Coronavirus updates in Texas: U.S. Senate advances bill that would help with free testing; state reports at least 95 known cases

Passengers from the Grand Princess cruise ship
Passengers from the Grand Princess cruise ship disembark in Oakland, California. Some of those passengers were transferred to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio for quarantine. Latin America News Agency/REUTERS

Wednesday’s biggest developments:

  • U.S. Senate advances legislation that includes funding for tests, paid sick leave measures
  • New website will show where school districts are serving free meals
  • Abbott on Texas bars and restaurants: Expect an announcement Thursday
  • Texas death came from community spread in retirement home
  • May 2 local elections could be postponed until November

U.S. Senate advances legislation that includes funding for tests, paid sick leave measures

[3:38 p.m.] The U.S. Senate passed a measure Wednesday afternoon that will allow for free testing for the new coronavirus, paid sick leave measures and a financial bolstering to food assistance programs.

The U.S. House passed the same deal over the weekend, and the legislation should move promptly to President Donald Trump’s desk for his signature.

Both Texans serving in the chamber, U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, backed the bill. It passed by an overwhelming margin. Cruz returned in recent days from a self-imposed quarantine after a potential exposure late last month.

COVID-19 is the disease is caused by the new coronavirus first identified in December 2019.

After passage, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated that members will press on with a larger package that will aim to offset the economic challenges from the virus.

McConnell added that the Senate will continue to stay in session until a larger economic stimulus passes. House members are in their districts but are expected to return once a path forward clarifies. — Abby Livingston

New website will show where school districts are serving free meals

[3:05 p.m.] The Texas Education Agency is launching a website Friday that will allow parents to search where school districts are serving free meals in their communities while school buildings are closed due to the new coronavirus.

The state is asking districts to complete applications through the Texas Department of Agriculture, which administers the federally funded meal program for public schools, to be included in the map, which will be updated regularly.

The Department of Agriculture is applying for federal waivers to give districts more flexibility on how to feed students without forcing them to risk personal safety. Last week, Texas received a waiver allowing it to let school districts hand out to-go meals to families while schools are closed. — Aliyya Swaby

Laredo, Fort Worth set restrictions for residents

[2:58 p.m.] In a unanimous vote this week, the Laredo City Council put the city under a mandatory two-week lockdown, the Laredo Morning Times reported.

Residents will have to quarantine at home, leaving only for work or to get necessities like groceries, medicine and take-out food. The lockdown goes into effect Thursday, the Times reports.

For two weeks, utilities cannot be cut off, and landlords are prohibited from evicting residential and commercial tenants. Gatherings of 10 or more are also prohibited, following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recent guidelines.

The Laredo lockdown goes a step further than many other Texas cities; most have made bars and restaurants serve only take-out and delivery orders.

On Wednesday, officials in Fort Worth announced that all bars, theaters and gyms must close. They also said that gatherings must not exceed 50 people and that restaurants must switch to takeout or delivery. Fort Worth’s actions come after similar announcements from Dallas, Austin and Houston this week. Fort Worth’s new measures go into effect Thursday, officials said. — Stacy Fernández

Abbott on Texas bars and restaurants: Expect an announcement Thursday

[2:45 p.m.] Acknowledging that the spread of COVID-19 in Texas has increased dramatically in recent days, Gov. Greg Abbott says he will make an announcement Thursday about potential further statewide action.

Abbott’s remarks on Wednesday came in response to a question on whether he plans to shut down bars and restaurants statewide. Abbott has previously deferred to local governments on how to handle such closures.

“Traditionally, the way disaster response works is that a governor will issue a disaster declaration, and that empowers local jurisdictions,” Abbott said at a news conference in Arlington, where he was joined by local and state officials. “We’re dealing with something, however, that is not just statewide in scope, not just nationwide in scope, but is worldwide in scope. I will be providing an announcement tomorrow that addresses all of this.” — Cassandra Pollock

Texas death came from community spread in retirement home

[2:27 p.m.] The residents of an Arlington-area retirement home will be tested for the novel coronavirus after a man in his late 70s died after testing positive for the virus, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Wednesday.

The victim, Patrick James, 77, was hospitalized on March 12 and died four days later, Fort Worth officials said. He was living at the Texas Masonic Retirement Center. Test results came back positive after James’ death, but officials noted that he had no known contact with other infected patients. — Alex Samuels

Collin County man’s death marks third Texas fatality from new coronavirus

[2:11 p.m.] Collin County health officials confirmed that a 64-year-old man who died Tuesday tested positive for the new coronavirus, according to a tweet Wednesday by Collin County Judge Chris Hill.

