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Newsclips - July 9, 2020

Lead Stories

ProPublica and NBC News - July 8, 2020

A spike in people dying at home suggests coronavirus deaths in Houston may be higher than reported

When Karen Salazar stopped by to check on her mother on the evening of June 22, she found her in worse shape than she expected. Her mother, Felipa Medellín, 54, had been complaining about chest pains and fatigue, symptoms that she attributed to a new diabetes treatment she’d started days earlier. While Salazar was on the phone with a 911 dispatcher, her mother suddenly passed out. Then she stopped breathing. With the dispatcher on speaker phone, Salazar attempted CPR, repeatedly pressing her hands down on her mother’s chest, silently praying for her to startle back to life. But by the time Houston paramedics arrived at her home in northwest Houston, Medellín was dead. Days later, an autopsy revealed the primary cause: COVID-19. Medellín’s death is part of a troubling trend in Houston.

As coronavirus cases surge, inundating hospitals and leading to testing shortages, a rapidly growing number of Houston area residents are dying at home, according to an NBC News and ProPublica review of Houston Fire Department data. An increasing number of these at-home deaths have been confirmed to be the result of COVID-19, Harris County medical examiner data shows. The previously unreported jump in people dying at home is the latest indicator of a mounting crisis in a region beset by one of the nation’s worst and fastest-growing coronavirus outbreaks. On Tuesday, a record 3,851 people were hospitalized for the coronavirus in the Houston region, exceeding normal intensive care capacity and sending some hospitals scrambling to find additional staff and space. The uptick in the number of people dying before they can even reach a hospital in Houston draws parallels to what happened in New York City in March and April, when there was a spike in the number of times firefighters responded to medical calls, only to discover that the person in need of help had already died. These increases also echo those reported during outbreaks in Detroit and Boston, when the number of people dying at home jumped as coronavirus cases surged.

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KVIA - July 8, 2020

El Paso’s Health Authority drafting order to delay return to school classrooms by a month

An order being prepared by El Paso City-County Health Authority Dr. Hector Ocaranza would prohibit any in-person classes by local school districts until after Labor Day in September. That's according to both County Judge Ricardo Samaniego and Mayor Dee Margo, who told ABC-7 on Tuesday that Ocaranza's order was in the process of being drafted with their support. Margo, in an interview with ABC-7, said the return to school needed to be delayed by a month because of the coronavirus surge.

He indicated that local leaders had heard from many parents and educators who didn't feel comfortable going back to the classroom in August. Margo said El Paso-area school superintendents met Tuesday with city-county public health officials to discuss the situation. Most El Paso County schools are currently slated to start the new school year on Aug. 3. The order being prepared by Dr. Ocaranza would delay the potential return of students to classrooms by at least a month, but online classes - or remote learning as some districts call it - could still occur in August. The Socorro Independent School District tweeted Tuesday that it was prepared to adjust plans accordingly based on the new health directive. Other school districts didn't immediately comment.

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Houston Chronicle - July 8, 2020

City cancels state GOP convention in Houston as party vows legal fight

Mayor Sylvester Turner announced on Wednesday that the city has canceled the Texas Republican Party’s in-person state convention in downtown Houston next week. Houston First, the public nonprofit that serves as the city’s convention arm, sent a letter to the party’s executive committee notifying it that the convention has been canceled. The letter triggers a part of the contract called a “force majeure” clause, which allows one side to cancel for an occurrence out of its control. The definition included “epidemics in the City of Houston,” according to the Houston First letter.

Earlier Wednesday, Texas Republican Party officials said they were preparing for a legal fight after Turner said the Houston First and the city attorney’s office would review its contract with the party for using the George R. Brown Convention Center for the convention July 16-18. Turner said he sought the review after Dr. David Persse, the city’s health authority, called the planned convention “a clear and present danger.” The mayor had been hesitant to leverage his authority to cancel the convention out of fear of politicizing it, and he repeatedly had asked the party to meet virtually instead. He said Wednesday’s decision was prompted by rising numbers and an alarming letter from Persse, who reports to the mayor, outlining the danger of moving forward. “It is a letter that as the mayor of Houston, that I simply cannot ignore or overlook,” Turner said. “The plan is to exercise those provisions, to cancel this agreement today, to not go forward with this convention.”

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State Stories

San Antonio Express-News - July 8, 2020

As San Antonio hospitals near capacity, Brooke Army Medical Center sits out COVID crisis

As the coronavirus pandemic squeezes San Antonio hospitals closer to capacity, Brooke Army Medical Center is sitting out the crisis. The hospital at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston isn’t taking patients sickened by the virus even as Navy and now Army medical personnel have streamed into the Alamo City to help at other facilities.

BAMC has cared for civilian trauma patients for years. It’s an exception to a Pentagon policy that local health officials are lobbying to extend to COVID-19 cases. They’ve been asking with increasing urgency. There’s been no answer yet. “We need the Defense Department to do its part,” said Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who echoed others in saying BAMC leaders and personnel would like to help but have their hands tied by top Pentagon leaders. “The local brass and troops have always done a stellar job and continue to do so here during this pandemic, but I think we need the folks in DC to understand there’s no fence line in San Antonio,” Nirenberg said.

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San Antonio Express-News - July 8, 2020

Beto O’Rourke calls Gov. Abbott’s response to COVID-19 'pathetic'

In a tweet Monday, former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke said Gov. Greg Abbott's response to the coronavirus pandemic in Texas is "pathetic" and called for him to "resign." O'Rourke's tweet was a reaction to Abbott's televised interview with Austin's KFDM News on Monday. In the interview, Abbott blasted local officials for pushing for another round of stay-at-home orders, saying it would "really force Texans into poverty."

"All of these local officials who are asking to shut Texas back down – they've absolutely refused to enforce the current executive orders that are already in place," Abbott said in the interview. "... They ask for more and more, but they do absolutely nothing." Last Thursday, Abbott issued an executive order that requires most Texans to wear face coverings while in public. The order asks local law enforcement departments to fine violators up to $250, which is a turnaround for Abbott as he previously prohibited local governments from punishing people who do not wear masks.

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San Antonio Express-News - July 8, 2020

ICE expected to provide plan for releasing migrant children

The federal government is supposed to indicate today whether it will release detained parents with their children from family detention centers. In late June, a federal judge ordered Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release all of its migrant children by July 17. But it is up to ICE whether the parents, who are detained with them in family detention centers, will be released with them.

The federal government is required to file its release plan today. Advocates say releasing the children without their parents is “family separation 2.0.” In a Fox News interview earlier this week. Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf appeared to indicate the parents would not be released, saying “We're not going to do a jail break.” The families in detention are awaiting civil immigration proceedings and have not been convicted of crimes. In mid-May, after the same judge — Judge Dolly Gee of California, who oversees the 1997 Flores Settlement that limits detention of migrant children to 20 days — told ICE to begin quickly releasing children, ICE presented parents with a form that advocates called “binary choice.”

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Dallas Morning News - July 8, 2020

As Gov. Greg Abbott leads state through COVID-19 pandemic, where is the Texas Legislature?

It’s a once in a century pandemic. Where is the Texas Legislature? In the four months since COVID-19 put Texas in a state of disaster -- bringing economic activity to a halt and leaving millions out of work, while cases have risen steadily -- lawmakers have not met publicly. Gov. Greg Abbott has been the face of the state’s response. The second-term governor has exerted the full force of his office, issuing executive orders to shutter nonessential businesses, suspend elective surgeries and order travelers from other states to self-quarantine.

Meanwhile, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have complained about executive overreach, restrictions on mail-in voting or policies that left jobless Texas out in the cold. But most of the venting is on Twitter or in letters, not in a committee room, where lawmakers could hear expert testimony and provide oversight of state agencies. Legislators say just because they aren’t in a committee room doesn’t mean they aren’t doing their jobs. The Capitol is closed to the public to stem the spread of coronavirus. And while Zoom meetings have become the new normal for companies, procedural rules may prohibit lawmakers from meeting over the internet. “These issues are front and center,” said Sen. Bryan Hughes, a Mineola Republican who chairs the powerful Senate State Affairs Committee. “No one should think because there hasn’t been a formal hearing that this isn’t being taken seriously.”

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Dallas Morning News - July 8, 2020

Rep. Morgan Meyer asks education commissioner to suspend STAAR for 2020-21

The chorus against recommencing standardized tests for Texas public school students added another voice. On Wednesday, incumbent State Rep. Morgan Meyer -- a Republican who represents the Park Cities, Preston Hollow and parts of Uptown, Downtown and Old East Dallas -- sent a letter to Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath asking that the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, tests not be given to students for the upcoming 2020-21 school year.

In late June, Morath told members of the State Board of Education that testing would happen with some alterations for the upcoming school year; the 2019-20 tests were cancelled by Gov. Greg Abbott in March, after schools shuttered their doors because of coronavirus concerns. “Continuing the pause in testing will allow our public schools, administrators and teachers to continue focusing on the health, safety, wellness and learning of our students,” Meyer’s letter read. Meyer, who has held his seat since 2015 and serves on the House Public Education Committee, told The Dallas Morning News that his office had been “inundated” with calls from constituents who were concerned about the added stresses the tests would place on their children during the COVID-19 crisis.

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Texas Observer - July 8, 2020

Reform versus rebuild: Years of activism and a legacy of police violence are fueling demands to reimagine public safety.

For Sara Mokuria, Father’s Day is an annual reminder of police violence. Mokuria was two months shy of her 10th birthday on October 7, 1992, when officers arrived in her neighborhood in southeast Dallas. Mokuria’s mother had called 911 when her father, Tesfaye, came home acting irrationally. Mokuria’s mother managed to relieve him of the kitchen knife he was handling before police arrived, but when officers rang the doorbell, he snatched it back and said he was going to protect her. Police officials, at the time, claimed that Mokuria’s father, who was Black, “came out and charged toward an officer with the knife.” The officers who shot and killed Tesfaye were white. As she grew older, Mokuria channeled the tragedy into activism around race and policing in Dallas. In 2013, she co-founded the group Mothers Against Police Brutality with John Fullenwider, a longtime community organizer, and Collette Flanagan, whose son, Clinton Allen, was unarmed when he was shot and killed by police earlier that year. For the next several years, the group pushed the city to overhaul a toothless, decades-old system of community oversight for the Dallas Police Department (DPD). City leaders finally passed those reforms last year, which included creating a new city office independent of DPD to review police investigations and complaints, on the heels of another controversial police killing.

Last year, Mokuria, now with the Institute for Urban Policy Research at the University of Texas at Dallas, took a new approach to reforming law enforcement in Dallas: going after their money. She and other activists went to budget sessions in 2019 and asked city leaders to decrease spending on police and shift funding to social services to combat poverty in a city haunted by racial and economic segregation. They didn’t get very far. A spike in violent crime that year dominated discussions around police spending, leading city leaders to unanimously pass a budget that dedicated more funding to retain and hire more cops—despite a city-commissioned staffing study cautioning that DPD needed to better manage the officers it had before hiring any more. But that was before police killed George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd’s death has sparked a national uprising, challenging and changing the terms of debate around race and policing almost overnight and across all levels of government. While a growing number of activists and politicians across the country are now demanding a deeper, more fundamental reassessment of public safety, in Texas, it’s not entirely new. It’s an acknowledgement that incremental reforms like body cameras, stricter guidelines for using force, and increased training have failed to stop police brutality or correct racial disparities seen across the criminal legal system.

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CBS 11 - July 8, 2020

Members of teacher’s union react to Texas Education Agency school reopening guidelines

One of the largest teachers union in North Texas says the state’s framework for reopening schools doesn’t do enough to protect students and staff. The Texas Education Agency released its much anticipated guidelines Tuesday afternoon.

This fall, all families will be able to choose whether to send their student back to class or continue with remote learning. On campuses, students, teachers and staff will be screened, and masks will be required. Personal protective equipment will be provided to schools as well. Even with those measures, teachers say it’s going to be nearly impossible to social distance in the classroom, on school buses, and in the cafeteria. “Every teacher I know wants to be back in school with their kids, but not at the cost and safety of students and teachers lives,” said Steven Poole, executive director of the United Educators Association, which represents more than 26,000 public school employees in 43 school districts. Poole doesn’t believe it’s safe to go back to school next month.

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Austin Monitor - July 8, 2020

Survey predicts 90 percent of Austin live music venues to close by Halloween

A survey of Austin businesses impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic finds that 90 percent of the city’s live music venues are likely to permanently close by this fall. That forecast was one of the conclusions of a June survey conducted by the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs, with more than 1,000 business owners from all industries sharing their actions following closures and scaled reopening of businesses across the state in recent months.

The survey, which was commissioned by the Austin Chamber of Commerce in coordination with the Central Texas for Business Task Force, found that bars and live music venues in Austin are the most at risk for closure due to the pandemic. Among other findings: 62 percent of music venues said they would survive four months or less of continued closure; 19 percent of music venues were able to pay their full June rent, with 67 percent paying less than half of their rent balance; 83 percent of music venues laid off their full-time employees 79 percent of music venues suspended payments to vendors, suppliers and landlords; The survey’s summary noted Halloween as the likely milestone by which a majority of Austin’s bars and live music venues will be closed for good. Members of the task force and other involved parties received the data at an online session last Wednesday, with live music advocates hoping the findings will strengthen their push for economic aid specifically designated for live music venues that have an average monthly overhead of $40,000.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 8, 2020

Texas now limits outdoor gatherings of 10 or more. Fort Worth won’t grant exemptions

Planning a pool party, graduation celebration, softball game or wedding? As coronavirus cases continue to rise, outside events such as these that include more than 10 people now must be approved by local officials, under a proclamation issued by Gov. Greg Abbott that went into effect July 3. In Tarrant County, city residents must get permission from the mayor and those in the unincorporated part of the county must get permission from the county judge.

But don’t think that approval is a given. Fort Worth, for instance, is not accepting applications for exemptions, said Laken Rapier, a spokeswoman for Mayor Betsy Price. Rapier said very few requests for exemptions have been received. There is a potential for exemptions, “but those would be few and far between,” she said. Any exceptions would have to include masks and social distancing. In Arlington, the fire marshal oversees the approval process for these requests. Once someone submits a request, it is reviewed by the fire chief, public health authority and mayor, said Susan Schrock, a spokeswoman for the city. Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley said his office has created a form that must be submitted 48 hours in advance of the proposed event. The form asks about the event, its time, location and how many people are expected to attend. It also asks what safety precautions will be taken to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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Houston Chronicle - July 8, 2020

How an air filter made by University of Houston researchers could trap and kill COVID-19 germs

Catch and kill — that’s the mission of a new air filter designed to eliminate COVID-19 virus particles. Heated foam air filters created by University of Houston physics researchers and Medistar, a Houston real estate developer specializing in medical buildings, could be key to disinfecting heating and cooling systems of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, according to a peer-reviewed study in Materials Today Physics, a science journal.

The virus can live up to three hours in the air, according to recent research. But superheating could kill the virus when passed through the filter, which would be installed in air conditioning and heating systems and heated to nearly 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Those filters could be in production as soon as August, said Zhifeng Ren, the director of UH’s Texas Center for Superconductivity, which researches materials that can conduct electricity without resistance at high temperatures. Ideally, high-traffic spaces and essential services in Texas, such as airports, office buildings and schools, would be the first to install them. Filtration systems could be critical to controlling COVID-19, because recent research suggests the virus is transmitted through the air. Researchers developing the filter conducted tests at the University of Houston and Galveston National Laboratory and proved that the filter killed 99.8 percent of SARS-CoV-2, according to the study.

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McAllen Monitor - July 8, 2020

UTRGV, international students react to Trump administration’s visa restrictions

Paulina Longoria doesn’t want to leave the United States. The 19-year-old English major at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley has been in America since 2015, and said she simply feels more comfortable here, having already engrossed herself in the university community as well as the larger Valley community. “There’s more opportunities for me, because I can work and study here with visas and permissions, and it’s safe here,” said Longoria, a native of Rio Bravo, Tamaulipas in Mexico.

Thanks to a federal policy change, however, Longoria recently feared the possibility of being forced out of the country before having finished her education, or having had the chance to embark on a writing career. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has already left educational institutions across the country scrambling, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced Monday that it will not issue visas for international students enrolled in schools and its programs that are fully online for the fall semester, according to a news release. The decision could affect hundreds of thousands of international students currently enrolled for the fall semester who hold F-1 and M-1 non-immigrant visas — Longoria is one such student — and comes as the Trump administration continues to restrict legal immigration. The new restrictions put a cap on how many credit hours a student on this particular visa could use for online-learning or remote classes.

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City Stories

Houston Chronicle - July 8, 2020

‘He’s not listening’: Acevedo, council members spar over delayed helmet vote

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said Wednesday that city council members have a “loss of common sense” in questioning a $166,000 contract for helmets, provoking a sharp rebuke from two members. The public spat came after Mayor Sylvester Turner’s administration tabled a vote on the contract with GT Distributors for 454 ballistic helmets, face shields and other tactical equipment. The administration did not explain why it pulled the vote, but council members Jerry Davis and Tiffany Thomas said they were asking questions about the contract and seeking to get police to commit to demilitarizing itself during public protests.

“The thought that in 2020 elected members of city council don’t understand that a protective helmet is needed by police officers is a testament to the loss of common sense in our nation. We ask children and motorcycle riders to wear helmets; but we question the need for police … access to life saving equipment,” Acevedo tweeted as council met Wednesday. He also shared the photo a sergeant’s bloodied face. “It is a shame that @houstonpolice is one of the few big city departments in the nation without this protective gear issued department-wide. The sgt. pictured above was recently injured when he was assaulted with a rock,” he tweeted. At the end of the meeting, Davis lambasted the chief for declining to meet with him and for sending out a tweet instead of speaking with him directly. “What I really hate is when people go on Twitter and just start blabbing different things,” Davis told the mayor. He said it is council members’ job to ask questions about votes, and he said he easily could say the chief has lost common sense in refusing to release footage from body cameras in police shootings.

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Houston Chronicle - July 8, 2020

Houston home sales post record rebound

Sales of single-family homes rebounded sharply in June, reversing two months of steep declines and logging a record number of closings, new data show, a result of pent-up demand and low mortgage rates. A flurry of contracts signed in May after stay-at-home orders expired and the state began to reopen businesses drove closings to a new monthly high in June. Buyers closed on 9,328 single-family homes, up 15.7 percent from the previous June, the Houston Association of Realtors said Wednesday.

“Coronavirus has driven the Houston housing market into uncharted territory, however, we do know for certain that consumers have shown unwavering interest in real estate since the pandemic began,” HAR Chairman John Nugent said in a press release. The boost, however, may be temporary as new COVID-19 cases surge in Texas and the economy continues to struggle. Some agents have stopped hosting open houses and local leaders are again urging Houstonians to stay home when possible.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 7, 2020

‘I will make sure we recall you.’ Arlington term limit advocate denied committee spot

The Arlington City Council filled all but one seat on two task forces Tuesday after council members raised issue with one nominee’s past behavior. Members filled a combined 33 open slots for the 10-person Unity Council and 24-member Term Limits Advisory Committee.. The council declined Zachary Maxwell’s appointment to the term limits committee 5-3 after members debated his ability to approach a committee with “decorum.”

Maxwell publishes the Arlington Voice and was a driving force behind the term limit referendum. In his statement to the council via phone, he shamed council members for having this discussion and assured he would lead an effort to recall all members but Marvin Sutton, District 3 councilman. Sutton nominated Maxwell for his seat. “What you are about to do is exactly why I will make sure we recall you,” Maxwell said. “You will lose on this issue, and you will be embarrassed by it.” Sheri Capehart, District 2 councilwoman, asked that Maxwell’s nomination be reconsidered and cited previous private and public interactions with him. “I don’t think that I could knowingly subject that committee to his oftentimes lack of decorum and anger,” she said.

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Dallas Morning News - July 8, 2020

Dallas Morning News Editorial: A job, a home and a chance for healing: Dallas’ smart approach to homelessness holds real promise

No one wants to be a Pollyanna when it comes to the deep, abiding and worsening problem of American homelessness. It can be disheartening to consider the enormity of the matter. But giving up should never be an option. Accepting that people will just live on the streets or in unsanitary and dangerous tent villages beneath overpasses isn’t a social solution. That’s why we are so pleased to see the progress in Dallas on an effort to get people off the streets in a way that is smart and compassionate.

We are talking about the effort to build Bonton Village in Lake Highlands. The project led by Dallas council member Adam McGough, Bonton Farms founder Darron Babcock and City of Refuge chief executive Mike Reinsel holds the promise of redirecting lives for the better while it can also answer the fear people have of helping the homeless in their own neighborhoods. As columnist Sharon Grigsby reported last month, McGough has been on a difficult journey to bring this complex project to fruition. He has not only had to battle city staff intent on acting without political input, but has faced the NIMBYism that inevitably follows projects like this. Over time, however, he has won over City Hall and many Lake Highlands residents with a plan that is intended not only to aid the homeless but to bring economic development to the area. Indeed, Babcock and McGough both report support pouring in from Lake Highlands residents eager to see the village take shape on a large and unused patch of land at 12000 Greenville Ave. Those who know Babcock’s work in South Dallas should be pleased he is expanding his vision. Long before he was collecting headlines and plaudits for his work, Babcock was quietly creating a functioning farm to give people in his South Dallas neighborhood a real hand in improving their lives, through working on the farm or from being nourished by its fruits.

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National Stories

The Hill - July 8, 2020

Supreme Court upholds Trump's expansion of ObamaCare birth control exemptions

The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the Trump administration's expansion of ObamaCare birth control exemptions for employers. The 7-2 decision stemmed from a highly litigated question that first arose in the early days of the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA): Do employers who oppose birth control have to pay for workers’ contraception?

In the Obama era, religious nonprofits could claim an exemption from contraceptive coverage. Under the Trump administration, eligibility was extended to companies that voiced religious or moral objections, sparking legal challenges. Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority on Wednesday, said the move by federal agencies under President Trump to expand the exemptions was lawful. "We hold that the departments had the authority to provide exemptions from the regulatory contraceptive requirements for employers with religious and conscientious objections," Thomas wrote. The majority comprised the court’s conservative wing, as well as two of its more liberal justices, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer. Writing in dissent were liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.

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USA Today - July 8, 2020

Pence says CDC changing school reopening guidelines after Trump called them 'tough and expensive'

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is revising its guidance on reopening schools after President Donald Trump tweeted his disagreement with them, Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday. "The president said today we just don’t want the guidance to be too tough," Pence said at a news conference at the U.S. Department of Education. "That's the reason why, next week, CDC is going to be issuing a new set of tools, five different documents that will be giving even more clarity on the guidance going forward."

Trump tweeted Wednesday that he disagrees with the CDC's "very tough & expensive guidelines for opening schools" as the coronavirus pandemic continues. "They are asking schools to do very impractical things," Trump tweeted. "I will be meeting with them!!!" He also threatened to withhold funding from schools that don't populate their classrooms this fall. Asked about that threat, Pence said the administration wants to include "incentives for states to go forward" in the next federal stimulus package. "And as we work with Congress on the next round of state support, we're going to be looking for ways to give states a strong incentive and encouragement to get kids back to school," said Pence, the head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

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Newsclips - July 8, 2020

Lead Stories

San Antonio Express-News - July 8, 2020

Judge in AG Paxton’s criminal case recuses himself, two weeks after key ruling

The Harris County state district judge who handed Attorney General Ken Paxton a big win by moving his criminal case back to Collin County two weeks ago is now recusing himself because Paxton’s office is representing him in a separate suit. Now Judge Robert Johnson’s quick exit is leading the attorneys prosecuting Paxton to question the decision to move the case back to Paxton’s home county. Johnson, who did not respond to requests for comment, made the venue change decision on June 25. A day later, he and all 22 other Harris County felony judges were added as defendants in a lawsuit alleging that the region’s bail practices discriminate against poor defendants.

The Attorney General’s Office represents state agencies and individual employees of the state and officially became counsel to Johnson and 19 other judges on July 1. Paxton, a former Texas state lawmaker who was indicted on felony securities fraud charges five years ago, has influential friends and allies in Collin County, including District Attorney Greg Willis and members of the commissioners court — part of a network of associations that prompted a different judge to move the trial to Houston in the first place. Paxton has maintained his innocence. Prosecutors in the case have appealed the move to Collin County, and the First Court of Appeals on Tuesday granted a motion for a stay of the proceedings during the appeal.

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Houston Chronicle - July 7, 2020

No Texan running for U.S. House has ever spent more than Kathaleen Wall

Houston Republican Kathaleen Wall has put more than $7.4 million of her own money into her campaign for Congress, setting a new Texas record for self-funding a U.S. House race. She has already spent $6.5 million of that total — also a new Texas record for overall spending in a U.S. House race — with at least three more weeks of spending to come in the primary runoff. It gives Wall a major financial advantage over her Republican primary opponent Fort Bend Sheriff Troy Nehls in the 22nd Congressional District, which includes most of Fort Bend County plus parts of Brazoria County and southern portions of Harris County. Nehls has raised just over $476,000. Early voting is underway and ends July 10; Election Day is July 14.

Despite being outspent by Wall nearly 12 to 1 during the GOP primary on March 3, Nehls got 40 percent of the vote; Wall received 19 percent, finishing second in a crowded field. No candidate hit 50 percent, forcing the top two candidates into the runoff. Both Nehls and Wall have pitched themselves as potential allies for President Donald Trump. Both have expressed support for his policies, particularly on immigration reform as both say they will help Trump build a wall on the Mexican border to prevent illegal crossings. Nehls has campaigned heavily on his 21 years in the Army and his last 8 years as sheriff. Wall is a former salesperson for a semiconductor company and a big GOP financial donor who points to her financial backing of Trump, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. Greg Abbott as evidence of her commitment to Republican politics.

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San Antonio Express-News - July 8, 2020

More Texas sheriffs say they won’t enforce Abbott’s face mask order

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that sheriffs in at least eight Texas counties are refusing to fine or cite people who won't cover their faces when out in public, despite Gov. Greg Abbott's new order asking law officials to do so. Abbott issued an order last Thursday, requiring all Texans to wear a face covering over the nose and mouth in public spaces in counties with 20 or more positive COVID-19 cases. The counties refusing to enforce Abbott's order are Denton, Nacogdoches, Smith, Upshur, Kerr, Gillespie, Panola and Montgomery. All have more than 20 coronavirus cases, according to data from each county's website.

According to the order, first-time violators will be issued a warning, and repeat offenders could be fined up to $250, however, states violators cannot be detained or jailed. That limitation has frustrated sheriffs in Montgomery, Kerr, Gillespie and Upshur counties, who have said via Facebook accounts that they are unable to stop anyone who isn't wearing a mask since that could be construed as detaining them. The Gillespie County Sheriff’s Office wrote on its Facebook account on Saturday that "the wearing of objects near the face and neck provides an offender possible tools to impose harm to an officer." The Kerr County Sheriff's Office told mySA.com on Monday that the order may be "unconstitutional" because it treats people differently as some people such as poll workers and churchgoers are exempt from wearing a face mask.

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NPR - July 8, 2020

Several GOP Senators plan to skip the Republican National Convention

Several Republican senators say they will not attend the Republican National Convention to re-nominate President Trump in Jacksonville, Fla., in August. So far, Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Susan Collins of Maine are expected to skip the August 24 gathering, and there could be more. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, who voted for Trump's removal during the Senate impeachment trial, also won't be there, according to an aide.

Grassley, 86, said on a call with local reporters on Monday he'll miss the convention as a result of pandemic fears. He also noted it will mark the first time he won't attend in 40 years. "I'm not going to go. And I'm not going to go because of the virus situation," Grassley told the Des Moines Register and others. This year's Republican convention has faced a turbulent path. It was originally slated for Charlotte, N.C., but the bulk of it was moved last month to Jacksonville following Trump's demands for fewer safety precautions from COVID-19. Official convention business will still be conducted in Charlotte. Now, as pandemic cases spiral upwards in Florida and elsewhere, there are new calls to scale down the Florida event.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - July 8, 2020

Empower Texans’ favorite is exception as Gov. Greg Abbott-backed House hopefuls enjoy money edge

In four of the five Republican runoffs for Texas House next week in which Gov. Greg Abbott has chosen sides, his pick has a decided edge when it comes to campaign money. But in the fifth race, the one in which the GOP governor is most clearly pitted against the staunchly conservative group Empower Texans, the other side is cleaning Team Abbott’s clock.

Jon Francis of Cisco, son-in-law of fracking billionaire Farris Wilks and his wife JoAnn, has outspent Glenn Rogers of Graford, who is Abbott’s favorite, by 2-1 in the latest reporting period, according to contribution and expenditure reports published on the Texas Ethics Commission’s website Tuesday. Though Francis’ campaign touts him as an outsider who doesn’t rely on Austin special interests and PAC money, Farris and JoAnn Wilks gave him another $475,000 between Feb. 23 and Saturday, or 82% of the $577,000 he raised in the period. For the cycle, Francis’ in laws have donated the same percentage – 82% or $1,125,000 – of the nearly $1.4 million he’s raised, a towering amount for a rural district with no expensive TV ads to be purchased, even if one wanted.

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Dallas Morning News - July 7, 2020

As long as Gov. Abbott’s order stands, older students in COVID-19 affected areas must wear masks

In counties falling under Gov. Greg Abbott’s statewide mask mandate, students 10 and older will be required to wear masks or face shields, assuming that order still stands at the start of the school year, according to newly released -- and long-delayed -- guidance issued from the Texas Education Agency. A nine-page document setting out safety requirements for school districts for the upcoming school year was released Tuesday, weeks later than expected. The TEA had planned to post guidelines on June 23, but didn’t -- as cases of COVID-19 in the state continued to spike.

The tone of Tuesday’s guidance reflected Texas’ upward trend. While much of the document mimicked recommendations set out in a draft mistakenly posted on the TEA’s website in late June, there were a handful of subtle changes, creating more stringent health and safety requirements. The TEA’s new rules require that schools “comply with the governor’s executive order regarding the wearing of masks.” Abbott’s order explicitly excludes those younger than 10 from its requirements, and TEA spokesperson Frank Ward confirmed that those age limits would not be altered by its guidance. When asked during an interview with San Antonio’s KENS-TV whether he would lower the age requirement in his order, Abbott sidestepped the question.

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Dallas Morning News - July 7, 2020

When is a bar a restaurant and a restaurant a bar? That’s an enforceable question in Texas

The cheeseburgers, fish and chips and shepherd’s pie on the menu at Plano’s Holy Grail Pub was inconsequential when state officials came two weeks ago and told it to shut down under Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order to close bars to slow the surge of COVID-19 cases. Holy Grail Pub was one of 1,500 restaurants in Texas shut down under the order meant to close bars, according to the Texas Restaurant Association. The order signed by Abbott says any establishment that gets 51% or more of revenue from alcohol sales is shuttered indefinitely while the coronavirus pandemic rages.

But restaurants such as Holy Grail Pub say they are getting caught up in the wave of bar closures because they happen to sell a few more pints of ale than plates of chicken tikka masala. “We operate like a restaurant and our biggest competitors across the street, chain restaurants that serve alcohol, are still open,” said Christi Rudolph, who has run the restaurant with her husband Brian for 11 years. With an entree costing $13 to $15, a beer selling for $7 and a glass of wine going for $10, it’s easy for a table to spend more on alcohol than food, she said. The restaurant association is pushing Abbott to amend his executive order or recommend that the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission alter the rules to allow businesses that operate like restaurants to remain open, even if they sell a bit more alcohol than food. “There is a pretty clear difference that these restaurants don’t operate like bars,” said Kelsey Erickson Streufert, vice president of government affairs and advocacy for the restaurant association. “You can make a distinction between the two that isn’t based just on how much alcohol a business sells.”

