the law does not account for possible infection by a disease which may or may not require hospitalization,” the person said. “COVID-19 does not suddenly occur like a car accident or a tornado, so it is clear that is not imminent. Otherwise any disease could be considered an imminent threat and society could be locked down in perpetuity.” Those concerns were presented to three experts: a University of Texas law professor who just finished teaching a course on the powers of Texas’ elected officials, a Southern Methodist University professor of health care law and the former state legislator who wrote one of the most recent updates to Texas Disaster Act of 1975, the law cited in the email. Their responses in a nutshell: Abbott is operating well within the legal parameters set forth in the statutes he frequently cited in his 15 executive orders issued since the coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization and a national emergency by President Donald Trump. “When it came to emergency management, I believe, (authority) was solidified under the governor,” said former state Rep. Frank Corte, R-San Antonio.

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County Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 18, 2020

Gatherings still illegal, unsafe amid COVID, Fort Worth leaders warn as summer nears

On playgrounds children run together, at parks and along trails, friends huddle together — we want traditional summer time fun to be upon us. But that’s still not allowed. Whether planned or by happenstance, gatherings are not still permitted under Gov. Greg Abbott’s most recent order to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price says it is illegal to gather in groups, and Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley wants everyone to wear a mask when they’re with others.

A massive party May 10 at a Fort Worth park was one of the latest examples of people’s eagerness to gather, but as Memorial Day approaches, officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say it’s best to stay away from each other. The gathering of at least 400 in Village Creek Park ended in a shooting that left five people wounded. Witnesses reported hearing 30 gunshots. As of noon Friday police had made no arrests, and, without a formal records request, refused to answer whether citations were written for organizing a mass gathering during the pandemic. In briefly discussing the shooting, Price said last Monday during a coronavirus briefing that residents should not gather in groups. “Those mass gatherings are not legal, nor are they safe,” she said. Whitley said he agrees, but told the Star-Telegram Friday it was hard for local officials to define the size of a mass gathering because of the language in Abbott’s order. Gatherings larger than 15 or 20 people would be pushing the limit, he said, but Fort Worth and Tarrant County orders don’t define crowd sizes since they mimic the state edict. Abbott’s order leaves much room for interpretation.

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City Stories

Houston Chronicle - May 16, 2020

Erica Grieder: Glimmers of hope in Houston, in the midst of a dreary, difficult spring

It appeared at sunset, like a mirage — a food truck on a quiet street in Montrose, peddling the kind of confection that might appear in the daydream of a child, or a bleary-eyed adult. The delight is a DoughCone, a handmade cone of donut batter, crusted with cinnamon and sugar, lined with Nutella, filled with ice cream and topped with whatever you might like — gummy bears or rainbow sprinkles, almonds or coconut, crushed Oreos or Reese’s pieces, or all of the above. The Houstonians who queued up along Colquitt Street were indulging themselves. But they were doing so responsibly, in a sense. Most wore cloth masks, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and ordered by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, though Texans are under no obligation to do so under Gov. Greg Abbott’s ambivalent statewide order. Everyone was spontaneously social distancing, arranging themselves along the easement in approximately six-foot intervals.

And, whether these evening snackers realized it or not, they had something to celebrate: in Houston, at least, public health experts are seeing glimmers of hope. It’s been a dreary and difficult spring, thanks to the novel coronavirus. The United States has seen more than 86,000 deaths due to COVID-19, with over 1,200 of them in Texas, where the virus continues to spread — maybe more swiftly as a result of Abbott’s decision to being reopening the state on May 1. The state reported 58 deaths on Thursday, a single-day record, and then the same number on Friday. The virus has also taken a severe toll on the state economy. Nearly 2 million people have filed for unemployment benefits in the past two months, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. A new study by the Kaiser Family Foundation says some 1.6 million Texans lost their employer-sponsored health insurance over the same period. Houston, the center of the nation’s oil and gas industry, has been particularly battered by turmoil in world markets. Yet Houston has emerged as something of a bright spot, in these bleak circumstances. We’re flattening the curve in Harris County, according to medical experts, as the rest of the state is struggling to do just that.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 17, 2020

Two shot after busy weekend at Crystal Beach

A man shot two people Saturday night after a busy weekend that led to 81 arrests at Crystal Beach, according to Galveston County Sheriff Henry Trochesset. Shortly before midnight, deputies received reports of a fight and shooting on the beach near Monkhouse Drive. Two men were injured by the gunfire and flown to the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. The victims were in surgery as of Sunday morning. The shooter took off over the sand dunes and is still on the run, Trochesset said.

