Case Counts/Testing in Texas — Sunday, December 5th (11:00 AM data)
Confirmed Cases – 3,592,874 (1,140 new cases)
Hospitalizations – 2,939 (8,733 available beds, 555 available adult ICU beds)
Fatalities – 75,986 (30 new deaths)
Vaccine Data – Sunday, December 5th (12:00 PM data)
Total doses administered – 36,633,090
People vaccinated – 18,713,435
People fully vaccinated – 16,077,862
Doses Shipped by state – 27,757,810
Inside the Numbers
Positivity rate as of Sunday, December 5th was 9.09%. One month ago, there were 2,600 new cases reported, one week ago there were 4,500 new cases reported, compared to the 1,140 reported yesterday. The 2,939 COVID patients in hospitals now is 211 more patients compared to one week ago, and COVID patients make up 4.5% of total hospital beds in the state.
Over the last week, an average of 42,651 doses have been administered each day in the state. As of Sunday, December 5th 54.9% of Texans have been fully vaccinated.
New Social Media Law Blocked
During the second special session, the legislature passed Senate Bill 20, which restricts the way social media companies can regulate their content and what is posted by their users. The bill prohibits social media platforms with more than 50 million users – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram – from removing or blocking a user over a particular belief or point of view on a given subject matter. The bill was passed after many Republicans declared the platforms to be unfriendly to conservatives after former President Trump was banned from most major social media platforms.
After the bill was passed in July, trade groups representing the largest e-commerce and social media companies filed a lawsuit in federal district court to stop the law from going into effect, saying the state had no authority to force platforms to host content that violated their standards of operation. Late last week, a federal district judge agreed with the companies, and blocked the bill from taking effect. In response, supporters of the bill argued that the tech companies and social media platforms have evolved into common carriers, much like phone companies or cable television providers, which are barred from discrimination against customers.
A federal judge in Florida blocked a similar state law there. No word yet on an appeal by the state of Texas.
State Ban on Mask Mandates Upheld
In more court action from last week, a federal appeals court has temporarily restored Gov. Abbott’s executive order prohibiting mask mandates in public schools. The original case was filed in August by groups representing the interests of disabled students, and argued that the ban on mask mandates created a risk for disabled children, thus denying them access to public education. After a district court agreed with the plaintiffs, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling last week that allowed the ban to be reinstated, saying that no evidence exists of any type of injury due to the ban on mask mandates. Several school districts, including Houston ISD, Dallas ISD, Richardson ISD, and Aldine ISD, have said that even though the ban is in place, they will still require masks to be worn by students and educators.
Calls Continue for Special Session Over Vaccine Mandate
Twenty-six Republican House members have now publicly called on Governor Abbott to call a special session to pass a state law to counter the vaccine mandate for employers handed down by the Biden Administration. However, Abbott says that is not necessary at this time, due to ongoing litigation on the issue. In recent developments on this issue, virtually every Republican state representative in Texas has endorsed legal arguments urging a federal appeals court to strike down the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement for businesses with 100 or more workers. Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, and 83 other House Republicans signed the amicus brief filed Thursday. It calls the requirement an unconstitutional overreach by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The agency is making those workers be vaccinated by Jan. 4 or face mask requirements and weekly tests.
Some view the amicus brief by state House Republicans as their best hope to show they oppose the vaccine mandates, since most House members do not want a fourth special session. After spending most of the summer and fall here in Austin, House members are anxious to campaign in their newly created districts. Having such a vast majority sign onto the brief gives Abbott cover – at least for now – to not convene legislators again. Although, he has left the door open to more sessions, mainly so the state can respond to directives and policy disagreements with the Biden Administration and the federal government.
Political Quick Hits
In another big surprise, veteran state Senator Larry Taylor announced on last week that he would not seek reelection to the Senate. Taylor, a Republican from Friendswood, has served 20 years in both the House and Senate. He currently chairs the Senate Education Committee and the Senate Republican Caucus. This came as a big surprise for many here in Austin, and Taylor recently held his annual golf tournament fundraiser, indicating he would seek another term. Immediately after his announcement, state Rep. Mayes Middleton, in his second term representing Wallisville, jumped into the Senate race.
Middleton was also immediately endorsed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Middleton will have competition in the primary. Galveston physician Robin Armstrong has also announced his candidacy, and has been endorsed by Attorney General Ken Paxton. Armstrong has long been involved in Republican politics, and serves on the Republican National Committee. This Senate district is solidly Republican, is anchored in Galveston County, and also contains parts of Brazoria and Chambers Counties.
Another incumbent Senator picked up a challenger last week when Channon Cain announced he would challenge Senator Donna Campbell, Republican from San Antonio. Cain is a financial advisor from Spicewood, in western Travis County. This new district could create issues for the incumbent Campbell, as it now contains many new areas that she has not represented before, including the high growth area of western Travis County.
The 26th member of the Texas House announced last week he would not seek reelection. Freshman Rep. Jeff Cason from Bedford made the announcement, saying he could not win the newly drawn district, which now strongly favors the election of a Democrat.
Huntsville businessman Ben Bius is seeking state office for the fifth time. He has run for the state Senate three times, and once each for Congress and the state House. This time he will challenge incumbent state Rep. Kyle Kacal, Republican from Waco. Kacal is in his 5th term, and will attempt to represent the Huntsville area for the first time in his tenure.
We will be watching the filing period closely, which lasts one more week until December 13th. Many more announcements regarding retirements and challenges are expected.