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Dallas Morning News - July 6, 2020

Sen. John Cornyn calls it a 'mistake' to help unemployed during pandemic

Sen. John Cornyn called it a "mistake" to extend benefits to unemployed Americans during the COVID-19 crisis on a Friday video call with the Texas Society of Certified Public Accountants. "This is one area where we found that we did make a mistake, because we actually added a $600-a-week benefit from the federal government," the Texas Republican said on a clip from the call shared by progressive group American Bridge 21st Century. "And some people, we found out, in some wage brackets, were actually making more money not to work than to work. So, that expires in July, and we’re not going to do that again."

The statement comes as Texas' unemployment rate reached 13% — its second-highest ever — and as economists warn it will likely take years for the job market to recover. After initially voting to provide unemployment benefits for people thrown out of work by the health crisis, Cornyn signaled in early May that he favored rolling back the $600 benefit. “I keep getting asked about that back home and I say we just made a mistake,” he told NBC News reporter Julie Tsirkin. CANNABIS Email Print Share Sen. John Cornyn of Texas Calls It a 'Mistake' to Help Unemployed During Pandemic Posted By Sanford Nowlin on Mon, Jul 6, 2020 at 11:45 am WIKIMEDIA COMMONS / GAGE SKIDMORE Wikimedia Commons / Gage Skidmore Sen. John Cornyn called it a "mistake" to extend benefits to unemployed Americans during the COVID-19 crisis on a Friday video call with the Texas Society of Certified Public Accountants. "This is one area where we found that we did make a mistake, because we actually added a $600-a-week benefit from the federal government," the Texas Republican said on a clip from the call shared by progressive group American Bridge 21st Century. "And some people, we found out, in some wage brackets, were actually making more money not to work than to work. So, that expires in July, and we’re not going to do that again." The statement comes as Texas' unemployment rate reached 13% — its second-highest ever — and as economists warn it will likely take years for the job market to recover. After initially voting to provide unemployment benefits for people thrown out of work by the health crisis, Cornyn signaled in early May that he favored rolling back the $600 benefit. “I keep getting asked about that back home and I say we just made a mistake,” he told NBC News reporter Julie Tsirkin. Over recent weeks, Cornyn has taken heat for downplaying the coronavirus pandemic and doubling down on his racist claim that "Chinese culture" is to blame for its spread. Although Cornyn has amassed a $12.9 million reelection war chest, he faces a tough reelection fight in November. Democrats have pledged to make a multimillion-dollar effort to take down the three-term senator. Former Air Force helicopter pilot MJ Hegar, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee's choice in the July 14 runoff to take on Cornyn, raised $1.7 million in the second quarter. Her runoff opponent, Democratic Texas Sen. Royce West, raised $430,000.

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Dallas Morning News - July 7, 2020

The State Fair of Texas is officially canceled

The State Fair of Texas, which has been canceled only eight times during its 134 years, and even then primarily because of two world wars, will not take place during 2020, fair officials announced Tuesday. The reason, of course, is a global pandemic that continues to spread like wildfire throughout the United States, with cases in Texas rising.

“In the current climate of COVID-19, there is no feasible way for the Fair to put proper precautions in place while maintaining the Fair environment you know and love,” Gina Norris, board chair for the State Fair of Texas, said in a statement. “While we cannot predict what the COVID-19 pandemic will look like in September, the recent surge in positive cases is troubling for all of North Texas. The safest and most responsible decision we could make for all involved at this point in our 134-year history is to take a hiatus for the 2020 season.” Texas has suffered more than 210,000 confirmed cases, and across the state, more than 2,700 people have died from COVID-19. In the U.S. as a whole, there have been more than 3 million confirmed cases and more than 133,000 deaths.

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Dallas Morning News - July 8, 2020

What does the State Fair of Texas’ cancellation mean for the Longhorns-Sooners Red River Showdown?

The State Fair of Texas is on hold until 2021. The Red River Showdown remains a go for Oct. 10 at Cotton Bowl Stadium in Fair Park, at least for now. “We’re anticipating having the game,” Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte said in a phone interview. “We’re planning the game in Dallas at the Cotton Bowl.”

Added Oklahoma AD Joe Castiglione in a statement: “Our hope remains that we can play the OU-Texas game at the Cotton Bowl, but obviously every aspect of our season requires constant monitoring and planning.” If the idea of Texas and Oklahoma playing without the signature State Fair backdrop and the sights, sounds, smells and tastes that separate the game from any other rivalry game, well there’s precedent. The State Fair was canceled during World War II when the fairgrounds were used to house troops. Texas-OU was still played each year at the Cotton Bowl.

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Dallas Morning News - July 7, 2020

John Cornyn nabs early U.S. Chamber support as GOP aims to retain Senate

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, aiming to avert Democratic control of the Senate, threw its support to Texas Sen. John Cornyn on Tuesday. That’s no surprise. The three-term Republican is a reliable ally for business, with a 90% lifetime rating from the chamber. But the early endorsement, before Democrats have even settled on a nominee, reflects the chamber’s desire to shore up Texas -- long a GOP stronghold — in an election year overshadowed by pandemic-related upheaval.

“We like his good strong pro-business conservative message. But we also know that we’re in a complex environment right now with the coronavirus and the economy,” said Scott Reed, the chamber’s chief political strategist. “The good news is the election’s not today….We need Texas in the safe category by Labor Day so we can focus on some other states.” Republicans hold a 53-47 edge in the Senate. Democrats need to swing four seats to ensure control. President Donald Trump has struggled against former Vice President Joe Biden, and his sagging support could create headwinds for most fellow Republicans. “We see a scenario today where the Republicans still hang on by a seat or two,” Reed said. In 2018, Texas’ junior senator, Ted Cruz, survived with just 51% against former El Paso congressman Beto O’Rourke — the closest any Republican has come to losing statewide in Texas since 1994. Polls show that Cornyn is less polarizing, which cuts both ways. Enthusiasm among the GOP base is somewhat muted, but so is the ferocity on the other side.

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Houston Chronicle - July 7, 2020

Texas GOP rejects Turner’s request to call off in-person convention

The Texas Republican Party on Tuesday rejected Mayor Sylvester Turner’s formal request to call off its in-person convention, putting the GOP on track to hold Houston’s largest indoor event since the COVID-19 pandemic began. James Dickey, chairman of the Texas GOP, in a statement said the party has been “proactive in implementing safety measures” and had “extensive conversations” with Houston First, the public nonprofit that serves as the city’s convention arm and operates the George R. Brown Convention Center. The convention is set to take place there from July 16 to 18. “With these precautions currently in place, the Republican Party of Texas intends to proceed with an in-person convention next week in Houston,” Dickey said.

Turner said he was “incredulous” that the GOP is moving ahead with the event amid a local escalation of the COVID-19 pandemic. He reiterated that health department officials would shut it down if they find people are not following city COVID-19 guidelines. “It is the only convention or conference that has elected to proceed,” Turner said. “All of the other conferences and conventions have chosen to cancel or reschedule.” At least two elected officials — Turner and Gov. Greg Abbott — have the authority to shut down the convention. Under his prior executive orders, Abbott prohibited gatherings of more than 10 people and required Texans to minimize in-person contact “except where necessary to provide or obtain essential services.” The governor has been asked about the convention a handful of times in recent TV interviews and each time declined to stake out a firm position. He has not signaled any plans to step in and cancel the event.

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Houston Chronicle - July 7, 2020

Harris County nursing home under investigation after COVID-19 outbreak, officials say

An east Harris County nursing home is under investigation following a COVID-19 outbreak at the facility, Harris County Public Health announced Tuesday. Four deaths at the Jacinto Nursing & Rehabilitation Center on Holland Avenue are currently “pending review to determine if COVID-19 related,” according to a news release. Another 57 residents and staff members have tested positive and are actively being monitored by public health officials, according to Harris County Public Health spokeswoman Martha Marquez. The facility has 148 total beds, records show.

Calls to the facility and its listed owner Tuesday night were not returned by press time. The county’s public health department initiated the investigation June 10 after the home reported 12 positive tests and one person who died from the virus. Harris County Public Health on July 3 ordered the facility to ensure compliance with infection control measures and track the transmission of the virus. As part of the order, Marquez said no visitors are allowed inside the facility, and the residents have been quarantined in their rooms Texas Health and Human Services, which regulates state healthcare facilities, is also involved in the investigation. The state agency’s online records show the home was last inspected in May 2019. It was cited for nine violations — all of which were corrected that month— including failing to make sure the home was “free of dangers that cause accidents” and not storing, cooking or giving out food in “a safe and clean way.”

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Houston Chronicle - July 7, 2020

378 big Texas companies received $5M or more in federal paycheck protection loans

Some of the best-known companies in Texas received millions in federal loans meant to help businesses stay afloat during the coronavirus outbreak, according to newly disclosed data detailing the loan recipients for the first time. The report comes months after several big chains, including Shake Shack and Taco Cabana, were pressured into returning millions they had borrowed through the same Paycheck Protection Program. At that time, small business owners struggled to secure the funding during the program’s rocky launch. Publicly traded companies were among the few required to disclose how much they got.

The records disclosed Monday show that among the recipients of loans of between $5 million and $10 million — the maximum amount under the forgivable loan program — were the Houston Zoo and Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, as well as Sport Clips, which runs hair salons across the country, and restaurant chains including TGI Friday’s, Pei Wei Asian Kitchen and Jason’s Deli. Others borrowing $5 million to $10 million included: The Alamo Drafthouse, Hopdoddy Burger Bar, Bill Miller Bar-B-Q, Pappas Restaurants — the parent company of Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen and Pappasito’s Cantina — and Success Foods Management Group, which runs Torchy’s Tacos. The companies all reported that the loans helped them retain hundreds of employees. The data released by the Small Business Administration shows that more than 389,000 of the loans were approved for businesses in Texas by the end of June, totaling more than $41 billion — second only to California. Of those, 378 loans in the $5 million to $10 million range were awarded to Texas businesses. In all, 52,150 Texas businesses received $150,000 or more, the data shows.

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Houston Chronicle - July 7, 2020

Oil-field services companies cut another 8,600 jobs in June

Still feeling the sting of low commodity prices, oil-field services companies cut 8,600 jobs in June, a new report from the Houston-based Petroleum Equipment & Services Association shows. The sector employed nearly 670,500 workers nationwide in June, including drilling rig crews, hydraulic fracturing fleets and equipment manufacturers. It has lost 116,000 jobs since June 2019.

Shutdowns aimed at halting the spread of the coronavirus pandemic slashed global oil demand, sending oil prices tumbling in March and April. Services-sector job losses were heaviest in April, when 59,666 workers lost their jobs. Although the rate of job losses has slowed, industry analysts remain concerned about additional layoffs as coronavirus cases surge in many states, potentially reducing demand for crude oil. West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark for crude, has recovered to trade above $40 per barrel, but most domestic producers require oil to be priced at about $55 to be profitable. At its height, oil-field services employed 941,796 in the United States in October 2014, just as an oil price crash ignited a two-year downturn that eliminated 1 in 3 oil-field services jobs.

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Houston Chronicle - July 7, 2020

TEA: Public schools must reopen campuses in August, with few exceptions

Texas public school districts must reopen campuses for in-person instruction in August in order to continue receiving state funding, unless Gov. Greg Abbott issues a school closure order or a confirmed case of COVID-19 on an individual campus forces a temporary shutdown of the building, Education Commissioner Mike Morath announced Tuesday. The mandate ensures that families wanting in-person classes will have the option for children to return to campuses, though students have the option to continue learning from home if they choose. Districts can restrict the number of students who receive on-campus instruction for the first three weeks of their school year, a period designed to “facilitate an effective back-to-school transition process,” TEA officials said.

“On-campus instruction in Texas public schools is where it’s at,” Morath said during a conference call with superintendents. “We know that a lot of families are going to be nervous, and if they are nervous, we’re going to support them 100 percent.” The mandate came as Morath released public safety guidance for the 2020-21 school year, ordering school leaders to follow Abbott’s mask mandate as long as it remains in place and encouraging the use of social distancing in buildings, among numerous other protocols. TEA leaders are leaving many health and hygiene decisions to superintendents, a long-expected decision given the varying spread of the novel coronavirus in different corners of the state. However, state officials issued some mandates Tuesday, including a requirement that teachers and staff self-screen for COVID-19 symptoms before entering a campus.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 7, 2020

Tarrant County on pace to double COVID-19 cases in three weeks, health official says

Coronavirus is spreading so quickly in Tarrant County that the total number of cases is now doubling about every three weeks. That’s what Public Health Director Vinny Taneja told county officials Tuesday during their weekly meeting. There have been 15,585 positive coronavirus cases, including 248 deaths, in Tarrant County. “Twenty-three days ago, we were about half of where we are now,” Taneja said. “If we maintain this pace, in 23 days, we will double this.”

He said there might be a spike in two or three weeks as tests and results from those who publicly celebrated July 4 are expected to be reported. Unlike earlier spikes linked to prisons, this one a community outbreak, Taneja said. He said said younger people, particularly those 25 to 44, are getting sick with COVID-19, which means fewer are dying from the disease. He said there are about 1,800 hospital beds available in Tarrant County, a number that can rise to about 4,000 if hospital officials need to take steps to free up more beds. And there are 585 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Tarrant hospitals, public health records show. Taneja did not say how a doubling of cases could effect hospitals, and he could not be reached after the meeting. Last week, an epidemiologist warned that Tarrant hospitals could reach their base capacity in about three weeks at the current pace.

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Austin American-Statesman - July 7, 2020

UT custodian dies from coronavirus in Austin

A member of the University of Texas custodial services team has died as a result of the coronavirus, the university announced Tuesday. This was the school’s first coronavirus-related death. “This loss is absolutely devastating to me, as I know it is to so many members of our campus community,” interim President Jay Hartzell wrote in an email to campus.

The university is not releasing the custodian’s name out of respect to the family’s privacy, Hartzell said. In May, UT reported a cluster of cases in 11 custodial workers. It was unclear if the death was related to that earlier outbreak. Hartzell said the deceased individual’s positive test result was reported to the university last month, and contact tracing, employee notification and facility disinfection occurred as necessary. “There are no actions or new precautions to take on campus right now,” Hartzell wrote. “However, given the virus is still very active in our city and in other locations across the state and nation, everyone should continue to follow preventative precautions.” UT has been tracking cases of the virus in students, faculty and staff members during the past few weeks. Over the Fourth of July weekend, the university reported 14 new cases, including 13 students and one employee.

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KVUE - July 7, 2020

Nearly a decade after lawsuit, Texas foster care still putting children in danger; motion filed against state

Nearly a decade after a lawsuit was filed against the State of Texas for failing to protect the safety of children in foster care, on Friday, plaintiffs for the children filed a contempt motion to address the “glaring safety risks” in the system. The motion stated that ongoing issues have put children at significant risk for abuse and neglect. "While the state simply refuses to reform its system, innocent children are dying, being needlessly hurt, and remain at serious risk of harm," the motion stated.

This is exemplified by the deaths of three children in the state's long-term care just this year, according to a new independent monitor's report released in June just a few weeks prior to this motion. In 2015, U.S. District Judge Janis Jack found that the system was still violating the constitutional rights of children living in permanent state care. In 2018, after continued failures, she ordered the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to undergo an extensive list of reforms and appointed two independent monitors to the task of ensuring DFPS followed through. After their initial findings they reported to Jack in November 2019, she held the state in contempt of court for failing to comply with her orders. Now, almost 10 years after the problems surfaced, the monitor's 364-page report determined the DFPS's failures are “systemic and enduring” and a danger to children throughout the system.

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San Antonio Express-News - July 8, 2020

Mike Finger: Knowing the risk, Popovich opts in

At the age of 71, with his star power-challenged team facing its longest playoff odds in 23 years, Gregg Popovich will bid farewell to his grandchildren and fly from one coronavirus hotspot to another Thursday. He will make the trip after having been given the opportunity to opt out, to stay home, to avoid all of the hassle and all of the risk that promises precious little apparent upside. He will go, and he will coach, because that is what he does, even when postgame meals in fine Italian restaurants are not an option.

Popovich is committing to a minimum of five weeks inside Walt Disney World, which is about as jarring as Bob Dylan volunteering for a world tour with the Jonas Brothers, but as they say, a gig is a gig. Popovich had been scheduled to be coaching LeBron James in Tokyo this month. Instead, he’ll be drawing up plays for Tyler Zeller. At least on this assignment, nobody will blame him for not winning. There will be those who wonder why Popovich is subjecting himself to this, especially in the middle of a pandemic to which he is statistically vulnerable. His employer and his league have spent weeks devising and implementing a long list of precautions to protect the safety of the participants, but they cannot guarantee everyone’s well-being, because the curve has been far from flattened, and because the “bubble” is not really a bubble. Workers will come and go, and at least a player or two will be able to slip outside without permission. If some of these guys are crafty enough to score on Kawhi Leonard, they figure to have less of a problem slipping past the rent-a-cop guarding the fire exit at The Grand Floridian.

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Associated Press - July 7, 2020

Texas Lt. Gov. Patrick's broadcast company won federal loan

Texas Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who launched his political career on conservative talk radio, received a government small business loan for his Houston broadcasting company as the coronavirus pandemic shut down the economy, according to federal data released Monday.

Patrick Broadcasting received a loan of $179,000 from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, according to Patrick spokeswoman Sherry Sylvester. She said the money was sought due to a decline in advertising sales and was to cover the payroll and expenses of 13 employees. “The loan did not cover his salary, but he was able to save the jobs of all his employees, many of whom have been with him for decades,” Sylvester said. The Paycheck Protection Program is the centerpiece of the federal government’s plan to rescue an economy devastated by shutdowns and uncertainty. The program, which helps smaller businesses stay open and keep Americans employed during the pandemic, has been both popular and controversial.

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D Magazine - July 7, 2020

State of Texas v. Ken Paxton, straight out of Dickens

This is totally unfair, but I’m doing it anyway. I am comparing myself with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who was criminally indicted for securities fraud five years ago but has yet to stand trial. And don’t say it, please. I am no Ken Paxton. I know that. I think that may be the point. So let’s say I was indicted five years ago for the same thing. Paxton’s indictment says he sold 100,000 shares in a tech company called Servergy, Inc. to a guy, whom we will refer to hereafter as “the mark.” When he did that, the indictment says Paxton failed to disclose to the mark that the company had agreed to give Paxton 100,000 shares of his own as payment if he could talk the mark into paying cash-American for 100,000 shares. I would try to do the math on what that meant about the value of the shares, but I’m not all that financial.

The indictment also says Paxton failed to inform the mark that he, Paxton, was not putting any of his own cash-American into Servergy, Inc. So let’s say I did all that same stuff to my neighbor, because, frankly, my neighbor is kind of a mark, too, and I think I could pull it off. And before we go any further, allow me to say something about black hats and white hats in the Paxton matter. The mark, or person alleged to have been injured by Paxton’s duplicity, was then State Rep. Byron Cook, a rancher who is no longer in elective office. Shortly after doing business with Paxton, Cook was accused in lawsuits of using sketchy Oklahoma mineral rights deals to defraud Charles A. Loper III, a businessman, and Mike Buster, executive pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano. So, we’re talking more about gray hats than white or black ones. Maybe there are no hats. All right, let’s go back to me. Let’s say I pulled the wool over my neighbor’s eyes a little bit, but let’s say he’s not exactly Mother Teresa meets Anthony Fauci, so we won’t go feeling all sorry for him. Shortly after Paxton was indicted, the federal Securities and Exchange Commission brought civil fraud charges against Paxton and Servergy, Inc., which I keep mistakenly typing as Swervergy. Eventually a federal judge tossed all that out.

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Midland Reporter-Telegraph - July 5, 2020

Experts discuss COVD-19 impact on rural hospitals

The economic pain being inflicted by the pandemic is being felt not only by every business around the globe but by the medical professionals and hospitals treating coronavirus patients. “The irony to me is that a medical illness has created a lot of economic struggle within the practice of medicine,” said Dr. Tim Benton, with the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center of the Permian Basin, during a recent webinar dealing with the impact of both low oil prices and the pandemic on rural hospitals.

Benton said slowdown in patient volumes led to decreased revenues and increased strain on physicians and their practices. Tom Banning, head of the Texas Academy of Family Physicians, called the stay-at-home orders a “gut punch” to practices around the country, leading to an estimated 60 to 70 percent drop in office visits, which corresponded to a 60 to 70 percent drop in revenues. John Henderson, chief executive officer of Texas Organization for Rural and Community Health, said that rural hospitals – classified as those serving counties with a population of 60,000 or less – were in financial trouble before the pandemic. About 44 percent reported negative finances and 27 closed since 2010, he said. “Rural hospitals during the pandemic have been stretched either because they have struggled with PPE and have trouble with staffing and equipment,” he said. Banning also said the pandemic quickly revealed a broken supply chain for critical personal protective equipment.

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County Stories

Fort Worth Business Press - July 8, 2020

JPS named top hospital in America by Washington Monthly

JPS Health Network was named the best hospital in the United States, according to a new hospital evaluating system unveiled in July by Washington Monthly Magazine. Ranking near the top of every category, it out-scored the most prestigious healthcare organizations in America, JPS said in a news release. You might ask yourself, “how is it possible for a public safety-net hospital to out-rank the finest private hospitals across the United States?”

“What Americans should be asking is, why can’t more hospitals be like JPS?” Washington Monthly countered in explaining its findings. “Shouldn’t every person in this country have access to a hospital that provides high-quality care, welcomes all comers regardless of wealth and insurance status, and contributes to the larger health of the community?” Using a formula 10 years in the making, the magazine – in conjunction with the Lown Institute – has created a new ranking system designed to identify hospitals that not only offer the best high-end care. The formula also valued hospitals that effectively and efficiently provide health care for at-need populations that don’t have insurance or financial resources for medical assistance and serve as leaders in their communities. JPS received high marks in every category of the evaluation, the news release said.

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City Stories

San Antonio Express-News - July 8, 2020

Disbarred San Antonio attorney involved in extortion scheme seeks judicial clemency, clean slate

A disbarred San Antonio lawyer who along with his ex-wife was convicted of theft in 2007 for using a “legal loophole” to extort hush money from four men who were having extramarital affairs with his wife, wants a clean slate. Ted H. Roberts appeared Tuesday via Zoom before Judge Velia Meza in the 226th state District Court, seeking judicial clemency. Representing himself, he asked to have his jury verdict set aside and his indictment dismissed. No ruling was issued Tuesday.

In his motion, Roberts told Meza he “accepts full responsibility for his conduct and sincerely regrets it,” but said his actions were lawful and stated that “threats to file civil claims, and settlement of those claims, are both common.” He argued that in Texas such threats can be selectively criminalized by a penal “theft by coercion” statute that is “so broad as to allow prosecution of lawful threats to sue.” Unlike the clemency granted by a governor that completely clears a person’s record, judicial clemency sets aside a conviction and is available to people on community supervision, said Judge Ron Rangel, who is administrative judge for the state district courts. He also presides over the 379th state District Court.

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KUT - July 7, 2020

Austin Public Health could push for more restrictions as COVID-19 hospitalizations surge

Austin surpassed a crucial threshold for COVID-19 hospitalizations Tuesday, which could signal possible restrictions on businesses and nonessential travel. The seven-day average of new COVID-19 hospital admissions hit an all-time high of nearly 75, according to numbers out Tuesday evening. Health officials have said any average above 70 would push the area into the highest stage of Austin Public Health’s five-stage guidelines. Stage 5 would recommend a shutdown of nonessential businesses and would put in place restrictions on nonessential travel.

The average increased from 64.6 to 74.8. In an update to Travis County commissioners earlier Tuesday, APH’s Dr. Mark Escott said this jump was expected, since the public health authority needed to correct a previously incomplete dataset. Area hospitals had been submitting their admissions for the day, Escott explained, but they weren't counting already admitted patients who had contracted COVID-19. Hospitals have since course-corrected, giving APH a clearer picture. "The data we have in hand now suggests we are over the 70 for admissions on that 7-day moving average," he said. Rising above 70 pushes the area into Stage 5 of the risk-based guidelines, but it’s unclear if Austin Public Health will recommend this move.

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Austin American-Statesman - July 8, 2020

COVID-19 test results taking days to return in Austin area

Test results for COVID-19 can take more than a week to return as cases of the disease across Central Texas have surged and labs have become flooded with samples. Instead of getting results in one or two days like in mid-April to early May, when the pandemic was less busy, turnaround times have crept close to wait times seen during the start of the pandemic in March.

Austin Public Health officials have reported up to seven days for results to return. CommUnityCare has reported turnaround times of up to 10 days, and Austin Regional Clinic, which conducts 30% of the tests in Travis, Hays, and Williamson counties, had reported up to 10 days for results late last month, although last week wait times had fallen to up to five days. Delayed results can make it difficult to promote quarantines and contact trace, essential tactics to limit the spread of the coronavirus, health experts said. Some residents and physicians have also reported turnaround times of more than week at some hospitals and freestanding emergency rooms. “We’re averaging about 500 to 660 tests per day across our testing sites, and about 900 calls per day to our COVID hotline, which are significant increases from June 1, when we were averaging about 200 tests per day and about 100 calls per day,” said Monica Saavedra, spokeswoman for CommUnityCare, which is offering free testing to uninsured individuals.

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KVUE - July 7, 2020

George Washington Carver Museum to be updated after 20-year wait

An Austin museum that honors Black history is finally getting an upgrade. The City of Austin is getting ready to expand the George Washington Carver Museum, Cultural and Genealogy Center in East Austin. City leaders approved a three-phase building program back in 2000. Of the proposed phases, phase one was completed in 2005, while phases two and three haven't been addressed.

Now, 20 years later, a meeting is scheduled for Aug. 8 to finally talk about what needs to be done. A survey is currently open for the community to share their desires and needs for the existing space, what they think can be improved and their vision for the center's future. According to the City, the center's roots were established in Austin in the 1930s. Austin's first public library was moved to East Austin in 1933, and the building because the city's first library for the Black community. A larger library was built to better serve the area in 1980, and the public chose to reopen the historic library building as the George Washington Carver Museum that year.

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National Stories

CNN - July 8, 2020

Trump leans into old failures in push to reopen schools as virus roars

President Donald Trump's new push to open schools shows he's learned nothing from calamities sparked by his demands for premature state openings. The coronavirus pandemic is again rearing out of control, rising in a majority of states as a new warning comes that more than 200,000 Americans could be dead by Election Day. The United States on Tuesday recorded 60,021 new cases of the virus, a new single day record.

But Trump barreled forward anyway, failing to offer detailed proposals for how schools could open safely next month even as he admitted he planned to crank up pressure on governors to do what he wants. He also delivered a fresh rebuke to his government's top infectious disease specialist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who had dismissed the President's discredited claims that the US has the world's lowest mortality rate. And Trump conjured another wishful prediction: that the worsening battle against the virus, which has already killed 130,000 Americans and infected 3 million, would be far less serious within weeks. This all came a few days after another discredited claim, that 99% of cases of the virus are harmless.

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CNN - July 8, 2020

Here are the 5 Supreme Court cases the justices have yet to rule on

The Supreme Court is taking an unusually long time to complete its term this year, with decisions in five cases still under wraps days after the justices would have typically cleared out its docket for the season. The coronavirus pandemic can be partly blamed for the delay. Already, the justices broke tradition in May by holding oral arguments over the phone and broadcasting them live as much of the country was under lockdown. While the court has so far issued opinions in dozens of cases, including several major ones last month dealing with LGBTQ rights, abortion and immigration, where Chief Justice John Roberts notably sided with the four liberals, some closely watched ones have yet to be released.

And there's always the early summer retirement rumors, this time of two justices that could let President Donald Trump install a younger conservative on the bench. Here are the five remaining cases on the court's docket: For over three hours in early May over the telephone, the court delved into two momentous cases that will determine whether the House of Representatives and a New York prosecutor can subpoena Trump's accounting firm and banks for his financial documents. The justices focused on Trump's effort to shield his documents but they also prodded the lawyers to look into the future and gauge how an eventual decision will impact the separation of powers and the White House's broad claims of immunity. The dispute -- the latest concerning the Affordable Care Act to come before the justices -- pits supporters of the law's contraceptive provision, which requires birth control be covered with no co-pay as a preventative service, against those who said it violated their religious and moral beliefs. The law allows for some exemptions for churches and other religious entities, but after Trump took office, the government moved in 2017 to allow exemptions for more employers. Under the religious exception rule, any private employer, including publicly traded corporations, could receive exemptions based on a "sincerely held religious belief." A second rule extended the same provision to organizations and small businesses that have objections "on the basis of moral conviction which is not based in any particular religious belief."

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Associated Press - July 8, 2020

Data: Congress created virus aid, then reaped the benefits

At least a dozen lawmakers have ties to organizations that received federal coronavirus aid, according to newly released government data, highlighting how Washington insiders were both author and beneficiary of one of the biggest government programs in U.S. history. Under pressure from Congress and outside groups, the Trump administration this week disclosed the names of some loan recipients in the $659 billion Paycheck Protection Program, launched in April to help smaller businesses keep Americans employed during the pandemic. Connections to lawmakers, and the organizations that work to influence them, were quickly apparent.

Among businesses that received money was a California hotel partially owned by the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as a shipping business started by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s family. Chao is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Car dealerships owned by at least three Republican House members — Reps. Roger Williams of Texas, Vern Buchanan of Florida and Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania — received money. So, too, did fast-food franchises owned by Rep. Kevin Hern, R-Okla., a law firm owned by the husband of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and the former law firm of Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., which employs his wife. Money also flowed to a farming and equipment business owned by the family of Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., and a regional casino company led by the husband of Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nev.

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Washington Post - July 8, 2020

Trump's worldview forged by neglect and trauma at home, niece says in book

A tell-all book by President Donald Trump's niece describes a family riven by a series of traumas, exacerbated by a daunting patriarch who "destroyed" Donald Trump by short-circuiting his "ability to develop and experience the entire spectrum of human emotion," according to a copy of the forthcoming memoir obtained by The Washington Post. President Trump's view of the world was shaped by his desire during childhood to avoid his father's disapproval, according to the niece, Mary L. Trump, whose book is by turns a family history and a psychological analysis of her uncle.

But she writes that as Donald matured, his father came to envy his son's "confidence and brazenness," as well as his seemingly insatiable desire to flout rules and conventions, traits that brought them closer together as Donald became the right-hand man in the family real estate business. Mary L. Trump's father, Fred Jr. - the president's older brother - died of an alcohol-related illness in 1981, when she was 16 years old. President Trump told The Post last year that he and his father both pushed Fred Jr. to go into the family business, which Trump said he now regrets. The book marks the first time that a member of Trump's family has published such a memoir, providing an often bitter and blistering insider account of the forces that shaped Donald Trump, and so alarming the family that the president's brother tried to block its publication in court. Mary L. Trump has long been estranged from the family after a dispute over her inheritance and other matters. While the arc of Trump's life has been well-chronicled, Mary L. Trump, 55, provides new details of family fights and recriminations, and she infuses the volume with her background as a clinical psychologist to analyze her uncle. Ahead of the July 14 publication date, the book became an instant bestseller based on advance orders, underscoring the intense interest among the public in the forces that shaped the man who became president.

