COVID Cases Steady, Hospitalizations Continue to Rise
New infections continue a steady, and slightly downward trend, with 7,439 cases reported by the state yesterday. This is down slightly from the 9,600 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 3,695 people hospitalized with COVID illness, but the hospitalizations seem to be slowing as well. The figure reported yesterday is only an increase of 85 patients from one week ago.
Texas Economy Retains Strength
The most recent surveys from the Federal Reserve Board in Dallas show the Texas economy continuing to expand, but the pace of growth has decelerated slightly. The expansion was led by the manufacturing sector, with central Texas leading the way. The Austin area continues its boom, where the unemployment rate dropped to 2.9% for the month of June. The area also added 75,000 jobs in the last 12 months. Overall, the state has added just over 500,000 over the last year. Supply chain disruptions and labor shortages are still pushing up costs for all sectors of the economy.
Growth in the state’s information sector is up as well. Publishing, internet service providers, and telecommunications companies all reported increases in sales in June compared to the previous year and from the previous month. One troubling trend is in the areas of hospitality and retail. The month of July has shown a significant decrease in seated dinners. While dining reservations are up from 2019 levels, they are falling as much as 20% in Austin and San Antonio, and 10% in Dallas. Retails sales are dipping as well, as retailers claim the continued labor shortage is adversely affecting their ability to provide adequate customer service.
Continued Heat Fueling Wildfires
With the unrelenting heat showing no signs of going away, new wildfires are popping up throughout the state. On Tuesday night, nine homes in north Texas were destroyed in Rendon, near Fort Worth. This comes after a huge grass fire started by a spark from a mower spread near Balch Springs in the same region, destroying over 20 homes. In Central Texas, two different fires near Buda – south of Austin – were burning late yesterday over 90 acres of land. Nearby residents were forced to evacuate, but the fire is now 75% contained and no longer poses a threat to residences.
Firefighters in the state responded just yesterday to 13 new wildfires that burned 446 acres. Overall, the state has 10 active wildfires burning out of control, with another 14 burning, but contained. The National Weather Service and the Texas A&M Forest Service is predicting that the potential for dangerous wildfires will continue through October. There is one bit of slightly good news. The immediate forecast for the weekend is that the high pressure dome parked over the state is expected to weaken slightly over the weekend and will hopefully allow southerly winds to bring in some moisture from the Gulf. However, high temperatures are still expected to reach at least 100 degrees in the most drought stricken areas of the state.
Uvalde School Shooting
The Principal of Robb Elementary has been placed on leave with pay by the Uvalde school board. No official word on why she was placed on leave, but the report from the Special House Committee investigating the incident said that she knew the lock for the classroom door where most of the fatalities occurred was not working properly. Furthermore, it was reported that she never attempted to use the school intercom to warn the students and teachers that a gunman had entered the school. The principal has responded saying it is unfair to single her out as being responsible for security issues at the school.
The Uvalde City Council met earlier this week and passed a resolution making a formal request of Governor Abbott to call a special session to address gun safety measures. Specifically, they are asking that the Governor and legislature raise the legal age to buy assault rifles from 18 to 21. At the meeting, the mayor and city council members acknowledged that this action was mainly symbolic, recognizing that the Governor is very unlikely to call a special session on this issue.
Governor Abbott has renewed the disaster declaration for Uvalde County. The original declaration was passed immediately after the shooting, and the renewal of the status eases the process of obtaining state funds and assistance for recovery purposes.
Roe v. Wade
The US Supreme Court officially released the judgement in the Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization on Tuesday which overturns the Roe v Wade decision of 1972. With that, the countdown now starts on the effective date of the Texas trigger law. That law, passed last session that bans all abortion procedures in the state, is now set to go into effect on August 25th, which is 30 days after the release of the Supreme Court ruling. Texas is one of 13 states that passed a trigger law in anticipation of the Supreme Court action. The law bans all abortion procedures except in the case of a medical emergency and creates a second degree felony for anyone attempting to perform an abortion.
Democrat nominee for Lt. Governor Mike Collier began running television ads last week attacking incumbent Dan Patrick for not doing more to stabilize the state’s electric grid. A recent poll by the University of Houston School of Public Affairs also showed Collier in a tight race with Patrick, trailing by less than 4 points. In turn, Republicans have begun to focus attacks on Collier in an attempt to help Patrick and widen his lead going into the fall campaign season. A Fox News host and Senator Ted Cruz both aggressively attacked Collier this week for his stance opposing school vouchers – a program that allocates public school funding to private and charter schools. The voucher issue is popular among Republican voters, and the attacks on Collier question why he would oppose school choice for parents. Patrick’s campaign spokesman joined in on the attacks, tying Collier to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke and President Biden citing their positions on border security and inflation threatening to hurt the economy. This year’s election is a rematch from 2018, when Collier ran unsuccessfully against Patrick losing by 5 points.
California Governor Gavin Newsome is also on the attack, as he is targeting Gov. Abbott with full page ads in Texas newspapers. Newsome is targeting Abbott’s policies on gun control and abortion. An Abbott campaign spokesman counters by saying Newsome should focus on jobs that are leaving his own state and coming to Texas. Newsome, a rumored candidate for the 2024 Democratic Presidential nomination, has also attacked Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in an attempt to raise his national profile.
One more note related to Uvalde. Democratic Houston Congressman Al Green is calling on Gov. Abbott to release the names of the people that allegedly misled him during the early part of the shooting investigation. Initially, the day after the shooting, Abbott praised law enforcement for their actions taken during the incident. However, after it was revealed that law enforcement took over an hour to definitively respond and stop the gunman, Abbott claimed the initial accounts given to him were misleading. This has led to finger pointing and shifting of blame. Congressman Green said that if Abbott does not identify the individuals that gave him the false information, he will ask the US House Judiciary Committee to begin an investigation and has threatened to call Gov. Abbott as a witness.
The House Special Committee on Youth Safety will meet jointly with the House Homeland Security Committee on August 8th to discuss improving communication in disaster and emergency scenarios and the need to improve mental health services for students and all school related professionals. Later in the month, 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 Senate Committee on Border Security will meet on August 10th in Eagle Pass to discuss the impact that Operation Lone Star is having on communities along the border.
The schedule and details of all interim hearings can be found here: https://capitol.texas.gov