Sterling: Department of Defense sends teams to help hospitals with COVID-19 crisis

Staff Writer
Stephenville Empire-Tribune
Stephenville Empire-Tribune

AUSTIN — COVID-19 turned aggressive to the point last week that the Department of Defense activated U.S. Army and U.S. Navy medical task force teams and assigned them to Texas at Gov. Greg Abbott's request.

Teams were deployed to support Houston and San Antonio hospitals and medical facilities in hard-hit Rio Grande Valley. The Texas Division of Emergency Management was on the job, too, working with local officials to line up additional hospital capacity in Cameron and Hidalgo counties and to identify other sites to house patients who are recovering from COVID-19.

Some $41 million in federal funds are being put toward assisting cities and counties in the COVID-19 response, Abbott said. Those funds will be used by local government for first responder overtime and hazard pay, equipment and supplies for teleworking technologies, social distancing and personal protective gear, county jail costs associated with medical needs of inmates and as reimbursement for holding inmates awaiting transfer to the state prison system.

Cumulative figures posted July 19 by the Texas Department of State Health Services showed some 325,030 people in Texas diagnosed with the deadly virus, and 3,958 confirmed deaths resulting from the disease.

TEA: Schools to open

Texas schools will open next month, but school systems will be allowed to limit access to on-campus instruction for the first four weeks of school, the Texas Education Agency announced July 17.

A school system may limit access to on-campus instruction for an additional four weeks with a board-approved waiver request to the TEA. Health and safety procedures will be in place to support student and teacher safety, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said.

All students, teachers, staff and visitors coming to campus must be screened before being allowed on campus. Masks will be required while in school buildings, with certain exceptions.

More information is available at

On July 17, Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, Senate Finance Committee Chair Jane Nelson, Vice Chair Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, and House Appropriations Committee Chair Giovanni Capriglione and Vice Chair Oscar Longoria announced the state would allocate $200 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to the Texas Education Agency for the purchase of eLearning devices and home internet solutions to enable remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic for Texas students who lack connectivity.

Runoff results are in

Mary “MJ” Hegar of Round Rock won the Democratic Party runoff for U.S. Senate with 498,180 votes to 457,555 for state Sen. Royce West of Dallas, so Hegar will face incumbent Republican Sen. John Cornyn of San Antonio in the Nov. 3 general election.

In the only runoff for a state agency office, Texas Railroad Commission, Democrats chose Dallas lawyer Chrysta Castañeda over Robert Alonzo of Dallas, a former longtime member of the Texas House of Representatives. Castañeda received 575,460 votes to 353,399 for Alonzo. Complete election results are posted at

It's hot, so be careful

With summer air temperatures reaching 100 degrees and higher, the Texas Department of Public Safety on July 14 reminded the public to take extra heat-related safety precautions.

Children, the sick, elders and pets should not be left alone in vehicles. Drivers should always check all passenger and cargo areas before walking away from their vehicle, the DPS said.

Jobless rate improves

Texas added 243,900 private sector positions in June, resulting in an unemployment rate of 8.6%, the Texas Workforce Commission reported July 17. The state's unemployment rate in May was 13.0%.

The Amarillo Metropolitan Statistical Area recorded the lowest non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in June among Texas MSAs with 6%, followed by Abilene at 6.4% and College Station-Bryan at 6.5%.

The national unemployment rate stood at 11.1% in June.

Agency releases data

More information about oil and gas field cleanup programs are publicly available now, the Texas Railroad Commission announced July 15.

Data posted at includes bar graphs, an interactive Texas map, a list of counties and other search options.

“These latest additions will help the public and energy industry operators easily see key aspects of the important work we do in protecting the safety of Texans and the environment,” said Texas Railroad Commission Executive Director Wei Wang.

Ed Sterling is director of member services for the Texas Press Association.