Case Counts – Wednesday, January 5th (4:00 PM data)
Confirmed Cases – 4,018,044 (39,943 new cases)
Hospitalizations – 8,129 (8,392 available beds, 419 available adult ICU beds)
Fatalities – 74,888 (92 new deaths)
Inside the Numbers
Positivity rate as of Tuesday, January 4th was 34.67%. One month ago, there were 5,800 new cases reported, one week ago there were 15,100 new cases reported, compared to the 39,943 reported yesterday. The 8,129 COVID patients in hospitals now is 3,212 MORE patients compared to one week ago, and COVID patients make up 13.5% of total hospital beds in the state.
As of Tuesday, January 4th , 19.5 million Texans, or 66.8% of the population have received at least one dose of the vaccine. 16.5 million people in the state are fully vaccinated, which is 56.7% of the state. So far, 4.9 million, or 16.7% of the state have gotten a booster shot. Including booster shots, a total of 39.6 million doses of the vaccine have been administered.
Here are some of the other numbers associated with the increase in infections related to the Omicron variant: With the 34% positivity rate, 1 in every 3 tests are coming back positive; hospitalizations have more than doubled over the last week, but still remain well below the high of over 14,000 that the state reached in both January and September of 2020; 5 of the state’s hospital regions – Houston, Dallas, El Paso, Rio Grande Valley, San Antonio – are at or near having 15% of their beds occupied by COVID patients. Earlier in the pandemic, the 15% threshold is what triggered more severe restrictions to social behavior patterns in a certain area. All local restrictions have since been eliminated through executive orders by the Governor; 45 hospitals – mostly in the regions listed above – are reporting no available ICU beds. That is an increase over the last week, but still far below the peak number in 2020.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced yesterday they had approved the state’s request to open six new testing sites throughout the state after a plea from state health authorities and Gov. Abbott. The six sites approved will be in Bexar, Cameron, Hidalgo, Dallas, Tarrant, and Harris counties. These counties were chosen because of their high numbers of reported infections and increasing hospitalizations. The new testing sites are intended to help local officials more quickly identify those affected with the virus due to the lack of availability of home testing kits. Details of the sites such as opening dates, capacity, and the type of and number of personnel operating the sites are still unclear. The state also made a request for more therapeutic antibody treatments. FEMA will be sending approximately 8,000 courses of the treatment as well. A request for additional medical personnel to help with severely understaffed hospitals remains pending.
The University of Texas administration has asked professors to conduct their classes online for at least the first two weeks of the semester. However, UT President Jay Hartzell has told the faculty they can use a hybrid format to open the semester, with both in person and virtual options. University officials are also asking students to avoid non-essential indoor gatherings, and instead holding any events in an outdoor setting. UT reported 126 cases on Tuesday among students, and another 25 among faculty members. The university has reported a total of 6,229 total cases since March of 2020. UT’s undergraduate enrollment for the fall 2020 semester was 40,048 students. The spring semester is set to begin on January 18th. Other universities in the state have either delayed the start of the semester or asked faculty to hold classes virtually through the month of January.
Both Harris County and Travis County are planning to move to the most severe threat level within a few days due to the increase in infections associated with Omicron. Both are now in what is called “significant” threat level situations, and caution that the trend in infections and hospitalizations will cause both areas to increase to the highest threat level in as little as a week. What will follow are recommendations for significant changes in behavior, such as unvaccinated people only leaving their homes for essential needs like food and medicine, no travel, and no social gatherings of any kind. But again, due to executive orders and laws put in place by the Legislature, local entities have no authority to enforce these type of mandates. Any potential change in threat levels and the accompanying behavioral changes are treated only as recommendations, and are not enforceable by law.
The NFL is looking to the DFW Metroplex and AT&T Stadium as a potential host for the Super Bowl. The game is currently scheduled to be held in SoFi Stadium in the Los Angeles area on February 13th. However, California has in place very severe COVID protocols and restrictions, and this has caused the NFL and league officials to reconsider the current venue. WFAA TV in Dallas has reported that officials in Arlington have let the NFL know that the city and AT&T stadium are ready and willing to host the game if necessary. AT&T Stadium last hosted the game in 2011.
