The Texas Tribune: Carla Astudillo latest news by Carla Astudillo.enFri, 22 Jan 2021 06:00:00 -0600Facing a crush of COVID-19 patients, ICUs are completely full in at least 50 Texas hospitals Texas, hospital intensive care units are being battered as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in a post-holiday surge. Dozens of facilities have reported that their ICUs have been at or above 100% capacity for weeks, leaving staff overworked and stretched thin.Marissa Martinez and Carla AstudilloFri, 22 Jan 2021 06:00:00 -0600 <figure> <img alt="A nurse visits a COVID-19 patient in the SIDU COVID-19 ward at the DHR Health Center in Edinburg on June 30, 2020." src=""> <figcaption> A nurse visited a COVID-19 patient last summer at an Edinburg hospital. Dozens of facilities have reported that their ICUs have been at or above 100% capacity for weeks, leaving staff overworked and stretched thin. <cite>Credit: Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune</cite> </figcaption> </figure> <div class="c-story-body"> <p class="t-align-left">Hidalgo County Health Authority Ivan Melendez says coming into COVID-19 units nowadays feels like going through a nonlinear version of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.</p> <p class="t-align-left">“You cry,” he told the Tribune. “There’s a lady that I’m taking care of that I’ve known since I was a child. … We grew up together, and I know she’s going to die. … It’s the same thing: ‘We got together for Christmas.’ Now we’re seeing the ramification of it.”</p> <p class="t-align-left">Across Texas, hospital intensive care units are being battered as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in a post-holiday surge. Dozens of facilities have reported that their ICUs have been at or above 100% capacity for weeks, leaving staff overworked and stretched thin.</p> <p class="t-align-left">More than 50 Texas hospitals are currently reporting that their ICUs are 100% full or higher, and a dozen of them have been full for more than half of the 24 weeks since hospitals began reporting that information in July, according to a Texas Tribune analysis of data released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.</p> <p class="t-align-left">For example, Rio Grande Regional Hospital in McAllen and HCA Houston Healthcare Medical Center in Houston have been over 100% for 23 and 22 weeks, respectively.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Though statewide hospitalizations due to COVID-19 seem to be stabilizing, there is still cause for concern, said Chris Van Deusen, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of State Health Services. Across Texas, there are around 600 available ICU beds — a fraction of the couple of thousand that were open in the spring as the pandemic began.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Van Deusen said the pandemic has seemed to hit different regions in waves. Currently, the Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio areas are seeing significant spikes in COVID-19 cases, according to DSHS data.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Health officials in <a href="">Laredo</a> have sent emergency alerts pleading with residents to stay home because local ICUs have reached capacity within the past month. Currently, COVID-19 patients take up <a href="">almost half of that region’s hospital capacity</a>, according to DSHS data — the highest percentage in the state.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Many cities have had to divert patients to other hospitals as their local ICUs overflow, in addition to expanding and converting available beds to treat ICU patients.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Melendez said counting available ICU beds doesn’t give the full picture at Texas hospitals because they are constantly adjusting to accommodate more patients. If an ICU is technically full, he said, many hospitals can still convert some available beds or units outside of that ward to give patients ICU care.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Hendrick Health Chief of Staff Stephen Lowry said his hospital in Abilene has used both diversion and bed conversion. Currently, the facility is operating at 160% capacity, which is down from a peak of 180%, he said.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Hendrick Health is the regional referral center for 24 surrounding counties, but Lowry said the hospital hasn't been able to meet the area’s needs because they don’t have any more space for new patients; they created all the new space they could in the spring before the pandemic struck.</p> <p class="t-align-left">“It’s really frustrating,” Lowry said. “You hear stories from out in the community, or family members that may have relatives in one of these outlying cities, and they’re having trouble getting their loved ones into a higher level of care because not just Hendrick, but a lot of other facilities around the state are full and unable to accept the transfers.”</p> <p class="t-align-left">Texas Health Fort Worth, one of Tarrant County’s busiest hospitals, reported hitting 100% ICU capacity on Jan. 8, according to HHS data. The hospital’s president, Joseph DeLeon, said like many other medical centers, the Texas Health Resources network has tried to relieve the pressure by canceling non-critical outpatient procedures.</p> <p class="t-align-left">But so far, measures that helped during the summer COVID-19 surge haven’t worked as well in the winter, DeLeon said.</p> <p class="t-align-left">“We thought, ‘Well, OK, now we have some experience from back in July, we kind of know what it's going to look like.’ But the second surge was different. There were many more critically ill patients this time around,” DeLeon told the Tribune. “This time, we have had much more stress on the staff, much more stress on the physicians ... it was just a test of endurance.”</p> <p class="t-align-left">Cynthia Simmons is Arlington’s public health authority and an emergency room physician at Medical City of Arlington, which has been at or near 100% capacity for weeks. She said Texans should understand that if they get into car accidents, have heart attacks or face other non-COVID-19 emergencies, a full ICU at the nearest hospital could mean there may not be enough resources available.</p> <p class="t-align-left">“We're at a point now where we have so much COVID in our community, it's so easily spread, that the same things we've been talking about from public health measures from day one are really important now,” Simmons said. “I'm aware that people are tired of that. But it's really, really important at this juncture at this time, that we continue those measures to help save the capacity in our hospitals.”</p> <p class="t-align-left">Simmons added that people should not delay care if they need it because emergency rooms are adept at managing both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients, even when they’re full.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Simmons and other Texas health care workers have expressed hope for the future after Texas’ vaccination process began on Dec. 14. Tens of thousands <a href="">have gotten a second dose</a> already, though millions of people who are now eligible are still waiting for Texas to receive enough doses to vaccinate the health care workers, long term care residents, people over 65 and those with certain health conditions who comprise groups 1A and 1B.</p> <p class="t-align-left">But the ICU bed crunch is far from over. Though hospitalizations are not currently increasing at December’s higher rates, a more contagious COVID-19 variant, <a href="">identified</a> in Harris County on Jan. 7, could cause hospitalizations to rise more sharply as it spreads. While it may not make people sicker or affect the death rate, the mutation means the virus could spread faster and infect more people, said Stephen Love, president and CEO of the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council.</p> <p class="t-align-left">“As a result, more hospitalizations, more capacity issues,” Love said. “For the next three to four weeks, [it’s] absolutely critical for us to monitor and try to get the word out to people to please do what they need to do to tamp down the spiral.”</p> </div> All Texas Democrats in U.S. House voted to impeach Donald Trump. No Texas Republicans joined them. Democrats have been unanimous in their support for impeachment. Many Republicans from the state have been opposed.Abby Livingston and Carla AstudilloWed, 13 Jan 2021 15:46:18 -0600 <figure> <img alt="President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at the Fayetteville Regional Airport in North Carolina on Nov. 2, 2020. " src=""> <figcaption> The last time the U.S. House impeached Trump was 13 months ago, when the chamber accused him of pressuring Ukrainian officials to interfere with the 2020 election and for obstructing Congress’ efforts to investigate the matter. <cite>Credit: Andrew Craft/USA Today Network via REUTERS</cite> </figcaption> </figure> <div class="c-story-body"> <p class="t-align-left">The U.S House impeached President Donald Trump for the second time on Wednesday afternoon, a week to the hour after supporters of Trump mobbed the U.S. Capitol and caused many members of Congress, their families and journalists to flee for their lives.</p> <p class="t-align-left">The vote was 232-197, and was party-line among the Texas delegation. All 13 of the state's Democrats voted in favor, while 22 Republicans were opposed. Several<strong> </strong>Republicans, however, said they were outraged by last week's events. One Texas Republican, U.S. Rep. <a href="">Kay Granger</a> of Fort Worth, did not vote due to testing positive for COVID-19.</p> <p class="t-align-left">The case will now go to the Senate, which must decide whether to convict the president.</p> <p class="t-align-left">A mere five pages long, <a href="">the House resolution</a> included one article of impeachment: Incitement of insurrection. In detailing the allegations, the resolution stated that Trump "gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of government."</p> <p class="t-align-left">"He threatened the integrity of the democratic system, interfered with the peaceful transition of power and imperiled a coequal branch of government," the resolution continued. "He thereby betrayed his trust as president, to the manifest injury of the people of the United States."</p> <p class="t-align-left">"Donald John Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security, democracy and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office, and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law," the legislation stated. "Donald John Trump thus warrants impeachment and trial, removal from office and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States."</p> <p class="t-align-left">Ten Republicans from outside of Texas voted in favor of impeachment.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Texan after Texan took to the floor to deliver brief remarks for or against impeaching Trump a mere days before he will leave office. For the most part, Texas Republicans dismissed the Democrats' charges.