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New York Times - July 6, 2020

McClatchy, a family newspaper business, heads toward hedge-fund ownership

The McClatchy family has been in journalism since 1857, when its flagship publication, The Daily Bee, chronicled the latest for residents of Sacramento in the wake of the gold rush. Now, in keeping with a trend that has placed hundreds of American news outlets in the hands of the finance industry, the McClatchy Company and its 30 newspapers are likely to end up the property of a hedge fund. The publisher of The Miami Herald, The Charlotte Observer and The Kansas City Star filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in February, after more than a decade of layoffs and plummeting revenue. Bids for McClatchy were due last week, with an auction supervised by U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan to start on Wednesday.

The company, which is led by the family scion Kevin S. McClatchy and Craig Forman, a former Wall Street Journal reporter and Yahoo executive, is scheduled to inform the court of the winner by July 15. A likely outcome is that McClatchy, one of the country’s largest newspaper chains and a consistent winner of prestigious journalism awards, will be owned by a New Jersey hedge fund, Chatham Asset Management. Under the deal, McClatchy, a publicly traded company, would go private. Chatham, which is the principal owner of American Media, the parent company of The National Enquirer, became a large McClatchy shareholder and assumed much of the company’s debt in 2018. In April, McClatchy said Chatham had made a bid to take over the company. Other bidders could emerge at auction time. “We have continued to engage with a number of parties over the past few weeks and are encouraged to see the interest expressed in McClatchy,” a company spokeswoman said. Although cutbacks have become all but unavoidable in the ailing newspaper industry, many journalists and civic leaders are rooting for McClatchy to end up with benevolent ownership that will not lead to further cost cuts. “Profit-driven entities that are not interested in local journalism are not the solution,” said Joey Flechas, a Miami Herald reporter and co-chair of One Herald Guild, the union that represents employees at The Herald, El Nuevo Herald and Miami.com. Hedge-fund ownership of publications like The Denver Post has led to steep layoffs in newsrooms, making it more difficult for those papers to keep readers informed.

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Salon - July 6, 2020

Republican attorneys general group launches race-baiting ad campaign against "lawless liberals"

For decades, the two partisan political organizations dedicated to electing attorneys general had an agreement not to attack the other side's incumbent candidate. During President Donald Trump's time in office, however, the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) has thrown that accord out the window, lurching further to the right year after year and weaponizing the partisan polarization gumming up the country's political apparatus. "Our friends on the other side and particularly donors, much earlier than Democratic donors, started to recognize the power of the office of the attorney general," Sean Rankin, executive director of the Democratic Attorneys General Association (DAGA), told Salon in 2018, as competition for the once-obscure elected office grew hot across the country.

"They saw this as a real opportunity to develop the Republican bench, as well as derail those Democrats who had promising careers," he said. Spending escalated quickly on the Republican side. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, DAGA's GOP counterpart, RAGA, raised $16 million in 2014 and nearly $27 million in 2016. In contrast, DAGA raised nearly $9 million in 2014 and nearly $10 million in 2016. Attorneys general essentially have the final say in prosecutorial discretion, or which cases get taken to court, a fact understood by lobbyists. Industry groups have depended on help from AGs, including the National Rifle Association (NRA), which made a $700,000 donation to RAGA four weeks after the 2017 Las Vegas shooting.

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Miami Herald - July 7, 2020

Florida still not reporting how many hospitalized with COVID. DeSantis won't say why.

Under pressure last week as COVID-19 hospitalizations soared in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office said the state would start reporting daily hospitalization data for all 67 counties. DeSantis on Tuesday, however, refused to address the fact that the state has yet to make good on its promise when asked by a Miami Herald reporter. “Obviously not everything is presented in this report but just an unbelievable amount of data is available,” DeSantis said at an indoor press conference held at Florida’s 12th COVID-only nursing facility near Miami International Airport.

He did not respond to a follow up question from CNN correspondent Rosa Flores as to why the state does not publish daily hospitalization data. Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who sat next to DeSantis at the Tuesday event, ordered hospitals to report patient admissions, ICU capacity, ventilator inventory and other data every day starting on April 4. The number of people entering hospitals each day for COVID-19 is key data that public health experts monitor to measure the potential strain on hospital systems and the seriousness of the disease’s resurgence. Florida is an outlier among states in not reporting the number of patients currently hospitalized with COVID-19, the highly infectious respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Instead, the Agency for Health Care Administration reports daily hospital bed capacity while the state Department of Health reports the total number of patients admitted to hospitals during the course of the pandemic, not the number of people actively in a hospital at a given time.

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Newsclips - July 7, 2020

Lead Stories

Austin American-Statesman - July 6, 2020

Houston mayor calls on GOP to cancel convention, but neither he nor Abbott plan to stop it

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner called on the Texas Republican Party on Monday to cancel plans for its in-person convention — which the city’s local health authority warned would be a “super spreader of the virus” — and set conditions that party officials will have to meet if they proceed. But Turner doesn’t plan to do anything to keep Republicans from holding a live convention next week, and in an evening news appearance in Dallas, Gov. Greg Abbott indicated neither will he.

“I know that the executive committee for the Republican Party of Texas, they’ve been talking about this, I think they continue to talk about it and they weigh all of the consequences and including the public health and safety measures, obviously, but also weighing issues such as the business that needs to take place understanding that this is more than just people getting together,” Abbott said in a live interview on KDFW. “There are certain official pieces of business that had to be taken for future action going forward and I think they’re balancing the two, and they will make a decision that’s going to fit that balance.” Asked by the anchor about what he thought should happen, Abbott replied: “This convention or any action that anybody takes, we’re at a time with an outbreak of the coronavirus where public safety needs to be a paramount concern and make sure that whoever does anything and wherever, whatever they do, they need to do it in ways that reduce the spread of the coronavirus.” After three hours of debate Thursday night, the state’s Republican Executive Committee voted 40 to 20 to stick with a live convention July 16 to 18 at the George R. Brown Convention Center, even amid dramatic spikes in in the spread of the coronavirus in Texas and Houston’s emergence as a national hot spot.

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Houston Chronicle - July 6, 2020

Gov. Abbott warns of ‘greater fatalities’ from COVID-19 in coming weeks

Gov. Greg Abbott is warning of even “greater fatalities” from COVID-19 as the number of people in hospitals with lab-confirmed cases hit a record 8,698 on Monday. During a television interview in Dallas, Abbott agreed that at one point even as new coronavirus infections were rising, the state’s deaths were decreasing — which could have been seen as good news. But he said heading into the Fourth of July weekend, Texas had its deadliest four-day stretch since the pandemic started, and he warned of things to come.

“My concern is that we may see greater fatalities going forward as we go into the middle part of July,” Abbott said. Over the last 7 days, Texas has averaged 36 coronavirus deaths per day. That is up from a week ago when the state averaged 30 people dying per day from the disease. Abbott said in the interview on FOX4 in Dallas that many of the people dying now likely contracted the disease back in late May. So far, Texas has reported 2,655 deaths. New York has reported 24,913 and California has reported 6,337. In another Monday evening interview on Beaumont’s KFDM, Abbott blasted local government leaders who have called on him to give them the authority to issue new stay-at-home orders to contain the virus. He said going back into “lockdown mode” would “really force Texans into poverty.” He said many of the local leaders calling for more authority have refused to enforce current executive orders already in place. “What they need to show is action, not absenteeism,” Abbott said, pointing to enforcement of mask ordinances, and to his own order last Thursday requiring them in most Texas counties.

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Austin American-Statesman - July 6, 2020

Texas coronavirus cases cross 200,000 mark

Texas reached 200,000 total COVID-19 cases Monday, just 17 days after crossing the 100,000 threshold, a figure that took the state nearly four months to hit. The grim milestone came as the state has reported weeks of surging hospitalizations and new cases, and as Gov. Greg Abbott aimed to clamp down on those rising numbers with a statewide mask order.

Although the number of newly reported cases rose at a slower rate Sunday and Monday, with the Texas Department of State Health Services reporting 5,318 cases Monday, a spokesman for the health agency said the state may see a “big increase” in new cases this week as more local jurisdictions report data after the holiday weekend. “There were a lot of jurisdictions that didn’t report new cases with the holiday weekend, particularly on Saturday, which would have showed up in yesterday’s update,” agency spokesman Chris Van Deusen said in an email. The number of cases and hospitalizations has accelerated since Memorial Day, prompting Abbott to close bars, reduce restaurant occupancy, pause additional reopenings and issue a statewide order to wear a face covering in counties with more than 20 COVID-19 cases. But Texas has yet to see whether the latest restrictions will improve the numbers. The incubation period for the virus is between one and 14 days, meaning data won’t immediately reflect the changes.

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Washington Post - July 5, 2020

Scientists urge WHO to address airborne spread of coronavirus

More than 200 scientists from over 30 countries are urging the World Health Organization to take more seriously the possibility of the airborne spread of the novel coronavirus as case numbers rise around the world and surge in the United States. In a forthcoming paper titled “It is Time to Address Airborne Transmission of Covid-19,” 239 signatories attempt to raise awareness about what they say is growing evidence that the virus can spread indoors through aerosols that linger in the air and can be infectious even in smaller quantities than previously thought.

Until recently, most public health guidelines have focused on social distancing measures, regular hand-washing and precautions to avoid droplets. But the signatories to the paper say the potential of the virus to spread via airborne transmission has not been fully appreciated even by public health institutions such as the WHO. The paper, which was shared with The Washington Post ahead of publication this week in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, comes as the WHO faces criticism over its coronavirus response, calls for reform and a U.S. threat to cut funding and withdraw completely. The fact that scientists resorted to a paper to pressure the WHO is unusual, analysts said, and is likely to renew questions about the WHO’s messaging. “WHO’s credibility is being undermined through a steady drip-drip of confusing messages, including asymptomatic spread, the use of masks, and now airborne transmission,” said Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University who provides technical assistance to the organization.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - July 6, 2020

Houston to have health inspectors enforce COVID-19 guidelines during GOP convention

The city of Houston will deploy health inspectors to enforce COVID-19 restrictions at the Texas Republican Convention, and potentially shut down the event if guidelines aren’t followed, Mayor Sylvester Turner said Monday. In a letter to Texas GOP executive director Kyle Whatley, Turner on Monday laid out a series of conditions the party would have to follow if it proceeds with an in-person convention at the George R. Brown Convention Center from July 16 to 18. The guidelines are aimed at limiting the transmission of COVID when an anticipated 6,000 people descend on the convention center.

Those conditions, according to Turner’s office, include denying entry to anyone who has tested positive for COVID or come in contact with a COVID patient between July 2 and July 15, requiring attendees to wear masks, and providing touchless hand sanitizing stations throughout the convention center. Party officials also must limit attendance and seating capacity “or host smaller events in larger rooms,” and modify room layouts to “promote social distance of at least 6 feet.” The mayor’s letter did not include a specific cap on how many people can attend the convention. Turner also said he is “strongly encouraging” the Texas GOP to call off the in-person convention, which he said is the only conference or convention in Houston that has not been canceled or rescheduled for next year. “I believe canceling the in-person convention is the responsible action to take while we are in a critical moment in our battle against the COVID-19 pandemic,” Turner said. “I’ve not yet talked to a medical professional who has said that this is a good idea to hold this convention at this time.”

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Houston Chronicle - July 6, 2020

Yes, the last large-scale review of our criminal justice system was in 1965

The claim: “We haven’t done this top-to-bottom review of our criminal justice system at the national level since 1965.” — Texas. Sen. John Cornyn Cornyn made the statement during a call with Texas reporters on June 11, as he touted a part of Senate Republicans’ police reform bill that would set guidelines for a commission to undertake such a review. Democrats later blocked the JUSTICE Act bill, saying it didn’t go far enough. PolitiFact ruling: True. Experts and academic research show that a commission of that scale, with that broad an area of review, has not been convened since President Lyndon B. Johnson did so in 1965.

Discussion: Cornyn and other Republican lawmakers have pushed to create a commission to study ways to reduce crime and improve policing across the country, filing unsuccessful legislation to establish such a commission since at least 2010. But last year, President Donald Trump directed the formation of a commission through an executive order, sidestepping the need for legislative action. In January, U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced the creation of the Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice. The part of the wide-ranging bill Cornyn highlighted during his conversation with reporters had been lifted from a standalone bill that covered just the creation of the commission.

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Houston Chronicle - July 6, 2020

Texas seeks millions from unemployed workers after state ‘overpaid’ benefits

The state is trying to claw back tens of millions of dollars in unemployment benefits that it mistakenly paid to thousands of Texans, many of whom have already spent the money and face difficulties paying it back. The Texas Workforce Commission has sent 46,000 notices to jobless workers seeking repayment of unemployment benefits that the state says were too high or for which the workers were not eligible. But people who received the notices say they applied for the benefits and spent them in good faith, approved by the state after navigating a difficult and confusing application process.

Cathy Rohde, a substitute teacher in Conroe, applied and was approved for unemployment benefits after the school district shut down in March and she stopped getting paid. But the first week of June, Rohde got a notice that she owes the state more than $1,800 because, under provisions preventing teachers from collecting unemployment during annual summer breaks, she was not eligible. “It made me feel like I’ve been tricked,” Rohde said. The overpayments are estimated at $32 million so far, according to data provided by the state. It’s the latest glitch in an unemployment system that was overwhelmed by claims following mandatory business shutdowns to slow the coronavirus pandemic in late March and the continued social-distancing measures that have kept many employers operating well below capacity.

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Houston Chronicle - July 7, 2020

Despite a massive drop in crashes, Texas road deaths rise during the pandemic, analysis shows

Before COVID, Kim Santos spent her commute down Loop 610 through Uptown mired in a crawl of cars and trucks, stopping and starting and changing lanes at low speeds. These days, as Texas has moved to re-open the economy, the 34-year-old dental assistant is moving a lot faster on her way to work, but also a lot more nervously. She does not even try to change lanes unless she must, worried someone behind her may be barreling through. “That second Monday (of the pandemic shutdown’s effects) I was on the freeway and ‘WHOOSSH!,’” she said, motioning with her arm. “Somebody saw their chance. He was probably going 90 mph.”

It happened again the next day, Santos said. And again. Now, every time she commutes from her Klein-area home to her Bellaire office, she gets passed by someone far exceeding the speed limit, a sign that less traffic is giving some the green light to hit the gas — sometimes with deadly consequences. “Unfortunately, more people are taking advantage of the open road,” said Texas Transportation Commission member Laura Ryan. A Chronicle review of crash data maintained by the Texas Department of Transportation shows the overall number of crashes fell sharply as fewer drivers logged fewer miles on streets and highways for the period of March 12 — when many local efforts to restrict travel began as offices shuttered — to May 31. “If you lower traffic, the chance for interaction — crashes — lowers,” said Robert Wunderlich, director of the Center for Transportation Safety at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. “It is driven by exposure. There is no question about it.” In the early days of the pandemic shutdown, officials hoped a hiatus on commutes could save lives. Ryan said state safety experts fielded questions about whether Texas could break its 19-year streak of at least one roadway death every day. They soon recognized it was not to be.

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KXAN - July 7, 2020

Texas pediatric group says schools should reopen safely in the fall

As school districts try to figure out what things will look like in August, the Texas Pediatric Society said students need to return to learning in-person with safety concerns a priority. “We have to be prepared to be flexible and make adjustments, as we see things happen in our communities, so that we can make sure that we protect our communities,” said Dr. Tammy Camp, President of the Texas Pediatric Society.

The Texas chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics recently released guidance and explained as pediatricians are starting to see more children, they’re also noticing the effects of isolation. “They have had so many episodes not feeling like they’re connected to their peers, as well as teachers, and we realize the detrimental effects of that on their mental health,” explained Dr. Camp. “We’ve seen such increase in depression, anxiety and mental health problems, as well as just so many students telling us they didn’t do the work or they didn’t learn as much.” Dr. Camp explained it can be especially tough for those children from disadvantaged backgrounds or with special needs. “Many children received their food security… from being in a school and having those meals provided to them,” said Dr. Camp. TPS said the longer the absence from in-person education, the more significant will be the academic losses.

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KXAN - July 6, 2020

Austin’s police union leader encourages officers to avoid writing no-mask citations

As Austin police officers are encouraged to enforce Gov. Greg Abbott’s mask order, citing people who don’t wear a mask in public after a first-time warning, the Austin Police Association’s leader says he doesn’t agree with orders for officers to do so. APA President Ken Casaday says like some other law enforcement agencies across Texas, he feels the governor’s order could be interpreted in a way that would make it unlawful for officers to write citations. The governor’s order states, “Following a verbal or written warning for a first-time violator of this face covering requirement, a person’s second violation shall be punishable by a fine not to exceed $250. Each subsequent violation shall be punishable by a fine not to exceed $250 per violation.”

However, the order also states, “No law enforcement or other official may detain, arrest, or confine in jail any person for a violation of this executive order or for related non-violent, non-felony offenses that are predicated on a violation of this executive order.” Casaday says because the order says law enforcement can’t detain someone for violating the order, he believes they technically can’t hold people long enough to write them citations. “You could give that document to eight different attorneys and they might give you eight different opinions,” Casaday said, adding that officers will enforce the order, even if some in the department disagree with it. “The way we read it was one way, and our boss, the Chief, and his attorneys read it another way, and that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing now, even though I disagree and our attorneys disagree.” Casaday says he’s also concerned that the order disproportionately targets those in poor, often minority communities who suffer language and education barriers when it comes to being informed about the coronavirus and related orders, or who can’t afford to buy masks for their families.

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KXAN - July 6, 2020

Texas congressional campaign received $28,000 loan designed for small businesses struggling during the pandemic

The political committee of Dr. Christine Mann, a candidate in the Democratic primary runoff for Texas’ 31st Congressional District, received a $28,000 loan through a federal program designed to help struggling small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Christine Mann for Congress received a $28,000 loan from First Bank Texas on May 5, according to pre-runoff campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

The line item is labeled “Payment Protection Program,” though the program through the Small Business Administration is called the “Paycheck Protection Program.” On its website, the Small Business Administration says the PPP loan “helps businesses keep their workforce employed during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.” Funding for the program was drained in the first weeks after its launch but an additional appropriation by Congress has left $132 billion unclaimed, according to the U.S. Treasury Department. The filing deadline for PPP has been extended until Aug. 8. “As a grassroots campaign and like many other small businesses, we were hit financially during the pandemic,” a spokesperson for Mann’s campaign said. “As a front-line doctor testing patients during COVID-19, Dr. Mann did not fundraise the ways she had previously but wanted to ensure her staff continued to receive a livable wage.”

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Austin American-Statesman - July 6, 2020

Woman tied to slaying of Fort Hood soldier Vanessa Guillen appears in court

A Killeen woman charged in the disappearance and death of U.S. Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen at Fort Hood appeared in court Monday as the soldier’s death raised more questions and prompted congressional calls for an investigation into the Army’s handling of sexual misconduct. Cecily Aguilar, 22, appeared virtually in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey C. Manske in Waco in an initial appearance after being charged with conspiracy to tamper with evidence last week. An arraignment, where Aguilar would be expected to enter a plea, has not been scheduled, officials said.

Authorities have accused Aguilar of helping 20-year-old Spc. Aaron David Robinson mutilate and dispose of Guillen’s body after Robinson killed her by hitting her in the head with a hammer. Robinson shot and killed himself last week when authorities confronted him during the investigation into Guillen’s death, Killeen police have said. Aguilar was asked during Monday’s hearing whether she understood the charges against her. “Yeah, sure,” she replied, according to KCEN-TV. The hearing came after the Army confirmed to Guillen’s family over the weekend that remains found last week near the Leon River in Bell County, about 20 miles east of Fort Hood, were those of Guillen, a 20-year-old Houston native. “It’s been confirmed...” Guillen’s sister Mayra Guillen tweeted. Fort Hood officials were expected to make a statement about the Guillen case Monday evening. Guillen was last seen April 22 in the parking lot of the Regimental Engineer Squadron Headquarters where she worked at Fort Hood, a sprawling 334-square mile Army post in Killeen, about an hour north of Austin. Guillen’s disappearance gained national attention as her family and friends searched for her and demanded justice on her behalf for months.

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Austin American-Statesman - July 6, 2020

Ken Herman: Dems vs. Dems in demolition derbies

Here’s the Democratic lineup in a couple of high-stakes Senate races, one for a chance at a U.S. Senate seat and the other for a Texas Senate seat: In the former, it’s the corrupt career politician versus someone who committed the political sin of voting in the GOP presidential primary in 2016. In the latter, it’s the scofflaw versus the skedaddler. And that’s not me saying any of that. And it’s not Republicans saying any of that. It’s the Democratic candidates saying that about each other as they form circular firing squads that could leave the winners scarred.

In the current U.S. Senate runoff, Dems MJ Hegar of Round Rock and state Sen. Royce West of Dallas roiled to the boiling point in a June 29 debate on KVUE that sizzled at the end with them trading negative accusations that could weigh down the winner’s chances of ousting GOP U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in November. Check out my colleague Jonathan Tilove’s coverage of the Hegar-West tilt. Short version: Hegar said West is a player in a corrupt political system. West said Hegar voted in the 2016 GOP presidential primary. But let’s focus here on the race that’s on the July 14 runoff ballot that isn’t a runoff but could lead to one in September. It’s a six-candidate scramble for the Central Texas state Senate seat vacated in April by Austin Sen. Kirk Watson, who quit to become dean of the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs. This is a heavily Dem district, making state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, and former Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt the top contenders. If all you know about Eckhardt and Rodriguez is what they say about each other on ads, you might conclude they’re both bad people. An Eckhardt mail ad says Rodriguez skipped out on an important 2019 Texas House vote.

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Austin American-Statesman - July 6, 2020

Foreign students across Texas could be forced to leave U.S. if classes all online

International students who attend a U.S. university that is entirely online this fall will have to leave the country, according to new guidelines announced Monday by federal immigration authorities. The decision could affect thousands of college students studying in Texas. Officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, said Monday that students holding F-1 or M-1 visas may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States.

“The U.S. Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall semester,” ICE said. “Nor will U.S. Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States.” Those students currently in the U.S. and enrolled in online-only programs must either leave the country to transfer to a school with in-person instruction to retain a lawful status. Students attending schools operating under normal in-person class schedules are bound by the usual regulations and are only allowed to take one class online next semester. Students attending schools with a hybrid model — some online, some in-person classes — will be allowed to take more than one class online, given that the university certifies the program is not taking all online courses for the semester.

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Dallas Morning News - July 7, 2020

Rangers OF Joey Gallo tests positive for COVID-19

Rangers outfielder Joey Gallo has tested positive for COVID-19. He is asymptomatic and is at home self-isolating, Rangers president of baseball operations Jon Daniels told local media on Monday. Gallo initially tested positive as a result of his intake test on June 27. A follow-up test came up negative on June 30. The team then waited 48 hours, tested him again, and received the result on Sunday that he was positive. “He’ll be tested regularly going forward until he has two negatives spaced out over at least 24 hours,” Daniels said. “He feels great. He’s isolating at home. And I’m thankful for that piece of it.”

Gallo has yet to appear at Rangers summer camp. He has workout equipment at home, though the Rangers are encouraging to limit cardiovascular exercise until the virus is gone. He is the second Rangers player to test positive as a part of the intake process. Lefty reliever Brett Martin is confirmed to be isolating after contracting COVID-19, as well. “This thing doesn’t discriminate whether it’s a star player or somebody trying to make the club,” Daniels said. “Obviously, Joey is one of our best players, so from a baseball standpoint, it’s not great.”

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Dallas Morning News - July 7, 2020

Dallas Morning News Editorial: ‘Year-round’ school in Garland next year. Other Texas districts should follow its lead

With so much still undecided about the upcoming school year because of concerns about Covid-19, you might have overlooked a major step by the Garland district that holds promise to finally help close the achievement gap for low-income and minority students. Last week, Garland was one of the few Texas districts to smartly approve intersessional calendars for the next two school years. They account for more interruptions for coronavirus spikes. But most important, they build in extra school weeks for remedial help for students throughout the year who have fallen way behind because of last year’s school closings and the usual summer slide.

Intersessional weeks will be added in October, March and June for remediation, acceleration or enrichment, and the district will move from a six-week to a nine-week grading cycle. Changes in school calendars are tough for parents, teachers and students accustomed to building vacations and other activities around traditional breaks. But Garland ISD administrators say it is their best chance to try to address long-standing learning gaps that are expected to widen in this pandemic. We agree. Garland – where 60% of its 54,000 students are poor – mirrors dozens of other Texas districts looking for solutions to close vexing achievement gaps between white students and Black and Hispanic students even before Covid-19 hit. About 50% of its students are Hispanic, 19% white and 17% Black.

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Dallas Morning News - July 6, 2020

Dallas County reports 1,214 coronavirus cases as total deaths surpass 400, hospitalizations increase

Dallas County Health and Human Services reported a new record high of 1,214 new coronavirus cases and six deaths Monday as the county reported its largest one-day jump in hospitalizations. The deaths include a Dallas woman in her 50s, a Grand Prairie man in his 60s, a Dallas man in his 70s, and a Dallas woman in her 80s who had all been critically ill in a hospital. A DeSoto man in his 40s who had been hospitalized and a woman in her 100s who had been living in a long term care facility also died.

The new numbers bring the county’s total to 27,054 confirmed cases, or about 10.3 for every 1,000 residents, and 401 deaths. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said the county saw its largest jump in hospitalizations, with 105 people being hospitalized in one day or a 16% increase. “We also reached a new milestone in the number of new COVID -19 cases but it’s the hospitalizations number that we must watch closely,” Jenkins said. “Think of hospitalizations as the sickest of the sick, the part of the iceberg above the water.”

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San Antonio Express-News - July 7, 2020

San Antonio Express-News Editorial: Anaya wrote with beauty and honesty

With lyrical passages that seemed set to music, “Bless Me, Ultima” reads like an incantation. Set in rural New Mexico during the 1940s, the novel is told through the eyes of a 6-year-old boy. Antonio learns about evil, but he also learns about goodness, about courage and integrity. And he learns that standing up is hard, but cowering is harder, robbing you of your soul and spirit. At the center of it all is Ultima, a curandera, healer. She teaches Antonio there is a world beyond the landscape he can see, the hills and mountains and rivers. It is a world of magic.

Published in 1972, the book became a classic, its story captivating a generation of readers — and writers. The author, Rudolfo Anaya, was hailed as the greatest Mexican American writer of his day. But as time passed, eroding the literary biases that constricted artists of color, it became apparent that the category Mexican American was too narrow, too confining. He was a great American writer. Anaya died June 28 at his home in Albuquerque, N.M. The author had been suffering from a long illness, his niece told the Associated Press. He was 82. “Through his indelible stories, Rudolfo Anaya, perhaps better than any other author, truly captured what it means to be a New Mexican, what it means to be born here, grow up here and live here,” New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement. Yes. But like the Mississippi River of Mark Twain and the Michigan woods of Ernest Hemingway, the world of “Bless Me Ultima” is our world, too, no matter where we hail from. Ultima guides Antonio through a dark, turbulent environment — an environment which, while perhaps different from our own in detail and context, is the same in the impact it has on a young, impressionable boy.

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San Antonio Express-News - July 7, 2020

Wind farms with 700-foot turbines threaten 'beautiful' West Texas river

Exactly how the Devils River got its forbidding name is lost to history, but there is little doubt the harsh terrain and fierce natives who once reigned here played a role. “It is far from any habitation, in a barren waste surrounded by hostile Comanches, but it is a beautiful place,” noted one early visitor. A century and a half later, the natural beauty remains and the rushing, spring-fed Devils owns the reputation as the last unspoiled river in Texas. It’s milky-green currents slide through a wilderness unmarred by settlements or commerce. The only disturbance is the occasional blast of a low-flying Air Force training jet. But all is not well here. A plan by a billionaire Chinese industrialist named Sun Guangxim to build a huge wind farm is causing seismic upset among longtime landowners.

“It’s a total crisis. We depend on ecotourism. The turbines will affect the deer. They kill birds. And we’re on the flyway for the monarch butterflies,” said Alice Ball Strunk, 63, whose great-grandfather Claude Hudspeth began acquiring the ranch in 1905. The project by Sun’s GH America Energy also threatens to disrupt critical pilot training missions at Laughlin AFB in nearby Del Rio. Last week, the obscure West Texas energy project was thrust into the national spotlight when a right-wing news commentator denounced it as a threat to national security. Since 2015, Sun, who made much of his wealth in Chinese real estate and energy, has purchased about 140,000 acres in the back country northwest of Del Rio. It is unclear how many turbines Sun could potentially build there. He is already moving forward with the first phase, called the Blue Hills Wind Farm, a 51-turbine project on one northern holding. His company is also exploring using some of the land for solar power projects. Sun declined to respond to a list of questions sent to his representative in Texas.

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San Antonio Express-News - July 5, 2020

Jaime Estrada and Areana Quiñones: Why Texas should expand Medicaid

The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened awareness of the socioeconomic disparities across our country, particularly in access to health care. Texas has the unfortunate distinction of being the state with the largest number of uninsured adults and children in the country. A May analysis of job losses by the Kaiser Family Foundation projected 1.6 million Texans had already lost health insurance along with their jobs, and preliminary estimates indicate the number of uninsured Texans falling into the Medicaid-expansion income range will surge past 2 million by January unless policies are changed to make affordable coverage available at every income level.

The Affordable Care Act, or ACA, enacted into law in 2010, initially required states to expand Medicaid to provide health care coverage for all adults 18 to 65 years of age with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court made Medicaid expansion optional. We are in the midst of the first economic downturn during which the ACA will be in place as a safety net for people who have lost their jobs and health insurance. The ACA is not perfect, and there are gaps; for many, the coverage may still be unaffordable. However, without it, people will likely end up uninsured as the U.S. heads into a prolonged recession. To date, Texas has not expanded Medicaid even though 90 percent of the costs of the expansion would be covered by the federal government. Since 2012, Texas has lost out on nearly $100 billion earmarked for the expansion. Texans still pay into Medicaid, but those tax dollars have not made it back to the state. Rather, they have been distributed to the 37 states that did choose to expand coverage under Medicaid. These additional Medicaid dollars would also be a boost to the Texas economy, supporting health care jobs and the communities where those jobs exist. It is an investment with a great return — not an expense.

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KHOU - July 7, 2020

'We're worried about our future' | New COVID-19 risk level chart not sitting well with bar owners

The Eagle Houston was flying high when Texas bars were allowed to reopen in May and even instituted safety measures beyond what the CDC recommends. But being back in business, even with limited capacity, only lasted about a month. "We're worried about our future," said co-owner Caryn Craig. "Because at this time, there’s no plan to reopen us. We don’t have a date, we don’t even have a guideline.”

That’s why owners Caryn Craig and Mark De Lange found it odd that bars are at the bottom of a new chart compiled by the Texas Medical Association. The bottom actually means the highest risk when it comes to contracting COVID-19. "It feels like this is politically motivated and we’re the scapegoat, unfortunately,” said De Lange. The TMA told us its chart is based on the opinions of doctors across the state who serve on its COVID-19 task force and is simply meant to be a guideline as many different types of businesses and other places re-open. "What happens in a vacuum is that there’s a lot of misinformation, people do things that aren’t safe," said Dr. Ogechika Alozie, a TMA Member. "And I think this, at least, gives them sort of a structure about “'hey, this makes sense – this may not make sense.'”