The test came back positive after the man’s death. He was already in the hospital for an underlying condition, Hill said. This is the third death from the new coronavirus in Texas in as many days. The first known novel coronavirus-related death was a man in his late 90s in Matagorda County. The second was a “senior adult” in Tarrant County. — Stacy Fernández

Texas testing and coronavirus cases increase

[1:10 p.m.] The state’s count of cases of the new coronavirus reached 95 on Wednesday afternoon with three reported deaths. Seven counties are now reporting community spread: Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar, Montgomery, Brazoria, Webb and Matagorda. In total, 23 counties — and the Lackland Air Force Base — are reporting at least one coronavirus case. There is also one person whose county of residence is unknown. As testing becomes more widely available across the state, confirmed cases of the new coronavirus numbers are seeing a sharper increase. At least 1,907 people have been tested as of noon Wednesday, and since Tuesday, the state has reported almost 20 new cases. — Stacy Fernández

San Antonio opens new testing site

[12:44 p.m.] San Antonio opened a new COVID-19 testing site in the Freeman Coliseum, a venue typically used for sporting events and concerts, the city announced Wednesday.

The new site is only for those pre-approved for testing, a group that includes first responders, health care workers, municipal bus drivers and individuals with doctors’ notes. Up to 16 tests an hour can be administered at the site, officials say. Drive-through testing began in San Antonio on Friday. — Stacy Fernández

Austin doctor tests positive for COVID-19

[12:15 p.m.] An Austin-based doctor tested positive for the new coronavirus Wednesday, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

The doctor works within the St. David’s HealthCare system, the Statesman reported. The majority of the doctor’s interactions with patients and staff were in a location where most of the health care workers were wearing personal protective equipment, the Statesman reported. The hospital is tracking potential exposure and will reach out to patients and staff who were in contact with the doctor, CBS Austin reported. — Stacy Fernández

Abbott clears path for May 2 local elections to be postponed

[11:20 a.m.] Gov. Greg Abbott issued a proclamation Wednesday that will allow municipalities to postpone their upcoming May 2 elections until November.

The move comes after Abbott issued a disaster declaration over the pandemic that paved the way for him to suspend parts of the state’s election code to allow for postponements. Notably, individual municipalities will still have to act to postpone their elections, but Abbott urged officials to move them to November. — Alexa Ura

Cornyn signals he’s open to government checks for Americans

[10:15 a.m.] U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Wednesday morning that he is open to supporting a proposal that would give Americans direct cash payments to help offset any impacts of the economic fallout amid the new coronavirus.

“I think the problem we’re trying to solve here is hospitality workers, people who work for airlines, people who, through no fault of their own, find themselves at home and with no pay coming in. … How do we help them get through this short-term — hopefully — period where they need to provide for their family and provide the necessities of life?” Cornyn told Lubbock radio host Chad Hasty.

“Our whole economy is in jeopardy. And I think that’s why you find congresspeople like me who otherwise wouldn’t consider things like this on a war footing, [saying] we gotta beat this virus — both from a public health perspective and its economic impact.”

The idea of Americans receiving checks in the coming weeks has picked up bipartisan support in Washington in recent days, including from the Trump administration. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Tuesday that the idea, which is part of a massive stimulus package, could be roughly $1 trillion.

In another interview later Wednesday, Cornyn emphasized that he would not want such payments to go to all U.S. adults. He suggested means testing of potential recipients and said the payments should not benefit millionaires and billionaires, as well as members of Congress. “This is not a blank check,” Cornyn said on his weekly conference call with Texas reporters. “I think it should have conditions, and I think it should get the money to the people who are not receiving income right now.” — Cassandra Pollock and Patrick Svitek

Houston gets drive-through testing

[9:36 a.m.] A private clinic in Houston is charging $150 to test people for the new coronavirus at its drive-through testing site at 6430 Hillcroft Ave., according to the clinic’s website.

Free drive-through testing has yet to open in the city. Two test sites are expected to open later this week, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Houston is the latest major city in Texas to open a drive-through testing site. Drive-through testing began in San Antonio and Austin on Friday and in Dallas on Monday.— Stacy Fernández

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Source: Texas Tribune