</p> <p class="t-align-left">"This week's attack on the U.S. Capitol was completely unacceptable and the people involved should be met with swift accountability," said U.S. Rep. <a href="">Jodey Arrington</a>, a Lubbock Republican. "The president didn't incite a riot, the president didn't lead an insurrection and there are no high crimes and misdemeanors requisite of an impeachment. I'm not saying the president didn't exercise poor judgment. But to criminalize political speech by blaming lawless acts on the president's rhetoric is wrong... and a very dangerous precedent."</p> <p class="t-align-left">"We have the opportunity come together and do what's right for our country," he later added. "The votes are certified. President Trump has conceded. Let's focus on the future and get back to the people's business."</p> <p class="t-align-left">At least three Texans — U.S. Reps. <a href="">Dan Crenshaw</a> of Houston and <a href="">Michael McCaul</a> and <a href="">Chip Roy</a> of Austin — released statements during the vote that harshly criticized the president's actions. But they said they would vote against impeachment because of the language in the articles of impeachment and the speed at which the House was moving.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Roy said Trump pressured Vice President Mike Pence to violate his oath and not accept the election results. That, he said, was clearly "impeachable."</p> <p class="t-align-left">"His open and public pressure, courageously rejected by the vice president, purposefully seeded the false belief among the president's supporters, including those assembled on Jan. 6, that there was legal path for the president," Roy said. "It was foreseeable and reckless to sow such a false belief that could lead to violence and rioting by loyal supporters whipped them into a frenzy."</p> <p class="t-align-left">But Roy said he couldn't vote for the article of impeachment drafted by the Democrats.</p> <p class="t-align-left">"Unfortunately, my Democratic colleagues drafted articles that I believe are flawed and unsupportable, focusing on the legal terms of incitement and insurrection," he added. "Even noting impeachment does not require meeting a certain legal standard, that danger for open speech and debate in this body and for the republic is high. If the House approves the articles as written, the language will be used to target members of this body under <a href="">Section Three of the 14th Amendment</a>, and it will be used to succeed any statements we make are subject to review by our colleagues and send us down the perilous path of cleansing political speech in the public square."</p> <p class="t-align-left">McCaul, meanwhile, said he strongly condemned Trump's behavior, but worried the House was moving too fast.</p> <p class="t-align-left">"I did not come to this decision lightly," he said of his vote against impeachment. "And I truly fear that there may be more facts that come to light in the future that will put me on the wrong side of this debate."</p> <p class="t-align-left">While Granger did not vote, she said on Thursday that she opposed impeachment, <a href="">per The Dallas Morning News.</a></p> <p class="t-align-left">Texas Democrats took to the floor as well during Wednesday's debate. One of the angriest speech deliveries came from U.S. Rep. <a href="">Lizzie Pannill Fletcher</a>, a Houston Democrat <a href="">who was in the chamber during the attack</a>.</p> <p class="t-align-left">"I rise today in support of the article of impeachment and in opposition to the gaslighting that is masquerading as debate in this chamber today," she said. "I was in this chamber when the president assembled and unleashed a mob to attack the United States Capitol and the United States Congress, the elected representatives of the people.</p> <p class="t-align-left">"By doing so he incited an insurrection against our representative democracy itself," she added. "If that is not an impeachable offense, then what is?"</p> <p class="t-align-left">Fletcher spent that afternoon hiding and sheltering in place in the House gallery as rioters tried to breach the House chamber doors. Four people engaged in the insurrection died and a police officer passed away a day later as a result of his injuries from the attack.</p> <p class="t-align-left">In a House floor speech earlier in the day, U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer <a href="">praised</a> U.S. Rep. <a href="">Al Green</a>, a Houston Democrat, for the Texan's <a href="">repeated attempts to impeach</a> Trump in the early years of the Trump era.</p> <p class="t-align-left">The last time the U.S. House impeached Trump <a href="">was 13 months ago</a>, when the chamber accused him of pressuring Ukrainian officials to interfere with the 2020 election and for obstructing Congress’ efforts to investigate the matter.</p> </div> U.S. representatives from Texas vote along party lines on resolution asking Pence to remove Trump from office historic vote underscores the scale of anger at President Donald Trump for his role in last week's deadly insurrection at the United States Capitol.Abby Livingston and Carla AstudilloTue, 12 Jan 2021 22:45:53 -0600 <figure> <img alt="House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and Vice President Mike Pence take part in a joint session of Congress to certify the 2020 election results on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021." src=""> <figcaption> House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and Vice President Mike Pence attended a joint session of Congress before last week&#39;s violent insurrection at the Capitol. U.S. House members asked Pence on Tuesday to remove President Donald Trump from office over his role in the violent siege. <cite>Credit: Erin Schaff/Pool via REUTERS</cite> </figcaption> </figure> <div class="c-story-body"> <p class="t-align-left"><em><a href=";utm_source=trib-ads-owned&amp;utm_campaign=trib-marketing&amp;utm_term=inline-CTA-brief">Sign up for The Brief</a>, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.</em></p> <p class="t-align-left">With the backing of Texas Democrats, the U.S. House called on Vice President Mike Pence to remove President Donald Trump from office Tuesday, even though the vice president said he planned to take no such action.</p> <p class="t-align-left">The historic 223-205 vote marked the first time the U.S. House took such action and underscores the scale of anger at Trump for his role in last week's deadly insurrection at the United States Capitol. A pro-Trump mob's violent siege on the building while Congress was voting to certify President-elect Joe Biden's electoral win left one police officer and four participants dead. Another police officer on duty during the siege <a href="">later died by suicide</a>.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Within the Texas delegation, the vote fell along party lines. Republican U.S. Reps. <a href="">Dan Crenshaw</a> of Houston and <a href="">Kay Granger</a> of Fort Worth did not vote. Granger <a href="">tested positive</a> for COVID-19 last week.</p> <p class="t-align-left">The vote was largely the first legislative move at pushing Trump from the presidency, and House Democrats were already in the process of moving articles of impeachment that members will vote on Wednesday night.</p> <p class="t-align-left">The resolution demands that Pence invoke <a href="">the 25th Amendment</a>, which allows the vice president to convene the president's cabinet and for<strong> </strong>a majority of that body to declare "the president is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office." It came about in the mid-1960s after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy <a href="">as theoretical questions intensified</a> over how to handle an incapacitated chief executive.</p> <p class="t-align-left">The White House released a letter from Pence to Democratic U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stating he would not invoke the amendment.</p> <p class="t-align-left">"I do not believe that such a course of action is in the best interest of our nation or consistent with our constitution," he wrote. "I urge you and every member of Congress to avoid actions that would further divide and inflame the passions of the moment. Work with us to lower the temperature and unite our country as we prepare to inaugurate President-elect Joe Biden as the next President of the United States."</p> <p class="t-align-left">During last week's insurrection after a rally Trump held in Washington, D.C.,<strong> </strong>members of Congress in both chambers, their families, staffers and journalists ran for their lives and hid throughout the Capitol as it went into lockdown. Trump lied to supporters for months — and just before the siege — about American voters ousting him at the ballot box. After his rally, his backers overtook law enforcement and made it inside the Capitol, defacing irreplaceable federal property, breaking down doors, shattering windows, attacking journalists, smearing excrement around the premises and carrying plastic hand restraints in the U.S. Senate chamber.</p> <p class="t-align-left">House Democrats and at least a handful of Republicans are expected to easily pass Wednesday's impeachment<strong> </strong>measure with a majority vote.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Prior to the vote, Pelosi named U.S. Rep. <a href="">Joaquin Castro</a>, D-San Antonio, to the team of House impeachment managers. In that role, he will likely draw national attention when he serves as a de facto prosecutor in making the case to the U.S. Senate in a trial.</p> <p class="t-align-left">"For the first time in our nation’s history, the transfer of power has not been peaceful," he said in a statement. "The president of the United States, in an unconscionable act of insurrection, incited a violent mob of his supporters to terrorize the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to overturn a free and fair election.</p> <p class="t-align-left">"To protect the American people and as a consequence for these deadly actions, President Donald J. Trump must be removed from office immediately and prevented from ever occupying the presidency again."</p> <p class="t-align-left">Despite last week's stunning and violent upheaval, Trump maintained a loyal following among many House Republicans from Texas. Freshman U.S. Rep. Ronny Jackson of Amarillo, who was once the president's physician, issued a forceful defense of Trump prior to the vote.</p> <p class="t-align-left">"I will not support any measure to remove President Trump from office," he said. "It is time to focus on a peaceful transition of power and come together to solve the unprecedented challenges we face as a country.</p> <p class="t-align-left">"Inflaming the divisions of the American people is not the way to move forward from all our country has been through this past year," he added. "As we look to heal, we should prioritize restoring communities devastated by lockdowns and America’s vaccine rollout over a divisive impeachment process."</p> <p class="t-align-left">Jackson, a veteran, was on the House floor during the riot and <a href="">helped hold back the mob</a>.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Within the legislation, House members laid out in stark detail the physical destruction from last week, calling the event "a massive violent invasion of the United States Capitol and its complex by a dangerous, insurrectionary mob which smashed windows and used violent physical force and weapons to overpower and outmaneuver the United States Capitol Police and facilitated the illegal entry into the Capitol of hundreds, if not thousands, of unauthorized persons."