Case Counts/Testing in Texas — Tuesday, December 21st (2:45 PM data)
Confirmed Cases – 3,675,680 (8,082 new cases)
Hospitalizations – 3,156 (9,698 available beds, 705 available adult ICU beds)
Fatalities – 73,918 (53 new deaths)
Vaccine Data – Tuesday, December 21st (12:30 PM data)
Total doses administered – 38,301,354
People vaccinated – 19,101,494
People fully vaccinated – 16,322,032
Doses Shipped by state – 28,706,320
Inside the Numbers
Positivity rate as of Monday, December 20th was 12.85%. One month ago, there were 3,300 new cases reported, one week ago there were 5,000 new cases reported, compared to the 8,082 reported yesterday. The 3,156 COVID patients in hospitals now is 48 fewer patients compared to one week ago, and COVID patients make up 5.1% of total hospital beds in the state.
Over the last week, an average of 43,890 doses have been administered each day in the state. As of Monday, December 20th, 16.3 million Texans, or 55.9% of the state’s population have been fully vaccinated. Also, as of December 19th, 19.1 million Texans had received at least one dose of the vaccine, which translates to 65.5%.
Some Vaccine Mandates Stand, Others Overruled
The state of Texas was granted a temporary injunction last week that blocks the Biden administration vaccine mandate for health care workers. The Biden administration has issued a mandate as a condition for employment for all Medicare and Medicaid providers operating in Texas. The mandate was issued in November, and was set to take effect on December 6th, and would have covered every employee, contractor, trainee, or volunteer working for a provider to be fully vaccinated. In the ruling issued in federal district court, one of the reasons given was that the mandate would place undue harm and costs on rural hospitals, and create increased staffing shortages. Several other federal judges in other states and jurisdictions have issued similar rulings.
In a similar case with a different outcome, the federal 6th District Court of Appeals ruled Friday that a vaccine mandate by the Biden administration that all companies with more than 100 employees must require their workers to get either vaccinated or tested, was allowed to remain in effect. This ruling does affect all states. The state of Texas has vowed to appeal this ruling. Ultimately, the US Supreme Court will decide the fate of all vaccine mandates.
Omicron Variant Spreading
The new variant of COVID was detected in Texas for the first time earlier this month. Hospitalizations remain relatively low in the state for now, but there are areas in the state – particularly in urban centers – that have seen dramatic rises in COVID cases over the last two weeks. According to the Department of State Health Services, the only areas of the state where hospitals are reporting rapid increases in new patients is in the Panhandle and El Paso. As of Thursday, (most recent data available) only 116 cases in Texas were tied to the Omicron variant, making the Delta variant still the most dominant in the state. However, some medical researchers predict in the coming weeks that the Omicron variant will become the dominant strain. Researchers are still trying to determine just how severe this variant really is, with very little evidence on how it affects the population at large.
Because so little is truly known about the new variant, many people are trying to get tested prior to gathering with friends and family for the Christmas holiday. Despite the wide availability of the vaccines, testing for the virus is much more difficult to obtain. Over the counter tests that have been available at retail stores are now scarce. Retailers such as CVS, Walgreens, HEB, etc.. are reporting that they have been out of stock for the last several weeks. That means people are turning to public testing centers, and local officials say they simply do not have the resources to meet the demand for tests, but officials are trying to coordinate with the state to provide more testing opportunities. Here is a link to the Department of Health Services website providing information on locating a testing center in your area:
Abortion Law Sent to 5th Circuit
After the US Supreme Court justices allowed the state’s abortion law to remain in effect pending full judicial review, the justices sent the case back to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, rather than back to the district court level. This is the heartbeat act, that prohibits abortions after a heartbeat is detected, and allows private citizens to enforce the law through lawsuits. This was a huge blow to opponents of the law, since cases at the appeals level can take months, if not years to be decided. Furthermore, this particular appeals court is considered to be conservative, having already upheld the law in another legal battle. The law will remain in effect until the ultimate judicial review, once again by the US Supreme Court.
More Election Law Revisions
The all Republican state Court of Criminal Appeals struck down part of the Texas Election Code last week. The part struck down allows the state Attorney General to unilaterally prosecute election fraud cases. The court issued an 8-1 opinion that says the law violates the separation of powers portion of the state constitution that presents an intrusion by the executive branch into the judicial branch. Now, moving forward, the Attorney General can only get involved in election fraud cases when asked to do so by a district or county attorney. Incumbent AG Ken Paxton harshly criticized the opinion, saying this ruling hampers any ability he has to stop voter fraud in the state. The decision stemmed from a long running case that resulted in allegations associated with the 2016 election, where the Jefferson County Sheriff was accused of campaign finance violations. The local district attorney refused to prosecute the Sheriff, so Paxton sought an indictment from neighboring Chambers County. The ruling from the Criminal Court of Appeals said that the state Attorney General can only prosecute with the permission of the local jurisdiction, and not initiate prosecution.
Texas Begins Building Border Wall
On Sunday in Rio Grande City, accompanied by several local law enforcement officials, state lawmakers, and the Texas National Guard, Gov. Abbott announced the beginning of the state-led construction of a border wall along the Texas/Mexico border. Abbott blamed the Biden administration for not doing enough to secure the state’s border, citing the fact that 1.7 million encounters had been reported by US immigration officials so far in 2021. This year, during the legislative sessions, a total of $1 billion was appropriated by the legislature for border barriers, funding up to 183 miles of barrier construction. Depending on the terrain and other factors, estimates of border wall construction are between $6 million and $34 million per mile. Texas shares a 1,254 mile common border with Mexico, and is joined by 28 international bridges and crossings.
This will be the last regular update of 2021, as the news will slow significantly during the last week and a half of the year. However, if anything pertinent arises, I will certainly share with everyone. Here’s wishing you and your loved ones a very safe, happy, and prosperous holiday season and new year!!