Texas Tribune Staff
What you need to know Friday:
More businesses — including bars, bowling alleys and aquariums — can reopen
As part of Gov. Greg Abbott’s attempt to begin reviving the economy, myriad Texas businesses can reopen Friday. That includes bars, bowling alleys and aquariums at limited capacity. Restaurants can also operate at 50% capacity; they’ve been permitted to operate at 25% capacity since May 1. At bars, dancing and other close-contact interactions are discouraged, and customers should be seated at tables. For bowling alleys, bingo halls and roller skating rinks, customers must be kept 6 feet apart, including between bowling lanes and people playing bingo. Here is a full guide to the businesses that can reopen and the guidelines they must follow. — Clare Proctor
Texas’ unemployment rate hit 12.8% in April, worst monthly tally on record
The state’s April jobless rate was 12.8% — Texas’ worst monthly tally on record. Previously, the state’s worst-ever monthly unemployment rate was 9.2% in November 1986, as Texas reeled from the last big oil bust.
Although businesses are reopening, Gov. Greg Abbott’s attempts to revive the economy will be hampered by the ongoing pandemic, experts say.
“The health thing is driving the economics,” said Keith Phillips, a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.
In explaining his rationale for allowing businesses to reopen, Abbott has zeroed in on two figures. One is the ratio of positive cases to tests conducted. The other is the hospitalization rate — the proportion of infected Texans who are requiring hospitalization.
Both those numbers have trended down over several weeks, but Texas is still often seeing 1,000 or more people test positive for the virus each day. — Mitchell Ferman
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Data on tests changed: 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. 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.
Texans losing health insurance: More than 1 million Texans have likely suffered the double whammy of losing their jobs and their employer-based health insurance. Some have landed in the state’s patchy health care safety net, where advocates say they could be cut off from physical and mental health services while facing the economic strain of a public health crisis.
“You can have zippo income right now and be out of food but not be able to get SNAP because the car you bought four years ago is still worth too much to qualify.”
— Rachel Cooper, a senior policy analyst with the Center for Public Policy Priorities
SNAP applications increase: More than 417,000 Texans applied for the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program in April, a sharp increase over March and nearly quadruple the number of people who applied in April 2019.
Texas nursing homes receive nearly $400 million to battle COVID-19
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has begun distributing nearly $400 million to Texas nursing facilities impacted most by the novel coronavirus, the department announced Friday.
The funds were released in 749 payments to nursing homes across the state, according to a press release. Each facility will receive a fixed sum of $50,000, plus $2,500 per bed.
Funding will be used to support nursing homes with significant expenses or lost revenue due to COVID-19 and address “critical needs” such as labor, boosted testing capacity and personal protective equipment stockpiles.
“This funding secured by President Trump will help nursing homes keep the seniors they care for safe during the COVID-19 pandemic,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in the release. — Raga Justin
Donna Heath is a manager at The Barn Door Restaurant in San Antonio, which recently reopened. On Friday, restaurants can increase the number of people they serve at one time to 50% of their occupancy.
Photo credit: Christopher Lee for The Texas Tribune
Harris County judge urges residents to stay home through June 10
While the Texas economy proceeds with a phased reopening, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo extended guidelines encouraging residents to stay home through June 10, the Houston Chronicle reported.
The extended “Stay Home, Work Safe” order is meant to remind residents to keep practicing social distancing.
The order comes as Gov. Greg Abbott continues allowing parts of the state economy to open, including bars beginning Friday. In a press conference announcing the new guidelines, Hidalgo discouraged residents from visiting bars, citing public safety.
“I don’t want the community to get the message that we’re done,” Hidalgo said. “We may well be in the eye of the hurricane. There’s still no cure, no vaccine.”
The guidelines also include workplace safety regulations, such as staggering shifts, taking employees’ temperatures, providing face coverings and enacting lenient sick policies.
Harris County has reported more than 10,000 coronavirus cases and more than 200 deaths. — Raga Justin
Lawsuit against Dallas County jail urges release of medically vulnerable inmates
Dallas faith leaders filed a lawsuit Thursday calling for the release of medically vulnerable inmates, The Dallas Morning News reported.
Filed on behalf of three inmates with underlying health risks who are detained in the county jail, the suit argues inmates can’t practice social distancing and lack access to proper sanitization like soap. It also calls into question the lack of transparency around testing.
About 1,800 inmates have underlying health issues, the newspaper reported. But as of May 1, the jail was averaging only 11 tests a day, and as of Wednesday, the jail reported that 226 inmates and 62 guards had tested positive for the virus.
Coronavirus hots pots have emerged across the state in jails and prisons, calling into question the availability of testing.
The lawsuit, filed against Dallas County Sheriff Marian Brown, mirrors a separate federal case filed April 9. Civil rights activist the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. joined Dallas faith leaders in support of the release of inmates. — Clare Proctor
Texas reports 52,268 cases and 1,440 deaths
Texas officials are expected to release the latest number of people testing positive for the new coronavirus Friday. As of Thursday, at least 52,268 Texans had tested positive, and at least 1,440 had died.
For the first time Thursday, the state reported separately the number of antibody tests that it was previously counting with viral tests. 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 reported Wednesday. — Darla Cameron