</p> <p class="t-align-left">That mob, the legislation stated, "threatened the safety and lives" of the highest-ranking people in the presidential succession line, including Pence, Pelosi and U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, who is the president pro tempore of the Senate. The resolution notes that “rioters were recorded chanting 'Hang Mike Pence' and 'Where’s Nancy' when President Donald J. Trump tweeted to his supporters that 'Mike Pence didn't have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our country' after the Capitol had been overrun and the Vice President was in hiding."</p> <p class="t-align-left">The resolution also described how the attack disrupted the peaceful transition of power, "unleashed chaos and terror among Members and staffers and their families," and left law enforcement officers injured. It also listed the five Americans who died in the attack, including four of the riot's participants.</p> <p class="t-align-left">It blamed Trump's baseless discrediting of the 2020 election results and his tweets and speeches for encouraging supporters to "charge up the rioters and insurrectionists to 'march on the Capitol' and 'fight' on Wednesday."<em><strong> </strong></em></p> <p class="t-align-left">Thirteen months ago, Trump held the line within the U.S. House during his first impeachment, when House Democrats attempted to remove him from office for pressuring Ukrainian leadership to damage the reputation of Hunter Biden, the son of now-President-elect Joe Biden.</p> <p class="t-align-left">In that impeachment, <a href="">Texans fell along party lines</a>.<strong> </strong>All House Republicans opposed that impeachment. That was not the case this time.</p> <p class="t-align-left">The highest-ranking female Republican in the House, U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, announced early Tuesday evening she would support impeachment. Between her rank and her political pedigree — she is the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney — she is expected to offer political cover to other House Republicans who might fear political repercussions for supporting any measure to move Trump out of office.</p> <p class="t-align-left">U.S. Rep. <a href="">Henry Cuellar</a>, D-Laredo, was the presiding officer over the vote.</p> <p class="t-align-left">The House is expected to vote on impeachment Wednesday evening.</p> <p class="t-align-left">While the U.S. House only needs a majority vote to impeach a president, actual removal from office would require a Senate trial and an eventual two-thirds vote of the chamber to convict the president.</p> <p class="t-align-left">An alternative punishment that has picked up some steam within the House GOP conference is a censure. This measure, which only entails a majority vote, is a formal condemnation of a public official.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Some House Democrats have proposed another censure — against U.S. Rep. <a href="">Louie Gohmert</a>, a Tyler Republican. Democrats were already enraged heading into the Electoral College vote counting, as Gohmert <a href="">said</a> that after dozens of judicial setbacks over attempts to overturn the election, there were no options left but "you got to go to the streets and be as violent as Antifa and [Black Lives Matter]."</p> </div> In 2021, the Texas Legislature remains mostly white and male the 2021 legislative session begins Tuesday, three of every five lawmakers in the state House and Senate will be white and just 27% of seats will be held by women.Alexa Ura and Carla AstudilloMon, 11 Jan 2021 08:19:08 -0600 <figure> <img alt="The Capitol at sunset on May 23, 2017." src=""> <figcaption> <cite>Credit: Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune</cite> </figcaption> </figure> <p>When the 2021 legislative session begins Tuesday, three of every five lawmakers in the state House and Senate will be white and just 27% of seats will be held by women. [&nbsp;<a href="">Read more</a>&nbsp;]</p> Most Texan Republicans in the U.S. House voted in favor of objections to certifying Joe Biden's win overwhelmingly voted against an objection by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to the certification of Arizona's results and another to the results from Pennsylvania.Carla Astudillo and Abby LivingstonThu, 07 Jan 2021 10:20:40 -0600 <figure> <img alt="Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi preside over a joint session of Congress to certify the 2020 Electoral College results, after supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol earlier in the day." src=""> <figcaption> Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi preside over a joint session of Congress to certify the 2020 Electoral College results, after supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol earlier in the day. <cite>Credit: Erin Schaff/Pool via REUTERS</cite> </figcaption> </figure> <div class="c-story-body"> <p class="t-align-left">Most Texas Republicans in the U.S. House voted in favor of <a href="">objections to certifying the presidential election results</a> in two swing states, hours after the Capitol had been stormed by supporters of President Donald Trump who were angry over Congress' plan to affirm President-elect Joe Biden's victory.</p> <p class="t-align-left">But overall, Congress overwhelmingly voted against the objection by U.S. Sen. <a href="">Ted Cruz</a>, R-Texas, to the certification of Arizona's results. The vote for Arizona was 93-6 in the Senate and 303-121 in the House. Later, the Senate voted 92-7 against an objection to certifying Pennsylvania's results; House members rejected it 282-138. For either objection to succeed, both chambers would have had to support it.</p> <p class="t-align-left">All Texas Democrats voted against the objections. U.S. Reps. <a href="">Kay Granger</a> of Fort Worth and <a href="">Kevin Brady</a> of The Woodlands were recently diagnosed with COVID-19 and did not vote. New Rep. <a href="">Beth Van Duyne</a>, R-Irving, was the only Texan to split her vote — she supported certifying Arizona's results but voted against certifying Pennsylvania's. Here's how each Texan voted.</p> <p class="t-align-left">In addition to these actions, several Texas U.S. House members also signed onto an objection to certification for the state of Nevada, <a href="">as reported by the Nevada Independent</a>. Those Texans were U.S. Reps. Louie Gohmert, Roger Williams, Lance Gooden, Ronny Jackson, Brian Babin and Randy Weber.</p> </div> Ahead of the holiday season, Texas' ICU capacity is the lowest since the start of the pandemic care units were full in at least 28 Texas hospitals for the week ending Nov. 27, according to a Texas Tribune analysis of data released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.Shawn Mulcahy and Carla AstudilloFri, 11 Dec 2020 17:19:41 -0600 <figure> <img alt="The COVID-19 unit at the DHR Health Center in Edinburg on June 30, 2020." src=""> <figcaption> As of Thursday, there were 672 staffed ICU beds available statewide. That’s compared with 2,100 open ICU beds available at the end of April, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. <cite>Credit: Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune</cite> </figcaption> </figure> <div class="c-story-body"> <p class="t-align-left"><i>Need to stay updated on coronavirus news in Texas? Our evening roundup will help you stay on top of the day's latest updates. </i><a href=";utm_source=trib-ads-owned&amp;utm_campaign=trib-marketing&amp;utm_term=inline-CTA-CIT"><i>Sign up here.</i></a></p> <p class="t-align-left">Heading into another holiday season, Texas has the fewest number of available intensive care beds to care for its sickest patients since the pandemic began, leaving health care experts worried hospitals could be pushed to the brink as coronavirus cases continue to climb.</p> <p class="t-align-left">As of Thursday, there were 672 staffed ICU beds available statewide. That’s compared with 2,100 open ICU beds available at the end of April, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Intensive care units were full in at least 28 hospitals spread across Texas for the week ending Nov. 27, according to a Texas Tribune analysis of data released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. More than 160 hospitals reported having less than 15% of their ICU beds available during the same period.</p> <p class="t-align-left">“It has been a daily struggle for many months, but particularly the last few weeks,” said Tom Cummins, chief medical officer for UT Health East Texas. “I fully expect to see another rise over the next few weeks.”</p> <p class="t-align-left">The Texas Tribune analyzed data for 200 of the largest hospitals that reported four or more ICU beds or ICU patients across the state. The numbers represent seven-day averages that were self-reported to the federal government.</p> <p class="t-align-left">There were 9,045 people <a href="">in hospitals</a> with COVID-19 as of Thursday, according to state data, near the record level last seen in late July.</p> <p class="t-align-left">The crush of demand for ICU beds is, in part, because many people put off treatment for non-coronavirus illnesses in the early months of the pandemic, Cummins said. Now, people are returning to emergency rooms with more severe complications for conditions like heart attacks and strokes.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Hospitals with full ICUs spanned all corners of the state, from El Paso to Dallas. Among them were the 44-bed Starr County Memorial Hospital in the small border town of Rio Grande City and the 444-bed HCA Houston Healthcare Medical Center, just steps from Hermann Park in Houston.</p> <p class="t-align-left">In Texarkana, an East Texas city along the Arkansas border, Christus St. Michael Health System’s 32-bed ICU has been near or at capacity in recent weeks. Dr. Loren Robinson, vice president of medical affairs, said the hospital is working to add another eight ICU beds and hire more personnel to staff them. She worries that new cases, caused by travel and large gatherings for Thanksgiving, could further strain the community’s medical resources.</p> <p class="t-align-left">“We won’t see the impact of all of that travel for the next week and half,” Robinson said, adding that numbers have slowly declined over the past week. This gave hospital staff time to plan for another wave of hospitalizations, she said.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Staff at Texas Health Frisco converted beds used for postpartum recovery to medical overflow, faced with an increasing number of patients with COVID-19, said Barclay Berdan, CEO of Texas Health Resources, one of the largest hospital systems in North Texas.</p> <p class="t-align-left">“At this point, we have the highest census of COVID-positive patients that we’ve ever had, spread across the system,” Berdan said. New hospitalizations have steadily increased since October, he said.