COVID Cases Falling, Hospitalizations Continue to Rise
New infections continue a downward trend, with 7,651 cases reported by the state today. This is down slightly from the 8,800 reported one week ago. The rolling seven day average is now below 10,000 cases being reported each day. Hospitalizations have been on the rise over the last several weeks, and that trend is continuing. The state is reporting 3,540 people hospitalized with COVID illness, but the hospitalizations seem to be slowing as well. The figure reported yesterday is only an increase of 75 patients from one week ago.
Continued Heat, Increasing Drought and Fire Dangers
Texas continues to experience an unprecedented heatwave, with June of this year being the hottest on record. July promises to be the same, and no relief is seen for August. On Tuesday of last week, Pampa set its highest ever recorded temperature of 111 degrees, while Wichita Falls set a record of 115. On Monday, DFW airport recorded the all-time hottest low temperature, when the thermometer dipped only to 86 degrees. For the week of July 4th through the 11th, Galveston never dipped below 85 degrees. Here in Austin, there have only been two days in July where the high was not at least 100 degrees.
According to the Texas A&M Forest Service, 215 of the state’s 254 counties have burn bans in effect, due to the fact that the US Drought Monitor reports that 99.18 % of the state is experiencing some form of drought, with 36% of the state in exceptional drought. Drought causes wildfires, and in the last 7 days, authorities have responded to 205 wildfires in the state that are burning over 22,000 acres. So far this year, 6,800 wildfires have destroyed nearly 600,000 acres of Texas.
Risk To Grid Continues
Temperatures throughout the state are expected to remain over the 100 degree mark for at least the next week, with little or no rain chances expected in the hardest hit areas of the state. Last Wednesday, the state broke an all time record for electricity demand for the 11th time this summer. Actually, the 11thtime since June 12th. During that peak demand on Wednesday, demand exceeded 80,000 megawatts, which is enough to power 16 million homes on a summer day. One alarming stat regarding this record demand is that ERCOT – the manager of the state’s grid – had predicted that demand would reach 77,317 megawatts at the highest demand day this summer. Wednesday marked the 7th day that the state exceeded that amount of demand. This continued increase in demand has caused the power plants to delay maintenance to keep up with the soaring demand for power. Many experts in the field say that delayed and neglected maintenance responsibilities – reasons cited for the rolling blackouts during the 2021 winter storm – make the power plants more prone to issues that could cause the plants to either decrease capacity or shut down completely.
To follow grid updates, as well as up to the minute supply and demand projections, go to the ERCOT website: https://www.ercot.com
Uvalde School Shooting
State Senator Roland Gutierrez of San Antonio – who also represents Uvalde – has called on Lt. Governor Patrick to have the Senate Criminal Justice Committee oversee the DPS investigation of the inaction and failures associated with the school shooting. The report of the Texas House special committee investigating the shooting showed there were 91 DPS officers present at the school that should share as much of the blame for the delayed response as the local officers. In response, the DPS said they will conduct an investigation of those officers.
Early last week, the Uvalde school board scheduled a meeting on Saturday to discuss the fate of school district Police Chief Pete Arredondo. On Friday, the board decided to postpone that meeting, due to “due process concerns”. No new meeting date has been scheduled, and Arredondo remains on paid administrative leave. At a school board meeting on Monday, residents fiercely criticized the board for not firing Arredondo already.
Roe v. Wade
Eleven members of the state Senate and 64 members of the Texas House have signed a legal brief asking the state Supreme Court to allow criminal prosecution of doctors who perform abortions. As a basis for their request, they cite a state law passed in 1925 that calls for up to 5 years in prison for anyone performing an abortion in the state. The brief says they do not seek prosecution of women who undergo the procedure. The question is whether or not the original law is still in effect. Some legal experts feel the law was automatically repealed with the Roe decision of 1972, while others feel since the law was never repealed by the state, it remains in effect.
Washington continues to respond to state efforts after the Supreme Court overturned the Roe decision. Last week, the US House passed a bill prohibiting states from banning all birth control measures. All Republican members of the Texas Congressional delegation voted against the measure. The fate of the bill remains uncertain in the US Senate.
Beto O’Rourke has started his 49 city tour called “Drive for Texas”. The first day was last Wednesday where he began in Pecos and Midland, and then onto Snyder and Lubbock. Over 1,000 people were on hand in Lubbock Thursday night, which is somewhat surprising for a city that is reliably and staunchly Republican. The tour will make stops all throughout the state, wrapping up in Austin on September 6th.
Digging a little deeper into the latest campaign finance reports from Abbott and O’Rourke shows that even though O’Rourke outraised Abbott by nearly $4 million during this most recent reporting period, Abbott still maintains a nearly 2-to-1 cash advantage. Abbott has $46 million on hand, compared to $24 million for O’Rourke. Roughly 60% of Abbott’s contributions were from in state contributors, while roughly half of O’Rourke’s contributions were from out of state.
Also in contribution news, incumbent AG Ken Paxton was outraised by his Democratic opponent, Rochelle Garza. Paxton reported $341,000 in contributions during the last reporting period compared to $518,000 for Garza. However, Paxton maintains a cash on hand advantage of nearly $3 million.
Republican state Representative Jeff Leach of Plano made headlines for his tweet on Friday declaring he could no longer support former President Trump if he chose to seek the Republican nomination for President in 2024. Leach, in his fourth term, said that Trump’s treatment of his former Vice-President was the last straw, and tweeted that the Republican party should seek an alternative to Trump in 2024. Most Republicans have remained silent on Trump’s potential run, but Leach said he could no longer stay silent on the issue.
Democratic nominee for Lt Governor Mike Collier has released his first television ads for the campaign season. This first round, costing over $1 million, will run for several weeks in Austin, Houston, and Dallas, and will focus on the unreliability of the electric grid and the contributions from energy and electric interests that Lt. Governor Patrick has received during the campaign.
And finally, speaking of Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, he has tested positive for COVID for the second time. The Republican incumbent, seeking his 3rd term as Lt. Governor, is fully vaccinated and received a booster last fall, according to reports from his staff. He is reporting mild symptoms and will be self-isolating at home for the next several days.
Later in the month, the House Public Education Committee will meet to discuss issues related to public school finance and to evaluate state policy on curriculum and instructional materials. The House Public Health Committee will meet to discuss the impact of fentanyl related deaths. The Senate Health and Human Services committee will meet in August to discuss the impact the pandemic continues to have on health care workforce in our state.
The schedule and details of all interim hearings can be found here: https://capitol.texas.gov