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KHOU - July 7, 2020

Brooks County to begin arresting those who test positive for the coronavirus and don't self-quarantine

Brooks County is adopting a tough posture in dealing with those who test positive for the virus, but refuse to self-quarantine. Brooks County attorney David Garcia said anyone found to be doing that could be arrested. Garcia said the announcement comes after community members notified his office of seeing a few people who tested positive at grocery stores and businesses.

"If you're going to go out and endanger other people, and we find out about it, we will prosecute you," Garcia said. "People have not really embraced the dangers of COVID-19. It's dangerous. It's killing people, and it's making people very sick. So either do it because you're concerned about others or do it because you're going to be punished if you don't." Garcia said if people continue to ignore the safety precautions, they could face legal action. "There's a number of statutes out there that can be used so once you test positive, stay home," Garcia said.

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Rivard Report - July 7, 2020

Rick Casey: A coronavirus story: Why Gov. Greg Abbott misses Joe Straus

Top Texas politicians are as prone to destructive culture wars as any in the nation. Our guys are just more creative in how they retreat when they lose. I’ll give you two examples: bathrooms and face masks. You might recall that three years ago we had a bathroom crisis. Transgender persons were using the “wrong” bathrooms. Few men and women had noticed, but it was a crisis nonetheless. School officials — that seditious group that we have just learned are teaching our children to hate America, and apparently teaching them to hide that hatred from their parents — could not be trusted to protect little girls and boys. Clearly a law was needed. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was particularly insistent. He engineered a special session of the Legislature by holding up a necessary piece of legislation when the House refused to pass anything like a Senate bill.

Gov. Greg Abbott controlled the special session’s agenda. Apparently nervous about Patrick’s ability to whip up the Republican right in a primary, Abbott belatedly voiced his support for a bathroom bill and put it on the agenda. Meanwhile, Abbott got word to business leaders, many of whom were afraid of a national boycott like one previously levied on North Carolina over the issue, not to worry about it. House Speaker Joe Straus would kill the bill. Straus did, and Abbott publicly beat him up for it. That brings us to face masks. For scientists, masks were always about science, even if at first they got it wrong. Worried that the public would scarf up the nation’s short supply of high-grade N-95 masks needed by medical personnel and focused on the transmission of many viruses by germs left on doorknobs and other surfaces, they told us not to wear masks but to wash our hands frequently and avoid touching our faces.

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KUT - July 7, 2020

Schools in Travis County are not just segregated. They're the most segregated in the state.

Valerie Sterne has always known anecdotally that schools in Austin are segregated. She used to be a teacher and an administrator with the Austin Independent School District, and saw firsthand that students of color and low-income students were all attending the same schools. When she left to get her PhD in education policy, she decided to study the issue and get hard numbers. Even though she expected to confirm her suspicion, one result from the study she published last month was still surprising: Schools in Travis County are more segregated than anywhere else in the state.

“I knew it was segregated here, but I thought it would be similar to other urban counties in the state," said Sterne, a first-year education policy and planning doctoral student at UT Austin. "And it’s not.” Her research published through UT's Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis used poverty rates at elementary schools to illustrate the segregation. In Austin ISD, for example, 55% of students qualify for free and reduced lunch (a metric often used to measure poverty). That means you might expect about half of the students at any school to live in poverty. But that’s not the case. Sterne’s data shows that in Travis County and Austin ISD, students who live in poverty are concentrated at certain schools – and these are the schools Black and Hispanic students attend. On average, her research found, white students in the county attend schools where 25% of the population is poor. Students in poverty make up 67% of the population at schools Black students attend, and 71% of the population at schools Hispanic students attend. The gap in school poverty rates is the largest in the state.

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County Stories

KUT - July 7, 2020

Two Democrats face off for chance to flip Travis County Commissioner's Court seat from red to blue

Travis County Commissioners Court District 3 runs from Austin’s downtown core westward to the edge of the Hill Country, so the district covers a lot of ground in more ways than one. It’s that challenging terrain, literally and metaphorically, that attracted the two Democratic candidates in the July 14 runoff: Ann Howard and Valinda Bolton. The commissioners court sets and administers policy for county government. It oversees a budget that topped $1 billion last cycle, which funds jails, courts, health care and other services.

Ann Howard led after primary night in early March, but fell a few percentage points short of avoiding a runoff. Until last year, she was the executive director of ECHO, the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition. “My record is one of collaboration and coordination with others. And I will continue that,” she said in an interview. “I've never run for office before. I've just been doing the work, the progressive work over the last decade in this community around housing and health care.” Former state Rep. Valinda Bolton finished second, but believes she will win the runoff. She touts her experience on the House Committee on County Affairs and the fact that her former House district overlapped portions of the county commission district she’s running for now. “I learned a lot about what counties are dealing with in terms of the pressures of growth and development and all the things that come with that traffic transit, emergency response, disaster preparation, housing affordability,” Bolton said. House District 47 flipped back to the Republicans in 2010, but now it's in Democratic hands. That leaves the District 3 commissioners court seat as the last Republican-held office in Travis County. The Republican who holds it, Gerald Daugherty, is leaving the commissioners court. He’s served twice, once from 2003-2008 and again from 2013 to the present day.

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City Stories

KERA - July 4, 2020

Alumni join push to change controversial name of high school in Tyler

Michael Nelson Miller graduated from Robert E. Lee High School in Tyler in 1961, a few years after the school opened and before it was desegregated. During his college years, he realized his alma mater was drenched in nostalgia for the Confederacy. “Everything at the school had been named for something having to do with the Lost Cause,” he said. “And I began to realize that the Lost Cause was such a fraud. And then I began to think, how does that fit in with my Christian faith?”

Miller, a minister and professor of history at Texas State University, is joining community members urging a change to the school’s name. He and two other white graduates, Byron Baldwin and P. M. (Marc) Bailes, wrote a letter last week to the board of the Tyler Independent School District. In the letter, which was also published by the Tyler Morning Telegraph, they said African American citizens are doubly burdened: they pay taxes to support Robert E. Lee High School and also have to explain to their children that Lee fought to keep slavery. “I don’t think that’s fair,” Miller said. “I think it’s an issue of fairness.” Residents of Tyler have pushed before for the district to change the name. Indeed, the quest goes back 50 years. The violent white supremacist protest in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017 ignited a year of debate.

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National Stories

Associated Press - July 6, 2020

Justices rule states can bind presidential electors’ votes

In a decision flavored with references to “Hamilton” and “Veep,” the Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that states can require presidential electors to back their states’ popular vote winner in the Electoral College. The ruling, in cases in Washington state and Colorado just under four months before the 2020 election, leaves in place laws in 32 states and the District of Columbia that bind electors to vote for the popular-vote winner, as electors almost always do anyway.

So-called faithless electors have not been critical to the outcome of a presidential election, but that could change in a race decided by just a few electoral votes. It takes 270 electoral votes to win the presidency. A state may instruct “electors that they have no ground for reversing the vote of millions of its citizens,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote in her majority opinion that walked through American political and constitutional history with an occasional nod to pop culture. Such an order by a state “accords with the Constitution — as well as with the trust of a Nation that here, We the People rule,” Kagan wrote. President Donald Trump has been both a critic and fan of the Electoral College.

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Associated Press - July 4, 2020

Musk visits Tulsa as site for new Tesla plant is considered

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has made a visit to Tulsa, which is being considered as a site for the automaker’s new U.S. assembly plant. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt said on social media Saturday morning that he’d had a “great” visit with Musk on Friday in Tulsa, and included photos of himself and others talking with Musk under a tent on the proposed site.

Oklahoma’s Secretary of Commerce Sean Kouplen, who was among those who met with Musk, told the Tulsa World that the site is on a hill that overlooks downtown. “So we’re basically just having our little over an hour conversation out there in the middle of the field,” he told the newspaper. “The site is very important to Elon. He likes to get a feel for it. He really goes based upon his kind of personal feeling,” Kouplen said. Tesla has reportedly picked Tulsa and Austin, Texas, as finalists for its new factory that is expected to employ more than 10,000 people. The factory would build Tesla’s upcoming “Cybertruck,” and be a second site to build the Model Y small SUV.

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Associated Press - July 6, 2020

Trump-connected lobbyists reap windfall in federal virus aid

Forty lobbyists with ties to President Donald Trump helped clients secure more than $10 billion in federal coronavirus aid, among them five former administration officials whose work potentially violates Trump’s own ethics policy, according to a report. The lobbyists identified Monday by the watchdog group Public Citizen either worked in the Trump executive branch, served on his campaign, were part of the committee that raised money for inaugural festivities or were part of his presidential transition. Many are donors to Trump’s campaigns, and some are prolific fundraisers for his reelection.

They include Brian Ballard, who served on the transition, is the finance chair for the Republican National Committee and has bundled more than $1 million for Trump’s fundraising committees. He was hired in March by Laundrylux, a supplier of commercial laundry machines, after the Department of Homeland Security issued guidance that didn’t include laundromats as essential businesses that could stay open during the lockdown. A week later, the administration issued new guidance adding laundromats to the list. Dave Urban, a Trump adviser and confidant, has collected more than $2.3 million in lobbying fees this year. The firm he leads, American Continental Group, represents 15 companies, including Walgreens and the parent company of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, on coronavirus issues. Trump pledged to clamp down on Washington’s influence peddling with a “drain the swamp” campaign mantra. But during his administration, the lobbying industry has flourished, a trend that intensified once Congress passed more than $3.6 trillion in coronavirus stimulus.

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Associated Press - July 6, 2020

Trump lashes out at NASCAR, Bubba Wallace over flag, rope ‘hoax'

NASCAR’s layered relationship with President Donald Trump took a sharp turn Monday when Trump blasted the series for banning the Confederate flag and wrongly accused the sport’s only full-time Black driver of perpetrating “a hoax” when a crew member found a noose in the team garage stall. Trump suggested Bubba Wallace should apologize after the sport rallied around him after the noose was found in his assigned stall at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama.

Federal authorities ruled last month the noose had been hanging since October and was not a hate crime. NASCAR and the FBI have exclusively referred to the rope – which was used to pull the garage door closed – as a noose. It was the only garage pull out of 1,684 stalls at 29 inspected NASCAR tracks to be fashioned as a noose. NASCAR President Steve Phelps has bristled at suggestions the noose was a hoax. Wallace was shown a photograph of the noose, never personally saw it, and was told by NASCAR officials he was the victim of a hate crime. “Has @BubbaWallace apologized to all of those great NASCAR drivers & officials who came to his aid, stood by his side, & were willing to sacrifice everything for him, only to find out that the whole thing was just another HOAX?” Trump tweeted. “That & Flag decision has caused lowest ratings EVER!”

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NPR - July 7, 2020

Woman who called police on black bird-watcher in Central Park to be charged

A white woman who called the police and claimed a Black man was threatening her after he asked her to put her dog on a leash in New York's Central Park will be prosecuted over the incident, Manhattan's district attorney said Monday. "Today our Office initiated a prosecution of Amy Cooper for Falsely Reporting an Incident in the Third Degree," Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. said in a statement. If convicted of the Class A misdemeanor, Cooper could face up to one year in jail, a fine or both.

The woman's behavior as she called the police has been widely criticized as racist at a time when the U.S. is facing a broader conversation over its legacy of racial injustice. The incident between her and Christian Cooper, who is Black and not related, took place in a wooded area of the park that requires dogs to be leashed at all times. Christian Cooper, an avid bird-watcher, recorded a portion of their interaction on his cellphone. It was later posted to social media and went viral. The dispute prompted widespread discussion about incidents in which white people have called law enforcement to report people of color, and Black people in particular, for seemingly innocuous activities. The encounter between two took place on May 25, the same day that George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis. Floyd, a Black man, died after a white officer knelt on his neck for several minutes. Floyd's death was also captured on cellphone video, and the now-former officer faces a second-degree murder charge.

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CNN Business - July 6, 2020

Judge orders temporary shutdown of controversial Dakota Access Pipeline

The Dakota Access Pipeline must shut down by August 5 during an in-depth environmental review of the controversial project, a district court ruled Monday in a defeat for the Trump administration. The rare shutdown of an operating pipeline marks a major win for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and environmental groups that have fought fiercely for years against the oil pipeline.

In its decision, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia vacated an easement granted by the US Army Corps of Engineers that allowed Dakota Access to build a segment of the pipeline beneath Lake Oahe in North Dakota and South Dakota. The court had previously ruled the Corps violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it granted the easement because it had failed to produce an Environmental Impact Statement. Now, the court is saying the pipeline must be shut down and emptied while the environmental impact report is prepared. The Corps has said it will take approximately 13 months to create such a report. "Fearing severe environmental consequences, American Indian Tribes on nearby reservations have sought for several years to invalidate federal permits allowing the Dakota Access Pipeline to carry oil under the lake," Judge James Boasberg wrote in the ruling. "Today they finally achieve that goal — at least for the time being."

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Reuters - July 6, 2020

PPP loans roughly in line with industry payrolls, but some stand out

Paycheck Protection Program loans to restaurants and hotels fell short of their share of small-business employment, according to details on the program released Monday by the U.S. Treasury Department and the Small Business Administration. The food and accommodation sector was among the hardest-hit by the coronavirus pandemic, and one motivation for the rapid approval of the roughly $650 billion program of forgivable loans was fear that staple companies like the corner pizza joint would be forced out of business without assistance.

The data released on Monday included an updated breakdown by industry and showed that through June 30, food and accommodation firms had received just over 8% of the $521 billion in PPP loans made so far, or around $42 billion. According to the 2017 Statistics of U.S. Businesses, the most recent available from the U.S. Census, companies in that industry accounted for just over 14% of employment among firms with 500 or fewer workers - the general cutoff for PPP loans. The industry fared better when using payrolls as a yardstick. Food and accommodation firms, which generally fall on the lower end of the wage scale, accounted for less than 6% of small business payrolls, according to census data.

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CNBC - July 6, 2020

Trump administration releases list of companies that received most money from small business bailout loans

The Trump administration on Monday disclosed the names of many small businesses which received loans under a program intended to blunt the economic damage from the coronavirus pandemic. The disclosure comes amid demands from Democrats for more transparency around the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, funds established as part of the $2 trillion CARES Act, which President Donald Trump signed this spring.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin sparked an outcry from Democrats when he originally implied that the Trump administration would not disclose the names of participants. The Treasury and SBA later reversed course, saying they would disclose names and other details about businesses that took PPP loans of $150,000 and above. Those loans represent nearly three-fourths of total loan dollars approved, but a far smaller proportion of the number of actual loans. About 87% of the loans were for less than $150,000, according to the SBA.

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Newsclips - July 6, 2020

Lead Stories

KCBD - July 4, 2020

Charles Perry asking for special session to prevent ‘overreach’ during COVID-19 response

Texas State Senator Charles Perry is asking the governor to call a special session of the Texas Legislature so they can play a direct role in the state’s COVID-19 response. "The task of mitigating COVID-19 is a mountain of a task and that responsibility should not fall on one person's shoulders. The legislative branch should have a more formal role in the state's response, while staying true to the principles established by a free people," Perry said.

"It should not be the sole responsibility of one person to manage all of the issues related to a disaster that has no end in sight." “We need proper legislative testimony and to vet out the facts from the misinformation so that a long-term viable and transparent outcome can be achieved. This will help prevent any government created devastation and possible overreach. It is only logical that the legislature should be involved in shaping solutions and policies that they personally will have to deal with while these decisions are being made.”

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Houston Chronicle - July 6, 2020

Once lauded for its COVID-19 response, Texas now grapples with one of country’s worst outbreaks

In Houston, the largest medical campus in the world has exceeded its base intensive care capacity. In the Rio Grande Valley, elected officials pleaded last week for military intervention to avoid a “humanitarian crisis.” And in several major cities, testing sites are overrun, with appointments disappearing in minutes and hundreds waiting in line for hours. Eight weeks ago, the White House lauded Texas as a model for containing the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan to reopen the economy has unraveled as the state struggles to contain one of the worst outbreaks in the country.

“We’re on the verge of a nightmarish catastrophe,” said Vivian Ho, a health economist at Rice University and the Baylor College of Medicine. “On May 1, I thought we actually had a chance to get this virus under control and get the economy opened up safely. I’m not sure we can get it under control anymore.” Public health experts say the worst of the crisis was avoidable in Texas, where Abbott stripped local officials of the ability to manage their own outbreaks and until Thursday refused to mandate masks and other basic mitigation practices. The governor reopened before the state could adequately monitor the virus, health experts said, then ignored signs in late May that infections were beginning to run rampant. “That is the point at which you say, ‘Hang on a sec, we’re staying where we are,’ and are probably taking a step back to understand the scale of the problem here,” said Bill Hanage, an associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

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Bloomberg - July 6, 2020

Trump’s taxes, birth Control top Supreme Court’s closing agenda

The U.S. Supreme Court is poised to cap a term like no other with potentially blockbuster decisions covering birth control, religious rights and President Donald Trump’s efforts to keep his financial records private. The justices will tackle their eight remaining cases starting Monday, when they issue opinions in July for the first time since 1996. The eight cases were heard in an extraordinary May argument session, held by telephone because of the coronavirus outbreak. The justices could finish their work later in the week.

Together, the final opinions could rewrite the narrative of a Supreme Court term that so far hasn’t produced the clear conservative shift some envisioned after two Trump nominees joined the court. The rulings will shape public perceptions of the court, and perhaps of Trump, heading into the November election. Here are the top cases the court still must resolve: House Democrats and a New York state prosecutor are separately trying to get Trump’s accounting firm to turn over his financial records, material that could include the tax returns he has long refused to release publicly. The House committees are also subpoenaing the president’s banks. Trump says lawmakers are trying to engage in law enforcement, which his legal team argues is beyond Congress’s constitutional powers, particularly when it involves the president’s private affairs. And Trump contends presidents should have absolute immunity from state criminal investigations while in office to ensure against unwarranted distractions. The Trump administration is seeking to give employers and universities a broad right to claim a religious or moral exemption from the Obamacare requirement that they offer free birth control through their health-care plans. The opt-out would expand a narrower religious exemption offered by President Barack Obama’s administration as part of the Affordable Care Act. Although the case could turn on technical questions of federal administrative law, its symbolic and cultural implications loom much larger. And a high court blessing for Trump’s opt-out could mean that tens of thousands of woman would lose access to free contraceptives.

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Dallas Morning News - July 5, 2020

Foster care plaintiffs say Texas ‘shockingly’ disobeys federal judge, ask her for sanctions

Plaintiffs in a long-running child-welfare lawsuit are again asking a federal judge to hold Texas in contempt of court, this time for what they cite as ignoring “glaring safety risks” in state foster care pointed out by her own monitors. Lawyers for foster children have urged U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack to require the Department of Family and Protective Services, and a separate unit that inspects foster homes and other care facilities, to show why they shouldn’t be held in contempt for failing to make sweeping changes she’s demanded.

On Saturday, though, department spokesman Patrick Crimmins said last month’s critical report by court-appointed monitors fails to recognize “round-the-clock efforts made to comply” with Jack’s orders. The department will give the judge more details soon, he said. The plaintiffs’ lawyers cited 10 different deficiencies in investigations, documenting of children’s and providers’ histories and state workers’ caseloads. Rookie Child Protective Services workers who manage the cases and treatment plans of abused kids in state care are supposed to be given “graduated caseloads” as they learn on the job. But monitors found that 31% are carrying more cases as of their 15th day on the job than they’re supposed to, plaintiffs noted.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - July 6, 2020

After Dallas mother and daughter die of coronavirus hours apart, their family pleads: take COVID-19 seriously

After she lost her mother and sister to the coronavirus in June, Sherry Tutt guarded herself from the news and social media. It was too painful to see people return to normal life during a pandemic that stole so much from her. But she had to respond when she saw a Facebook comment on a local news story that downplayed the seriousness of the coronavirus, saying it kills only about 2% of those who get it. “‘What if that 2% is your family?‘” she wrote back. “I lost my mom and sister. So that 2% still affects someone horribly.”

COVID-19 devastated her family: at least eight relatives tested positive, including herself, she said. Two — her mother, Doris LaVon Sims, and her sister, LaKecial Tutt, both of Pleasant Grove — died hours apart on June 9, after spending more than two weeks in separate hospitals. They’re among the 395 people who have died from the coronavirus in Dallas County, where more than 25,000 people have tested positive. Each day, the county announces the number of new deaths and cases in tweets and news releases. Sherry Tutt, who lives in McKinney, follows the latest Dallas and Tarrant County case counts every day. The rising death toll brings tears to her eyes because she knows her mother and sister are included — and they should still be here, she said. She knows other families, whose loved ones are part of that nameless, faceless toll, must feel the same way. Tutt is reeling over the loss of her mom and sister. She’s also frustrated by people who treat the deadly virus with indifference, as well as what she sees as mixed messages from state leaders. Texas has reopened to some extent, but the governor urges people to stay home.

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Dallas Morning News - July 5, 2020

Masks are now required in Texas. What if you can’t wear one because of a medical condition?

Wearing masks, a practice that health experts say is one of the most effective ways to slow the spread of COVID-19, is now required across the state. But what if you’re unable to wear a mask because of a legitimate medical condition or disability? Can a business refuse to serve you? Here’s what you need to know.

Who isn’t required to wear a mask? State and local mandates requiring masks acknowledge that there are certain groups of people who can’t safely wear one. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says children under 2 and people who have trouble breathing, are unconscious, incapacitated or can’t take off a mask without help shouldn’t wear one. Local mandates have followed that guidance; Gov. Greg Abbott’s statewide mandate says anyone under 10 or who has a medical condition or disability that prevents them from safely wearing a mask is exempt from the order. Health experts have said legitimate health problems can include chronic asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a lung disease that makes it difficult to breathe. Other conditions that could make wearing a mask difficult could include people who have post-traumatic stress disorder, severe anxiety or claustrophobia, or someone with autism who is sensitive to touch and texture.

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Dallas Morning News - July 6, 2020

Is moving football to the spring really such a bad idea? Like it or not, it’s time to consider the option

Straight up: The 2020 sports calendar is irrevocably wrecked. Doesn’t matter what happens now, there’s no fixing it. The Mavs could come to like living in a bubble and FC Dallas could avoid infecting the rest of MLS and the Rangers could remember to close the lid before flushing, and it wouldn’t help. Not enough, anyway. No one will look back at the most tumultuous year in at least a generation and label it a golden year of sport. So if it’s already a bust, is flip-flopping football really such an awful idea?

I can hear you all the way over here: If God really wanted us to play football in the spring, He’d have found better financing. But let’s face it, at the rate cases are spiking, there’s a pretty good chance football might not be an option this fall, either. Might as well consider our options. Lincoln Riley, for one, has thought about flip-flopping, and he’s all in if it comes to that. “I think the people who say it’s not [an option], in my opinion, just don’t want to think about it,” the Oklahoma coach told reporters Friday. “I just think it would be wrong of us to take any potential option off the table right now. I think it’d be very difficult to say the spring is not a potential option. “I, for one, think it’s very doable.” Riley’s opinion carries some weight, too, and not just because he’s the only Big 12 coach these days who can find his way to the College Football Playoff. You might recall he was one of the few coaches who thought bringing players back to campuses so soon this summer was a bad idea. He could end up 2-for-2 on coronavirus questions.

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Dallas Morning News - July 5, 2020

Villain or victim? How Dallas hotelier Monty Bennett became PPP’s face of corporate greed

When the public spotlight finds Monty Bennett, it leaves scorch marks. The hotel magnate was cast as a face of corporate greed in the COVID-19 era after applying in April for $126 million in forgivable loans from the government’s Paycheck Protection Program, which was designed as a way for struggling businesses to pay employees during the pandemic. Small-business owners saw PPP as a lifeline for them, not publicly traded companies. The at least $69 million that Bennett’s companies got was the largest payout in the country. And his generous political contributions to another hotelier, President Donald Trump, immediately came under scrutiny — especially a $50,000 donation to the Trump Victory Committee in March.

Nearly overnight, people fearful of the economic freight train running through the country chose Bennett as their punching bag. Social media was filled with snarky attacks about his wealth and the luxury hotels filling his portfolio. The agency in charge of PPP moved quickly to change the rules for who qualified, forcing him to return the money in May. It wasn’t his first public showdown. In 2014, he took on a fight with the Tarrant Regional Water District to protect his three-generations-old, 1,500-acre East Texas ranch from a pipeline. He brought endangered animals onto his land and plotted a new cemetery where the water line was to go and, in the end, won the dispute with an out-of-court settlement that diverted the pipeline around his property. Little did he know that would amount to a practice run for his moment on the national stage.

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Dallas Morning News - July 5, 2020

MJ Hegar, Royce West fighting to become Democratic Senate champ against GOP incumbent John Cornyn

With the nation gripped by the coronavirus pandemic and calls for social change, MJ Hegar and Royce West insist they are the candidates for the moment. The runoff opponents are trying to convince Democratic voters that they’re the best choice to deliver on issues like health care and social change--and beat Republican incumbent John Cornyn in November. Uncharacteristic of recent Democratic statewide primary races, the contest has featured bitter exchanges over race and ethics, signaling a potential fracture when a nominee emerges against Cornyn.

Hegar of Round Rock is a former Air Force helicopter pilot who says she’s the change agent needed in an environment dominated by lawyers. West of Dallas is a longtime state senator with a record of tackling issues related to education, health care and criminal justice. “From the economic and public health fallout from COVID-19 to horrific racial injustice and a broken immigration system, Texans across the state are excited to elect a servant leader and a get-sh**-done Texas mom with a proven track record of bringing together a broad coalition to accomplish the mission,” Hegar said. “We’re getting more and more support across the state,” West said. “I’ve done the work in the Democratic Party to ready myself for this particular office. The voters see me as someone who has achieved results in the past and will continue to get things done.”

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Austin American-Statesman - July 6, 2020

Pandemic demand strains Central Texas meat supply chain

Mark Einkauf sold out of his annual stock of beef and pork on Blessing Falls Family Farm by early April, even after he butchered a few extra animals and partnered with another local farm to get more inventory. Einkauf said he saw triple the interest in his products starting in March, around the time when the COVID-19 pandemic began to affect people’s experiences at grocery stores. “We still have people on a waiting list and we have animals that won’t be ready until next summer that are already on reserve, which is typically unheard of,” he said.

As COVID-19 has slowed or shut down production at many of the nation’s largest meat processing plants, affecting availability and pricing in supermarkets, consumers in Central Texas have flocked to local farmers to fill their freezers. The increased interest in local meat caused a big sales boost for farmers this spring, but it also put strain on a food system that already left many farmers and processing plants struggling to get by. “Everyone just got bought out because there was such a demand from consumers looking for local food,” said Judith McGeary, executive director of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance and co-owner of the McGeary Family Farm. “Everyone’s freezers went empty.” Amy Greer, who owns Winters Family Beef with her husband, said demand has only recently started to decline slightly after months of record sales. Usually, they were selling at farmers markets on average “150 to 200 pounds of cuts at two markets, Saturday and Sunday,” she said. “In March, April and early May, we were selling anywhere from 300 to 600 pounds in that same period.” After the spike in sales left farmers’ stock depleted, many tried to schedule slots at small, local meat processing plants and found the plants booking up fast.

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Austin American-Statesman - July 5, 2020

Man’s coronavirus death raised questions about care for disabled, advocates say

Disability rights advocates on Saturday evening gathered in front of St. David’s South Austin Medical Center to remember a man whose coronavirus-related death has divided family members and sparked a public conversation about care given to those with disabilities. Michael Hickson, 46, died June 11 at St. David’s after being admitted a week earlier. Hickson, who became quadriplegic after a heart attack three years ago, was transferred to St. David’s from another facility as he battled pneumonia in both lungs, a urinary tract infection and sepsis.

He experienced multiple organ failures, and when doctors determined they could not save his life, they switched him from aggressive care to supportive care, hospital officials said. His wife, Melissa Hickson, did not support this decision and said it was inhumane treatment. Other members of Michael Hickson’s family said they supported the decision. Advocates with Texas ADAPT, or Americans with Disabilities Action Planning Team, said they have concerns that Hickson died because the hospital did not value his life as much as an able-bodied person’s. The group on Saturday held signs along Ben White Boulevard with phrases such as “Disabled, Not Disposable.” Melissa Hickson was not Michael Hickson’s legal guardian at the time of his death. Some time after his heart attack, doctors had determined that Michael Hickson was an incapacitated person. The family had been disputing guardianship before the pandemic, and Family Eldercare — which provides services to adults with disabilities — had been designated his temporary guardian.

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Austin American-Statesman - July 4, 2020

In-person GOP convention in Houston may be bad idea but he’ll be there, Patrick says

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said he thinks the Texas Republican Party’s decision to proceed with an in-person state convention in Houston later this month is unwise, but he plans to be there. Patrick expressed his view in a brief statement Friday evening, hours after the Texas Medical Association issued a warning that an in-person convention would pose significant health risks to the city of Houston and the communities across Texas to which the delegates will return.

Patrick and the TMA were responding to a 40-20 vote Thursday night by the Texas GOP’s State Republican Executive Committee to move forward with its plan for a live convention, even in the teeth of a resurgent pandemic with Houston as a national hot spot. “I watched all three hours of the SREC debate on Thursday night,” Patrick said in his statement. “I agree with the 20 people who believe it is not a good idea to hold an in-person state convention in Houston because so many of our party activists will be unable to attend. It also risks the exposure of those who do attend. But I respect the will of the 40 people who voted (for holding the live convention) and I will be there.” The statements by Patrick and the TMA would seem to complicate the fate of the convention, providing Gov. Greg Abbott with more reason — and political cover — to issue an order that would keep thousands of Republicans from spending July 16-18 at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston.

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Austin American-Statesman - July 5, 2020

ICUs could be overrun in 10 days amid coronavirus spike, Austin mayor says

Austin-area intensive care units are in danger of being overrun in the next 10 days to two weeks if the number of people admitted to the hospital for the coronavirus continues its current pace, Austin Mayor Steve Adler said Sunday. “Hopefully we will see that trajectory slow and we will know whether or not that happens this week,” he told the American-Statesman. The Austin area has about 1,500 hospital beds for coronavirus patients. A total of 446 people were hospitalized in those beds on Saturday night, Adler said.

Health officials on Sunday recorded 59 new hospital admissions for COVID-19, the disease linked to the coronavirus, continuing a troubling trend. The seven-day average number of new hospitalizations was at 61.6, uncomfortably close to the threshold into Stage 5, when the virus poses the highest risk to populations with existing health issues and compromised immunity. Austin Public Health’s guidelines under Stage 5 include recommending that all residents avoid gatherings outside of their households and allowing only essential businesses to stay open. Travis County has reported a total of 11,679 confirmed coronavirus cases as of Sunday, including 8,460 recoveries and 137 deaths. The county reported 548 new cases on Sunday. Although health officials recorded only 122 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus on Saturday, that was an incomplete number because of a lack of staff available to do the counting during the July 4 holiday, Adler said.

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Houston Chronicle - July 6, 2020

Under new management, Texas Alliance of Energy Producers plans for growth

The Texas Alliance of Energy Producers, one of the largest oil and natural gas industry associations in the state, named Jason Modglin its new president on June 3. Succeeding John Tintera, who retired last year, Modglin is stepping into his new role as the coronavirus pandemic and industry downturn have resulted in tens of thousands of layoffs over the past three months.