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Beth Powell Surface, who helps prepare hospitals for emergencies for the Piney Woods Regional Advisory Council in Tyler, said she is trying to open spots in hospitals by moving recovering patients out of ICU beds and potentially into different long-term care facilities.</p> <p class="t-align-left">“Our biggest concern is if the numbers continue to go up, making sure that we have pulled all the levers that we possibly can to provide the backup that the hospitals need,” Powell Surface said. “Health care workers are doing everything they can to accept as many patients as they can to get into the right level of care.”</p> <p class="t-align-left">Texas Medical Center hospitals in Houston exceeded base ICU capacity Thursday for the first time since cases of COVID-19 surged this summer, the Houston Chronicle <a href="">reported</a>. That prompted hospitals to return to Phase 2 surge planning, in which regular beds are converted to ICU beds.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Ahead of yet another potentially catastrophic influx of cases caused by holiday celebrations, hospitals could be pushed to their limits, said Cummins of UT Health. He said people must avoid large gatherings and follow recommended health protocols, such as frequently washing hands and wearing masks.</p> <p class="t-align-left">“The specter of the Christmas holiday is very nerve-wracking for hospitals,” Cummins said.</p> <p class="t-align-left"><em>Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff contributed reporting.</em></p> <p class="t-align-left"><i>Disclosure: UT Health has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete <a href="">list of them here</a>.</i></p> </div> Federal loans helped more than 400,000 Texas companies retain workers during the pandemic, new data shows details released from the Paycheck Protection Program this week, a full snapshot of the program remains unclear.Mitchell Ferman, Chris Essig, Abby Livingston and Carla AstudilloFri, 04 Dec 2020 18:42:35 -0600 <figure> <img alt="Shuttered store fronts in downtown El Paso during the the coronavirus pandemic." src=""> <figcaption> Storefronts in downtown El Paso are shuttered during the the coronavirus pandemic. <cite>Credit: Emily Kinskey for The Texas Tribune</cite> </figcaption> </figure> <div class="c-story-body"> <p class="t-align-left">HOUSTON — The most complete picture so far of the federal program designed to keep businesses afloat during the coronavirus pandemic was revealed this week, but some details about the Paycheck Protection Program remain unknown eight months after it was implemented, and most of the money has already been dispersed.</p> <p class="t-align-left">The Small Business Administration, which has been in charge of the loan program, disclosed this week that roughly 411,000 loans were approved for Texas businesses. Of those, more than 98% were worth $1 million or less.</p> <p class="t-align-left">In total, Texas businesses received more than $41 billion in loans, including $13.8 billion to roughly 6,200 recipients that received more than $1 million each. Those 6,200 businesses made up about 1.5% of the total recipients, but they received about a third of the dollars.</p> <p class="t-align-left">The Texas companies supported by the $41 billion in loans reported retaining 4.3 million workers. This does not include roughly 60,000 businesses that reported they retained no jobs or did not say how many jobs they retained. This could be because of inconsistent data reporting and also because borrowers were not required to list the number of jobs they would retain, as the Chicago Tribune <a href="">has found</a>.</p> <p class="t-align-left">In Texas, for instance, four companies that received loans worth $10 million reported not having any jobs retained or didn’t say.</p> <p class="t-align-left">The data was released this week under an order by U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg in Washington, D.C., rejecting the SBA’s request to keep the information secret. It was the program’s most revealing disclosure since July, when the Trump administration <a href="">released names of 51,250 Texas businesses</a> that received loans.</p> <p class="t-align-left">The data disclosed in July was incomplete, but it showed the broad scope of the program’s power: Businesses and nonprofit organizations from all walks of life were propped up, ranging from summer camps to country clubs to churches to Texas-based brands like Billy Bob’s Texas of Fort Worth and Lucchese Boots of El Paso.</p> <p class="t-align-left">The idea from congressional leaders and the Trump administration was the program would be better for the economy to keep businesses employing workers rather than overwhelm the unemployment insurance program. Another objective was to prevent businesses from going under altogether, which would further delay a future economic recovery.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Congress passed it in a rush early in the pandemic as businesses across the country were forced to shut their doors, threatening millions of jobs. Small businesses and nonprofits were allowed to apply for loans of up to $10 million to make up for lost business in order to pay their employees.</p> <p class="t-align-left">It was part of the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Stimulus Act, the only large coronavirus aid Congress has passed.</p> <p class="t-align-left">As the end of the year approaches and businesses are in the lurch again as the pandemic escalates across <a href="">Texas</a> and the country, most of the loan money from the financial safety net legislation from the spring is already out the door, according to a November <a href="">survey from the National Federation of Independent Businesses</a>.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Per the research, 90% of borrowers have spent their loan money and want to apply for new forgivable loans. One in five small business owners responded to the survey saying that if economic conditions do not improve, they will be forced to shut their doors.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Despite repeated attempts to pass a fresh round of economic aid, Congress and President Donald Trump have failed to pass a new deal. Congressional and Trump administration negotiators are frantically trying to pass a new bill before the holiday break. The main sticking points are how much to spend on the package and how much liability protection to offer businesses in the pandemic.</p> <p class="t-align-left">The largest cities in Texas have the most businesses, and thus received the most loans. The SBA dispensed more than 56,000 loans worth at least $6.9 billion to businesses in Houston, by far the largest tally of any city in Texas.</p> <p class="t-align-left">The SBA also sent more than 27,000 loans worth at least $3.7 billion to businesses in Dallas; more than 23,000 loans worth at least $2.7 billion to businesses in Austin; more than 20,000 loans worth at least $2.3 billion to businesses in San Antonio; and more than 11,000 loans worth at least $1.4 billion to businesses in Fort Worth.</p> <p class="t-align-left">While the new data offers a more complete picture of the lending program, there are still many unknowns. Demographic details are still unclear as many borrowers left blanks for gender, race and ethnicity when applying for the program.</p> <p class="t-align-left"><em>Disclosure: The Texas Tribune, as a nonprofit local newsroom and a small business, applied for and received a loan through the Paycheck Protection Program in the amount of $1,116,626.</em></p> </div> Texas again sets record for new coronavirus infections as testing also sees sustained highs apparent record comes one day before the Thanksgiving holiday. Public health authorities have urged people to celebrate apart this year as many Texas hospitals report overwhelming volumes of COVID-19 patients.Edgar Walters, Carla Astudillo, Chris Essig and Mandi CaiWed, 25 Nov 2020 17:37:56 -0600 <figure> <img alt="Medical personnel put on personal protective equipment at a COVID-19 testing site at the University of Texas at El Paso on Election Day in El Paso on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020." src=""> <figcaption> Medical personnel put on personal protective equipment at a COVID-19 testing site at the University of Texas at El Paso on Nov. 3. Heading into the Thanksgiving holiday, Texas has set new records for the number of people testing positive for the coronavirus. <cite>Credit: Joel Angel Juarez for The Texas Tribune</cite> </figcaption> </figure> <div class="c-story-body"> <p class="t-align-left"><em>Need to stay updated on coronavirus news in Texas? Our evening roundup will help you stay on top of the day's latest updates. <a href=";utm_source=trib-ads-owned&amp;utm_campaign=trib-marketing&amp;utm_term=inline-CTA-CIT">Sign up here.</a></em></p> <p class="t-align-left">Texas health officials reported more than 14,000 new coronavirus infections Wednesday in what appeared to be an all-time high for daily cases.</p> <p class="t-align-left">The record comes one day before the <a href="">Thanksgiving holiday</a>. Public health authorities have urged people to <a href="">celebrate apart this year,</a> warning that family gatherings may hasten the spread of infections at a time when many <a href="">Texas hospitals report overwhelming volumes</a> of COVID-19 patients.</p> <p class="t-align-left">The seven-day average of new cases in Texas continues to surpass 10,000, having tripled since the beginning of October. Testing is also at record levels. Roughly 10% of coronavirus tests yielded positive results on Nov. 24, according to Texas Department of State Health Services data.</p> <p class="t-align-left">The state public health agency says its daily coronavirus statistics are provisional and subject to change.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Meanwhile, the number of Texans hospitalized with COVID-19 has more than doubled since the beginning of October, and Texas has reported more than 20,900 coronavirus deaths since the pandemic began.</p> <p class="t-align-left">The situation is <a href="">particularly dire in El Paso</a>, where officials have pleaded for more morgue workers as coronavirus fatalities climb. Experts say widespread fatigue has hastened viral transmission and worry the holidays could exacerbate an already dangerous situation.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Hospital administrators in North Texas, West Texas and the Panhandle have expressed concern about climbing numbers of coronavirus hospitalizations. Rural hospital administrators have reported difficulty transferring patients as larger hospitals in Lubbock, Amarillo and other larger cities run short on beds.</p> <p class="t-align-left">More than 8,500 patients with COVID-19 were hospitalized on Nov. 25, according to state health officials. That was below Texas’ all-time high for coronavirus hospitalizations, which reached nearly 11,000 in late July.</p> <p class="t-align-left">The Department of State Health Services has said it plans to update its daily COVID-19 counts over the holiday weekend but that daily case numbers may appear lower as some local health departments report data more slowly.