Case Counts – Monday, January 17th (9:15 PM data)
Confirmed Cases – 4,656,551 (54,407 new cases)
Hospitalizations – 12,286 (8,283 available beds, 395 available adult ICU beds)
Fatalities – 76,000 (4 new deaths)
Inside the Numbers
Positivity rate as of Sunday, January 16th was 34.52% (down slightly). One month ago, there were 6,500 new cases reported, one week ago there were 61,100 new cases reported, compared to the 54,407 reported yesterday. The 12,286 COVID patients in hospitals now is 2,635 MORE patients compared to one week ago, and COVID patients make up 18.7% of total hospital beds in the state.
As of Thursday, January 13th, 19.7 million Texans, or 67.6% of the population have received at least one dose of the vaccine. 16.7 million people in the state are fully vaccinated, which is 57.2% of the state. So far, 5.4 million, or 18.4% of the state have gotten a booster shot. Including booster shots, a total of 40.4 million doses of the vaccine have been administered.
Applications for Mail In Ballots Rejected
Several hundred people throughout the state – so far – have had their applications for a mail in ballot for the upcoming primary election rejected, as county election officials try to comply with the new, stricter laws governing mail in ballots. Under the new Texas voting law, applicants must include either their driver’s license number, or last four digits of their social security number on the application. And those numbers must match what the county has on file to properly identify the voter. Problem is, most people don’t remember which of those numbers they used when they originally registered to vote. As of Thursday, Harris County had rejected 208 of the 1,276 applications, or about 16%. Bexar County had rejected over 200 and Travis County has rejected about 350 applications. Williamson County, north of Austin, has rejected over 400 ballots. The new matching requirement has caused wholesale confusion all throughout the state.
In response, the Texas Secretary of State’s office said they are surprised that so many applications were being rejected and is encouraging local election officials to contact their office for assistance with the requirements of the new law. What’s making matters worse, according to the SOS, there are nearly 500,000 registered Texas voters that do not have a driver’s license number on file and over 100,000 that do not have either driver’s license or social security number on file. It remains to be seen how both local election officials and the state will deal with these voters. The SOS has said it will be providing specific guidance to local elections officials very soon, but the window is closing. Applications for mail in ballots must be received by county election officials by February 18th.
State Border Initiative Challenged
Part of Operation Lone Star – the state’s program to fund operations by the state to enforce immigration laws – is to arrest and detain illegal migrants on trespassing charges. The first challenge of this program came this week, when a state district judge in Austin ruled that the arrest of an immigrant from Ecuador on trespassing charges violated the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution because enforcement of immigration laws is the sole responsibility of the federal government. This could open the door to thousands of challenges by migrants who have been arrested and detained since the beginning of Operation Lone Star in July. The state has vowed to appeal the ruling, but there are difficulties involved regarding jurisdictional issues, since the arrest and incarceration happened in Kinney County, raising questions as to why the case was not heard in Kinney County. Furthermore, the state was not involved in the original hearing in Travis County district court. More than 2,000 arrests have been made in Kinney County alone since the program started in July, and there are still nearly 900 of those that were arrested that are still in jail awaiting a hearing.
At some point this week, the number of patients hospitalized in the state due to COVID will break the previous record of 14,218 that was set on January 11th of last year. As of Monday, the state reported 12,286 patients. One month ago, there were 3,117 COVID patients in our state hospitals.
Schools throughout the state are either facing disruptions or closure due to the latest COVID surge. At least 25 east Texas school districts have shut down for several days, along with Marble Falls ISD near Austin and Fort Worth’s Northwest ISD. These are just a few examples, and the Texas Education Agency said it is attempting to find out exactly how many schools have had to shut down. It is not just because of an increase in infections among students, there are also a significant number of staff that have become infected as well. Many districts have shut down bus service due to lack of drivers, and many others say they are not able to find substitute teachers to fill in for the regular teachers that have become infected.
Beginning at noon yesterday, businesses in Austin and Travis County must publicly declare what measures they are taking to slow the spread of COVID. This is due to a new order issued by Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Andy Brown. All businesses must post some sort of sign stating whether or not they require customers and employees to wear face coverings, whether or not a negative test is required for entry, and whether or not the business is requiring their employees to get vaccinated. However, these requirements are almost certainly going to be challenged by the state, and may be short lived. There are standing executive orders in place issued by the state that prohibit local governments from forcing businesses to require masks or vaccination status. Furthermore, the US Supreme Court has struck down the Biden administration vaccine mandates. The Austin mayor on the other hand, believes his orders are on firm legal ground, since they simply ask businesses to inform their employees and the public, and do not mandate any protocols.
Today is the deadline for candidates to file their reports regarding contributions received in the last half of 2021. Candidates have to list the amounts they received and how much cash they have on hand moving forward. Gov. Abbott reported raising $18.9 million over the last 6 months, and reports $65 million in his war chest. His closest Republican challenger Don Huffines reported raising $3 million. On the Democratic side, Beto O’Rourke reported raising $7.2 million since his campaign started on November 15th.
Veteran state Representative Eddie Lucio, III has informed the Governor that he intends to resign his state House seat, effective January 31st. Lucio, a Democrat from Harlingen, had already announced that he would not be seeking reelection in 2022, citing a desire to focus more time on his family and business ventures.
State Senator Brian Birdwell, a Republican from Granbury, is recovering from minor heart surgery. Birdwell had a procedure to place stents in his arteries after experiencing chest pains over the holidays. Birdwell, whose district covers Waco and surrounding north central Texas, currently serves as Chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee.
Long shot Republican gubernatorial candidate Don Huffines is expanding his attacks on Governor Abbott. Last week, he began running commercials that accused Abbott of being complicit in the surge of migrants crossing our Texas borders. Huffines is now out with a TV ad that draws comparisons to Abbott and Dr. Anthony Fauci, by reminding viewers that Abbott ordered a statewide mask mandate in 2020 and also ordered a stay at home order at the beginning of the pandemic. Abbott lifted the stay at home order after severe pressure from the conservative wing of the Republican party demanded that businesses be allowed to open.
Political commercials will be on your local stations in full force between now and the March 1st election day. The last day to register to vote is January 31st. The last day to apply to vote by mail is February 18th. Early voting starts February 14th and lasts until February 25th.