As of Sunday morning, 81 people had been booked into jail following a massive gathering of Jeep enthusiasts. Trochesset said the shooting is not believed to be related to the meetup. “Most people just wanted to go down there and enjoy their weekend,” Trochesset said. Crystal Beach visitors said the crowding on the beach was “chaotic.” “When you got four rows of traffic here and people parked on the beach, the tide coming in, where are you going to go?” said Jason Simpkins, who had come down to the beach with his wife Michelle and 5-year-old daughter in their camper. “They’re literally running through here.” Galveston County Sheriff’s deputies also responded to a violent attack in San Leon around the same time, where a person was believed to have been killed by blunt force trauma. Two others injured in the attack are in intensive care as of Sunday morning. Deputies have not arrested a suspect but have identified a person of interest, the sheriff said.

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National Stories

Houston Chronicle - May 17, 2020

Lawmaker claims Hitler was not white supremacist after comparing coronavirus measures to Nazi rule

The uproar began when an Alaska lawmaker emailed all 39 of his statehouse colleagues to compare health screening stickers to the badges that singled out Jews during the Holocaust. "If my sticker falls off, do I get a new one or do I get public shaming too?" Rep. Ben Carpenter, a Republican, wrote Friday, sharing his dismay at a new requirement for legislators returning to the Alaska Capitol amid the coronavirus pandemic. "Are the stickers available as a yellow Star of David?"

The backlash was swift: "Ben, this is disgusting," one Jewish representative wrote back in emails first posted by the Alaska Landmine. "I don't think a tag that we're cleared to enter the building is akin to being shipped to a concentration camp," responded another. The leader of the state House's Republican delegation said Carpenter should apologize. But Carpenter dug in. "Can you or I - can we even say it is totally out of the realm of possibility that covid-19 patients will be rounded up and taken somewhere?" he said later in an interview with the Anchorage Daily News, arguing that officials are overreacting to the coronavirus with limits on people's liberty. "People want to say Hitler was a white supremacist. No. He was fearful of the Jewish nation, and that drove him into some unfathomable atrocities." That provoked a new round of denunciations from fellow lawmakers, one of whom said he's seen similar arguments making the rounds online.

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Washington Post - May 15, 2020

Alex Tabarrok and Puja Ahluwalia Ohlhaver: We could stop the pandemic by July 4 if the government took these steps

With the unemployment rate at its highest level since the Great Depression - 14.7 percent and climbing - many Americans are clamoring to reopen the economy, even if it means that thousands of daily covid-19 deaths become part of the backdrop to life. It's time to move on as "warriors," President Donald Trump has said, "we can't keep our country closed down for years." We, too, favor markets and share the president's eagerness to stop economically ruinous shutdowns. But the choice between saving lives and saving the economy, the latter of which Trump has endorsed implicitly, is a false one. In fact, framing the issue that way could kill many Americans and kill the economy. The economy consists of people who have hopes and fears. As long as they are afraid of a lethal virus, they will avoid restaurants, travel and workplaces. (According to a Washington Post-Ipsos poll last week, only 25 percent of all Americans want to "open businesses and get the economy going again, even if that means more people will get the coronavirus.") The only way to restore the economy is to earn the confidence of both vulnerable industries and vulnerable people through testing, contact tracing and isolation.

There is already a bipartisan plan to achieve this; we helped write it. The plan relies on frequent testing followed by tracing the contacts of people who test positive (and their contacts) until no new positive cases are found. It also encourages voluntary isolation, at home or in hotel rooms, to prevent further disease spread. Isolated patients would receive a federal stipend, like jurors, to discourage them from returning to workplaces too soon. But our plan also recognizes that rural towns in Montana should not necessarily have to shut down the way New York City has. To pull off this balancing act, the country should be divided into red, yellow and green zones. The goal is to be a green zone, where fewer than one resident per 36,000 is infected. Here, large gatherings are allowed, and masks aren't required for those who don't interact with the elderly or other vulnerable populations. Green zones require a minimum of one test per day for every 10,000 people and a five-person contact tracing team for every 100,000 people. (These are the levels currently maintained in South Korea, which has suppressed covid-19.) Two weeks ago, a modest 1,900 tests a day could have kept 19 million Americans safely in green zones. Today, there are no green zones in the United States. Most Americans - about 298 million - live in yellow zones, where disease prevalence is between .002 percent and 1 percent. But even in yellow zones, the economy could safely reopen with aggressive testing and tracing, coupled with safety measures including mandatory masks. In South Korea, during the peak of its outbreak, it took 25 tests to detect one positive case, and the case fatality rate was 1 percent. Following this model, yellow zones would require 2,500 tests for every daily death.