</p> </div> Here are the Texas 2020 election results all of Texas’ election results through The Texas Tribune’s coverage of the 2020 races for president, U.S. Senate, U.S. House and the Texas Legislature.Carla AstudilloTue, 03 Nov 2020 00:01:00 -0600 <figure> <img alt="" src=""> <figcaption> <cite>Credit: Emily Albracht</cite> </figcaption> </figure> <p>Get all of Texas’ election results through The Texas Tribune’s coverage of the 2020 races for president, U.S. Senate, U.S. House and the Texas Legislature. [&nbsp;<a href="">Read more</a>&nbsp;]</p> Texans have until Oct. 30 to vote early in 2020 election last day to vote early in Texas is Oct. 30. Use The Texas Tribune's voter guide to learn more about key election dates, voting during the pandemic, mail-in voting and Texas candidates.Mandi Cai, Carla Astudillo, Yasmeen Khalifa and Catherine DeLauraFri, 02 Oct 2020 05:00:00 -0500 <figure> <img alt="" src=""> <figcaption> <cite>Credit: Emily Albracht for The Texas Tribune</cite> </figcaption> </figure> <p>The last day to vote early in Texas is Oct. 30. Use The Texas Tribune&#39;s voter guide to learn more about key election dates, voting during the pandemic, mail-in voting and Texas candidates. [&nbsp;<a href="">Read more</a>&nbsp;]</p> Voting in Texas during the pandemic: Everything you need to know about the 2020 general election The Texas Tribune's voter guide to learn more about voting during the pandemic, mail-in voting, voting in person, Texas candidates and key dates for the 2020 general election.Mandi Cai, Carla Astudillo, Yasmeen Khalifa and Catherine DeLauraFri, 18 Sep 2020 04:00:00 -0500 <figure> <img alt="" src=""> <figcaption> <cite>Credit: Emily Albracht for The Texas Tribune</cite> </figcaption> </figure> <p>Use The Texas Tribune&#39;s voter guide to learn more about voting during the pandemic, mail-in voting, voting in person, Texas candidates and key dates for the 2020 general election. [&nbsp;<a href="">Read more</a>&nbsp;]</p> Here’s your Texas 2020 November ballot 2020 U.S. election will take place Nov. 3. See the full list of candidates in Texas, and find out who's on your ballot based on where you live.Carla AstudilloTue, 15 Sep 2020 04:00:00 -0500 <figure> <img alt="" src=""> <figcaption> <cite>Credit: Emily Albracht</cite> </figcaption> </figure> <p>The 2020 U.S. election will take place Nov. 3. See the full list of candidates in Texas, and find out who&#39;s on your ballot based on where you live. [&nbsp;<a href="">Read more</a>&nbsp;]</p> Coronavirus outbreak at Houston-area nursing home kills 17 residents news comes as Texas resumes limited visitations in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities that meet certain requirements.Meena Venkataramanan and Carla AstudilloFri, 07 Aug 2020 12:21:46 -0500 <figure> <img alt="Paramedics disinfect a gurney in their ambulance before leaving a 131-bed nursing home in Tomball. The nursing home is the site where an elderly man lived before dying this week of a COVID-19 infection. March 20, 2020. " src=""> <figcaption> Paramedics disinfect a gurney in their ambulance before leaving a nursing home in Tomball. This week, in Missouri County, locals expressed concern over 17 deaths that occurred from an outbreak at a nursing home. <cite>Credit: Michael Stravato for The Texas Tribune</cite> </figcaption> </figure> <div class="c-story-body"> <p class="t-align-left"><i>Need to stay updated on coronavirus news in Texas? Our evening roundup will help you stay on top of the day's latest updates. </i><a href=";utm_source=trib-ads-owned&amp;utm_campaign=trib-marketing&amp;utm_term=inline-CTA-CIT"><i>Sign up here.</i></a></p> <p class="t-align-left">A novel coronavirus outbreak at a Missouri City nursing home, outside of Houston, has killed 17 residents, according to data from state officials.</p> <p class="t-align-left">City officials issued a press release this week raising alarm over 19 deaths that they said occurred at the Paradigm at First Colony Nursing Home. Nursing home officials told The Texas Tribune that the number is incorrect and declined to provide the correct number.</p> <p class="t-align-left">The city also reported that the facility has 24 infected staff members, and the nursing home reported 11 infected residents who are in stable condition.</p> <p class="t-align-left">“This harrowing development speaks to the severity of this pandemic and how everyone needs to take it even more seriously,” said Missouri City Mayor Yolanda Ford of the outbreak in a Wednesday press release.</p> <p class="t-align-left">The news comes as <a href="">Texas officials said Thursday that limited visitation at some nursing homes and assisted-living centers can resume</a>, ending a monthslong ban aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus among some of the most vulnerable Texans.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Visitors are allowed to see their loved ones indoors through plexiglass barriers in assisted-living facilities where no residents have COVID-19 and there have been no confirmed cases among staff for two weeks. Physical contact between visitors and residents is not allowed, state officials said. In nursing homes, staff must be tested weekly, and only outdoor visits are permitted.</p> <p class="t-align-left">The Paradigm at First Colony Nursing Home has the seventh-highest number of deaths among nursing homes in the state, tied with three other nursing homes, according to data from state health officials. Officials from the nursing home declined to comment on the timeframe during which the deaths occurred.</p> <p class="t-align-left">In the Houston area, the nursing home with the highest death toll is Focused Care at Westwood, with 24 deaths among residents as of July 23.</p> <p class="t-align-left">There have been 83 cases of the virus among residents at the Paradigm at First Colony Nursing Home since the pandemic began, according to numbers from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Ford said she and her colleagues are concerned about the deaths and cases at the Paradigm at First Colony Nursing Home and are continuing to monitor the situation, despite the fact that regulation of nursing homes is under state jurisdiction.</p> <p class="t-align-left">“The lack of City authority is a challenge, especially during a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic,” Ford wrote.</p> <p class="t-align-left">So far, there have been over 18,000 coronavirus infections among residents across Texas nursing homes; of those, more than 2,000 have died, according to state data. That number accounts for more than 30% of the state’s total coronavirus fatalities since the pandemic began in March. The most recent data for individual facilities is from July 23, and the total statewide number of infections is current as of Thursday, so it is possible that the statewide infection and death counts are even higher.</p> <p class="t-align-left"><em>Correction: Because of an error in state data, an earlier version of this story stated that Cimarron Health and Rehabilitation in Corpus Christi had 27 deaths, the most of any nursing home in the state. After the story ran, the state revised the data to reflect that Cimarron had seven deaths as of July 23. </em></p> </div> Across Texas and the nation, the novel coronavirus is deadlier for people of color data on Texas coronavirus fatalities reveals stark racial disparities.Emma Platoff and Carla AstudilloThu, 30 Jul 2020 05:00:00 -0500 <figure> <img alt="Juan Lopez wheels a stretcher out of the back of his vehicle in the early morning in McAllen. Lopez is picking up the body of a person who recently passed away from COVID-19. July 17, 2020. " src=""> <figcaption> Juan Lopez wheels a stretcher out of the back of his vehicle in McAllen. Across Texas and the nation, the novel coronavirus is deadlier for communities of color and low-income communities. <cite>Credit: Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune</cite> </figcaption> </figure> <div class="c-story-body"> <p class="t-align-left"><em>Correction: On July 30, the state said an “automation error” caused approximately 225 deaths to be incorrectly added to the overall death count; a subsequent quality check by Department of State Health Services epidemiologists revealed COVID-19 was not the direct cause of death in these cases. The numbers and charts in this story have been updated to account for this error and are current as of July 30.</em></p> <p class="t-align-left">Texas’ southernmost county, Cameron, is home to just 1.5% of the state’s population, but it accounts for nearly 5% of its known COVID-19 fatalities.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Cameron County — where 89% of residents are Hispanic and nearly a third live below the poverty line — stands out as just one stark example of widespread disparities in COVID-19 outcomes. Across Texas and the nation, the novel coronavirus is deadlier for communities of color and low-income communities.</p> <p class="t-align-left">These disparities, and a wealth of other demographic information, became more apparent this week when <a href="">new tallying methods</a> at the state health agency revealed a more complete picture of who has died in Texas and where. Trends showing that Black and Hispanic individuals had been disproportionately hit by the virus were clear nationally and apparent in local snapshots, but until earlier this week, the Texas Department of State Health Services’ limited demographic data had <a href="">clouded</a> the picture of those disparities statewide.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Hispanic Texans make up about 40% of the state’s population, but they account for 49% of its known COVID-19 fatalities. Black Texans also appear slightly overrepresented in the fatality toll, representing 14% of fatalities but just 12% of the state population. Texas reported a total of 6,274 fatalities Thursday evening.</p> <p class="t-align-left">By contrast, white and Asian Texans died at lower rates relative to their share of the state’s population.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Sometimes called the great equalizer, the novel coronavirus has been anything but — a deadly reality in a state like Texas, where the Hispanic population is expected to <a href="">become</a> the largest group in the state by mid-2021.</p> <p class="t-align-left">The disparities should not have been a surprise, said Jamboor Vishwanatha, director of the Texas Center for Health Disparities at the University of North Texas Health Science Center.</p> <p class="t-align-left">“What COVID did is essentially shined a bright light on existing disparities,” Vishwanatha said, citing disparities in rates of preexisting conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular issues, as well as social factors like income inequality and access to health care. “You would expect something like this to happen.”</p> <p class="t-align-left">Research has found that higher-paid employees are <a href="">more likely</a> to have the option to work from home, and that Black and Hispanic employees are <a href="">less likely</a> to be able to work remotely. In Texas and across the country, front-line employees like janitors, <a href="">grocery clerks</a> and transit workers are <a href="">more likely</a> to be women and people of color, an Associated Press analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data revealed.</p> <p class="t-align-left">That’s forced low-income workers and people of color to risk their health at work, exposing them to the virus while others earn a paycheck from home.