No stranger to the oil and natural gas industry or the halls of government, Modglin will represent the organization’s 2,600 members in both Austin and Washington, D.C. In an exclusive sit-down interview with Texas Inc., Modglin shared his ambitious plans for the 90-year-old organization to navigate challenging times. You became president of the alliance earlier this month and Cye Wagner became chair in April. How have y’all spent the last few weeks? "We hit the ground running and we’ve been trying to catch up with members as best we can to connect and let them know that I’m on board and how the Alliance can do a better job for them. These are tough and challenging times for everybody, including the oil industries. We are working hard to do that during these challenging times."

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Houston Chronicle - July 4, 2020

Evidence growing that Houston's main coronavirus strain is more contagious than original

Evidence is growing that a mutated coronavirus strain, the main one circulating in the Houston area, is more contagious than the original virus in China. Two new research papers show that the newer strain is more transmissible, a possibility first suggested by a team of scientists in May. At the time, that suggestion was considered highly speculative by many scientists, including some in Houston.

“A summary of the data thus far suggests that this strain has gained a fitness advantage over the original and is more transmissible as a result,” said Joseph Petrosino, Baylor College of Medicine chair of molecular virology and microbiology. “It is safe to say this version is more infectious.” Petrosino said that although Baylor hasn’t yet conducted a surveillance study, the area rate of positive tests and increase in hospitalizations point to a significantly higher prevalence of the virus strain now. He said Baylor is finding the mutated strain in as many as 80 percent of viruses it analyzes. Houston Methodist researchers reported the strain was prevalent in the Houston area in a paper in mid-May. The paper said 70 percent of the specimens examined, taken from COVID-19 patients treated at Methodist from early March to March 30, showed a mutation to the spike proteins the coronavirus uses to attach to and enter human respiratory cells.

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Houston Chronicle - July 4, 2020

We can’t and won’t enforce Abbott’s mask order, Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office says

The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office says it will not enforce Gov. Greg Abbott’s order requiring most Texans to wear masks when they’re in public. In a statement, the agency said it “will take NO actions to enforce” the order, arguing that it is unenforceable because it doesn’t allow law enforcement to detain, arrest or jail violators.

“This language strips law enforcement of the necessary tools to enforce compliance with the law,” the agency said. Abbott’s policy, enacted Thursday, requires residents in counties with more than 20 cases of COVID-19 to wear masks when they are in public and can’t properly distance themselves. The governor said first-time offenders would get a warning, and that repeated violations could result in fines of up to $250, though he left that up to local law enforcement’s discretion.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 5, 2020

Bud Kennedy: Fort Worth, Tarrant County are worse off than Dallas on COVID. Where are our leaders?

We are the worst. Tarrant County’s current coronavirus trajectory is now worse than Dallas’, according to a local university expert. At this rate, our hospitals will be full in two weeks. Yet county officials and the health department took two holidays from giving warnings or counting cases Friday and Saturday. All we learned Sunday is that the hospital count is now up to 533 patients.

(Our public hospital never gets a day off. JPS Health Network had 99 patients Sunday, according to its daily recorded update at 817-702-9500, up from 74 a week ago.) With Fort Worth, Arlington and Tarrant County staring down the barrel of a long holiday weekend and a dangerous week that the University of North Texas Health Science Center expert calls “alarming” and “very critical” to our safety, our public servants vanished from sight. On any other Fourth of July, our lawmakers in Washington and Austin would be leading parades or shaking every hand alongside our well-paid county commissioners and sheriffs, city council members, school trustees and every elected or appointed public official down to the county Inspector of Hides. Did you see or hear from any elected officials this weekend? Did they show you how they’re wearing a face covering, how easy it is and how everyone else should, too? Did they take time to tell you Tarrant County is in danger if we don’t cover our faces, stay 6 feet apart and cut out so much running around? No. That’s what has us trailing Dallas.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 3, 2020

Brooks Harrington: For the poor, coronavirus symptoms may include hunger, abuse and childcare crises

What are the symptoms of COVID-19? And for whom? Put yourself in the place of a 40-year-old woman with a husband, five children between the ages of 3 and 11, and her 72-year-old mother in her family home. Your husband worked as a cook for $11 an hour before COVID-19 hit. His restaurant has been closed since mid-March. You worked on a cleaning crew in a hotel for $10 an hour. You have been furloughed. Unemployment pay is far from enough for your family’s needs. The incentive check is long gone.

You try to clean houses but can make at most $100 a week. Your husband searches for work but says that unemployment is so high and fear of the virus so great that there are not any jobs. Your car has been repossessed, so it is hard for him to look. Your savings are gone, and your families have no more money to lend you. You are facing eviction, and no extended family member has the space to take you in. For the first time in your life, you must rely upon a food bank. Your husband is delaying a needed surgery, and you are late to get a mammogram. Your children have been out of school since mid-March. You cannot afford internet access and a tablet for school. How will they learn if schools don’t reopen this fall? Your mother is going to move to be with your sister in Houston to lessen your burden. But who will take care of the children when you and your husband find work? Your husband is sullen and emasculated. You are depressed and resentful. Your children are anxious and looking for reassurance. So, your husband drinks a lot of beer as anesthesia. He escapes to his friends’ houses, abandoning you at home every night. One night he comes home drunk at 3 a.m. You call him worthless and a failure. He calls you a nag and worse. You’re both screaming, and the children are crying. He punches you in the face. He drags you into your bedroom by your hair. Your 11-year-old son tries to rescue you, but your husband slings him across the room, breaking the boy’s wrist. Your husband runs away. A neighbor takes you and your son to the ER. Your son tells the nurse the truth, but you are afraid to be honest with Child Protective Services and the police. The CPS worker says you must not allow your husband back into the home. But how can your children survive without your husband when jobs come back?

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 3, 2020

GOP activist, conservatives sue Abbott to stop Texas’ mask mandate from being enforced

The day Gov. Greg Abbott’s mandate that face masks be worn in most public places across Texas went into effect, a GOP activist and group of conservatives filed a lawsuit in an attempt to block it. In the lawsuit, filed Friday in Travis County District Court, Houston GOP activist Steven Hotze, former Republican state Rep. Rick Green, former chair of the Republican Party of Texas Cathie Adams and two Houston business owners argue that Abbott’s executive order and the law that gives him the authority to issue it are unconstitutional.

The lawsuit was filed by Jared Woodfill, a Houston attorney and former chairman of the Harris County Republican Party, who has been involved in previous challenges to Abbott’s executive orders. It seeks both a temporary restraining order and permanent injunction against Abbott’s order, which it argues is 'an invasion of liberty.' "Today a mask, tomorrow a hazmat suit — where does it stop? Everyday GA-29 is in effect, the government tramples on the liberties of Texans,” the lawsuit reads. A spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office said the office had no comment, and a spokesman for the governor did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday afternoon. After resisting calls to implement a mask mandate statewide, Abbott announced one Thursday afternoon that requires Texans in counties with 20 or more confirmed COVID-19 cases to wear a face mask in buildings and businesses open to the public and in outdoor public space where maintaining six feet of distance from another person isn’t feasible.

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San Antonio Express-News - July 5, 2020

Gilbert Garcia: Cruz and Trump on opposite sides of congressional runoff battle

If endorsements were votes, Tony Gonzales would have locked up the District 23 Republican race months ago. The affable former Navy cryptologist almost immediately established himself among party leaders as the Republican candidate most likely to thread the needle and keep this sprawling, heavily Latino congressional swing district in GOP hands. Gonzales got the backing of the outgoing District 23 congressman, Will Hurd, Land Commissioner George P. Bush, former Gov. Rick Perry, former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, Houston Congressman Dan Crenshaw and the two top Republican leaders in the U.S. House: Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise.

By comparison, Gonzales’s runoff opponent, Raul Reyes Jr., has been treated like a party crashing rogue by GOP leaders. Up until Tuesday, the biggest endorsement Reyes could claim was from Ted Nugent, the celebrated composer of “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang.” That all changed with the bombshell announcement that Ted Cruz, the biggest star in the Texas Republican constellation, was not only endorsing Reyes, but launching an ad buy featuring a 30-second video testimonial from Cruz. Jobs, Freedom and Security, Cruz’s leadership political action committee, spent $109,788 for media/production on the pro-Reyes ad, according to a campaign finance report filed on June 30. “Texans don’t back down from a fight and we don’t surrender,” the senator said in the ad. “That’s why we need to send conservative warriors to defeat Nancy Pelosi’s agenda and show some of our Republicans what a backbone is.” Reyes, Cruz insisted, is just such a conservative warrior.

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San Antonio Express-News - July 5, 2020

San Antonio Express-News Editorial: Abbott order on masks late but welcome

Masks cost a lot less in dollars and freedom than hospital beds, which is why we welcome Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent mask mandate but also wish it had been ordered much earlier in this crisis. With COVID-19 cases skyrocketing across Texas, potentially overwhelming hospital systems in many areas, Abbott had no choice but to issue a mask mandate. The crisis is worsening. The so-called curve is expanding, and masks are a proven way to help limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. We still must practice physical distancing and hand-washing, but masks help.

Wearing a mask is not just about protecting one’s self, it’s also about respecting and protecting others. Any one of us could be asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19, just as any one of us could potentially be hospitalized by this disease. Masks have been tragically politicized — COVID-19 does not check for party registration — and we know Abbott’s decision won’t go over well in some quarters. But it was the right decision, just as he rightfully has tapped the brakes on his reopening plan and closed bars. It takes leadership to reverse course sometimes. Whatever pushback Abbott receives for this, he can take solace knowing his decisions will save the lives of many Texans and he has charted a course for other states to follow. Mask up, Texas. Let’s flatten this curve and save lives.

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Associated Press - July 5, 2020

Hotze to Governor Abbott: Guard should 'kill ’em'

A conservative power broker told Texas' governor to have National Guard troops “shoot to kill” amid protests last month against racial injustice and police brutality.

Steve Hotze, a Houston-based critic of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, left that message in a voicemail to the governor's chief of staff on the weekend of June 6, according to The Texas Tribune. Abbott had activated the Texas National Guard after some protests became violent and destructive. “I want you to give a message to the governor,” Hotze can be heard saying on a recording published by the online news outlet. “I want to make sure that he has National Guard down here and they have the order to shoot to kill if any of these ... people start rioting like they have in Dallas, start tearing down businesses. ... That’s the only way you restore order. Kill ’em. Thank you.”

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Associated Press - July 5, 2020

Remains of missing Texas soldier Vanessa Guillen identified, lawyer says

Army investigators have identified the body of a soldier who vanished more than two months ago from a Texas military base, according to a lawyer for the soldiers family. Remains found last week buried near Fort Hood belong to Spc. Vanessa Guillen and Army officials informed her family in Houston Sunday, attorney Natalie Khawam told The Associated Press. Guillen, who had been missing since April, was killed and dismembered by a fellow soldier who took his own life last week, federal and military investigators have said.

Human remains were found Tuesday near the Leon River in Bell County, about 20 miles east of Fort Hood, during the search for Guillen. An Army spokesman said earlier Sunday that they were still waiting for positive identification of the remains. Army officials identified the soldier suspected in Guillen’s disappearance as Aaron David Robinson. A criminal complaint released Thursday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas also charged a civilian with helping hide the body of 20-year-old solider Guillen’s family has said through their lawyer that they believe she was sexually harassed by the military suspect and is calling for a congressional investigation.

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Brownsville Herald - July 5, 2020

Virus cases taking a toll on caregivers

Doctors, nurses and hospital staff on the leading edge of the front line in the fight against COVID-19 continue to have to pay for the actions of others as the number of cases of coronavirus continues to increase in Cameron County. For several weeks, the city of Brownsville’s and Cameron County’s orders to shelter in place, limit travel, socially distance and wear facial coverings succeeded in keeping the virus spread to a minimum, because a sufficient majority of residents complied with the orders. Then came Gov. Greg Abbott’s order to begin phased reopening starting May 1 while also stripping local governments of their authority to enforce local mandates.

While plenty of people continued taking the same precautions as before the governor’s order, a significant number — especially younger people, according to health experts — decided the danger had passed and everything was back to normal, or didn’t care one way or another. They congregated in bars, on beaches and in backyard gatherings. Memorial Day weekend was a blowout. Facial coverings were often scarce, as was social distancing. The result is what public health experts predicted would happen if reopening were not accompanied by widespread testing, and what we’re seeing right now: a huge spike in COVID-19 cases, which has caused Abbott to pause his reopening plan, order bars closed again and mandate facial coverings statewide — that everyone wear a facial covering in public. The city and county had reimposed a curfew and mandates to wear facial coverings and limit travel to essential business in an attempt to get control of the virus, when Abbott on June 2 announced a mandatory mask order for every county with 20 or more COVID-19 cases. Until it is under control, medical professionals who staff the county’s hospitals are bearing the brunt, fearful of contracting the virus through constant exposure to infected patients and taking it home to their loved ones. Jamil M. Madi, critical care physician for Valley Baptist Medical Center’s hospitals in Brownsville and Harlingen, said he worries about it “every single day, every single hour” that he’s at work.

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New York Times - July 4, 2020

In West Texas, lingering distrust in public health measures as virus spreads

For a while, it seemed that the coronavirus had spared West Texas. Cases were low. Few had died. Concern through the spring was focused on getting businesses running again. By mid-June, the Texas Tech football team returned to campus. Local baseball tournaments resumed. Hotels filled up. Then people started getting sick. In Lubbock, a burnt-tan city of 250,000 with a rollicking college bar scene, more people tested positive for the virus in the last three weeks than in the previous three months combined. On the day Gov. Greg Abbott began to swiftly reopen the state, two months ago, the city recorded eight positive tests for the virus. On Wednesday, there were 184.

The sudden jump, concentrated among those in their 20s, reflected a sharp and uncontrolled rise in the virus that has hit Texas harder than many other places in the country. Unlike the early weeks of the pandemic, when infections were concentrated in the state’s mainly liberal cities, the virus has now reached into the deep-red regions of the state that have resisted aggressive public health regulation. Yet for many conservatives, even those with the virus now at their door, the resurgence has not changed opinions so much as hardened them. For those Texans, trust in government is gone, if it was there to begin with, and that includes some of the state’s top leaders. On Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick of Texas declared himself tired of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor. “I don’t need his advice anymore,” Mr. Patrick said. That sentiment was echoed outside a popular, newly opened hamburger restaurant in Wolfforth, Texas, just outside Lubbock, where even Mr. Abbott, a Republican, came under harsh criticism. “It seems like he’s been influenced by Fauci and the left,” said Mark Stewart, who sat with his wife and children and several other families at a gathering for locals who home school.

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Corpus Christi Caller-Times - July 2, 2020

More at stake than 1 Senate seat in Texas election

More is riding on this year’s election for the U.S. Senate than who will make up one-half of Texas’ clout in the upper chamber of Congress for the next six years. A late June poll by Fox News — yes, that Fox News — shows Democrat Joe Biden 1 percentage point ahead of President Donald Trump in Texas. Yes, that Texas. The most reliably Republican state in the nation for the past 40 years.

The poll bears out what most reputable surveys have consistently shown for months. It’s not a prediction that Texas will flip from red to blue in November, but it does suggest that with Trump at the top of the ticket, Texas could be in for one of the closest presidential elections in memory. And that’s why the Senate race is so important. Early voting is already under way in the runoff where Democrats are deciding not only who they would like better in the Senate, but who would be the strongest candidate against three-term Republican John Cornyn. Over the past week, the two candidates in the July 14 Democratic runoff quit playing publicly nice. MJ Hegar, the former Air Force combat pilot who led the crowded field in the March primary, accused veteran Democratic state Sen. Royce West in a June 29 debate of getting personally rich during the 27 years he’s served in Austin.

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Texas Monthly - July 2, 2020

Meet the Republican candidates and elected officials in Texas promoting QAnon

The Twitter account of Sam Williams, a Republican congressional candidate from El Paso, has the usual trappings of a conservative seeking office in Texas. Hashtags in his bio show support for the Second Amendment, President Trump, and “Keeping America Great.” He often tweets throughout the day, sometimes attacking Democratic incumbent Veronica Escobar or retweeting endorsements from likeminded #Patriots. But threaded among the more benign messages that he blasts to his nearly 45,000 followers are references to QAnon, a fringe conspiracy theory the FBI has warned is a potential domestic terrorism threat.

Supporters of QAnon often tag their social media posts with a slogan: Where We Go One We Go All. There are multiple examples of Williams using the #WWG1WGA hashtag in his own campaign tweets in 2018 and 2019, among other QAnon winks such as #PatriotsAwakened. These days, however, he retweets accounts that use Qanon hashtags or handles. Irene Armendariz-Jackson, Williams’s opponent in the GOP runoff for the Sixteenth Congressional District, has also engaged with Q content online, which means that no matter how the vote goes, Republicans in El Paso appear poised to nominate someone who has at least entertained the movement’s ideas. According to a running list of what Media Matters describes as QAnon supporters running for Congress in 2020, sixty current or former candidates have amplified the conspiracy theory in some way. (Armendariz-Jackson didn’t make the list.) Among the six Texans on the list as of June 2, two have dropped out and another two lost their primary challenges. Republican Johnny Teague, who will face Democratic incumbent Al Green in the Ninth Congressional District in November, has retweeted QAnon content, Media Matters reported, including a video of supporters giving an oath promoting the conspiracy theory.

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County Stories

San Antonio Express-News - July 3, 2020

Hundreds more sue Watson Grinding & Manufacturing over January explosion as filing deadline looms

Another 500 residents have filed lawsuits against Watson Grinding & Manufacturing, the company behind an early-morning explosion in January that killed two workers and damaged hundreds of nearby homes. The new claims were filed as an important deadline nears: After July 8 — next Wednesday — residents will no longer be able to file against Watson Grinding and its affiliated company, Watson Valve. An attorney for those companies did not respond to a request for comment.

The latest plaintiffs include adults and their unnamed children, who allege the Jan. 28 blast completely or partially damaged their homes or businesses, according to attorney Robert Kwok, who now represents more than 900 people affected by the explosion. Among them are Julio Granillo and Julia Sandoval, who live on Bridgeland Lane, one of the hardest hit areas of the explosion. The blast moved some of the walls in their house inches from where they originally were, and they have built wooden frames in their kitchen to keep the ceiling from caving in. They continue to live in the house. Investigators say a 2,000-gallon outdoor tank of the chemical propylene was responsible for the explosion, which rang out just after 4 a.m. that Friday. Early attention has focused on the possibility of a leak in a pipe between the tank and the plant as the cause of the blast.

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San Antonio Express-News - July 5, 2020

BSCO investigating death of inmate who was awaiting COVID-19 test

An investigation by the Bexar County Sherriff’s Office Criminal Investigation Unit is underway after an inmate died in custody at Bexar County Detenion Center while authorities say he was awaiting a COVID-19 test. Police say the 41-year-old white, male inmate was found unresponsive in the center’s medical isolation unit at around 1 a.m. Sunday morning.

Deputies, medical staff and the San Antonio Fire department responded to the incident and attempted to perform life saving medical care for the man, according to the Bexar County Sherriff’s office. Despite their described attempts, the man was pronounced dead at 1:45 a.m.

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San Antonio Express-News - July 6, 2020

Bexar County reports eight new COVID-19 deaths, 198 new cases

The coronavirus continued its unabated spread through the area Sunday, as Bexar County reported 198 new cases and eight new deaths, the highest death count since the start of the pandemic. The rising number of deaths follows five others that were reported Saturday. The victims Sunday were two Hispanic males and one Hispanic female in their 50s, two Hispanic males and two Hispanic females in their 60s, and one Hispanic male who was 19 or younger.

The youngest victim had an underlying genetic disorder. The others had underlying medical conditions, city spokeswoman Laura Mayes said. The pandemic has now killed 130 people in Bexar County since the first cases began to show up here in March. “When we report these facts, for our community, they aren’t numbers. They’re people,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said in a video on Twitter. “Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, cousins, grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, best friends and co-workers, loved ones and neighbors, San Antonians young and old. Gone.” The confirmed new cases brought the county’s total to 14,751, the Metropolitan Health District reported. Some 5,766 people have recovered and 8,855 are still ill. A total of 1,142 COVID-19 patients were in county hospitals Sunday, up from 802 a week ago. Of those patients, 365 were in intensive care and 197 on ventilators.

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Brownsville Herald - July 5, 2020

Hidalgo Co. reports over 500 new cases, 1 death over weekend

Hidalgo County confirmed more than 500 new positive cases and one death this weekend. Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez announced the death of a Pharr woman in her 60s and 547 new positive cases in a news release Sunday. “My prayers go out to the family and friends of this weekend’s victim — another tragic loss to this terrible disease,” Cortez said. “As we begin a new work week, please keep in mind the safety of yourselves and those around you. Stay home if possible, wear facial coverings and avoid other people.”

The new confirmations bring the county’s total number of reported cases to 5,345 — though only 3,452 remain active — and a total of 59 deaths. The newly infected rage in age from an infant to people in their 70s, and come from the cities of Alamo, Alton, Donna, Edinburg, Hidalgo, McAllen, Mercedes, Mission, Pharr, San Juan and Weslaco; The locations of 42 cases were undisclosed and one was classified as “OOA.” As of Sunday evening, 571 individuals remained hospitalized due to complications from the virus, with 144 of them being treated in intensive care units. Additionally, the county reported 235 individuals were released from isolation — meaning they have been symptom free for 10 days, including three days without a fever — raising the total number of individuals released from isolation to 1,834. As of Sunday, the county had conducted 52,422 COVID-19 tests, with 44,628 returning negative and 2,449 pending test results.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 5, 2020

Tarrant County reports COVID-19 numbers for July 2; July 3-5 figures coming Monday

Tarrant County on Sunday reported 585 new coronavirus cases and three deaths, but the latest figures are only from Thursday’s test results. The county, which did not release updates Friday and Saturday because of the Fourth of July weekend, will report cases and deaths for July 3-5 on Monday.

No information on the latest deaths were released Sunday. The new report brings the total number of deaths to 236 and infections to 14,008 in Tarrant County. At least 5,618 people have recovered, though hospitals and patients are not required to report recoveries. Tarrant County hospitals have confirmed 533 beds are occupied by coronavirus patients, with 1,809 hospital beds open. There are 423 ventilators available across the county. The county does not report the number of ventilators in use for COVID-19 patients. Fort Worth has the highest number of confirmed cases in the county since the pandemic reached Texas with 6,666 confirmed infections and 130 deaths. Arlington has the second highest at 2,776 infections and 36 deaths.

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National Stories

WYFF4 - July 6, 2020

2 dead, 8 others injured in shooting at Lavish Lounge in Greenville County, deputies say

Two people are dead and eight others injured in a shooting at a Greenville County nightclub, according to Lt. Jimmy Bolt with the Greenville County Sheriff's Office. Late Sunday afternoon, deputies released photos of four persons of interest in the case. They say they have reason to believe they are from the Atlanta area.

The victims have been identified as Mykala Bell, 23, of Greenville and Clarence Sterling Johnson, 51, of Duncan. Both were taken to a hospital and pronounced dead. Bell's family tells WYFF News 4 that she was a mother of two, and just saw her children yesterday, before the shooting. Bolt said just before 2 a.m. two deputies were driving on White Horse Rd. and saw a disturbance at Lavish Lounge.

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Seeking Alpha - July 4, 2020

Number of homeowners in forbearance resumes decline: Black Knight

The number or active mortgage forbearance plans for the week ended June 30 have fallen to the lowest point since the first week of May, according to Black Knight's McDash Flash Forbearance Tracker. The number of active forbearance plans fell by 104K last week and is down 183K from the peak on May 22. That's an improvement from the previous week, when the number of active forbearance plans increased.

The number of homeowners in forbearance that are still making payments is decreasing, though, to about a quarter vs. 30% in May and 46% in April. As of June 30, 4.58M homeowners are in forbearance plans, representing 8.6% of all active mortgages, down from 8.8% in the previous week. Together they represent $995B in unpaid principal. Estimated monthly principal and interest advances on active forbearance plans is $5.6B vs. $5.7B estimated a week ago and estimated tax and insurance advances on the plans are $2.0B vs. $2.1B estimated on June 23. The week's data, though, won't reflect the recent surges of COVID-19 infections in many parts of the country. If the new spikes lead to new rounds of lockdowns, the number of forbearance plans could also resurge.

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SFGate - July 5, 2020

No, wearing a mask does not cut off your oxygen. Here are the facts.

Health care professionals say wearing a face covering is one of the most effective ways to slow the spread of the coronavirus. So why do so many people refuse to do it? The Chronicle scoured social media for the most common excuses in circulation and ran them by local infectious disease experts to see whether they hold up. Here’s what they had to say:

Claim: “Masks cut off your oxygen.” Worried that wearing a face covering will reduce your oxygen intake? The experts say you can breathe easy (even if you are wearing a mask). While masks can get stuffy, they still allow for normal breathing. “People might feel uncomfortable and short of breath,” said John Balmes, a pulmonary physician and professor of medicine at UCSF. “The actual lowering of oxygen is highly unlikely.” To combat this myth, which has been widely spread on the internet, medical workers nationwide have countered with their own social media posts showing their oxygen saturation levels and heart rates remain unchanged while wearing a variety of face coverings over an extended period. Fact check: Not true. Claim: “Wearing face coverings puts you at risk for carbon dioxide poisoning.” Some people worry that wearing a face covering for a long period leads to breathing in excess amounts of carbon dioxide. That is not the case. CO2 molecules diffuse easily through everything from bandannas to medical masks to N95 respirators, allowing for normal breathing. This is why you don’t typically see medical care workers keel over in the middle of their 10-hour shifts. Fact check: Not true.

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Los Angeles Times - July 6, 2020

'You started the corona!' As anti-Asian hate incidents explode, climbing past 800, activists push for aid

Wearing their masks, Donalene Ferrer and two other generations of family members were walking along an Oceanside neighborhood in April when a car pulled up and a woman yelled: "You started the corona!" The accuser, with a baby and a toddler in tow, turned out to be her mother's neighbor, Ferrer said. Still in shock, the victim said she stepped near the woman to ask, "Why are you targeting us? I'm a nurse and my father fought for this country. You shouldn't be teaching your children racism."

Ferrer, 41, a Filipina, remembered the unmasked woman taunting them back: "Come over here. Say it to my face." But worried that the person might be carrying a hidden weapon, Ferrer said she left. Hate incidents directed at Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are exploding this year, according to advocates pushing for California Gov. Gavin Newsom to boost funding for programs fighting bias and add a cultural representative to his new COVID-19 task force. Supporters and organizers of Stop AAPI Hate have documented 832 incidents across the Golden State in the last three months, with assaults and verbal tirades "becoming the norm" since the pandemic started, instigated by people following the inflammatory rhetoric of the nation's highest-profile leader, they say. The escalating number of incidents has triggered outrage among the public and elected officials. "We seem to have a president that has given the green light to the racists to come out of the woodwork and start attacking Asians," said state Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi (D-Rolling Hills Estates), who represents Torrance, the scene of some the most widely viewed hate episodes recorded on video.

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New York Times - July 3, 2020

Nicole Gelinas: Mass transit, and cities, could grind to a halt without federal aid

As Congress plans another round of economic rescue, it will have to take a step that lawmakers from both parties have found distasteful for four decades: federal operating aid for mass transit. The pandemic is an existential crisis for transit. Patrick Foye, chairman of New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the nation’s largest provider, said the entity’s fiscal situation was a “four-alarm fire.” The threat is far greater than after Sept. 11 and the 2008 recession. Even as ridership has plummeted by double-digit percentages, transit agencies like the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and Boston’s Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority must resume full service as economies reopen. Otherwise, they risk overcrowded trains and buses that do not allow for minimal social distancing.

Transit agencies have never before faced a situation where they must pay to run full service with a fraction of revenue. This is devastating to budgets. The New York M.T.A. faces a shortfall of $14.3 billion over two years on a $34.5 billion budget. Washington’s and Boston’s transit authorities and San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit face commensurate shortfalls, adjusted for size. In April, Congress provided $25 billion to transit agencies through the CARES Act, including $4 billion for the M.T.A. But this aid was targeted to a monthslong shortfall, not a yearslong recovery. If Congress doesn’t provide more aid, the M.T.A. risks a downward spiral. As transit agencies cut back service or raise fares, white-collar workers and their employers will remain reluctant to come back. Service workers with no choice but to use transit — including lower-wage Black and Hispanic people — will face less reliable service at a higher cost, shouldering delays and overcrowding. Congress should save transit not for transit’s sake, but to save cities. Subways, buses and commuter rail make up the physical infrastructure that enables urban life. Before the coronavirus pandemic, of the 3.8 million commuters and visitors who descended on Manhattan every day, three-quarters took a subway, bus, train or ferry.

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The Hill - July 6, 2020

Phoenix mayor: 'We opened way too early in Arizona'

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego (D) said Sunday that the pace of Arizona's reopening indicated to some residents that the coronavirus crisis was over and, in turn, spurred a record number of new cases. "We opened way too early in Arizona. We were one of the last states to go to stay at home and one of the first to reemerge, and we reemerged at zero to 60," Gallego said on ABC's "This Week."

"We had crowded nightclubs handing out free champagne, no masks. Our 20- to 44-year-olds, which is my own demographic, really led the explosion, and we've seen such growth in that area. We're seeing a lot of people go to large family gatherings and infect their family members." She later added, "I think when nightclubs were open, it sent the signal that we had, again, defeated COVID, and obviously, that is not the case."Gallego also said the city was in a testing crisis, with people waiting up to eight hours to be tested for the coronavirus. She said she asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to conduct community-based testing in Phoenix. "We were told they’re moving away from that, which feels like they’re declaring victory while we’re still in crisis mode," she said.

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Newsclips - July 3, 2020

Lead Stories

Reuters - July 2, 2020

US reports 55,000 COVID-19 cases in single day, hits new global record

The United States reported more than 55,000 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, a new daily global record for the coronavirus pandemic, as infections rose in a majority of states. A surge in coronavirus cases over the past week has put President Donald Trump's handling of the crisis under the microscope and led several governors to halt plans to reopen their states after strict lockdowns. The daily U.S. tally stood at 55,274 late Thursday, topping the previous single-day record of 54,771 set by Brazil on June 19. Coronavirus cases are rising in 37 out of 50 U.S. states including Florida, which confirmed more than 10,000 new cases on Thursday. That marked the state's largest daily spike so far and a level that exceeded single-day tallies from any European country at the height of the outbreak there.

California, another epicenter, saw positive tests climb 37% with hospitalizations up 56% over the past two weeks. Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican who has previously resisted calls to make face masks mandatory, on Thursday ordered them to be worn in all counties with over 20 coronavirus cases. "In the past few weeks, there has been a swift and substantial spike in coronavirus cases," Abbott said in a videotaped message. "We need to refocus on slowing the spread. But this time, we want to do it without closing down Texas again." Texas reported nearly 8,000 new cases on Thursday. New infections were rising in 37 out of 50 U.S. states in the past 14 days compared with the two weeks prior, according to a Reuters analysis. The United States has now recorded nearly 129,000 deaths, nearly a quarter of the known global total. The wave of new cases has several governors halting or back-pedaling on plans to reopen their states after months of strict lockdowns, closing beaches and canceling fireworks displays over the upcoming Independence Day weekend.

