OPINION

Capital highlights: Drier, warmer weather across state in November

GARY BORDERS

Blame it on La Niña.

By the end of November, nearly half the state was experiencing drought conditions, up 25 percentage points from the end of October, according to Dr. Mark Wentzel, a hydrologist with the Texas Water Development Board. La Niña conditions are “defined as below-average sea surface temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific,” Wentzel wrote. This results are warmer and drier weather than normal for much of Texas.

Gary Borders

In the next few months, drought conditions are expected to both expand and intensify throughout the state.  

COVID-19’s impact on state workers’ comp

The Texas Department of Insurance recently issued a fact sheet outlining the effects COVID-19 has had on the state’s workers’ compensation system. As of Nov. 7, insurance carriers reported more than 61,000 COVID-19 workers’ comp claims and 371 fatalities. Nearly half the claims and fatalities involved first responders and correctional officers.

Sixty percent of the claims involved injured workers who tested positive or were diagnosed with COVID-19. About half of the COVID-19 claims were accepted. Benefits include employees with successful claims continuing to be paid.

Forensic election audit enters second phase

The Texas Secretary of State’s office last week issued an “exhaustive document request” of election material from Collin, Dallas, Harris and Tarrant counties as part of its full forensic audit of the November 2020 general election. The office said the document request covers more election materials than any other election audit in the country to date.

“Texas is leading in election integrity. As we embark on Phase 2 of our agency's Full Forensic Audit of the 2020 Election, we want to ensure every single eligible Texas voter knows that ballots in Texas are being properly processed, tabulated, and reported by county election officials in accordance with state and federal law,” Secretary John Scott said.

Scott was recently appointed to the office by Gov. Greg Abbott. He briefly served as one of former President Donald Trump’s attorneys during his attempt to challenge the results of the Pennsylvania election. While Joe Biden won that state, Trump took Texas by more than 600,000 votes.

Vaccine mandate battle continues in Texas

Following the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates for companies with more than 100 employees, the Texas Workforce Commission has issued a reminder to employers that Abbott has banned such mandates.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals last month temporarily blocked the national vaccine mandate. The mandate would apply to about 84 million workers nationwide and was to go into effect Jan. 4. The case is expected to end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Since day one, the state of Texas has taken a stand against the federal government's unconstitutional COVID-19 vaccine mandates in the workplace, three of which have since been deemed illegal by federal courts,” Abbott said. He added that he encourages Texans to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Texas abortion ban in place while lawsuits continue

The U.S. Supreme Court decided last week to leave the state’s new abortion ban in place but will allow legal challenges to the law to continue. The ban was passed during the last legislative session and prohibits abortions once cardiac activity can be detected by ultrasound, generally about six weeks into a pregnancy.

The ban relies on citizens to file lawsuits against doctors and clinics suspected of performing abortions on women who are more than six weeks pregnant. As a result, most of the remaining abortion clinics in the state are not performing the procedure until the legal battle is resolved.

“While the Court did not put a complete end to our legal challenge, its failure to stop Texas’s deliberate nullification of the constitutional right to abortion within its borders makes the court complicit in widespread chaos and harm to Texans,”  Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told the Texas Tribune.

COVID-19 cases on rise in state

Though patients infected with the omicron variant of COVID-19 are popping up across the state, the delta variant is still the driving factor behind the increase in new cases in the past week, with a total of 37,558 reported by the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University, along with 409 deaths. That is an increase of more than 50% in new cases in Texas in the past month, although the number of deaths dropped considerably in the same time period.

Lab-confirmed hospitalizations as of Sunday stood at 3,155, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. That’s up 9% from the previous week.

The number of Texans who are fully vaccinated stood at 16.25 million as of Sunday, according to DSHS. That is 55.7% of the state’s total population and 70% of all Texans who are eligible for vaccines. Children under the age of 5 are not eligible.

Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches and Cedar Park. Email: gborders@texaspress.com.