</p> <p class="t-align-left">“Many of these folks, particularly early on, were exposed to the disease,” Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said Wednesday at an event put on by The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Benjamin said a higher prevalence of chronic illnesses like hypertension and heart disease is contributing to disparities.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Geography has also played a role. Many of Texas’ deadliest hot spots have emerged in communities of color: among immigrant workforces at the <a href="">meatpacking plants</a> in the Panhandle; in Houston, one of the country’s most diverse cities; and in the Rio Grande Valley, where the population is majority Hispanic.</p> <p class="t-align-left">In general, most deaths have been recorded where most Texans live — in big cities like Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, El Paso and Austin. But some counties, like Cameron and Hidalgo in the Rio Grande Valley, are mourning an outsized number of people relative to their population. Both counties are about 90% Hispanic.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Even in bigger urban areas, some whiter, wealthier counties seem to be faring better than poorer counties with more diverse populations. Travis County has some 400,000 more residents than El Paso County but fewer deaths, according to state data. According to census data, Travis County is about half white and a third Hispanic, with a median household income around $76,000 annually; El Paso County is 83% Hispanic, with a median household income around $44,000 annually.</p> <p class="t-align-left">And the virus’ true death toll is almost certainly higher than reported; for experts, the question is by how much.</p> <p class="t-align-left">The state may be showing a particular undercount in Hidalgo, a majority-Hispanic county in the Rio Grande Valley that is being ravaged by COVID-19. County health officials, using local medical records, report 576 deaths; the state, now relying on death certificates, revised its tally for the county down from over 450 to 312. Local officials said the difference is caused by delays in the issuance of death certificates.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Meanwhile, Vishwanatha said, access to testing has been more limited in communities of color.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Pointing to local data from North Texas, Vishwanatha said there is a disparity between communities of color and white groups not only in chance of getting infected but also in chance of dying from the disease. The gulf is even wider for mortality rate than it is for infection rate.</p> <p class="t-align-left">“We are currently facing a critical situation where some of our communities are really suffering. We need to do everything to overcome these disparities. But hopefully this COVID situation has brought out something that we should have been tackling all along — how to overcome these chronic health disparities that our communities suffer,” Vishwanatha said.</p> <p class="t-align-left"><i>Disclosure: The UNT Health Science Center has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them <a href="">here</a>.</i></p> </div> For the first time in years, Texas Democrats running for the U.S. House have more campaign cash than Republicans through 2016, Texas Republicans had $20.9 million more for their U.S. House campaigns than Democrats. This year, Democrats have a $7.5 million advantage.Abby Livingston, Carla Astudillo and Valeria OlivaresMon, 27 Jul 2020 04:00:00 -0500 <figure> <img alt="A view of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. on April 13, 2020." src=""> <figcaption> In an extraordinary six-year shift within the Texas delegation, U.S. House candidates in Texas have millions more aggregate cash on hand than their Republican counterparts. <cite>Credit: Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA via REUTERS</cite> </figcaption> </figure> <div class="c-story-body"> <p class="t-align-left"><em><a href=";utm_source=trib-ads-owned&amp;utm_campaign=trib-marketing&amp;utm_term=inline-CTA-brief" target="_blank">Sign up for The Brief</a>, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news. </em></p> <p class="t-align-left"> </p> <p class="t-align-left">Early this election cycle, U.S. Sen. <a href="">John Cornyn</a> publicly worried about complacency within the Texas Republican political class — even after Democratic gains made in 2018.</p> <p class="t-align-left">So in early 2019, the state’s senior senator encouraged Texas Republicans in the U.S. House to bolster their fundraising and think twice about sending money out of the state.</p> <p class="t-align-left">“There’s an attempt by the leadership to extract as much money as possible out of the state as they can and use that wherever they need it, and I understand that," he told The Texas Tribune in June 2019. “But we need to make sure our Texas races — from the president and all the way down to the courthouse — are adequately financed and resourced. And that’s going to require us to raise a significant amount of money."</p> <p class="t-align-left">More than a year later, a Texas Tribune analysis of recent campaign finance reports shows that Cornyn's fears of a funding problem have come to life. Democratic U.S. House candidates in Texas have millions more aggregate cash on hand than their Republican counterparts. It marks an extraordinary six-year shift within the Texas delegation.</p> <p class="t-align-left">In 2016, U.S. House Republican candidates in Texas had $32.3 million on hand in July of that year. Their Democratic counterparts reported $11.4 million.</p> <p class="t-align-left">The next cycle, boosted by a backlash to President Donald Trump, Democrats <a href="">saw a jump in fundraising</a>. In 2018, Texas Republican U.S. House candidates had $34.8 million in cash on hand, compared with $21.8 million on the Democratic side.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Newly filed campaign finance reports show a complete shift this year. Republicans running for the U.S. House in Texas reported $19.2 million. Democrats had $26.7 million.</p> <p class="t-align-left">In some races, the outsized financial reserves will amount to little, thanks to precisely drawn congressional lines intended to reinforce Republican incumbent protection. But for a Texas Democratic ecosystem that was effectively moribund only six years ago, the ways in which these Democratic candidates are raising and spending their campaign funds point to a more sophisticated — and optimistic — approach to the fall general election campaign.</p> <p class="t-align-left">The data for this analysis was pulled from July campaign finance reports from the second quarter of each election year that congressional seats are on the ballot. Those reports are among the most critical in the cycle. Unless candidates have to compete in a primary, most spend the first 18 months of a campaign cycle raising and stockpiling money. The second quarter reports often mark a high point in cash-on-hand sums before candidates drain it all during the fall television advertising season.</p> <p class="t-align-left">This new Democratic cash sloshing around the state is being spent on staff payroll, printing shops and even direct mail and polling — all of which could well make a Democratic presence known in otherwise ignored deeply GOP pockets of the state.</p> <h2 id="c8f2c3c1-6504-46c7-ba0e-7423d1d13522" class="t-align-left">Impact down the ballot</h2> <p class="t-align-left">The heart of the disparity exists in five U.S. House district races: The <a href="">7th</a>, <a href="">21st</a>, <a href="">22nd</a>, <a href="">23rd</a> and the <a href="">32nd</a>.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Two are races with Democratic incumbents, U.S. Reps. <a href="">Colin Allred</a> of Dallas and <a href="">Lizzie Pannill Fletcher</a> of Houston. Each faces a serious Republican opponent — businesswoman Genevieve Collins is challenging Allred and veteran Wesley Hunt is against Pannill Fletcher. Both Republican candidates have about $1 million in cash on hand, indicating they are taking fundraising seriously. Collins has self-funded her campaign in part.</p> <p class="t-align-left">But the Democratic candidates spent their first terms fully leveraging their incumbencies: Allred reported $3 million, and Fletcher posted $3.5 million in cash on hand.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Elsewhere, Democratic candidates Sri Preston Kulkarni and Gina Ortiz Jones of the 22nd and 23rd districts, respectively, outperformed expectations when they ran for the same offices in 2018. That gave them a strong case to make to donors heading into 2020. They locked down their nominations in March and spent the spring and summer raising money while Republicans litigated expensive runoff contests.</p> <p class="t-align-left">In the 21st District, Democrat and former state Sen. Wendy Davis outraised freshman U.S. Rep. <a href="">Chip Roy</a>, R-Austin, by a nearly 3-1 margin.</p> <p class="t-align-left">There are also outliers in the cash on hand on both sides.</p> <p class="t-align-left">For instance, freshman U.S. Rep. <a href="">Dan Crenshaw</a>, R-Houston, has a growing national profile and reported $4 million on hand at the end of June.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Another freshman Republican, U.S. Rep. <a href="">Michael Cloud</a> of Victoria, represents a mostly noncompetitive conservative district in southeast Texas. He reported $344,000 in cash on hand, a sum that is on par with many incumbents of both parties. His Democratic rival, Ricardo De La Fuente, reported $1.1 million, almost all thanks to a candidate loan.</p> <p class="t-align-left">There is almost no chance Republican candidates in top-tier competitive races will be significantly short on money. And a Republican billionaire could still cut a seven-figure check to a GOP super PAC and reset the table in a U.S. House race overnight.</p> <p class="t-align-left">The conservative group Club for Growth indicated recently that it plans to spend at least $2.5 million supporting Roy in his race, for instance. Another super PAC, the Congressional Leadership Fund, named Fletcher in the spring as one of their top targets and <a href="">put $3 million</a> in television spending behind that announcement.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Even so, candidate fundraising is still a foundational block to campaigns. Candidates secure lower ad rates than outside groups, which is particularly crucial in expensive media markets like the ones where these races are being litigated: Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Austin and San Antonio.</p> <p class="t-align-left">And the money affects more than just the seven or so competitive U.S. House races on the ballot.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Take the state's 3rd Congressional District. Situated entirely in North Texas' Collin County, it has been a longtime undisputed GOP stronghold. Mitt Romney won the district in 2012 with 64% of the vote to Barack Obama’s 34%. But in 2018, U.S. Sen. <a href="">Ted Cruz</a>, R-Texas, carried the county by only six percentage points, and U.S. Rep. <a href="">Van Taylor</a> of Plano saw the district’s margin narrow from 27 points in 2016 to 10 points during his first run for the seat in 2018.