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Austin American-Statesman - July 2, 2020

Texas hits record 8,000 new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations near 7,000

For the second day in a row, state health officials Wednesday reported record numbers of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, raising concerns ahead of the Fourth of July holiday weekend. The Texas Department of State Health Services reported 8,076 new COVID-19 cases, marking the first time Texas crossed the 8,000 threshold for new cases in a single day. The new cases jumped by more than 1,000 from Tuesday’s record-setting number.

In addition, the 6,904 lab-confirmed COVID-19 patients in Texas hospitals hit a record high for the third day in a row. The continuing spike in cases and hospitalizations came as Texas has seen a surge in younger people testing positive for the coronavirus and increased outbreaks in child care facilities. It also came a day after Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick criticized one of the nation’s top infectious disease experts as overly partisan and frequently wrong. Gov. Greg Abbott has raced to lower the coronavirus numbers — closing bars, limiting restaurant occupancy and halting elective surgeries in eight counties to free hospital space for COVID-19 patients — while rejecting calls for a statewide mask mandate.

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Washington Post - July 2, 2020

CBO: Coronavirus pandemic will scar US labor market for the next decade

The U.S. unemployment rate is expected to stay above its pre-pandemic levels through the end of 2030, according to a 10-year economic report released Thursday by the Congressional Budget Office. The agency is predicting that the unemployment rate in the fourth quarter of 2030 will be 4.4 percent, down from 7.6 percent at the end of 2021 and 6.9 percent at the end of 2022. The current level, according to data published Thursday by the Labor Department, is 11.1 percent. Before the spread of the coronavirus pandemic shut down vast swaths of the U.S. economy, unemployment had reached 50-year lows, coming in at 3.5 percent in February.

The new projection shows the long-term impact that economists say the pandemic will have on the U.S. economy, the largest in the world. A severe disruption to production and hiring in March and April has had a jarring impact on the United States. But there is plenty that’s still unknown. Thursday’s projections were “subject to an unusually high degree of uncertainty,” the report said, including “incomplete knowledge about how the pandemic will unfold [and] how effective monetary and fiscal policy will be.” The projections are also based on laws already passed by Congress to extend relief to households, businesses and local governments — but do not account for any future stimulus measures. Lawmakers are currently debating how or whether to extend government aid this summer, including to industries hardest-hit by stay-at-home measures.

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Dallas Morning News - July 2, 2020

Gov. Greg Abbott requires masks statewide to fight COVID-19, limits size of gatherings

As cases of the coronavirus surge to record highs, Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday ordered Texans to wear face masks in public in counties with outbreaks of COVID-19. Abbott also gave local officials power to restrict outdoor gatherings with more than 10 people ahead of the holiday weekend. “Wearing a face covering in public is proven to be one of the most effective ways we have to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Abbott said. “We have the ability to keep businesses open and move our economy forward so that Texans can continue to earn a paycheck, but it requires each of us to do our part to protect one another—and that means wearing a face covering in public spaces.”

The move marks a major reversal for Abbott, who in April blocked local officials from penalizing people who don’t wear masks, undermining their efforts to require face coverings in public. Those who don’t follow Abbott’s latest order first face a warning, and then fines of up to $250 for any additional offense. The order, which takes effect Friday at noon, requires people over age 10 to wear face coverings inside businesses and other buildings or spaces open to the public. It also requires masks outside, in public spaces when it’s not feasible to stay six feet apart from others. There are some exceptions, including for people who are eating, drinking, exercising, voting or worshipping. Protests are not considered an exception. The requirements apply only in counties with 20 or more positive COVID-19 cases. The Texas Medical Association praised the move.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - July 3, 2020

If Buc-ee's bathrooms and BBQ aren't enough to beckon Fourth of July visitors, blame COVID-19

Late last month, Jeff Nadalo, general counsel of Buc-ee’s, thought the future for the famed rest stop chain was looking up. The novel coronavirus had caused business to plummet in mid-March, but as things reopened, people hit the road again, making day trips to the beaches and Hill Country and stopping at Buc-ee’s, famous for its clean bathrooms, along their way. Then a surge in COVID-19 cases threw up a roadblock. Gov. Greg Abbott began rolling back his reopening plan, signaling the severity of the pandemic, which threatens to again fill the intensive care units of Houston’s hospitals. People began canceling travel plans, meaning less of the traffic between major cities, which Buc-ee’s depends on.

On Wednesday, Corpus Christi and Galveston announced that they were shutting down their beaches for the Fourth of July, one of the bigger travel weekends of the year. If Houstonians heed Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s call to stay home again and avoid further contagion, that could mean sales at area retailers also take a hit during what is normally a lucrative weekend. Venky Shankar, a professor of marketing and director of research at the Center for Retailing Studies at Texas A&M, said coronavirus precautions will likely deal a blow to retail this weekend, though Buc-ee’s may fare better than the rest. “They’ll still have plenty of motorists,” he said. “Bars are closed, but they still might be hitting the road to see places, maybe do some camping. It will be interesting to see how people approach Houston now that the virus is growing.” As recently as late last month, the Independence Day outlook looked more positive.

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Houston Chronicle - July 2, 2020

In shift, Bolivar Peninsula beaches will now be open to foot traffic over July 4th weekend

Less than a day after Galveston County announced it would close beaches in Bolivar Peninsula for the July 4th weekend, the county modified its plan and said it will keep peninsula beaches open to foot traffic at designated times. Galveston County officials announced Thursday that “due to the last minute nature of the beach closure” prompted by the city of Galveston’s decision to close its beaches for the July 4th weekend, the county would now accommodate those who have booked vacation rentals on Bolivar Peninsula by providing limited beach access.

Peninsula beaches, including Crystal Beach, will be closed from 5 a.m. Friday to just after midnight Monday, except to foot traffic only from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. daily. No vehicular traffic will be allowed on the beaches at any time, and the county is discouraging visitors from traveling to Bolivar Peninsula over the holiday weekend. The city of Galveston on Wednesday announced an executive order that will close all of the island’s beaches for the July 4th weekend. Under the order, which takes effect at 5 a.m. Friday, the city will close all of the island’s beach access points and beach parks and restrict parking on the north and south sides of Seawall Boulevard. Pedestrians will not be allowed on the beach, though Seawall Boulevard will remain open to pedestrians and exercise activity. Tailgating, picnicking and sitting stationery on the seawall will be prohibited. The beach closure will end at 12:01 a.m. Monday.

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Houston Chronicle - July 2, 2020

Joined by Texas lawmakers and lawyers, Houston Rep. Gene Wu calls HPD narcotics audit a 'scam'

Standing outside the site of a fatal drug raid that has mired the Houston Police Department in scandal, state lawmakers on Thursday criticized the internal audit of the narcotics division, calling it a “whitewash” and vowing to propose legislation to prevent government agencies from blocking release of internal audits or similar documents in the future. “This audit is a scam,” said Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, one of the first lawmakers who called on Chief Art Acevedo to release the document. “It doesn’t discuss how higher command at 1200 Travis let these problems get to the point where Harding Street happened. It doesn’t speak to the systemic problems that led to the deaths of Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas.”

Acevedo could not immediately be reached for comment. Wu was joined by half a dozen other state representatives along with Mike Doyle and Boyd Smith, two local attorneys representing the relatives of raid victims Nicholas and Tuttle, the couple who lived at 7815 Harding St. Last year, they were killed when undercover narcotics officers burst into their home, looking for drugs. Gunfire erupted that left the couple dead and four officers shot, including Gerald Goines, the officer who led the operation. Police have not released the ballistics report, so identity of who did the shooting is not known. Goines was later accused of lying about the drug buy that led to the operation and is charged with felony murder and other crimes. His former partner, Steven Bryant, faces charges of tampering with a government record.

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Houston Chronicle - July 3, 2020

Chris Tomlinson: Time will tell if reemployment numbers are a dead-cat bounce

Do not get too excited about the astounding number of people rehired last month; it could be a dead-cat bounce. Employers did a great job rehiring 4.8 million people. Never has a nation’s economy put so many people back to work so quickly. Restaurants led the way, bringing back nearly 1.5 million workers, while non-essential retail stories rehired 740,000. Dentist offices resumed operations, adding 190,000 to the total. But here is an important note: The survey ended June 15, and a lot has happened since then.

The United States has registered 50,000 new COVID-19 cases in a single day, and the national infection rate is climbing. Texas is experiencing exponential growth with more than 8,000 cases recorded Wednesday. The virus is spreading across the country, and it’s not due to protesters. Analysts at investment bank JP Morgan Chase have been tracking customer spending patterns and infection rates, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. They found that when restaurants rang up big tabs, infection rates spiked nearby three weeks later. The correlation between consumers going out and infection rates is why Texas, California and Florida are shutting down bars and restaurants, and New York is delaying indoor dining. Social distancing remains the only tool to slow COVID-19. Consumers have learned that spending significant time in enclosed spaces with strangers is risky. Phone data collected by Safegraph.com, and first reported in the New York Times, shows that retail foot traffic in Houston and San Antonio has dropped as infection rates have climbed since mid-June.

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Houston Chronicle - July 2, 2020

Kathaleen Wall campaign ad blames Troy Nehls for ‘revictimizing’ sex trafficking survivor

The latest attack ad from Houston-area congressional candidate Kathaleen Wall accuses her opponent in the GOP primary, former Fort Bend Sheriff Troy Nehls, of neglecting the issue of human trafficking during his seven-year tenure. In the TV ad, which began running last weekend in the Houston market, sex trafficking survivor Courtney Litvak and her parents, who live in Katy, blast Nehls, saying he downplayed the problem. Without giving specifics, Litvak’s father Alan blames Nehls for “revictimizing” her and his family with the way they handled her case, then addresses Nehls directly: “I’d love to have you look me in the eye and tell me how you could possibly sit there and not do your job and not protect my family because that’s what you’ve done for years.”

Nehls said neither he nor his staff ever spoke with Courtney Litvak and that Harris County law enforcement agencies investigated the case but did not make any arrests. Nehls said a lieutenant on his staff tried to interview her, “but the family was completely uncooperative in allowing him access to the daughter.” The ad was released as early voting started in the GOP runoff race for who will represent 22nd Congressional District, which includes most of Fort Bend County plus parts of Brazoria and Harris counties. The winner will face Democrat Sri Preston Kulkarni, who last year came within 5 percentage points of taking the seat from the incumbent Rep. Pete Olson, who is retiring this year. Flipping the 22nd District to Democratic control in November is a top-priority for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The new ad cites Houston Chronicle articles that note that Nehls has said there was little evidence of human trafficking in Fort Bend County and has in the past shied away from naming it a top issue.

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Houston Chronicle - July 2, 2020

Texas unemployment claims tick up, benefits extended

The rate of new claims for unemployment benefits in Texas ticked up last week, data from the Labor Department shows. About 96,000 people in Texas applied for unemployment benefits last week, a bit higher than the 89,000 reported the week prior. The rate of new claims for unemployment insurance has been little changed over the last four weeks, tracking about six times higher than pre-coronavirus rates. Typically, about 14,000 people apply for unemployment benefits in Texas each week. In late March through early April, initial claims surpassed 300,000 per week.

Nationally, the rate of new jobless benefits claims has slowed, with 1.4 million filing for benefits last week, compared to the highs that pushed toward 7 million per week late March and early April. But the still elevated weekly claims rate — before the coronavirus outbreak, typically around 218,000 Americans filed per week — has yet to fall below 1 million. Unemployment benefits have been extended twice in Texas because the state triggered emergency federal programs after reporting high unemployment rates in April and May. Claimants will be eligible for more than a year of state benefits while unemployment rates remain elevated. However, the additional $600 per week provided by the federal CARES Act is slated to expire at the end of July unless extended by Congress.

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Houston Chronicle - July 3, 2020

Public Utility Commission extends aid for electricity consumers

The Public Utility Commission extended an emergency program for low-income and unemployed Texans that will subsidize a substantial portion of their power bills for another six weeks. The program, which was launched in March and was scheduled to stop taking applications on July 17, will be extended to Aug. 31 as the number of coronavirus cases continues to increase in Texas. “I just feel like the state is a situation right now that would not warrant us taking action to close it in two weeks,” Chairman DeAnn Walker said.

The electricity relief program is designed as short-term assistance, a way for Texans to get back on their feet while much of the Texas economy is closed. It suspends disconnections for financially stressed Texans who buy electricity in the deregulated market, an area that includes Houston and Dallas. It is funded by a special charge of 0.033 cents per kilowatt hour added to electricity bills. That works out to about 40 cents for residential customers who use 1,200 kilowatt hours of electricity per month. Consumer advocates said they’re pleased the commission is extending the program. “This is certainly a difficult time for many Texans and is important for those who’ve lost their jobs to have some certainty that they won’t lose electricity in the middle of the summer,” said R.A. Dyer, policy analyst for the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power, which represents cities in Texas that buy power.

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Dallas Morning News - July 2, 2020

Dallas County will report more than 1,000 new coronavirus cases Friday, public-health director says

Dallas County set a new daily record for coronavirus cases with 708 on Thursday, surpassing the previous single-day high — set Tuesday — by more than 100 cases. On Friday, that number will be more than 1,000, Dr. Philip Huang, the county’s public-health director, said at an afternoon news conference. County officials also announced seven additional deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. Dallas County’s toll from the virus stands at 387.

Five Dallas residents were among the latest victims: two men in their 50s, a woman in her 60s, a woman in her 70s and a man in his 90s. Both of the other victims, a man in his 40s and a woman in her 60s, lived in Irving. The new cases raise the county’s total to 22,590, or about 8.6 for every thousand residents. The county does not report a number of recoveries. Dallas County had previously reported a high of 601 new cases. COVID-19 hospitalizations also are at a record level, with 669 patients in Dallas County hospitals as of Wednesday. And 804 visits to emergency rooms on Wednesday — roughly a third of all ER visits — were for COVID-19 symptoms. Health officials have been monitoring hospitalizations, ER visits and admissions to intensive care units as key indicators of the extent of the virus’s spread, and those numbers all remain high, officials said.

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Dallas Morning News - July 2, 2020

MJ Hegar has $1.6 million in bank for Senate runoff against Royce West

MJ Hegar raised $1.7 million in the second quarter of this year and has $1.6 million for the July runoff contest against state Sen. Royce West of Dallas, a campaign official said Thursday morning. The fundraising haul, the most Hegar has raised in a quarter since her Senate campaign launched, relates to the period from April 1 through June 24, when she raised $1.6 million, as well as money she collected from June 24 to June 30.

Pre-runoff campaign disclosure reports from Hegar and West are required to be submitted to the Federal Elections Commission on Thursday. The former Air Force helicopter pilot has raised about $6.5 million over the course of her campaign, records show. “With over 56,000 donors, donations from over 190 counties in Texas, over $6.5 million dollars raised, and endorsements from Texas labor unions and other key groups across Texas we have built the grassroots operation it is going to take to send John Cornyn packing in November,” Hegar said in a prepared statement. Meanwhile, West raised $429,691 from April 1 to June 24. He has $159,623 in his campaign account, his campaign spokesperson said. West will report his entire fundraising total for the quarter on July 15, a day after the runoff election.

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Dallas Morning News - July 2, 2020

Texas A&M placed on probation for recruiting violations; Jimbo Fisher receives 6-month show-cause penalty

The NCAA announced on Thursday that the Texas A&M football program violated NCAA recruiting and countable athletically related activity rules. The infractions took place during a period between January 2018 and February 2019, according to the NCAA Committee on Infractions. The NCAA determined that A&M coach Jimbo Fisher and an assistant had impermissible recruiting contact with a prospect. It also ruled that activities during spring and summer periods went over the allowed amount of time by seven hours.

“As Texas A&M’s Head Football Coach, I am responsible for promoting and monitoring for NCAA compliance in our program,” Fisher said in a statement. “While I am disappointed in the violations, including an unintended one that resulted from a conversation with a high school athlete, it is still my responsibility to ensure we are adhering to each and every rule. I am pleased to have this matter completely behind our program and look forward to continuing our efforts to make every aspect of our program one all Aggies can continue to be proud of.” The penalties, as approved by the Committee on Infractions, are as follows: One year of probation; A fine of $5,000; A reduction in football official visits by 17 days during the 2019-20 academic year; An off-campus recruiting ban for the entire football coaching staff for November 2019, which reduced the permissible evaluation days for the 2019-20 academic year by 19; A seven-day off-campus recruiting ban for the football coaching staff for the 2020 spring off-campus recruiting period and a 10-day off-campus recruiting ban for the football coaching staff for the 2020 fall off-campus recruiting period; A ban on recruiting any prospects from the prospect's high school for the 2019-20, 2020-21 and 2021-222 academic years.

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Dallas Morning News - July 2, 2020

Retiring Clarendon Rep. Mac Thornberry honored with naming of military spending bill

For 25 years, U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry has been a member of the House Armed Services Committee, rising through its ranks before serving as committee chairman from 2015 to 2019. Now, as he nears his retirement from Congress at the end of this term, the Clarendon Republican’s name is headlining the lower chamber’s National Defense Authorization Act, part of a longstanding tradition to honor current and former chairs of the committee upon their retirement.

“Mac’s commitment to the men and women in uniform and their families remains as fervent as the day he arrived in Washington,” said Chairman Adam Smith, a Washington Democrat who offered the amendment to honor Thornberry, now the ranking member of the committee. “He has advocated for smart reforms that ensure our service members have the resources they need to make our country safer, while backing programs that provide support to the families who serve alongside them. Mac leaves a legacy that will be with us long after he has departed Congress.” The committee’s members gave Thornberry a standing ovation following Smith’s comments. The $740.5 billion bill, named the William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021, was approved unanimously Wednesday night.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 2, 2020

Richard Greene: Arlington’s award-winning information effort can counter attacks on local control

Empowering citizens with abundant information about the operations and support systems of government does more to ensure that political power resides where it belongs — in the hands of we the people. Nowhere in the structure of the world’s most successful society does that outcome have a chance to prevail better than at the local level. Neither the state nor the federal governments have as much impact on what we need to support our daily lives than do the elected and management officials of our hometowns.

So when news came a few days ago that the Arlington had achieved the gold level of the national What Works Cities Certification, it confirmed the city’s resolve to aggressively inform residents and businesses. Launched in 2015 by the Bloomberg Philanthropies, the certification evaluates how effectively cities are managed. It measures the extent to which city leaders incorporate data and evidence in their decision making against a national standard of excellence. Arlington is one of only eight cities to have ever achieved the gold-level certification and the only city in Texas to have been recognized at any level. City Manager Trey Yelverton summed up the city’s continued commitment. “We are thrilled to be leveling up to the gold certification this year, and we remain committed to continue investing in technology, processes and policies that create a stronger, smarter local government,” he said.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 2, 2020

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: Raise a glass: Texas drinks-to-go rules make a bit more sense, thanks to this change

We could all use some good news. Especially if it coincides with common sense. And for it to come from the byzantine world of Texas’ alcohol regulations makes it all the more enjoyable. Soon after Gov. Greg Abbott ordered bars to close again in hopes of stemming the resurgent coronavirus, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission relented on letting restaurants sell mixed drinks to go. Before, the state required a shell game in which the establishment could provide a mixer and a travel-size bottle and let the customer finish the job at home.

The new arrangement is much better. It allows for a wider range of drinks, lets adults make their own choices and will restore a key profit point for many restaurants. And like many other changes undertaken as we adapt to the pandemic, it might point the way to more sensible laws and regulations for the Legislature to consider next year. Under the alcoholic beverage commission’s new rules, restaurants already permitted to sell mixed drinks can package them with any food order, including those delivered by third-party services. They must be sealed and, essentially, carried in the trunk. There’s no limit to how much can be ordered. Beer and wine can be sold to-go, too, as long as they’re sealed in their original packages. (In the service of your pocketbook, we’d like to note how easy margaritas in particular are to make. For the cost of a few $14 margaritas-to-go, you could easily have the ingredients and tools for many more, from a respectable tequila to a functional cocktail shaker. But whatever works for you.)

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 2, 2020

How TMS plans to handle Gov. Abbott’s mask mandate when it welcomes fans back in July

Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage doesn’t believe Gov. Greg Abbott’s mask mandate issued Thursday will impact the July 19 NASCAR race at the track too much. The race is scheduled to become the state’s first sporting event with fans in the stands since the sports world shut down in mid-March amid the coronavirus pandemic. Gossage has strongly encouraged fans to wear masks to the race and said the track will abide by whatever protocols the state suggests now that masks are mandatory.

“We will seek the counsel of Governor Abbott’s office on how that [mask mandate] will be enforced,” Gossage said. “We will, of course, follow their direction. We would have expected most, if not all, in attendance would be wearing masks, regardless of the governor’s order.” The state is allowing outdoor sporting venues such as TMS to hold up to 50% capacity. That would account for approximately 62,500 fans to attend the race, but Gossage said the track “will not be close” to reaching 50% capacity.

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San Antonio Express-News - July 2, 2020

Rep. Joaquin Castro endorses Royce West for U.S. Senate

Congressman Joaquin Castro of San Antonio said Thursday that he is throwing his support behind state Sen. Royce West in the Democratic primary runoff for U.S. Senate. Castro, who joins a growing list of prominent Democrats backing the candidate, said he endorsed West because of the work he’s done in his more than two decades in the Legislature. Castro had endorsed Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez in February before the field in the primary slimmed down to West and former Air Force pilot MJ Hegar in the runoff. Tzintzún Ramirez has also endorsed West.

“Royce West has fought for health care and criminal justice reforms for years — successfully,” said Castro, who worked with West when he was in the Texas House. “He is best suited to provide leadership to more than 25 million Texans as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and work to reform policing in America.” Hegar, meanwhile, has the support of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which made an unusually early endorsement that angered some who saw it as the establishment unfairly tipping the scales as 12 candidates competed in the primary. High-profile Democrats who have endorsed Hegar include former presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg.

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San Antonio Express-News - July 2, 2020

UTSA lays off 312 people, including most of staff at UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures

Most of the staff of the University of Texas at San Antonio Institute of Texan Cultures has been laid off, including the director of the Texas Folklife Festival. Six people remain on staff, and six new positions are being created as part of an ongoing restructuring plan designed to expand the institute’s digital footprint and to get more students involved in its programming. Twenty staffers were notified Wednesday that they were losing their jobs, part of a cost-cutting effort by the university to deal with a $36 million budget shortfall caused by the coronavirus pandemic. A total of 312 UTSA employees were let go.

At the Institute of Texan Cultures, those laid off include Jo Ann Andera, who had been director of the Texas Folklife Festival, the institute’s signature event, for 38 years. This year’s festival, which was slated for June 6-7, was canceled because of the pandemic. It will be rescheduled when it is safe to produce, said Dean Hendrix, UTSA’s dean of libraries, the department that the institute falls under. Andera declined to comment on the end of her career at the institute, which began in 1970 when she was hired as a bilingual tour guide. She wrote a brief post on Facebook in which she described Wednesday as “a very sad day for my colleagues and friends.” It drew more than 300 comments from people praising her leadership of the festival and expressing sorrow over her departure.

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Next City - July 2, 2020

Texas’s high school voter registration law fails to live up to ideals

A1983 Texas law requiring high school principals to register eligible voters is still unequally enforced nearly four decades later. The law by the late State Rep. Paul Ragsdale, a Dallas Democrat who died in 2011, requires high school principals to serve as voter registrars and register eligible students twice a year. According to the law, the Secretary of State, which assists county election officials with elections, is required to provide principals with instructions for requesting voter registration cards. But the office cannot enforce the law and is not even required to track requests for ballots. The level of school engagement is ultimately left to individual secretaries of state. At the beginning of each semester, the office emails high school principals with instructions on requesting ballots, registering students and returning ballots.

That’s not enough for Pearland Independent School District Trustee Mike Floyd. “Their office doesn’t work with us. They send an email at the beginning of the year to principals, but it’s just another email for them to read when they are already overwhelmed. Their job is to enforce the election code,” he says. Floyd was elected to his at-large position in 2017, beating a two-term incumbent who was criticized for inflammatory Facebook posts about Muslims and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Floyd was also 18 years old, then a senior at Dawson High School. His strategy prioritized youth engagement, including aggressively promoting voter registration. “If we got students engaged, then they would tell their parents about me, the parents would usually be surprised their teenager knew about a local election, and I’d get two more votes,” he says. Pearland’s election that year saw increased turnout from an average of 2,000 to 10,000 voters. “By Texas’s municipal election standards, that’s an impressive amount,” he says. Studies show multiple benefits to engaging young voters. According to Penn State research, voting is a habit, so young people who get into the habit early are more likely to become lifelong voters. And, as Floyd discovered, when young people living with their parents talk about voting, it may influence their parents to become voters too.

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NBC News - July 2, 2020

Kyleen Wright: The Supreme Court struck down an abortion law that would have protected women's health

In 2012, Texans for Life was contacted by a young woman who had recently had an abortion in Dallas. Despite being an ardent supporter of legal abortion, she was unhappy with her experience with the doctor she went to and was demanding change so higher medical standards would be in place at abortion clinics. That even women who support abortion access and had gone through the procedure themselves want better accountability for the doctors who perform abortions makes it clear that standards of care must be raised. Which is why it is particularly disappointing that the Supreme Court on Monday struck down a law, by a vote of 5-4, that would have done so.

The legislation, passed in Louisiana, required those performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. It was similar to a law in Texas that my organization supported but that the Supreme Court struck down in 2016, in the case Whole Woman's v. Hellerstedt. Abortion supporters claim that those of us advocating for admitting requirements are only trying to limit abortion access, since they do have the effect of lowering the number of doctors who can perform the procedure and my group does want to see abortion outlawed. But they conveniently are ignoring that real women are also suffering in cases of inadequate care. We support life — and good health care is a part of that. It is also particularly important given how many of the women seeking abortions are young, scared and often alone. Indeed, what struck me most about the young woman who turned to Texans for Life for help in 2012 was that she, unlike many other young women, knew from experience what a surgical consultation before a medical procedure is supposed to look like — and whether it was not adequate — because she was the daughter of a nurse. After her prolonged insistence, I agreed to look into the doctor, Jasbir Ahluwalia. A 2002 article in The Dallas Morning News reported numerous malpractice cases, including a couple who accused him of causing permanent brain damage to their child during delivery, which was eventually settled for more than $1.3 million. The story noted that Ahluwalia had also settled cases for perforating uteruses during two other abortions.

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FOX 4 - July 2, 2020

Dallas to distribute $500,000 for immigrant families impacted by COVID-19

The city of Dallas has received $500,000 to distribute to families who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, prioritizing those who aren’t eligible for federal relief programs, including immigrant workers.

The city’s Office of Welcoming Communities and Immigrant Affairs partnered with the Open Society Foundation to establish the Emma Lazarus Resilience Fund. The $500,000 will be given to nonprofit organizations that have “demonstrated track records serving immigrant families in Dallas,” and they will then collect non-personal identifying information from those given financial assistance. The data will be collected and analyzed to “inform future emergency response for Dallas’ immigrant residents.” The hope is to attract more funding through donations and foundations in Dallas.

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Austin American-Statesman - July 2, 2020

Live PD captures second violent arrest, drawing scrutiny of deputies in Javier Ambler case

J.J. Johnson and Zach Camden were among five Williamson County deputies who unleashed a barrage of punches, knee jabs and Taser shocks as Ramsey Mitchell writhed on the ground last June screaming, “I can’t breathe!” at least four times. Johnson and Camden pulled over Mitchell, a 37-year-old white man, because there was no license plate on the front of his car. Mitchell attempted to flee and arrived a couple hours later at the Williamson County Jail, where a mugshot captured images of his blackened eye and contusions covering the right side of his head.

Just three months earlier, the same officers had pulled over Javier Ambler for failing to dim his headlights. After chasing Ambler for 22 minutes, the deputies repeatedly tased the 40-year-old black father with a heart condition. He died while screaming those same words: “I can’t breathe!” The clashes with Mitchell and Ambler are among at least five use-of-force incidents in the past 18 months involving Williamson County deputies that are currently under investigation by prosecutors and outside law enforcement agencies, Williamson County District Attorney Shawn Dick told the American-Statesman. He declined to provide details of the other incidents being investigated, but video footage and public documents recently obtained by the Statesman shed new light on the Mitchell incident.

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Texas Lawbook - July 2, 2020

Dallas and Harris County juries projected to be whiter, more conservative as pandemic persists

Juries in Houston are likely to become whiter and more conservative as fear of the coronavirus exists, according to a new study. A survey by the Tillotson Law Firm of 650 potential jurors in Houston and Dallas found that more than two-thirds said they either would refuse to show up for jury duty if called or would want a significant amount of assurance that their personal health would not be at risk before they would agree to attend.

Harris and Dallas county juries during the COVID-19 pandemic would be significantly less diverse, the survey shows. The Tillotson data found that jury pools today would be comprised of more white people, more men, people with more wealth, an increased number of Republicans and individuals who are considerably less friendly toward plaintiffs than juries before the crisis. And there’s one additional warning: A significant percentage of the prospective jurors said they would be “very angry” if they were summonsed to jury duty at this time. “We did the survey to find out who would show up for jury service - or even if people would show up - if the courts started conducting trials now,” said Dallas trial lawyer Jeff Tillotson, who represents businesses that are plaintiffs and defendants in litigation.

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Waco Tribune-Herald - July 2, 2020

Congressional candidate Renee Swann, husband test positive for COVID-19 with early voting underway

District 17 congressional candidate Renee Swann announced Wednesday she and her husband have tested positive for COVID-19. Swann could not be reached on her cellphone Wednesday evening but reported on her campaign Facebook page that she and her husband both are asymptomatic and are going to be in quarantine for the next 10 days. Her campaign manager did not immediately return a phone message Wednesday.

“This campaign continues to get more interesting,” Swann wrote on her campaign Facebook page. Swann campaigned outside Waco High School without a mask Monday on the first day of early voting in her runoff race against former Dallas Congressman Pete Sessions. Swann and Sessions are seeking the Republican nomination to succeed retiring Congressman Bill Flores. The winner in the July 14 runoff will face David Jaramillo or Rick Kennedy, who are in a Democratic primary runoff. Sessions said he is sorry to hear the Swanns have tested positive for the coronavirus. “We want to send our prayers and best wishes to Russell and Renee Swann for their full recovery from COVID-19,” Sessions said in a statement. “This virus is serious, and everyone must take precautions. We hope to see them on the campaign trail soon.”

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The Guardian - July 2, 2020

'We don't live in a communist country!': battle over masks rages in Texas

(Note: This story published before Gov. Abbott mandated maskls be worn in public.) The driver license mega center in Fort Worth closed abruptly, just minutes before 1pm on Tuesday. Staff removed the two tables outside the entrance that recorded all visitors’ contact information, health histories and performed temperature checks. Since reopening on 3 June, the facility had spaced seats inside to meet social distancing guidelines, cleaned surfaces regularly and only served those who booked appointments online. All workers wore masks, and anybody allowed in was required to wear a face covering. But despite the precautions, a Covid-19 case had been reported there. One of the people turned away was Laurie Smith, 50. She is an administrative employee at a local church, where she is also a member, and calls mandatory mask requirements a sign of “sad” government manipulation. “My college-age kids are able to follow the recommendations without questioning it, but my husband and I are of a different generation, and we value our liberty to be able to make our own choices. So we question it more than they do,” she said. Her daughter shook her head silently in the passenger seat but did not say anything. Neither of them wore a mask.