Abbott Opponents Getting Active
In their longshot bid to unseat incumbent Governor Greg Abbott in the Republican primary, former state Senator Don Huffines and former state party chair Allen West started the year off trying to make some headlines. Huffines ran his first commercial for the race which focused on criticizing Abbott for allowing an “invasion” of people crossing the border. He also promised to bring prayer back to the state’s public schools and “restore our culture”. Huffines also reported raising $11.5 million in the last half of 2021 and said he has a budget of $20 million for the primary race. Abbott has not yet reported his haul for the entire last half of 2021, but at the conclusion of the special sessions in the fall, Abbott reported having nearly $65 million cash on hand. You can see the Huffines commercial here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-xtHHoeIf4
Allen West sharply criticized Abbott earlier this week for the amount of problems and issues surrounding the national guard troops that are stationed at the southern border. In March, Abbott launched Operation Lone Star, which authorized the deployment of Texas National Guard and DPS troopers to the southern border to assist with the apprehension of attempted illegal migration into the state. There have been reports of poor working conditions, low morale, and delayed salary payments to the officers assigned to the operation. In addition to the reported delay in salaries to the troops, there have been four suicides among the troops deployed in the region. West formally called for an investigation into Operation Lone Star by the National Guard Bureau, a military organization which oversees the National Guard’s administration.
Abbott Sues Feds Over National Guard Vaccine Mandate
Speaking of the National Guard, Abbott announced this week that the state of Texas is suing the Biden administration over their requirement that all members of the National Guard receive a COVID vaccine. Abbott claims in the state’s court filings that the directive – ultimately from the Pentagon – infringes on his rights as Commander In Chief of the state’s National Guard forces. This mandate is part of an original edict issued last August by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin that required all members of the military and National Guards be vaccinated. In November, Secretary Austin added to the requirement that any member of the organizations that refuse the vaccine will not be paid, and cannot participate in any activities required as part of their active duty. A federal judge in Oklahoma has already sided with the federal government on this issue when the Governor of that state also challenged the vaccine mandate for the military and guard troops, saying that these troops were already required to receive nine other vaccines, and this additional mandate furthered their preparations for military readiness.
Texans eligible to vote by mail may begin requesting ballots for 2022 primary election, which is scheduled for March 1st. The new application form, with new requirements as a result of the voting bill passed in the special session in the fall, includes a section for the voter to write their driver’s license or election identification certificate number. If the voter has neither of these forms of identification, the voter must write the last four digits of their Social Security number.
The race to succeed longtime state Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr in the Rio Grande Valley has several candidates running in both parties. The district is considered to be a fairly safe bet for Democrats. Earlier this week, several Democratic state House members came out and endorsed one of the candidates on the Democratic side. Six incumbents, all whose House districts are contained in the Senate district, endorsed political newcomer Morgan LaMantia in the race. LaMantia is originally from Laredo and has recently moved to the district, but her family has a longtime presence in the Valley, having owned the local beer distributorship for many years. She faces three other challengers in the primary.
In the race for Texas Agriculture Commissioner, James White is challenging incumbent Sid Miller in the Republican primary. White, a well-respected 10 year veteran of the Texas House, has come out swinging in the new year. In a radio interview Thursday morning on the conservative Mark Davis morning talk show, White accused Miller of taking bribes in exchange for the issuance of hemp licenses. The Department of Agriculture was authorized by the legislature in 2019 to issue licenses for growing hemp, which is a cousin of marijuana and contains THC. The accusations are not without merit. Miller’s top campaign aide was arrested in May of 2021 and is currently under indictment for allegedly soliciting as much as $150,000 from a particular vendor in exchange for securing a license to grow hemp from the Agriculture Department.
The primary elections are 54 days away, and early voting starts in 39 days. Interim study issues for the House and Senate should be issued sometime this month, which will kick start the interim process of committees beginning their preparations for the 2023 regular session.