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Taylor took that race seriously, advertising on broadcast television, and he has over $1 million in cash on hand this year.<b> </b>His opponent, attorney Lulu Seikaly, only had about $40,000 on her last financial report, but the way she is spending that money is noteworthy. That same report revealed she had hired a national direct mail consultant. Additionally, her campaign said in a news release that it had raised $100,000 since the mid-July runoff and has had a well-regarded polling firm conduct an internal poll of the race.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Should a Democratic wave hit the state in the fall, Seikaly will already have poll-tested messaging and located vendors to potentially take advantage of the environment. If not, her efforts to bring Democrats in her district to the polls could still help others in her party above and below her on ballot. Taylor's district overlaps considerably with that of state Rep. <a href="">Jeff Leach</a>, R-Plano, who is one of more than a dozen GOP incumbents Democrats are targeting in an effort to flip the state House.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Beyond the candidate fundraising, millions more in Democratic dollars will pound the state. The national parties and aligned super PACs are postured to dump tens of millions of dollars into the targeted U.S. House races, the fight for the state House and, potentially, the Senate race. Republicans are expected to respond in kind but the difference is, before 2018, these Democratic groups mostly ignored the state, save for the Texas 23rd Congressional District in west Texas.</p> <p class="t-align-left">This year, the spending will be in every major media market.</p> <h2 id="5f512aa3-a7a7-4dfb-8453-9689cbffb85e" class="t-align-left">Multiple factors</h2> <p class="t-align-left">The reasons for the deficit are more complicated than mere complacency on the Republican side.</p> <p class="t-align-left">A handful of Republican members who hold top committee positions or are running for those slots — U.S. Reps. <a href="">Kevin Brady</a> of the Woodlands, <a href="">Michael Burgess</a> of Lewisville and <a href="">Kay Granger</a> of Fort Worth — have transferred significant portions of their campaign funds to the House GOP campaign arm to bolster their support among House members.</p> <p class="t-align-left">And about a year ago, some of the biggest Republican fundraisers in the delegation announced their retirements. There was U.S. Rep. <a href="">Will Hurd</a> of Helotes, who raised millions each year for his inevitably difficult reelection campaign each fall. There were also U.S. Reps. <a href="">Mac Thornberry</a> of Clarendon, <a href="">Bill Flores</a> of Bryan, <a href="">Pete Olson</a> of Sugar Land, Kenny Marchant of Coppell and <a href="">Mike Conaway</a> of Midland. All had leadership roles or choice committee assignments and with that, obligations to raise money for colleagues.</p> <p class="t-align-left">In most retirements, incumbents spend their last year or so in office cutting back on fundraising and political activity. The candidates who replace them on the ballot raised and spent big money in their primaries and are only now turning to the general election. Some of those Republican candidates are all but certain to come to Congress, but others will face formidable Democrats in the fall.</p> <p class="t-align-left">There are also currently three fewer Republican members than there were in the past two cycles at this point. Two Republican members lost re-election last cycle and another seat, the 4th District, is in the process of choosing nominees for a special election to succeed former U.S. Rep. <a href="">John Ratcliffe</a>, who is now serving as the director of National Intelligence.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Also, the biggest difference between 2018 and 2020 is that the GOP no longer holds a majority in the U.S. House, and it is a law of political gravity that the party with the gavel has a much easier time raising money.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Additionally, numerous Texas Republicans noted, several of the primary races to replace retiring GOP members were only decided two weeks ago in <a href="">a later-than-usual runoff</a>. It makes sense, they argue, that so many of their candidates are broke. But now that the general election here, they will benefit from a burst of fundraising.<strong> </strong>Democrats counter that logic by noting that several of their own House candidates, too, faced financially exhausting runoffs.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Even so, the disparity bothers some national Republicans who are increasingly worried about resources across the map and particularly in Texas.</p> <p class="t-align-left">For his part, Cornyn is a source of stability within the Republican slate. He reported $14.5 million in cash on hand on June 30 and has raised $22.4 million over the course of this cycle. By comparison, his Democratic competitor, MJ Hegar, had about $900,000 and likely depleted that sum in the final weeks of her runoff against state Sen. <a href="">Royce West</a> of Dallas.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Since Hegar clinched the nomination, her campaign touted raising $1 million in the first week after the runoff. Republicans who care about this race are closely watching her progress with worry, as they see Democratic Senate candidates in other states catch national fundraising interest and bank tens of millions of dollars a quarter.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Cornyn is a former chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, a post in which he oversaw the raising and spending of hundreds of millions of dollars to elect Republicans to the Senate in the 2010 and 2012 cycles.</p> <p class="t-align-left">And that makes his 2019 comments about raising and keeping money back home all the more remarkable. Cornyn, like most Texans dating back to Lyndon B. Johnson, climbed the ranks of Capitol Hill by directing Texas money to colleagues elsewhere in the country.</p> <p class="t-align-left">But this cycle, he is telegraphing that the best service he and other Texas Republicans can be to his party is to take care of business back home.</p> <p class="t-align-left">“We are, I think, no longer the reliably red state we have been,” he said in 2019. “We are at risk of turning purple; and if we don’t do our job, then we could well turn blue in the coming years.”</p> </div> Texas runoff 2020 results: Watch live updates here all of Texas’ election results through The Texas Tribune’s coverage of the 2020 runoff races for U.S. Senate, U.S. House and the Texas Legislature.Carla AstudilloMon, 13 Jul 2020 16:16:29 -0500 <figure> <img alt="" src=""> </figure> <p>Get all of Texas’ election results through The Texas Tribune’s coverage of the 2020 runoff races for U.S. Senate, U.S. House and the Texas Legislature. [&nbsp;<a href="">Read more</a>&nbsp;]</p> How COVID-19 cases have grown in Texas' 11 most populous counties cases in Texas are approaching 6,000 per day, and nearly two-thirds of them have been recorded in 11 counties over the past two weeks.Carla Astudillo and Mandi CaiFri, 26 Jun 2020 12:05:54 -0500 <figure> <img alt="Gov. Greg Abbott speaks about the categories of medical surge facilities during a press conference at the Texas Department of Public Safety on Tuesday, June 16, 2020." src=""> <figcaption> Gov. Greg Abbott speaks about the categories of medical surge facilities during a press conference at the Texas Department of Public Safety on Tuesday, June 16, 2020. <cite>Credit: Ricardo B. Brazziell/Pool via Austin American-Statesman</cite> </figcaption> </figure> <div class="c-story-body"> <p class="t-align-left">In the past few weeks, Texas has become one of the nation’s COVID-19 epicenters, joining Arizona, California, Florida and other states as the new coronavirus surges across the country. Nearly two months after <a href="">Gov. Greg Abbott began a phased reopening plan</a> to revive the state’s battered economy, new infections have exploded in Texas, jumping from 1,142 on May 1 to <a href="">nearly 6,000 on Thursday</a>.</p> <p class="t-align-left">On Monday, <a href=" ">Abbott said closing businesses again would be a “last option</a>,” but by Friday, as new infections and hospitalizations kept soaring, he ordered bars to close and lowered restaurants' maximum occupancy from 75% to 50%. Meanwhile, some urban counties are <a href="">making preparations to use convention centers</a> and other facilities as potential overflow sites for COVID-19 patients after two straight weeks of record hospitalizations.</p> <p class="t-align-left">The charts below show COVID-19 cases in the state’s 11 most populous counties, which have recorded 64% of the state's new cases over the last two weeks.</p> <p class="t-align-left"> </p> </div> In Texas, COVID-19 case totals and hospitalizations are rising. The state says prisons and meatpacking plants are key factors. 14-day trend line shows new infections in Texas have risen about 71% in the past two weeks.Carla Astudillo, Jolie McCullough and Mandi CaiMon, 08 Jun 2020 17:34:44 -0500 <figure> <img alt="Harris County Health Department nurse Harriet Lewis administers a test at a Harris County testing site located at Stallworth Stadium in Baytown on March 21, 2020." src=""> <figcaption> Harris County Health Department nurse Harriet Lewis administers a test at Stallworth Stadium in Baytown. <cite>Credit: Reggie Mathalone for The Texas Tribune</cite> </figcaption> </figure> <div class="c-story-body"> <p class="t-align-left">As Texas moves forward with <a href="">a new phase</a> of Gov. <a href="">Greg Abbott</a>’s plan for reopening businesses, the daily number of confirmed coronavirus cases<strong> </strong>and hospitalizations is on a steady, upward trend.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Throughout the state, the number of new cases reported each day has grown from an average of about 1,081 during the week ending May 24 to about 1,527 in the past week. (Public health data varies day to day, so officials use a seven-day rolling average to better capture trends over time.)</p> <p class="t-align-left">The 14-day trend line shows new infections in Texas have risen about 71% in the past two weeks. Although confirmed infections have increased across the state, hot spots like state prisons and meatpacking plants, which have recently been the sites of mass or targeted testing, are responsible for a portion of the increase, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Meanwhile, on Monday, the state reported 1,935 Texans were being treated for COVID-19 in hospitals, which is the highest number of hospitalizations reported by the state so far.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Part of the state’s increase of new confirmed cases reported since late May is a result of mass testing in some prisons, which began May 12. Since prisons started reporting test results May 26, <a href="">the number of prisoners</a> reported to be infected with the new coronavirus has skyrocketed — jumping from about 2,500 to 6,900 in two weeks.