AUSTIN — Texas, along with the rest of the nation and the world, continued to battle the COVID-19 pandemic last week as cases and deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus increased.
Gov. Greg Abbott on May 7 met with President Trump in the White House. The president praised Abbott's leadership in handling the months-long medical emergency and in managing the resulting slowdown of the economy in the Lone Star State.
Abbott said Texas has one of the lowest COVID-19 death rates in the country, noting that half of the state's 254 counties have no cases or five or fewer cases of the virus. He said we have the knowledge and resources to contain COVID-19, adding that "It’s the people of Texas who have done a great job of slowing the spread" by washing their hands, wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
"Because of that, we are now seeing more and more businesses that are opening up gradually to make sure we don’t expand the spread, but we’re doing so in a way that we’ll make sure Texas will once again reclaim its position as being the number one economy in the United States,” the governor said.
Trump asked about the Dallas-area beauty salon owner who was arrested and jailed for violating one of Abbott's executive orders by prematurely opening for business. "She's free today,” the governor said during the Oval Office meeting, adding that authorities should exercise common sense in carrying out his executive orders. In the wake of the beauty salon case, Abbott modified his executive orders related to COVID-19 to eliminate confinement as a punishment for violating the orders.
On May 10, cumulative figures posted by the Texas Department of State Health Services showed that some 37,860 people in Texas had been diagnosed with COVID-19, and 1,049 deaths resulting from the influenza-like virus had been confirmed.
TEA: Graduation guidance
The Texas Education Agency on May 5 announced graduation guidance for the class of 2020. Under the guidelines, ceremonies may take place as early as May 15 as the state continues the reopening of services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While school buildings remain closed to normal in-classroom instruction for the remainder of the 2019-20 academic year, the TEA, in coordination with the governor's Strike Force to Open Texas, is providing four different pathways for schools to celebrate their graduating seniors:
— Virtual ceremonies that take place entirely online with the use of videoconference or other technologies;
— Hybrid ceremonies consisting of a compilation of videos of students being recognized in person as they celebrate graduation in small groups;
— Vehicle ceremonies, in which students and their families wait in their cars while other graduates are recognized one at time with their families alongside them; and
— Outdoor in-person ceremonies, which are currently permitted for certain counties.
Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said that "by taking the necessary precautions developed by medical experts, we can ensure we appropriately honor our class of 2020 graduates while keeping everyone safe.”
AG joins in crackdown
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on May 4 joined a coalition of 52 attorneys general in a letter to the Washington, D.C.-based broadband industry association USTelecom, urging the association’s members to continue developing robocall traceback and other capabilities suited to law enforcement needs.
Paxton and his colleagues said they anticipate an increase in enforcement and a need for increased investigative support from leading voice service providers.
“Texans’ private phones are bombarded by constant calls that invade their privacy and often attempt to defraud them of their hard-earned money,” Paxton said.
Preparedness week proclaimed
Gov. Abbott Abbott on May 4 issued a proclamation declaring May 3 through May 9 as Hurricane Preparedness Week in Texas.
In his proclamation, the governor asks all Texans to take steps to protect themselves and their loved ones from the danger and destruction that hurricanes can bring.
"There are no substitutes for having emergency supplies and a well-prepared emergency plan to protect yourself, your family,” Abbott said. He encouraged Texans to visit the Texas Ready webpage, texasready.gov, to learn more about the steps they can take now to prepare for hurricane season. Hurricane season starts on June 1 and ends on Nov. 30.
Ed Sterling is director of member services for the Texas Press Association.