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Reuters - May 18, 2020

Coronavirus widens climate rift between European and U.S. oil majors

Europe’s top oil and gas companies have diverted a larger share of their cash to green energy projects since the coronavirus outbreak in a bet the global health crisis will leave a long-term dent in fossil fuel demand, according to a Reuters review of company statements and interviews with executives. The plans of companies like BP (BP.L), Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) and Total (TOTF.PA) are in step with the European Union’s efforts to transition to a lower-carbon economy and away from a century-old reliance on oil, and reflect the region’s widening rift with the United States where both the government and the top drillers are largely staying committed to oil and gas.

“We are all living differently and there is a real possibility that some of this will stick,” BP Chief Executive Bernard Looney told Reuters in a recent interview, citing big declines in air and road travel, and a boost in telecommuting. Global oil majors have all cut capital spending sharply as worldwide stay-at-home orders triggered by the coronavirus outbreak slammed fuel demand and sent oil prices to record lows. But Europe’s top five producers - BP, Shell, Total, Eni (ENI.MI), and Equinor (EQNR.OL) - are all focusing their investment cuts mainly on oil and gas activities, and giving their renewables and low carbon businesses a relative boost, according to Reuters calculations.

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Wall Street Journal - May 18, 2020

Tesla’s production restart could ease path to inclusion in S&P 500 Index

Elon Musk’s success last week restarting production at Tesla's lone U.S. factory ends one drama but sets up another with a big question: Can the car maker park itself in the S&P 500? Joining the index would bring the prestige of belonging to the benchmark gauge of U.S. equities and drive index funds to race to include the company’s shares in their holdings. Inclusion in the S&P 500 requires an accumulated profit over four consecutive quarters. With Tesla’s profit over its past three quarters—its longest run of profitability—it may be able to join the influential index if it can defy Wall Street’s expectation and eke out another this period. The connection could help explain why Mr. Musk was so determined to reopen the plant, which had been idled since March 23 by local authorities trying to stem the spread of Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

Analysts and other observers have puzzled over why Mr. Musk pushed so aggressively to restart the Fremont, Calif., factory a week earlier than local authorities anticipated—including filing a suit in federal court against the local authority that ordered Tesla not to ramp up and daring authorities to arrest him (they didn’t). Mr. Musk has complained that competing car makers in other states were being allowed to reopen when he wasn’t. “I don’t think reopening a week or two later than the Detroit three or transplants matters much in the long run, but it will matter for [second-quarter] results,” said David Whiston, an analyst for Morningstar Research Services. Mr. Musk didn’t respond to a request for comment. Earlier this month he surprised investors by saying he thought the company’s stock was too high, sending shares sharply lower only for them to rebound in the following days. He didn’t explain why he felt shares were overvalued. On its face, generating a profit in the April-to-June period might seem improbable, given Tesla’s lone U.S. car plant was idled for about half that time. Analysts surveyed by FactSet predict Tesla will report a loss of $387 million after deliveries fall 31% from the first quarter to 67,000.

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Politico - May 18, 2020

Swing-state Republicans warn Trump's reelection is on shaky ground

Donald Trump has made clear he will attack Joe Biden unmercifully in order to ensure the election is a choice between him and Joe Biden — rather than an up-or-down vote on the president’s handling of the coronavirus. Scott Walker has a different view, at least when it comes to Trump's chances in the all-important battleground of Wisconsin. “I think it still boils down to a referendum on the president. They’ll beat up on Biden and they’ll raise some concerns,” said the former two-term Republican governor of Wisconsin, who lost his seat in 2018. But in the end, if people felt good about their health and the state of the economy, Trump will probably carry Wisconsin. If not, Walker said, “it’s much more difficult” for the president.

Walker is not alone among swing-state Republicans in his assessment of the president’s political prospects. Interviews with nearly a dozen former governors, members of Congress, and other current and former party leaders revealed widespread apprehension about Trump’s standing six months out from the election. Many fret that Trump’s hopes are now hitched to the pandemic; others point to demographic changes in once-reliably red states and to the challenge of running against a hard-to-define Democratic opponent who appeals to a wide swath of voters. The concerns give voice to an assortment of recent battleground state polling showing Trump struggling against Biden. There are certain to be plenty of momentum shifts before the election, especially in such a volatile political environment. Trump enjoys a vast resource advantage and his campaign has only begun going after Biden with sustained advertising — an effort that isn't yet fully reflected in public polls, his advisers said. This past week, the campaign circulated a memo to supporters saying that Trump had closed a once-substantial national gap.

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