</p> <p class="t-align-left"> </p> <p class="t-align-left">State data shows that overall cases jumped by 19,000, or 34%, from May 25 to June 7, and nearly a quarter of that increase came from 10 counties with prisons and meatpacking plants.</p> <p class="t-align-left">But determining exactly how much of the statewide increase comes from recent prison testing is complicated because DSHS does not include all prison cases in the statewide total. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which oversees prisons, reports COVID-19 cases directly to DSHS, but DSHS says the statewide tally is based on reports from Texas counties — and some counties don’t include prison cases in their statistics. (DSHS spokespeople have repeatedly said they are working to ensure all counties include prison cases in their numbers.)</p> <p class="t-align-left">On Friday, Pecos County Judge Joe Shuster told The Texas Tribune that the Texas attorney general’s office instructed the county — which has a prison that led to a recent spike in COVID-19 cases — not to include prisoners in its county infection numbers. Brazoria County officials also said Friday they would no longer include prison cases in their county reports, according to <a href="">Community Impact</a>.</p> <p class="t-align-left">The attorney general’s office said it could not comment on advice given to local officials because of attorney-client privilege. A DSHS spokesperson said the agency expected to have an update on its data reporting process this week “to ensure that TDCJ cases are consistently included on our dashboard.”</p> <p class="t-align-left"> </p> <p class="t-align-left"> </p> <p class="t-align-left">Some of the statewide increase may be attributable to greater availability of testing for the virus. Along with mass testing at places like prisons — where more than 83,000 tests have been conducted — the number of tests rose steadily until the middle of May.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Since then, the number of daily tests administered has increased modestly, up about 7% from the week ending May 24 to the week ending Saturday.</p> <p class="t-align-left"> </p> <p class="t-align-left"> </p> <p class="t-align-left">And the percentage of tests coming back positive — a metric Abbott and White House officials have pointed to as indicative of a state’s readiness for reopening — is also increasing. The 14-day trend line shows the positive rate in Texas has risen about 62% over the past two weeks.</p> <p class="t-align-left">In addition, the number of people hospitalized from the coronavirus, reported each day, has grown from an average of 1,656 during the week ending May 24 to 1,811 in the past week. Hospital capacity in Texas has been cited by Abbott as a key metric dictating his decision to reopen the state. Texas, unlike states like New York and Louisiana, has yet to face overcrowded hospitals and an inadequate supply of ventilators for coronavirus patients.</p> <p class="t-align-left">For states to consider reopening, the White House recommends they see either a downward trajectory of COVID-19 cases over 14 days or a downward trajectory in the percentage of positive test results over 14 days.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Abbott has said that Texans should anticipate temporary increases in the positivity rate as the state dispatches surge response teams to three kinds of hot spots: prisons and jails, nursing homes and meatpacking plants.</p> <p class="t-align-left"> </p> <p class="t-align-left"> </p> <p class="t-align-left">Texas began allowing retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters, malls, museums and libraries to open at 25% capacity May 1.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Abbott announced his third phase of reopening Wednesday, <a href="">allowing most businesses to operate at 50% capacity</a> effective immediately. Restaurants will be allowed to operate at 75% capacity beginning Friday under the governor’s order.</p> <p class="t-align-left"><em>Edgar Walters contributed to this story.</em></p> </div> Here’s your Texas 2020 July runoff ballot 2020 Texas Democratic and Republican primary runoffs will take place July 14. See the full list of candidates, and find out who's on your ballot based on where you live.Carla AstudilloMon, 01 Jun 2020 05:00:00 -0500 <figure> <img alt="" src=""> <figcaption> <cite>Credit: Emily Albracht</cite> </figcaption> </figure> <p>The 2020 Texas Democratic and Republican primary runoffs will take place July 14. See the full list of candidates, and find out who&#39;s on your ballot based on where you live. [&nbsp;<a href="">Read more</a>&nbsp;]</p> After blowback, Texas admits 6% of its reported tests were for antibodies, not active infections state is now distinguishing antibody tests from standard viral tests.Patrick Svitek, Carla Astudillo and Edgar WaltersThu, 21 May 2020 20:08:57 -0500 <figure> <img alt="Nurse Kristen Howell, left, and Medical Lab Tech, Amanda Hernandez, administer a COVID-19 test at the Austin Regional Clinic drive-up testing site in Kyle on March 31, 2020." src=""> <figcaption> Nurse Kristen Howell, left, and medical lab tech Amanda Hernandez administer a coronavirus test at the Austin Regional Clinic drive-thru testing site in Kyle. <cite>Credit: Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune</cite> </figcaption> </figure> <div class="c-story-body"> <p class="t-align-left">Texas health officials made a key change Thursday to how they report data about the coronavirus, distinguishing antibody tests from standard viral tests and prompting slight increases in the state’s oft-cited daily statistic known as the positivity rate.</p> <p class="t-align-left">The positivity rate is the ratio of the confirmed cases to total tests, presented by the state as a<strong> </strong>seven-day rolling average. The Texas Department State of Health Services disclosed for the first time Thursday that as of a day earlier, it had counted 49,313 antibody tests as as part of its "total tests" tally. That represents 6.4% of the 770,241 total tests that the state had reported through Wednesday.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Health experts have warned against conflating the tests because they are distinctly different. Antibody tests detect whether someone was previously infected, while standard viral tests determine whether someone currently has the virus.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Now that DSHS is reporting the number of antibody tests, it has recalculated its daily positivity rates starting Tuesday to exclude such tests. That led to a 0.41 percentage-point increase in Tuesday's rate and a 0.55 point increase in Wednesday's rate, according to DSHS calculations.</p> <p class="t-align-left">DSHS acknowledged last week that it was reporting an unknown quantity of antibody tests as part of the "total tests" figure. Despite that, Gov. <a href="">Greg Abbott</a> incorrectly claimed Monday that the state was not "commingling" the numbers while promising the state would soon break out the antibody test count.</p> <p class="t-align-left">During a TV interview Thursday evening, Abbott attributed the lag in disclosing antibody tests as their own category to "about a 10-day period or so during which some antibody tests were coming — it could have been a bit longer than that — [when] there was the inability for the counties to separate that out as it was received by" DSHS. The new data provided by the state Thursday gives a daily breakdown of antibody and viral tests going back to May 13.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Of the 49,313 antibody tests, 2,114 — or 4.3% — have come back positive, according to the new data.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Abbott emphasized the relative smallness of the changes in the positivity rates as he argued in the TV interview that Texas is still seeing an overall downward trajectory in its positivity rate.</p> <p class="t-align-left">"The trends are exactly the same with or without the antibody tests," Abbott said.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Still, the preciseness of the positivity rate is important, especially when it comes to understanding Abbott's decisions to reopen the economy. As the raw number of cases has continued to climb each day, Abbott has said he is far more concerned with the positivity rate — which takes into account increases in testing — as well as hospitalizations.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Texas is not the only state that has come under scrutiny recently for mixing together the two types of tests in its data. Pennsylvania, Georgia and Vermont have also been conflating the tests, <a href="">according to The Atlantic</a>.</p> <p class="t-align-left">When public health agencies combine antibody testing figures with viral testing figures, "I want to scream," said Seema Yasmin, an epidemiologist and director of the Stanford Health Communications Initiative.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Viral tests, usually taken from nasal swabs, can detect an active coronavirus infection. If a person's biological sample is found to have traces of the virus's genetic material, public health workers can order them to self-isolate and track down any of their contacts who may have been exposed.</p> <p class="t-align-left">Antibody tests "are like looking in the rearview mirror," Yasmin said, because they may show if a person has recovered from a coronavirus infection. That can be useful for public health surveillance, but it does not offer much insight about where the virus is currently spreading. Another issue is that many antibody tests have been shown to have high rates of inaccuracy, she said.</p> <p class="t-align-left">"As an epidemiologist, this level of messiness in the data makes your job so much more difficult, and it misleads the public about what’s really happening," Yasmin said. "We’ve been talking about the capacity for testing increasing over the last few weeks, but now we might have to tell the public that might not be true."</p> <p class="t-align-left">And dumping antibody testing data into the pool of viral testing data brings the overall positivity rate down, reflecting "a deceptive misuse of the data," analysts for the COVID Tracking Project <a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">wrote</a> last week. That's because the numbers may make it seem like the state has grown its testing capacity even if a state's viral testing capacity remains flat.</p> <p class="t-align-left">"This is crucial as we need increased capacity for viral testing before reopening to identify active infections even in the pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic stages," the analysts wrote.</p> <p class="t-align-left">The mixing of the two testing numbers first came to light last week, days before Abbott announced the latest business reopenings. Democrats said the revelation continued to show that Abbott is moving too carelessly in allowing businesses to reopen.</p> <p class="t-align-left">"We all want life to get back to normal," Texas Democratic Party spokesman Abhi Rahman said in a statement Tuesday. "However, Texans don’t feel safe, and manipulating the data isn’t going to help Texans feel comfortable going outside."</p> </div>