The science of wearing masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus seems to be largely settled, but the politics around it is still raging, especially in conservative strongholds like Texas. Stores, churches, small businesses, government offices and other institutions across the state are grappling with how to enforce public health rules without alienating those who disagree. Mask-wearing soon turned into a partisan squabble between lovers of liberty who hate government mandates and supporters worried about getting sick or infecting others. The consequences of the deep divisions are starting to appear as coronavirus cases surge in Texas, but a mask remains a public health, political and religious statement. Covid-19 hospitalizations across the state have more than tripled since the beginning of the month, and hit an all-time daily record of 8,076 cases on Wednesday, according to the state health department.. Greg Abbott has refused to order a statewide requirement to wear masks to protect individuals’ liberty and avoid alienating his core base, but has pleaded with citizens to do so anyway.

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WFAA - July 2, 2020

'The disease is a human issue': LULAC demands action from Gov. Abbott regarding COVID-19 among Latinos

The League of United Latin American Citizens sent a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott Thursday demanding action to counter a spike in COVID-19 cases in the Latino community. In the letter, LULAC National President Domingo Garcia urged Abbott to "take action now" as the disease continues to surge across Texas.

"When you ran for governor, you said all Texans mattered. Now is the time to prove it to the Hispanic Community, as we are the most at risk in this pandemic," Garcia said. Within the letter, LULAC declared announced a Statewide Public Safety Alert for Hispanics in Texas and also a Statewide Public Health Emergency. Texas Health officials say Hispanics are disproportionately getting sick and dying from the disease. According to Garcia, in some cases, families have had multiple loved ones get sick or die. A large percentage of Latino victims are in the state's latest hotspots, according to the letter.

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County Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 2, 2020

As demand for COVID tests spikes, Tarrant County’s test sites ‘completely booked out’

Over the weekend, Jeff’s elderly father developed a fever, chills and broke out into sweat. Among other tests, his doctor recommended he get tested for the novel coronavirus. At 81 years old, Jeff’s father is at higher risk of developing complications if he contracts the virus. And while his dad lives alone in Arlington, Jeff, who asked his last name not be used to protect his father’s privacy, wanted to be cautious and help reduce the spread if his dad did have it — especially for the handful of caregivers that assist his dad. So on Sunday, Jeff, who lives over 1,500 miles away in California, started to look for an appointment in Tarrant County for his dad to get tested.

Jeff filled out the screening questions through Tarrant County Public Health’s portal and was told his dad qualified for a drive-through COVID-19 test. “These are the earliest available appointments based on the zip code you provided,” the webpage read. There were none. Jeff called the county’s COVID hotline to try and find out exactly when more would be available. They didn’t have a concrete answer, and recommended to just keep checking back. “That’s the part where the system seems to be broken. It’s very disappointing. It’s discouraging, disheartening. It creates a little bit of anxiety,” Jeff said, noting that cases are only increasing. “Are we gonna be able to make things better if we can’t get enough testing to find out who’s got it?” Jeff isn’t the only one who’s been unable to schedule a test. Demand for testing has skyrocketed, in both Tarrant County and across Texas as the state sees all-time highs in new cases. Tarrant County Public Health Director Vinny Taneja said that recently the county’s screening portal has seen as many as 1,500 people try to schedule an appointment per day. Meanwhile, available appointments through the county’s portal are between 150 to 550 depending on the number of sites operating, Taneja said.

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City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 2, 2020

Notorious criminal group hacks Fort Worth agency, holding data for ransom, experts say

A ransomware gang is holding Fort Worth’s regional transportation agency’s private data hostage, according to two cybersecurity companies that monitor the criminal group. The group NetWalker hacked Trinity Metro’s private files and is threatening to release all their data unless Trinity Metro gives them money, threat analysts from Emsisoft and Binary Defense told the Star-Telegram.

A Trinity Metro spokeswoman said they cannot comment on cybersecurity issues. As of Thursday, the agency had not sent any information on the hack. On their website, Trinity Metro posted a notice that their phone lines and ACCESS booking system were down due to a “technical issue.” NetWalker is a notorious ransomware group that has attacked agencies, universities and groups across the world. On Thursday, the criminal group posted screenshots of Trinity Metro’s encrypted data files on their online blog on the dark-web, said Randy Pargman, senior director of threat hunting and counterintelligence at the cybersecurity company Binary Defense. Emsisoft Malware Lab also sent the Star-Telegram the screenshots from NetWalker’s blog. RansomLeaks, a Twitter account that describes itself as “Scouring the dank web for fresh ransomware leaks” also identified Trinity Metro as NetWalker’s latest victim. The screenshots on the blog show a list of hundreds of files with labels such as “Vendor W9s,” “Passenger information system,” and “ACCESS stuff.”

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Dallas Morning News - July 2, 2020

Trying to cut months-long wait times, Dallas schools put millions for staffing to address student mental health

Dallas ISD will nearly double its number of mental health professionals for the upcoming school year. Tucked into the district’s $1.646 billion general operating budget approved by trustees on Thursday is $5.8 million for 57 new “mental health clinicians” -- licensed social workers, licensed counselors and licensed specialists in school psychology dedicated to helping students with behavioral, emotional and social issues. “Collectively, we have all heard the need for more services to students for mental health,” said Dallas ISD’s Assistant Superintendent for School Leadership Leslie Stephens.

When Stephens assumed oversight of the district’s mental health efforts in November, she was stunned to discover that in some instances, students and families were on a three-month wait list to receive counseling or therapy. “I was appalled,” Stephens said. “I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, if that was my own child, and they were going through something or I felt like that they needed long-term counseling, my anxiety level probably would have risen.’” Last year, for care beyond what a school counselor would normally offer, the district had two separate departments providing services: 23 mental health clinicians were based out of the district’s 11 youth and family centers, while another 38 clinicians roamed the district’s campuses. Long wait lists were common at the family centers, Stephens said, and the campus-based providers served up to eight different schools -- and were pulled into crisis counseling situations as those popped up throughout the school year.

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National Stories

Gallup - July 2, 2020

Assessment of US COVID-19 situation increasingly bleak

As coronavirus infections are spiking in U.S. states that previously had not been hard-hit, a new high of 65% of U.S. adults say the coronavirus situation is getting worse. The percentage of Americans who believe the situation is getting worse has increased from 48% the preceding week, and from 37% two weeks prior. The latest results, from June 22-28, are based on Gallup's online COVID-19 tracking survey, which interviews weekly random samples from Gallup's probability-based panel.

Last week, governors in many states paused or rolled back plans to ease restrictions on economic activity as states in the South and West dealt with a surge in coronavirus infections and hospitalizations. Gallup first asked Americans in early April to say whether they thought the coronavirus situation was getting better or worse. At that time, 56% said it was getting worse and 28% better, the most negative assessment prior to the latest reading. From late April through early June, there were several weeks in which more Americans said the situation was getting better than getting worse. Today, there is widespread agreement among Americans in all parts of the country that the situation is getting worse. Between 62% and 68% of those living in the four major regions of the U.S. say it is worsening.

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Wall Street Journal - July 3, 2020

Hong Kong security law stuns international business: ‘It turns out it is really bad’

As China drew up a new security law for Hong Kong last month, its top Foreign Ministry official in the city gathered international business groups and diplomats to deliver a message from Beijing: Don’t panic. The law would target only a small group of radicals and wouldn’t impede the free market ethos behind Hong Kong’s rise as a global business hub, the official said. But now that businesspeople are finally seeing the law, there is much to cause concern.

While no one expects the giant money flows coursing through Hong Kong to cease anytime soon, the law sets in motion fundamental changes that threaten to erode the city’s special role as a gateway connecting Western finance and know-how with China Inc. “Businesses were kind of waiting and laying their bets to see how bad it would be, and then it turns out it is really bad,” said Christopher Hughes, a London School of Economics professor of international relations who focuses on Chinese foreign policy. “I wouldn’t be surprised if changes happen faster than you think.” The law targets four political crimes: secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference. But lawyers said its wording is so broad that it is easy to imagine how a business dispute with a Chinese company could end up construed as a breach of the law, putting executives at risk of prosecution.

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The Verge - July 3, 2020

Tech billionaire Peter Thiel may ditch Trump because he thinks Trump will lose

Billionaire Peter Thiel, the most famous Trump supporter in tech, is distancing himself from the president’s reelection campaign. Thiel fears President Donald Trump will lose the race, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal. Thiel soured on Trump after COVID-19 left tens of millions of Americans unemployed; the billionaire believes that there will be a profound recession when November rolls around, making Trump vulnerable to challenge.

Thiel was a vocal supporter of the president in 2016, speaking at the Republican National Convention in 2016 and donating $1.25 million that year to his campaign and other adjacent political groups and causes. Thiel, who earned his fortune co-founding PayPal before becoming one of the earliest Facebook investors, has no plans on donating any money to Trump’s campaign this year, the report says. Thiel’s libertarian views made him somewhat of an outlier in the liberal Bay Area — so much so that it was Thiel’s excuse for decamping to Los Angeles in 2018, where he now lives. (Thiel’s positions on government spending, immigration, and other issues have been well-known since his days at Stanford University.)

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Associated Press - July 2, 2020

US unemployment falls to 11%, but new shutdowns are underway

U.S. unemployment fell to 11.1% in June as the economy added a solid 4.8 million jobs, the government reported Thursday. But the job-market recovery may already be faltering because of a new round of closings and layoffs triggered by a resurgence of the coronavirus. While the jobless rate was down from 13.3% in May, it is still at a Depression-era level. And the data was gathered during the second week of June, before a number of states began to reverse or suspend the reopenings of their economies to try to beat back the virus.

“This is a bit of a dated snapshot at this point,” said Jesse Edgerton, an economist at J.P. Morgan Chase. The news came as the number of confirmed infections per day in the U.S. soared to an all-time high of 50,700, more than doubling over the past month, according to the count kept by Johns Hopkins University. The spike, centered primarily in the South and West, has led states such as California, Texas, Arizona and Florida to re-close or otherwise clamp down again on bars, restaurants, movie theaters, beaches and swimming pools, throwing some workers out of a job for a second time. President Donald Trump said the jobs report shows the economy is “roaring back,” though he acknowledged there are still areas where “we’re putting out the flames” of the virus. The job losses over the past two weeks will be reflected in the July unemployment report, to be released in early August.

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CNBC - July 2, 2020

Trump ambassadors sold stocks as president downplayed pandemic and virus was spreading

Several U.S. ambassadors actively shed their stock holdings as President Donald Trump tried to downplay the coronavirus outbreak in its early stages. Ambassadors to Uruguay, France, Morocco and Italy sold shares in transactions that could have made them millions of dollars, according to financial disclosure filings reviewed by CNBC. Much of their sales were in January and continued throughout February, the records show. Their transactions line up with a timeline of federal and congressional announcements as the virus started sweeping across the globe earlier this year.

Some of the ambassadors’ stock transactions were for companies involved with research or developing products that are linked to treating patients that have contracted the coronavirus, such as biopharmaceutical firms. Trump started publicly downplaying the severity of the pandemic earlier this year, including in late January during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. At that event, he told CNBC that the administration had it “under control. It’s going to be just fine.” Italy and France have coronavirus death tolls that are close to or above 30,000. Morocco and Uruguay have combined for over 200 deaths. More than 10.7 million people have been infected worldwide, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally. As the White House scrambled to respond to the spread of the virus, Ambassadors Lewis Eisenberg, Jamie McCourt, David Fischer and Kenneth George were seeing large gains from stock transactions, their filings show.

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Los Angeles Times - July 2, 2020

Biden surpasses Trump in June fundraising

Joe Biden reported raising $10 million more than President Trump last month amid new polls showing the former vice president holding a solid lead in the race for the White House. The increasingly strong footing of Trump's presumed Democratic challenger comes at a time when most Americans disapprove of the president's handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the nationwide protests over racial injustice and police brutality, polls show.

Biden and the Democratic National Committee reported raising $141 million in June, surpassing the $131 million in donations to Trump's reelection campaign and the Republican National Committee. For April, May and June combined, Biden also eclipsed Trump, collecting $282 million with the DNC as the president and the RNC took in $266 million. "It's clear that voters are looking for steady leadership, experience, empathy, compassion, and character — and they'll find all of these qualities in Vice President Joe Biden," Biden campaign manager Jen O'Malley Dillon told supporters in an email. Biden's campaign did not disclose how much cash it had on hand, so it's unclear whether it has overcome its previously strong disadvantage on that score. Trump and the RNC reported $295 million in the bank at the end of June.

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Newsclips - July 2, 2020

Lead Stories

NBC News and ProPublica - July 2, 2020

Internal messages reveal crisis at Houston hospitals as coronavirus cases surge

At Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital on Sunday, the medical staff ran out of both space for new coronavirus patients and a key drug needed to treat them. With no open beds at the public hospital, a dozen COVID-19 patients who were in need of intensive care were stuck in the emergency room, awaiting transfers to other Houston area hospitals, according to a note sent to the staff and shared with reporters. A day later, the top physician executive at the Houston Methodist hospital system wrote to staff members warning that its coronavirus caseload was surging: “It has become necessary to consider delaying more surgical services to create further capacity for COVID-19 patients,” Dr. Robert Phillips said in the note, an abrupt turn from three days earlier, when the hospital system sent a note to thousands of patients, inviting them to keep their surgical appointments.

And at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, staff members were alerted recently that the hospital would soon begin taking in cancer patients with COVID-19 from the city’s overburdened public hospital system, a highly unusual move for the specialty hospital. These internal messages highlight the growing strain that the coronavirus crisis is putting on hospital systems in the Houston region, where the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 has nearly quadrupled since Memorial Day. As of Tuesday, more than 3,000 people were hospitalized for the coronavirus in the region, including nearly 800 in intensive care. “To tell you the truth, what worries me is not this week, where we’re still kind of handling it,” said Roberta Schwartz, Houston Methodist’s chief innovation officer, who’s been helping lead the system’s efforts to expand beds for COVID-19 patents. “I’m really worried about next week.” What’s happening in Houston draws eerie parallels to New York City in late March, when every day brought steep increases in the number of patients seeking care at overburdened hospitals — though, so far, with far fewer deaths. But as coronavirus cases surge in Texas, state officials here have not reimplemented the same lockdown measures that experts say helped bring New York’s outbreak under control, raising concern among public health officials that Houston won’t be able to flatten the curve. “The time to act and time to be alarmed is not when you’ve hit capacity, but it’s much earlier when you start to see hospitalizations increase at a very fast rate,” said Lauren Ancel Meyers, a professor of integrative biology who leads the University of Texas at Austin COVID-19 Modeling Consortium. “It is definitely time to take some kind of action. It is time to be alarmed.”

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Houston Chronicle - July 1, 2020

TMC hospitals go into Phase 2 surge plans as ICU capacity exceeds 100 percent

Texas Medical Center hospitals Wednesday began converting some regular floor beds into intensive care units in response to a spike in COVID-19 patients that brought volumes above base capacity. The hospitals invoked their surge plans’ “Phase 2” after their ICU capacity exceeded 100 percent for the first time during the pandemic, according to a medical center dashboard slide. The phase involves reallocating staff and equipment to create more ICU space.

The dashboard slides last week showed medical center hospital ICU capacity was 100 percent last week, but the number represented a rounding up — there were still five beds open. On Wednesday, the ICUs reached 102 percent of capacity. The medical center, which boasts 1,330 ICU beds under Phase 1 operations, had 1,350 such patients in house Wednesday. Full invocation of Phase 2 would provide 373 additional ICU beds. Phase 3, if necessary, would provide another 504. COVID-19 patients comprise 480 of the 1,350 ICU patients. The overcapacity comes as the Harris Healthy System, the county’s safety-net health care network, has made numerous transfers. Lyndon B. Johnson and Ben Taub hospitals have sent 33 patients to other hospitals in the last 24 hours and were working on 15 more Wednesday morning. The 48 patients represent 10 percent of the two hospitals’ combined regular adult acute care beds (ICU and medical/surgical beds).

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Washington Post - July 2, 2020

Trump supporters hope to use conservative anger at Roberts as energizing moment for troubled campaign

The White House is trying to capitalize on conservative anger at Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. over his latest decisions by telling evangelical leaders and other activists that they need to turn out voters for President Donald Trump so he can use a second term to continue nominating conservative judges to the nation's highest court. Some recent polls have shown a weakening in support for Trump among evangelicals, who have long been among the president's strongest supporters. But Roberts's role in cases advancing both gay and abortion rights is now seen in the White House as an opening to shore up that part of Trump's political base.

Ralph Reed, the founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, said there is frustration and disappointment in evangelical ranks about Roberts's rulings, but he said he and others are not going to walk away from Trump. "Voters of faith know that that project to shift the court in a more conservative direction is on the 5-yard line and it's a strategic imperative to get President Trump reelected," Reed said. "The Louisiana decision has brought the life issue into fuller relief and reminded us why we have to give the president the chance to nominate more justices." In a remarkable stretch of decisions over the past two weeks, Roberts has infuriated conservatives and the Trump administration by finding that federal anti-discrimination law protects gay, bisexual and transgender workers and stopping the president from ending the federal program that protects undocumented immigrants brought into the country as children. In Monday's decision striking down a restrictive Louisiana abortion law, Roberts said the court's allegiance to honoring its past decisions meant striking down a law almost identical to one in Texas that the court said in 2016 was unconstitutional. Still, even as the White House works to reassure conservatives, it faces challenges in containing the rage over the George W. Bush appointee's alignment with liberal colleagues and ensuring that his rulings do not depress the president's core voters. "John G. Roberts Jr. has stabbed the American people in the back more than Norman Bates and 'swings' more than Hugh Hefner in his heyday," former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, an evangelical leader, tweeted on Tuesday, adding that Roberts should "Resign Now."

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Dallas Morning News - July 1, 2020

‘I don’t need his advice anymore’, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick says of top COVID-19 expert Dr. Fauci

As cases of the coronavirus surge in Texas, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick says he is done listening to the country’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci. On Fox News Tuesday, Patrick accused Fauci of being wrong “every time, on every issue,” but Patrick did not offer any evidence. “I don’t need his advice anymore,” Patrick told host Laura Ingraham. “We will listen to a lot of science. We will listen to a lot of doctors. And Gov. Abbott, myself and other state leaders will make the decision. No thank you, Dr. Fauci.”

His statement comes as new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in Texas have soared to record levels. In a Tuesday hearing, Fauci made a grim projection that the country’s daily case count could more than double if “this does not turn around.” Fauci raised specific concerns with four states -- Florida, Texas, California and Arizona -- that he said account for more than half of the country’s new infections. States that start to open again need to follow safety guidelines that have been “very carefully laid out,” Fauci told senators. “What we’ve seen in several states are different iterations of that, perhaps maybe in some, going too quickly and skipping over some of the checkpoints,” he said during a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee. Fauci did not specifically name Texas, which was in the first wave of states to begin lifting coronavirus restrictions on businesses. The reopening began before Texas had fully driven the virus into decline or met its own goals for testing. New cases began to rise in June.

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State Stories

CNN - July 1, 2020

Fact-checking Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's attacks on Dr. Fauci

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Tuesday evening took some direct shots at Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the President's coronavirus task force. Specifically, Patrick took issue with comments that Fauci had made earlier in the day during a Senate hearing, when he suggested that some states had reopened too fast and skipped some guidelines in the process. Texas was among the first states to begin reopening in early May but Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has recently reversed course after a spike in coronavirus cases. In defending Texas's reopening strategy, Patrick claimed that "Fauci said today that he's concerned about states like Texas that skipped over certain things."

Facts First: Based on available data, Patrick is wrong to suggest that Texas didn't skip over anything when it decided to reopen. When Texas reopened on May 1, the state was not in accordance with the criteria outlined by the White House coronavirus task force. It's also absurd to suggest that Fauci has been wrong about every issue. During the Senate hearing, Fauci called out Texas along with three other states that are now hotspots for outbreaks. "As you know, in four of the states -- in Florida, Texas, California and Arizona -- more than 50% of the new infections are in those areas where we are seeing surges," Fauci testified. Fauci then said that "perhaps" some states were "going too quickly and skipping over some of the checkpoints" laid out by the White House guidelines for reopening. "When states start to try and open again they need to follow the guidelines that have been very carefully laid out with regard to check points," Fauci said in the hearing. "What we've seen in several states are different iterations of that. Perhaps maybe in some, going too quickly and skipping over some of the checkpoints."

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Houston Chronicle - July 2, 2020

Fort Hood soldier took own life after being linked to Vanessa Guillen disappearance, Army says

In the wake of Fort Hood soldier Vanessa Guillén’s disappearance, her family looked to her Army superiors for answers. During one of the family’s trips to the Killeen base to find the Houston native, Mayra Guillén said she spoke with her 20-year-old sister’s supervisor, who was identified Wednesday as having a role in the disappearance. He laughed at her and gave her a bad feeling, she recalled. “I met him — not knowing that he had something to do with it,” she said Wednesday. “I felt something was telling me that he did something and I wasn't wrong apparently.”

Military officials said he shot and killed himself along a Killeen road as law enforcement confronted him, hours after the discovery Tuesday of human remains believed to be those of the missing 3rd Cavalry Regiment soldier. Texas authorities had issued a be-on-the-lookout notice for him and Army officials said he fled his base post as investigators eyed him as a suspect in Guillén’s disappearance. “He still had the nerve — that same day — to laugh to my face and apparently now he kills himself,” the sister said of her encounter. “Why? I don’t know. Whoever is responsible has to pay.” The man’s death raises more questions for the family whose grief and rage over Fort Hood’s handling of Guillén’s April 22 disappearance has only intensified. The base has not been transparent in the investigation, the family contends. They also believe that her commanding officer sexually harassed Guillén, whose case sparked nationwide urgency from celebrities to find her and and outcry from other soldiers who say they, too, have been harassed and ignored.

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Houston Chronicle - July 1, 2020

Kate Murphy: Zero deaths in foster care is possible

In 2017, Gov. Greg Abbott said Texas should eliminate child deaths in the state’s foster care system. A heartbreaking new report by court-appointed monitors is a stark reminder that Texas is falling far short of that goal. When the state removes children from their families and places them in foster care, their lives are supposed to get better. After the state chooses a foster home for the child, he should be safe from abuse or neglect. He should have the support and stability to heal from trauma, succeed in school and thrive. And he should be able to count on state regulators keeping a close eye on the foster home. That’s not what happened to 3-year-old Amari. According to media coverage, after his family experienced homelessness, the state removed him from his mother and placed him in another home to keep him safe.

In March, the state received text messages with photographs from his child care provider and mother warning that Amari might not be safe in this home. But, according to the new court monitors’ report, the state regulators tasked with overseeing safety in foster homes bungled their response. On Easter, Amari died after he was found unconscious, bleeding from his ear. “He was the brightest spirit you ever met,” said his mother, Ariana. Amari isn’t the only bright spirit Texas has failed. The court monitors’ report told of two other recent child deaths in foster care that may have been preventable and noted other fatalities about which less information is available. And before this report, the evidence provided during the foster care lawsuit, the state’s ombudsman report and other reports showed the state was placing children in foster homes where they were often abused, sexually assaulted, subjected to physical restraints, missed by the state’s oversight efforts and even killed. The worst abuses often took place at residential treatment centers or group homes.

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Houston Chronicle - July 1, 2020

HISD under state investigation again — this time for special education

Texas Education Agency officials are deep into a wide-ranging investigation of Houston ISD’s special education department, examining whether district staff violated numerous federal laws and state rules that help ensure students with disabilities get vital support while in school, the Houston Chronicle has learned. Records reviewed by the Chronicle show state investigators have spent the past 8 1/2 months reviewing whether the state’s largest school district failed to follow about 20 special education regulations, such as properly identifying students with disabilities, delivering legally entitled services, re-evaluating students’ needs and involving parents in key decisions.

The inquiry, known as a special accreditation investigation, is the same type of review launched by the TEA in early 2019 following allegations that some trustees had violated the Texas Open Meetings Act, interfered with district contracts and failed to follow their governance role. TEA officials substantiated those allegations and Education Commissioner Mike Morath moved in late 2019 to replace HISD’s governing board. However, the district’s elected trustees remain in power pending the outcome of a lawsuit they filed to stop their ouster. While state officials typically handle several individual special education complaints brought by HISD families each year, the current investigation dives into HISD’s district-wide performance and could produce far more serious consequences. If state investigators find evidence of systemic special education issues in HISD, Morath could appoint an official to oversee changes in the district or try again to replace the school board. TEA officials declined to comment on the ongoing investigation.

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Houston Chronicle - July 1, 2020

Odus Evbagharu: elease the tapes and the narcotics division audit, now. Houstonians deserve transparency from police

In the wake of the horrific death of former Third Ward resident George Floyd, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo shared some blunt and bold words with Houston. “So I’m going to tell you, we will march as a department with everybody in this community, I will march until I can’t stand no more but I will not allow anyone to tear down this city because this is our city.” It’s great to see the police chief angered, passionate and on fire when it comes to his opinions about what happened to Floyd in another city, but where are the same emotions and convictions when it comes to his very own department?

Acevedo for some time now has clamored for police to be more transparent and for “meaningful reform” to policing across the country. But Houstonians are demanding the same things from his department. In response we’ve received from him only words. Why can’t the people of Houston, whom Acevedo and his officers are to protect and serve, get transparency from his office? Houstonians have asked for him to publicly release the audit done on his narcotics division; he has yet to do so. Houstonians have asked the chief to release body camera footage from the recent killings of individuals at the hands of officers in his department; he has yet to do so. Some of the victim’s families have asked Acevedo not to release the body camera footage of their loved ones being killed. This is understandable. It’s hard to imagine the pain caused by visualizing over and over again how your loved one was killed. These families deserve to have their wishes granted. While in the same breath, Acevedo must release the other videos, show full transparency and give answers to these grieving families as to how and why it ended like this, and to the community as whole.

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Houston Chronicle - July 1, 2020

Chris Tomlinson: Texas and its leaders failed the COVID-19 test

Thousands of Texans are falling ill, hundreds will suffer disabilities, and dozens will die because of a small group of people who were too selfish, vain or greedy to slow the COVID-19 pandemic. The irony, of course, is these super-spreaders of disease and disinformation also set back the economic recovery they promised to kickstart. Anti-government libertarians and anti-science conservatives made the most political noise in April and late May. They convinced our cowardly leaders in Austin to ignore the experts, overrule local authorities and reopen Texas businesses before the public health system was ready.

Sure, Gov. Greg Abbott initially promised to follow White House guidelines but threw them out. He didn’t wait until we had enough contract tracers or testing. When the infection rate doubled, he broke his promise and kept reopening more and more businesses. On May 29, I warned that June could be the most consequential month in our lifetimes, and sadly, I was right. The answer to whether Americans can be trusted to act responsibly in the face of a debilitating disease is, unfortunately, a bold case no. Remember when Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called on senior Texans to risk their lives for the good of the economy? He wasn’t asking; apparently, he was telling. His push to reopen has put us all at higher risk after the state ordered hospitals to stop elective surgeries. The percentage of positive cases compared to the total number tested, known as the positivity rate, is skyrocketing, proving undoubtedly that the pandemic is worsening. Abbott said he would have to roll back the reopening of businesses if the rate exceeded 10 percent. He did not act until it was nearly 14 percent.

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Houston Chronicle - July 1, 2020

Coronavirus concerns prompt city of Galveston to close beaches for July 4th weekend

The city of Galveston will close its beaches to the public for the July 4th holiday weekend amid a spike in new coronavirus cases — and will consider closing certain access points for the rest of the summer, city officials said. Galveston Mayor Jim Yarbrough said the order restricting beach access would be effective at 5 a.m. Friday. The order, which has not yet been signed, will close off all access points and beach parks, as well as restrict parking along Seawall Boulevard, which will be open only to pedestrians and exercise activity. The beach closure will end at midnight Monday.

Yarbrough said the decision to close beaches was influenced in part by a similar order issued by Nueces County on Tuesday to prohibit vehicular access to beaches over the holiday weekend. Yarbrough received permission from the Texas General Land Office, which governs the state beaches, to do so. “We got in touch with GLO and they’re supportive of whatever decisions we make, which has always been a concern, certainly over the last month,” Yarbrough said. “Bottom line is, we’re closing the beaches.” Beach crowds in Galveston have skyrocketed over the last two months since they were reopened to the public on May 1. Yarbrough said while the order restricts beach access just for the July 4th weekend, he planned to issue a separate order next week that would limit high-traffic access points on the island, such as at San Luis Pass and Diamond Beach.

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Houston Chronicle - July 1, 2020

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Even Trump allies are demanding answers on Russian bounties. Why not Cornyn?

President Donald Trump continued his tirade on Twitter Wednesday morning about the “fake news” that he had for months sat on intelligence reports that Russia had secretly offered bounties to the Taliban for killing American troops in Afghanistan. He insisted again that he had never been briefed about these reports, never mind that they were apparently included in a February daily presidential briefing, which aides have previously said he rarely reads. “Do people still not understand that this is all a made up Fake News Media Hoax started to slander me & the Republican Party,” he retweeted early Wednesday. “I was never briefed because any info that they may have had did not rise to that level.” Fortunately for the country, if not for the president, his typically solid wall of support in Congress is buckling. Leading Republicans have demanded answers and called the reports extraordinarily serious.

“Anything with any hint of credibility that would endanger our service members, much less put a bounty on their lives, to me should have been briefed immediately to the commander in chief and a plan to deal with that situation,” Texas Rep. Mac Thornberry, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, told reporters on Monday. Eight senior GOP congressional leaders, including Thornberry and U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul of Austin, were briefed Monday by the White House chief of staff and others. They were told Trump had not been told of the reports because the intelligence from March was still being vetted. McCaul, the ranking member of the House foreign affairs committee, told NPR that at least one intelligence agency had raised serious concerns about the validity of the reports. It’s true that there is much we don’t know yet about the chilling reports. But we do know for certain that the president never took any steps to safeguard our soldiers in combat or to confront an untrustworthy foreign power who claimed to be our “partner for peace” in the region. That is an inexcusable failure. It is one thing for the president and his top advisers to decide after careful review and consideration that no action is needed. It is another thing for nothing to be done because the president wasn’t informed or refused to read warnings of a potentially lethal threat to troops in the field.

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Dallas Morning News - July 1, 2020

As COVID-19 cases rise among Latinos, Gov. Abbott agrees to interview on Univision after two months of requests

Unvision’s local Dallas affiliate KUVN-DT (Channel 23) has spent two months seeking an interview with Gov. Greg Abbott to address the Hispanic community about COVID-19. On Wednesday, after more pressure from Univision, Abbott’s office said it had scheduled an interview on the Spanish-language network this week.

Univision’s attempt to get Abbott on air started with an email request on April 30. Since then, the TV station and the governor’s press office have been playing email tag, but Abbott has yet to do an interview with KUVN. The governor has also not done interviews with Unvision’s affiliates in Austin, Houston or San Antonio, despite their requests. As COVID-19 cases surge across the Lone Star State, the virus is disportionately affecting people of color. In Dallas County alone, more than 60% of residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 are Hispanic. Dallas County is about 40% Hispanic. Of those households, about 42% speak English “less than very well,” according to U.S. Census data.

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Dallas Morning News - July 1, 2020

Feds planning to ‘blitz’ test in Texas to find young adults silently spreading COVID-19

Federal officials are developing plans for a “blitz” of testing in Texas and other states to find young adults who have no symptoms and may be unknowingly spreading the coronavirus. The effort would target people under age 35 in “moderate sized” communities, which have not yet been named. “The strategy would be to surge test,” Admiral Brett Giroir, the Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said in a press call Wednesday. “You would do the number of tests you do in a month in just a few days, to try to make sure we identify these asymptomatics and get a better handle on them.”

