Case Counts/Testing in Texas – Wednesday, December 16th (3:30 PM data)

Total Tests Performed – 13,919,586

Confirmed Cases – 1,367,965 (14,805 new cases)

Active Cases – 272,933

Hospitalizations – 9,528 (11,307 available beds, 704 available ICU beds)

Fatalities – 24,394 (252 new deaths)

Recovered Cases – 1,216,415

Inside the Numbers

Positivity rate as of Tuesday, December 15th was 13.75%.  One month ago, there were 12,300 new cases reported, one week ago there were 13,300 new cases reported, compared to the 14,805 reported yesterday.  The 7 day average has decreased by 97 cases.  The 9,528 COVID patients in hospitals now are 475 more than one week ago, and COVID patients make up 14.4% of total hospital beds in the state.

Update from State Officials on Vaccine Distribution

Governor Abbott and state health officials held a news conference today in Austin to provide an update on the coming availability of the vaccines for Texans.  Widespread distribution beyond the front line health care workers and senior citizens receiving it now of the vaccines is not expected until March, when there should be multiple vaccines available.  Nearly 250,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine have already arrived at hospitals and health care facilites throughout the state, and another 1 million doses are expected to arrive by the end of next week.  It is expected that the Moderna vaccine will be part of the new shipments arriving next week.  In total, Texas is on schedule to receive 1.4 million doses by the end of the calendar year.

Included in the 2nd wave of vaccine arrivals will be distributions for medical practices, pharmacies, free standing emergency rooms, urgent care centers, and local health departments.  Since it will be several more weeks, if not months, before the bulk of the population is vaccinated, state leaders urged continued caution and the practicing of the social distancing protocols that have been part of our lives for nearly a year.  Abbott went on to reiterate that even though full vaccinations are months away and cases are increasing significantly, there will be no more economic shutdowns.

Access to Capitol

With the legislative session looming in less than a month, Abbott also called for the reopening of the Capitol, although no timeline was given.  The Capitol has been closed to the public since March, with only credentialed members and staff allowed to have access.  Yesterday, the Capitol grounds were reopened.  It is now allowable to stroll the grounds around the building.

Due to the uncertainty of the status of access to the Capitol, a member of the House has written Attorney Generel Ken Paxton asking for an opinion regarding the authority of any person in state government having the ability to close the Capitol.  Furthermore, the letter asks Paxton to give his interpretation of what is meant by “in person”, which is the way the state Constitution describes how members must debate and vote while in session.  The response could dictate much of the protocols that will be in place for the session.  Many members of both chambers would like to see full access to the Capitol for the public, to receive their input on legislation and have the ability to visit their respective representatives in Austin to share any thoughts on the issues before the Legislature.

Texas Still Has $2 Billion Unspent Stimilus Funds

In March, the state received roughly $11 billion from the federal government for corona virus relief funds.  To date, about $2 billion remains unspent.  A third of the money has gone to cities and counties and other monies have been distributed through state agencies for education, health, and emergency services.  The deadline to spend the full amount is December 30th.  Several members of the legislatuture, as well as local officials from several jurisdictions have pleaded with the state for additional help.  With the legislature not in session, members have had no input in the distribution of the funds.  Representatives from food banks, advocates for housing needs, and of course the entire health care profession have asked for part of the remaining funds to help with the pandemic recovery.  Governor Abbott has said simply that the remaining funds will be spent to “ensure the health and well-being of all Texans”.

Voter Fraud Accusations Continue

In an incredibly bizarre attempt to find evidence of voter fraud in the November election, a retired Houston police officer has been arrested for threatening a man at gunpoint and running him off of the road with his car.  Mark Aguirre was arrested in Houston on Wednesday, and is accused of working for a group of Republican activists in Houston that were  trying to uncover voting irregularities prior to the elections.  In October, shortly before the election, Aguirre followed an unnamed man who works as an air conditioner repairman for several days, thinking that the man was involved in a voter fraud scheme, by transporting fake ballots and having nearly one million ballots in his possession.  Aguirre ran the man off the road, forced him to the ground at gunpoint, and then had an accomplice steal the truck for inspection.  The abandoned truck was later found just a few blocks away.  Aguirre has been charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.  You can’t make this stuff up!!

Senate District 30 Election this Saturday

The special election to fill the term of incumbent Senator Pat Fallon, who was recently elected to Congress, is this Saturday.  In the heavily Republican district based in north Texas, state Rep. Drew Springer is running against Dallas salon owner Shelly Luther, who lives in Pilot Point.  Luther gained attention earlier this year by defying Governor Abbott’s shutdown orders and was briefly jailed for her refusal.  This race magnifies the two factions of the Republican party.  Abbott has endorsed Springer and is supporting him financially as well.  Abbott has given Springer nearly $275,000 in donations, mostly in-kind for polling, mailings, and other campaign related activities.  Luther is heavily supported by the controversial far right  group Empower Texans, who have openly criticized Abbott for his response to the pandemic, including the mask mandate and shutdown of certain businesses.

Television advertising has been heavy by both sides, and this race creates a very clear choice for Republicans to either endorse the policies of Governor Abbott that have been in place during the pandemic, or make a statement by the party voters that they are unhappy with the party establishment and the restrictions that were put in place over the last several months.  

The Texas legislative session begins in 26 days.