Coronavirus in Texas: Jail population shrank by more than 10,000

Wednesday’s biggest developments

Anti-vaccine advocates urge Abbott not to mandate coronavirus vaccine
Texas reports 21,069 cases and 543 deaths
Walmart’s first Texas coronavirus site will open in Lubbock

Eight people die of COVID-19 in McKinney long-term care facility

[6:18 p.m.] Eight people living in the memory care unit of a long-term care facility in McKinney have died after testing positive for COVID-19, reports The Dallas Morning News.

The residents of the Oxford Grand died between April 5 and Tuesday night. Each had underlying health conditions and lived in an area of the facility for people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, the Morning News reports.

As of Wednesday afternoon, five employees at the care facility tested positive for the virus, but there are no reported cases among assisted living residents, which are separate from memory care residents. — Stacy Fernández

Jail population drops 15%

[3:14 p.m.] The Texas county jail population shrank by more than 10,000 people in March, according to data from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.

The nearly 15% drop comes as health officials across the state and country have urged law enforcement to keep fewer people in disease-prone lockups during the coronavirus pandemic.

On March 1, more than 68,000 people were in Texas county jails. On April 1, the number had dropped to about 58,000. Harris and Bexar county jails both decreased their populations by more than 1,000. Montgomery and Jefferson counties both reduced populations by more than a third. — Jolie McCullough

Anti-vaccine advocates urge Abbott not to mandate coronavirus vaccine

[2:33 p.m.] Anti-vaccination advocates called on Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday to clarify his stance on a vaccine for the new coronavirus.

There currently is no vaccine for the virus.

Jackie Schlegel, executive director of Texans for Vaccine Choice, asked Abbott to assure that neither a negative COVID-19 test nor a mandatory vaccine will be “required for Texans to return to work and other activities,” including school and child care.

“It is important for you to understand that Texans overwhelmingly support the principles of informed consent, medical privacy, and vaccine choice,” Schlegel wrote in a letter to Abbott. “What steps will you take to ensure that these rights are protected where issues of COVID-19 testing and COVID-19 vaccination are concerned?”

In a June 2019 University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, 78% of Texans said parents should be required to have their children vaccinated, while 12% disagreed and another 10% had no opinion.

Sami Sparber

Texas reports 21,069 cases and 543 deaths

[1:15 p.m.] Texas reported 873 more cases of the new coronavirus Wednesday, an increase of about 4% over the previous day, bringing the total number of known cases to 21,069. Two new counties reported their first cases Wednesday; three quarters of the state’s 254 counties have reported at least one case.

Harris County has reported the most cases, 5,143, followed by Dallas County, which has reported 2,602 cases. See maps of the latest case numbers for each county and case rates per 1,000 residents.

The state has reported 26 additional deaths, bringing the statewide total to 543 — an increase of about 5% from Tuesday. Harris County reported one additional death, bringing its total to 79 deaths, more than any other county.

As of Wednesday, 1,678 patients are known to be hospitalized in Texas. That’s an increase of 259 patients from Tuesday. At least 216,783 tests have been conducted. — Mandi Cai

Austin announces nursing home case updates

[11:05 a.m.] Mark Escott, Austin’s interim public health authority, announced stricter orders Wednesday for local nursing homes, saying at least eight facilities in Austin-Travis County have confirmed outbreaks of the new coronavirus.

The outbreaks involve at least 96 residents and 67 staff members, and have led to 15 deaths of residents and one death of a health care worker, Escott said at a press conference.

The updated orders will require nursing homes and other long-term care facilities to notify patients, families and staff any time there is a case at that facility, Escott said. Facilities that are experiencing outbreaks will also now be restricted from receiving any new or returning residents until Austin Public Health has cleared the facility.

To further support the facilities, which Escott said have “suffered for years from lack of staffing,” officials are also creating “strike teams” to bring in additional personnel like doctors, nurses, maintenance workers and kitchen staff.

“Infection control at nursing homes has been a challenge for us for years,” Escott said. “Part of that has to do with constant struggle for staffing.”

Citing medical privacy laws, Escott said officials would not be sharing information about cases and affected facilities publicly unless there was a situation in which officials would not be able to notify at-risk individuals in a timely manner. — Sami Sparber

Lubbock gets Walmart’s first coronavirus testing site in Texas

[5 a.m.] Walmart will open a coronavirus testing site in Lubbock on Friday, which will be the retailer’s first in Texas, according to The Dallas Morning News.

“We’re looking at more sites,” a spokeswoman told the newspaper.

Quest Diagnostics and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are helping the company to set up the locations, all of which will be outdoors, the Morning News reports.

Disclosure: The University of Texas, Quest Diagnostics and Walmart have been financial supporters 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 here.

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