The department is currently in discussions with state health officials in Texas, Florida and Louisiana, Giroir said. The announcement comes as new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are surging in Texas to their highest levels since the epidemic began. On Tuesday the state reportedly nearly 7,000 positive cases, a new record. People under age 35 are driving up the case counts and many likely have mild symptoms or none at all, Giroir said. More than half the cases reported in Dallas County since June 1 have been diagnosed in young adults between the ages of 18 and 39, public health officials said. In an effort to slow the spread, Gov. Greg Abbott shut down bars last week and also reduced the capacity at restaurants to 50%. In mid-June, he scolded 20-year-olds for not wearing masks or following social distancing guidelines. While some cities and counties are now requiring masks inside businesses, Abbott has not mandated that everyone wear one in public. It is not clear when the testing surge would begin, who would be targeted or how officials would ensure compliance. The Texas Division of Emergency Management confirmed the state is working with federal officials to increase testing in Texas and said more details will be coming soon. Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Dallas Morning News - July 1, 2020

Overwhelming demand for COVID-19 tests, long waits for results hamper Texas effort to control spread

Testing for the coronavirus in Texas is faltering, as soaring demand challenges laboratories’ ability to keep up. Test sites in major cities are filling up within hours. Some results are taking over a week, or as long as a month, to come back. A large drive-through testing site in West Texas closed after an overwhelmed lab said it could no longer process its samples. The crunch comes as Texas is facing its biggest surge of COVID-19 -- the extent of which can’t be truly known without rapid, widespread testing.

People who are waiting to find out whether they are sick -- or who can’t get tested at all -- are more likely to spread disease, said Dr. Ingrid Katz, an infectious disease specialist at the Harvard Global Health Institute. “We can’t wrap our arms around this if we have no idea what we’re wrapping our arms around,” Katz said. The strain on testing, however, shows no sign of letting up. Many states that were quick to reopen their economies -- including Texas, Florida and Arizona -- are seeing surges that are increasing the pressure on labs. A national association of commercial labs warned over the weekend that even with the ability to run hundreds of thousands of tests a day, the anticipated demand over the coming weeks “will likely exceed members’ testing capacities.” While waiting for test results, public health experts said people need to isolate like they would if they had the virus. In fact, with such rampant spread, and testing and contact tracing falling behind, masking and social distancing are vital even for a person who has recently tested negative.

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Dallas Morning News - June 30, 2020

Coronavirus cases take big jump in Texas day care centers

Texas’ day care centers have reported a total of 950 coronavirus cases, marking an increase of 540 cases in less than two weeks. The latest count includes 643 staff members and 307 children at 668 licensed child care centers, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission reported Tuesday. Until recently, day care centers had remained relatively insulated. On May 21, Texas had reported only 67 coronavirus cases in licensed facilities, according to KVUE-TV in Austin.

The commission doesn’t track deaths, hospitalizations and recoveries linked to coronavirus in day cares, a spokeswoman said Tuesday. Child care centers remained open during the early stages of the pandemic for children of essential workers. On May 18, Gov. Greg Abbott allowed day cares to open for nonessential workers but with emergency regulations that included prescreening requirements and guidelines for entry and child pickup. The state repealed the emergency requirements June 12, but 11 days later Abbott directed the Health and Human Services Commission to reinstitute guidelines because of a spike in cases. The commission implemented similar emergency rules June 25 but didn’t include social distancing regulations or require masks for employees or children.

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Dallas Morning News - July 1, 2020

Texas’ uncertain summer travel forecast: cheap gas, worries of bathroom break contagion

A uniquely uncertain summer road tripping season gets under way this Fourth of July weekend with enticing gas prices below $2 a gallon but new worries about a highly infectious virus turning bathroom breaks into risky adventures. Texans and their neighbors in Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas are expected to get out of their homes and take nearly 79 million trips over the next few months, according to AAA’s summer travel forecast. That’s down just 13% from last year, when air travel was far more robust. This summer, most travelers will hit the road rather than book a flight, train or cruise.

“Many Texans will get out and explore this summer though they’re taking a ‘wait and see approach’ when it comes to booking and are likely to book more long weekend getaways than extended vacations,” AAA Texas spokesman Daniel Armbruster said in a statement. Some 72% of people expecting to travel are planning an overnight vacation via car over the next five months, suggesting long-weekend trips will bounce back more quickly as Americans begin to venture out, according to a survey conducted for the American Hotel and Lodging Association. An uptick in travel bodes well for an economy reliant on gasoline sales and the travel industry — two sectors that have taken sizable hits since the start of the COVID-19 global pandemic. The gap in gasoline consumption between this year and 2019 will continue to narrow, said Tom Kloza, global head of energy analysis at IHS Markit’s OPIS. But the firm doesn’t expect this year’s demand to reach record levels seen last year. “Still, the continuing recovery at the pump is good news for a battered U.S. economy that needs a fill-up with some good news,” Kloza said.

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Austin American-Statesman - July 1, 2020

If Texas Republicans don’t cancel Houston convention, will Abbott do it for them?

Gov. Greg Abbott and state Republican leaders are on the horns of a dilemma. Having a big in-person Republican State Convention the week after next in Houston, the epicenter of a resurgent coronavirus pandemic, at a time when the governor in increasingly blunt and urgent terms is imploring Texans to hunker down, seems like a politically fraught idea. But for it not to happen would require either the State Republican Executive Committee or the governor to bite the bullet — and maybe take a political bullet from some grassroots activists who have questioned the severity of the crisis.

State Republican Party Chairman James Dickey has called a special, virtual meeting of the 64-member executive committee to vote on whether to change an expected 6,000-person event July 16-18 at Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center into a virtual gathering. While the committee members tend to hew to a more conservative grassroots sentiment and live for the in-person interaction of the biennial state convention, they are actively polling delegates from their respective districts for guidance. “I strongly believe in-person is best,” said Mark Ramsey, an influential conservative member who represents Senate District 7. “My constituents seem to be 10-to-1 or more for in person.” Ramsey, who chaired the Platform Committee at the 2018 convention, is leading the Legislative Priorities Committee this year. “I am receiving a lot of feedback from delegates in and out of my Senate district, and it is very close,” said JT Edwards, who represents Senate District 11 and intends to be guided by that feedback. “It’s really close. You think it’s going one way and then it goes the other. You got all these X factors out of your control, which is frustrating,” Edwards said. “To be candid with you, there really is not a right answer to the COVID. We don’t know if the situation on the ground is going to change three minutes from now, 30 minutes from now or three hours from now. We simply don’t know.”

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Austin American-Statesman - July 1, 2020

ACL Fest cancels 2020 event in Austin due to coronavirus

After months of speculation amid an intensifying coronavirus pandemic, this year’s Austin City Limits Music Festival has been canceled, concert promoter C3 Presents announced Wednesday. The festival was scheduled to take place over two weekends, Oct. 2-4 and Oct. 9-11, in Zilker Park.

“We would have loved to put on another memorable show this year, however, with the uncertainty surrounding the current situation in Texas, this decision is the only responsible solution. The health and safety of our fans, artists, partners, staff and the entire Austin community remains our highest priority,” festival organizers wrote in an announcement posted to social media and shared with the American-Statesman. This year’s festival would have been the 19th edition of the annual event, which began in 2002 and expanded to two weekends in 2013. ACL Fest typically has drawn crowds of about 75,000 people daily to the park each weekend. It has become a tour destination for such major musical headliners as Paul McCartney, Drake, Cardi B, Metallica and many more in recent years, as well as a crowd-drawing showcase for such breakout stars as Lizzo, Lorde and Billie Eilish. Organizers said in the announcement that they plan to return the festival to Zilker Park on Oct. 1-3 and 8-10, 2021. They went on to encourage fans who have already purchased tickets to “hold on to them to lock in access to next year’s festival at 2019 prices.”

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Daily Beast - July 1, 2020

The insane story behind Triumph the Insult Comic Dog’s epic Ted Cruz takedown

It was easily one of the greatest moments in the two-decade history of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. In the days leading up to the 2018 midterm elections, Stephen Colbert sent his old friend Robert Smigel down to Texas to report on the heated Senate race between Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke as his infamous puppet character. “We went to Texas with no expectation of talking to either candidate,” Smigel reveals on this week’s episode of The Last Laugh podcast. “I thought I was just going to make fun of the supporters and make Ted Cruz jokes and that would be the end of it. I never thought in a million years that Ted Cruz would come up to me and be willing to speak.”

By this point, Smigel had ample experience trying to wrangle candidates on the campaign trail, dating back to his first political convention in 2004 when he teamed up with Michael Moore to crash Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News broadcast. In 2016, Triumph landed his own series of election specials on Hulu in which he brutally roasted candidates like Mike Huckabee and Chris Christie to their faces. Earlier this month, he ripped Anthony Scaramucci a new one on his “Quarantine Squares” game show. He knew that Cruz and his team were aware of Triumph because they had spent a good amount of time during the 2016 cycle chasing him around New Hampshire. “Ted Cruz is like a lightning rod,” Smigel says. “He’s one of the most hated people in the Senate. I think a lot of Republicans hate him too. But they deal with him.” Smigel was careful not to disrupt Cruz’s campaign events in 2016, but he says it was enough for his team to be “very upset” with him after a few days. “I would try to chase him with a question when he would run into the bus,” he says. “And it was working, it was really funny and we were getting gold.” Eventually, someone on his team got a call from the Cruz camp. “They want to know what it’s going to take for you to stop showing up at every event,” Smigel was told. An interview was on the table, but Smigel turned them down. “I said, you know what? I like the way this is working,” he says, laughing. “And so we just continued chasing him and amping it up.” So when Cruz heard Triumph calling his name in Texas two years later, he actually “lit up,” Smigel says. “Ted Cruz thinks he’s funny,” the comedian says of the biggest Simpsons fan in the Senate. “And apparently he thought that he could hold his own and all would be fine, you know? So he made a very big, grandiose gesture of welcoming Triumph.”

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BuzzFeed - July 1, 2020

The coronavirus spread in at First Baptist Dallas. Then it hosted Mike Pence.

At least five members of the choir and orchestra at the Dallas megachurch visited by Vice President Mike Pence this weekend tested positive for the coronavirus in June, according to Facebook posts and internal church emails reviewed by BuzzFeed News. An additional orchestra member had symptoms several days after being exposed and was awaiting a test result in mid-June, according to a call for prayers sent to the church’s musicians. None of those six people were at the First Baptist church in Dallas during Pence’s hour-and-a-half-hour visit on Sunday, but it's unclear how many of the musicians who performed for Pence may have been exposed during previous practices and performances with those who were infected.

Public health experts have expressed particular concerns about the dangers of indoor singing and wind instruments in large groups, which can readily spread the respiratory virus. The choir and orchestra performed for Pence without masks, according to a video of the event reviewed by BuzzFeed News. One of the church’s music directors — who himself has been quarantined after testing positive for the virus — wrote an email informing the church’s musicians that choir members would not wear masks while singing. “Some of you may know but I’ve been in quarantine since June 14 after several exposures. I was tested and it came back positive for the virus,” a music director and the associate minister of worship, Jarrod Blackstock, wrote in a private Facebook group for the choir and orchestra on June 30. Blackstock also plays first trumpet in the orchestra.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 2, 2020

Are tougher COVID restrictions needed? Other cities think so, but not Fort Worth area

To curb record-breaking cases of the novel coronavirus, local officials in Texas’ largest metro areas have urged Gov. Greg Abbott to restore their ability to issue stay-at-home orders. But in Fort Worth and Tarrant County, the calls are much more subdued. While Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price signed a letter urging Abbott to allow local mask decrees, she hasn’t been involved with recent pleas for stay-at-home orders.

The mayor’s office this week said Price hasn’t considered a stay-at-home order since it is not within her powers. Asked if the city would re-evaluate the situation if Abbott allowed locals to issue those orders, a spokesperson said “we are not speculating on policy that doesn’t exist.” Meanwhile, officials from Texas’ largest metro areas have asked for greater local control, with Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins requesting a statewide mask mandate, a stay-at-home order for 30 days and the closure of all businesses and venues where wearing masks and staying six feet apart isn’t feasible. Since enacting what was essentially a statewide stay-at-home order in late March, Abbott’s subsequent executive orders have superseded local ones. When asked why he has resisted giving local officials more leeway amid the recent spike in cases, Abbott pointed to Shelley Luther, a Dallas salon owner who was jailed and fined for defying court orders. Texas’ top leaders came to her defense, with Abbott removing jail time as a punishment for violating his executive orders.

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San Antonio Express-News - July 1, 2020

‘A lot of unmet needs’ — S.A. event planner is passed over for contract extension after food banks say he failed to deliver on $39M federal contract to feed the needy

San Antonio event planner CRE8AD8, whose performance in delivering food boxes under a federal relief program sorely disappointed food banks, will not have its contract renewed. The announcement Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture delighted food bank officials, who had criticized the company for failing to fill their warehouses during a pandemic that triggered the nation’s worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

“The food industry is full of incredible partners and players that nourish Americans, and it is our privilege to work with them in their philanthropy and in these government programs,” said Eric Cooper, president and CEO of the San Antonio Food Bank. “But we have never dealt with a CRE8AD8. They were an anomaly in this program. They were the misfit in what it takes to feed people.” CRE8AD8 plans corporate events and weddings, according to its website. Food industry veterans were stunned when the company secured a $39 million USDA contract in May to participate in the Farmers to Families Food Box Program. The contract called for the firm — which had no experience in food distribution — to deliver 750,000 boxes packed with dairy, meat or produce to food banks and other nonprofits in Texas and six other states from May 15 through the end of June. As of Tuesday, CRE8AD8 (for “Create A Date”) had delivered to food banks a fraction of the expected number of boxes. Some received none. The USDA said last week it would grant extensions to “well-performing contractors,” and Wednesday, the department posted on its website a list of contractors approved for a second round of funding. CRE8AD8 was not among them.

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Rivard Report - July 1, 2020

State Sen. José Menéndez, other elected officials call on Edgewood Trustee to resign

Two days after the board of Edgewood Independent School District censured a trustee and called on her to resign, three elected state officials issued their own calls for Dina Serrano to step down. State Sen. José Menéndez, State Rep. Ina Minjarez, and State Board of Education Member Marisa Perez-Diaz, a former Edgewood ISD employee, released statements this week calling for Serrano’s resignation after she posted a photo of her husband in a noose over Father’s Day weekend. References to hangings and nooses often carry racist connotations because of their connections to lynchings.

Serrano removed the post and apologized, but said after Monday’s board meeting that she would not resign. “My naivety in thinking this was an innocent, fun picture was interpreted as malicious, insensitive, and racist,” Serrano wrote on Twitter last week. “I get it, being a Latina woman from the barrio, I understand how hurtful my actions were. I am sorry.” In separate statements released Tuesday and Wedneday, the three elected officials admonished Serrano for her actions. Menéndez described the photo as disturbing, calling a noose a hateful and racist symbol. Minjarez expressed disappointment that Serrano’s actions had overshadowed the progress the school district has made in the last year. “Throughout its history, Edgewood ISD has never ceased its battle against racism and inequality in the public school system,” Minjarez said. “Dina Serrano’s actions have proven to be the antithesis of Edgewood ISD’s values, and will continue to tarnish its progress moving forward if gone unchecked.”

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County Stories

Austin American-Statesman - July 1, 2020

Voters who received mail-in ballots without runoff races now told to vote in person

Confusion over the mail-in ballot application has led some Travis County voters to receive a ballot without any runoff candidate options, and officials are now telling them they must vote in person. Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir did not have an estimate of how many voters have found themselves in this predicament, but “I know it’s enough that everybody’s talking about it,” she said. The Travis County clerk’s office has received a record-breaking number of requests for mail-in ballots for a runoff election as many seek safer ways to vote in the midst of the pandemic.

But for various reasons — such as voters selecting the wrong election ballot or not declaring a political party — many voters have received ballots in which only the Texas Senate District 14 race to replace Kirk Watson appears. DeBeauvoir said people have flooded her office with reports of ballots without any runoff candidate options. She said it’s indicative of how confusing the form to apply for a mail-in ballot can be, especially for people who are filling it out for the first time. “By-mail voting is not a voter-friendly system in Texas and never has been,” she said. “It’s very archaic. ... I don’t like that form at all.” The form requires voters to say which mail-in ballot they would like: “May Election;” “November Election;” or “other,” which is accompanied by a write-in box. The form also includes a box for “any resulting runoff.” Additionally, voters must declare a political party to receive a ballot for the runoff race. “If you didn’t tell us you wanted a specific Democratic or Republican ballot, that left the special election for Senate District 14,” DeBeauvoir said.

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City Stories

Houston Chronicle - July 1, 2020

Longhorns, Aggies to play in Houston but not each other

Both Texas and Texas A&M will participate in a midseason event at the Toyota Center in Houston this season. The Longhorns, Aggies, Louisiana Tech and Boise have accepted invitations to compete in The Battleground 2k20 doubleheader on Dec. 18 at the home of the Houston Rockets, event owners U-Sports announced Wednesday. A&M will face the Broncos in Game 1, leading into Game 2 between UT and the Bulldogs.

Boise State finished last season 20-12 and last to No. 5 San Diego State in the Mountain West tournament semifinals. In their first season under coach Buzz Williams, the Aggies finished 16-14 (10-8 SEC) and compiled a 6-2 record leading into the SEC tournament. This will be the first meeting between the two programs. "We are really excited to add another high-profile game to our schedule against a quality opponent," Boise State head coach Leon Rice said. "I have a ton of respect for Buzz Williams and what he has done throughout his career. It will be a great challenge and a great opportunity for us." Texas is 4-0 all-time against Louisiana Tech, its most recent win coming by 15 points on Dec. 16, 2017. UT finished last season 19-12 (9-9 Big 12) and will return all of its main rotation players while adding five-star power forward Greg Brown III.

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KSAT - July 1, 2020

Arrest warrants issued for Floresville ISD board member accused of donkey theft

A board member of the Floresville Independent School District is wanted on multiple misdemeanor charges in Wilson County after investigators said she and two other people stole a donkey from a pasture west of Floresville. Alena Berlanga, 49, will face charges of theft $100-$750 and criminal trespassing after she turns herself in or is taken into custody.

A Wilson County Sheriff’s investigator told KSAT 12 Wednesday that two other suspects wanted in connection to the case, Nickol Sullivan and Pamela Johnson, were working on arrangements to turn themselves in. The investigator said Berlanga has yet to contact the agency about turning herself in. Berlanga and the two other suspects are accused of going onto a pasture in the 7000 block of FM 2579 on June 8 and taking a donkey they believed was delivering a foal. The pasture was secured by a fence and gate lock, the investigator said. The donkey was taken to a ranch in Wilson County but the foal did not survive the birth, the investigator said. The donkey was treated by a veterinarian and returned to the pasture, according to the investigator, who added that the three suspects did not have permission to go onto the property or to take the donkey.

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Austin American-Statesman - July 1, 2020

Donors raise over $3,000 in less than 24 hours to ‘Fix the Broken Spoke’

Following the news of an ATM theft at the Broken Spoke in Austin, more than a hundred donors have put together more than $3,000 to help out the owner of the iconic South Austin dance hall and bar. James White, who built the business in 1964, told the American-Statesman on Tuesday that the perpetrators of the ATM theft had caused thousands of dollars in damage when they rammed a pickup truck through the front of the bar. “It’s like a double kick in the head,” White said Tuesday.

After the bar shared the bad news on its official Facebook page, many of White’s friends showed their support by coming to the bar to help fix the damages caused during the heist. Ginny White-Peacock, White’s daughter, said she started the “Fix the Broken Spoke” GoFundMe campaign after people reached out to her on social media with the idea. “We are just so fortunate to have so many great people who want to help out. It’s a real community effort,” White-Peacock said in a statement. “The Broken Spoke has brought a lot of happiness and fond memories over the years to people and they just wanted to give back a little in our time or need.” White-Peacock said the campaign, which launched Tuesday, surpassed its $3,000 goal Wednesday morning. As of 7:45 p.m. Wednesday, the campaign had raised $3,770 from 111 donors. The money will cover construction costs, a new window and building materials, White-Peacock said.

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Houston Chronicle - July 1, 2020

City Hall revokes credentials of Councilwoman Plummer’s brother over photos, protest

The city on Wednesday revoked the City Hall credentials of Councilmember Letitia Plummer’s brother for taking pictures of council members’ cars and sending them to an activist, who showed them on Facebook in a tirade against those members for failing to support Plummer’s police reform plan last month. Mayor Pro Tem David Martin said he informed Councilmember Plummer at 4 p.m. Thursday, shortly after the Chronicle published a story about the episode. Several council members had called for the Farouk Plummer’s credentials to be revoked.

Farouk Plummer, who served as an unpaid adviser in his sister’s council office, confirmed that he sent the photos to the activist in an “emotional decision” after the June 10 budget vote, and he said he does not regret doing so. He sent them, he said, to prove that Mayor Sylvester Turner and the council’s other five black members had met privately at City Hall on the weekend before the budget vote. Councilmember Plummer was invited to the meeting but did not attend. “Yes, there’s no denying that I did it,” Farouk Plummer said. “As a protective brother, I felt some type of way about this, I got to be honest with you. I felt like they were either trying to, A, sabotage her, or B, steal her amendments from her.” Gerry Monroe, the activist who received and displayed the photos online, since has attacked council members’ political positions and personal lives. He said one female council member “keeps a bunch of nuts in her mouth,” and that he was going to smack another member’s rear.

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National Stories

The Hill - July 2, 2020

Experts fear July 4 weekend will exacerbate coronavirus spread

Experts worry that the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. will worsen after the Fourth of July weekend, when millions of people gather across the country during one of the busiest travel periods of the year. Memorial Day weekend — when people flocked to beaches, pools, parties, restaurants and bars after a weeks-long lockdown — helped spur many of the outbreaks the U.S. is seeing across parts of the country. But now the stakes are even higher.

The U.S. is reporting record-high daily case counts, driven largely by outbreaks in the south and west. Several states are experiencing more severe outbreaks than they saw two months ago. “I am very concerned, especially given this coming weekend, that the same types of spikes, the same types of surges could be seen not just in the places that are currently experiencing surges, but in places that have already experienced surges, and in ones that haven't yet,” said Joshua Barocas, assistant professor of medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine. The U.S. is averaging 40,000 new cases a day, exceeding the numbers seen in May. This is partially because of increased testing, but the percentage of tests coming back positive is also going up, an indicator of a growing outbreak. While more than 50 percent of new COVID-19 infections in the U.S. are recorded in four states: Texas, California, Arizona and Florida, dozens of other states are also seeing increases both in cases and the percentage of tests coming back positive.

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Associated Press - July 2, 2020

New York appeals court clears the way for a publisher to distribute tell-all book by President Trump’s niece

A New York appeals court cleared the way Wednesday for a publisher to distribute a tell-all book by President Donald Trump’s niece over the objections of the president’s brother. The New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division said it was lifting a restraint that a judge put on Simon & Schuster a day earlier that would have blocked distribution of “Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man.” Although the book was scheduled to be published on July 28, Simon & Schuster said thousands of copies of the 75,000-copy first run of the book had already been sent to bookstores and others.

The appeals ruling, though, left in place restraints against Mary Trump, the book’s author and the president’s niece, after the president’s brother said in court papers that she was part of an agreement among family members not to write about their relationships without permission. The president’s brother, Robert Trump, had sued Mary Trump to block publication. An email seeking comment was sent to Robert Trump’s lawyer Wednesday. The appeals ruling restrained Mary Trump and any agent of hers from distributing the book, but the court made clear it did not consider the publisher to be an agent, though that issue could be decided in further proceedings at the lower court.

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SCOTUSBlog - June 30, 2020

Jane Schacter: June Medical and the many faces of judicial discretion

(Jane Schacter is the William Nelson Cromwell professor of law at Stanford Law School. She signed an amicus brief in support of the petitioners in June Medical Services v. Russo.) The headline from the 5-4 decision in June Medical Services v. Russo striking down Louisiana’s abortion restriction is unquestionably the vote of Chief Justice John Roberts. He determined the outcome. While he may have previewed his position a year ago when he voted to stay the ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit that upheld the law, he had never before voted to strike down a restriction on abortion, so Monday’s outcome was hardly inevitable. The chief justice’s vote is significant both for this case and for the idea of stability in constitutional law. The decision is consequential and, by my lights, a welcome intervention in the arena of abortion. Much less clear is what it might portend for future legal developments in this area.

In this commentary, I would like to focus on the stated rationale in the chief’s concurrence and explore what it might mean, going forward, for the constitutionally protected right to choose. My conclusions are two: First, although Roberts frames his opinion in terms of stare decisis and judicial restraint, there are many reasons for skepticism about the prospects for such restraint in the realm of abortion rights. Second, supporters of abortion rights won a significant victory in June Medical, but the Roberts concurrence by no means closes the doors to significant future restrictions on access to abortion. The Louisiana admitting privileges requirement struck down in June Medical was basically a carbon copy of the requirement imposed by Texas and struck down in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt in 2016. Justice Stephen Breyer’s majority opinion in Whole Woman’s Health held that the Texas law constituted an “undue burden” on access to abortion in violation of Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The similarity of the Louisiana and Texas laws led Roberts to place central emphasis on stare decisis in his June Medical concurrence. In doing so, he emphatically associated stare decisis with judicial restraint. He quoted the Federalist Papers for the idea that “[a]dherence to precedent is necessary to ‘avoid an arbitrary discretion in the courts,’” and Justice Robert Jackson for the idea that such adherence “distinguishes the judicial ‘method and philosophy from those of the political and legislative process.’” This emphasis on judicial modesty is a familiar rhetorical signature for Roberts.

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The Atlantic - June 30, 2020

The Lincoln Project partakes of the spirit of a famous Republican president—but he’s not its namesake.

To take a full accounting of Donald Trump’s corrosive effect on our politics, you need to look at his enemies. After the president’s disappointing (for Trump fans) rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a political action committee calling itself the Lincoln Project jumped into the fray, as it tends to do, with both feet. It released not one but two video ads ridiculing the president. The first was about Trump’s claim at the rally that he asked his “people” to slow down the pace of coronavirus testing. Trump’s spokesperson later said the remark was “in jest,” and the president himself told an interviewer it was “semi–tongue in cheek.” But it is the job of the president’s opposition nowadays to pick and choose what to believe. The Lincoln Project chose to believe his first remark, drawing the implausible inference that the president actually wanted to slow testing, which would only inhibit the reopening of the economy, the one thing he doesn’t want to do. I think I’ve got that right.

“Shrinking” was in the spirit of another recent Lincoln Project product, called “Trump Is Not Well,” from earlier this month. That ad used footage from Trump’s speech to the graduating class at West Point. Over pictures of the president holding a glass of water with two hands, the voice-over suggested he was suffering from some kind of disability that rendered him unfit for high office, evidently based on the theory that our nation’s commander in chief must be able to sip water with one hand. The Lincoln Project’s ads—personally abusive, overwrought, pointlessly salacious, and trip-wired with non sequiturs—are familiar: They are undertaken with all the relish the president shows when he jokes about the mental hiccups of “Sleepy” Joe Biden, just as four years ago, he happily implied that Hillary Clinton suffered from some nameless disease. One reason Trump does this is to annoy his opponents; now his opponents’ supporters are returning the favor. The ads’ intended audience may be a surprise. In December, the PAC’s organizers published a manifesto in The New York Times, to mark their group’s launch. The headline read: “We Are Republicans, and We Want Trump Defeated.”

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New York Times - July 1, 2020

Jennifer B. Nuzzo and Joshua M. Sharfstein: America has its priorities all wrong

The way states lifted social distancing restrictions imposed to fight the coronavirus sadly demonstrates our priorities. Officials let bars, restaurants and gyms open, despite warnings from public health experts that these environments pose the greatest risk for spreading the disease. Yet political leaders seem to have paid scant attention to safely reopening schools. The consequences of those backward priorities — Covid-19 rampaging through states that reopened quickly — make it even more vital that we extensively prepare to reopen classrooms as safely as possible this fall.

Research suggests that the sudden switch to online instruction has cost some students a full year of academic progress. This harm disproportionately affects children in homes without computers and stable internet connections, deepening educational inequality and widening racial and economic divides. The disruption of learning can have lifetime effects on students’ income and health. The school shutdowns left millions of children without access to meal programs and school-based health services. Reports of child abuse slowed since school employees couldn’t identify and notify the authorities about children they thought were being harmed. And the need for parents to supervise their children on school days or arrange child care has disrupted the economy and made it even harder for many families to get by. Would returning children to school be dangerous for them? The American Academy of Pediatrics has concluded that the harm to children from not having in-person education outweighs the risk. Children are 24 percent of the American population but account for only 2 percent of Covid-19 cases. In the United States, school-age children have been hospitalized at a rate of 0.1 per 100,000, compared with 7.4 per 100,000 for adults ages 50 to 64. Very few deaths among children have been reported.

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Newsweek - June 30, 2020

Parler, the Ted Cruz-approved 'free speech' app, is already banning users

Parler, the social media platform that boasts about being a haven for "free speech," has apparently started to ban accounts and remove content. Over the past few days, several Twitter users have tweeted that they've been kicked off of Parler. Judging from the posts announcing that they've been booted, at least some of the banned Parler users seem to have signed up for the service precisely to test the limits of the app's so-called "freedom of speech" policy. "Pretty much all of my leftist friends joined Parler to screw with MAGA folks, and every last one of them was banned in less than 24 hours because conservatives truly love free speech," one user recently wrote on Twitter.

Launched in 2018, Parler presents itself as "an unbiased" social media platform, and is generally understood to be a conservative alternative to Twitter. Texas Senator Ted Cruz is a booster of the service, which is also used by President Donald Trump, his son Eric Trump, Rudy Giuliani and Candace Owens. Conservatives have been flocking to the social media platform, especially after President Trump had tweets about mail-in ballots flagged and fact-checked as "potentially misleading," back in May. Trump alleged that mail-in voting in California would lead to electoral fraud—a claim that was deemed false by Twitter. Parler's CEO, John Matze, hasn't been shy about promoting Parler's supposed lack of censorship. In a June 25 interview with CNBC, Matze, said that the app is "a community town square, an open town square, with no censorship." He added, "If you can say it on the street of New York, you can say it on Parler."

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CBS News - July 2, 2020

Trump, apparently relenting a bit on wearing masks, says they make him look like the Lone Ranger

After long resisting wearing a mask in public, President Trump said Wednesday he thinks it makes him look like the Lone Ranger - and he likes it. "I'm all for masks. I think masks are good," Mr. Trump told Fox Business in an interview. "People have seen me wearing one." Mr. Trump's comments came a day after Republican lawmakers suggested that he wear a mask in public to set a good example for Americans trying to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"If I were in a tight situation with people, I would absolutely," Mr. Trump said in the interview. Mr. Trump has long resisted being photographed in a mask. In early April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that people wear cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures were difficult to maintain. Mr. Trump immediately undercut the CDC guidance by flatly stating that he wouldn't be following it, suggesting it would be unseemly for the commander in chief to wear a mask as he meets with heads of state. On Wednesday, he sounded a different tone, saying, "I had a mask on. I sort of liked the way I looked. OK. I thought it was OK. It was a dark black mask, and I thought it looked OK.

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