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COVID-19 In DFW Sept. 13-Sept. 19: President Biden Calls Out Governors Who Oppose Vaccine Mandate

Headshot of Greg Abbott with flag in the background.
Eric Gay
FILE - In this Tuesday, June 8, 2021, file photo, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a news conference in Austin, Texas. Abbott, who faces a contested reelection primary next year, is pushing looser gun laws than he ever previously embraced and proposing unprecedented state actions, including promises to build more walls on the Mexican border. Similar scenes are playing out in campaigns in other red states including Arkansas and Idaho, where ultra right-wing challengers are tapping into anger among Republicans over Trump’s election loss and coronavirus-related lockdowns.

The delta variant is also remains the most prevalent COVID variant in North Texas.

For the latest on the pandemic in North Texas, visit KERA News' COVID-19 Live Updates page.

Friday, Sept. 17

Cook Children's Stops Non-Emergency Surgeries

Cook Children's Medical Center has temporarily halted non-emergency surgeries until Oct. 11 or later due to a shortages in staffing and beds.

“This is not a decision our administrative team takes lightly,” said Stan Davis, Chief Operating Officer at Cook Children’s Health Care System, in a statement. “Elective surgeries are not synonymous with cosmetic or unnecessary procedures. These are children who require surgical intervention to improve their health and wellbeing. We are doing everything in our power to ensure every child who needs us is taken care of.”

President Biden Calls Out Governors Who Oppose Vaccine Mandate

President Joe Biden is calling out Republican governors who oppose his administration's plan to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for federal workers, health care staff, and businesses with at least a hundred employees. The Democratic president said Thursday an overwhelming majority of Americans support his proposal.

"But we're facing a lot of pushback especially from some of the Republican governors," Biden said. "The governors of Florida and Texas are doing everything they can to undermine the living-saving requirements I've proposed."

Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order last month banning government entities from requiring COVID-19 vaccines regardless of FDA approval status. Meanwhile, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and 23 other Republican state attorneys general sent President Biden a letter Thursday threatening legal action if he moves forward with the vaccine mandate.

CDC To Invest $2.1 Billion to Protect Patients and Healthcare Workers from COVID-19 and Future Infectious Diseases

The Biden administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is using American Rescue Plan funding to strengthen and equip state, local, and territorial public health departments and other partner organizations with the resources needed to better fight infections in U.S. healthcare facilities.

The funding will assist healthcare personnel to prevent infections more effectively in healthcare settings, support rapid response to detect and contain infectious organisms, enhance laboratory capacity, and engage in innovation targeted at combating infectious disease threats. Improvements will be made to 6,000 hospitals, 15,400 nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, 7,900 dialysis clinics, and 4,700 ambulatory surgery centers, and will extend to other outpatient settings.

Thursday, Sept. 16

Health Expert Says Delta Is Still Most Prevalent COVID Variant In North Texas

New COVID-19 strains like the mu variant are popping up in North Texas as case numbers continue to rise.

But yesterday on Think, Dr. James Cutrell from UT Southwestern Medical Center's Internal Medicine department, said the delta variant still accounts for the majority of infections in the region.

“Really over 99% of the virus samples that we're sequencing are the delta variant,” he said.

Cutrell said the delta variant's nearly 100% more transmissible than the original COVID-19 virus.

Texas Doctors, Seeing Unprecedented Numbers Of Pregnant Patients With COVID-19, Urge Pregnant People To Get Vaccinated

Lauren Lewis originally mistook the dry cough for allergies.

In early November 2020, she attended an outdoor concert with her mother and younger daughter in Dallas, a couple of days after begrudgingly attending a mandatory in-person meeting at work.

“When I got home I was like, ‘[The cough] is probably because I was around all the plants and being outside. That probably aggravated my sinuses,’” said Lewis, 33, who lives in Dallas. “Didn’t think much of it, just went to bed. But the next morning I woke up and I felt like a train hit me.”

After being told that some co-workers also felt sick, Lewis decided to get tested for COVID-19 and her results came back positive. But her situation was more complex than most people who have contracted the virus because she was three months pregnant at the time.

Nights were the worst, she said, with the difficulty breathing making it feel like “a weight was on your chest.” Even getting up to go to the bathroom was a chore that required help from her husband and, at one point, her daily diet mainly consisted of just chicken broth and Pedialyte.

Although Lewis was never hospitalized with COVID-19 and later recovered, the experience still sticks with her, and when the coronavirus vaccine became available to high-risk Texans at the start of the year, Lewis jumped at the chance to get vaccinated. On April 23, she delivered a baby boy, Langston, with no major complications.

Not all pregnant women are as eager as Lewis about getting vaccinated, however.

Pregnant women have one of the lowest vaccination rates in the United States: As of Sept. 4, about 25% of pregnant women ages 18 to 49 have received at least one vaccine dose nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s significantly less than the most recent national average for that age group, which is about 61%.

Read the full story by The Texas Tribune.

Wednesday, Sept. 15

Texas AG's Lawsuit Halts Paris ISD's Mask Requirement

A judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked Paris ISD's mask mandate which it had made part of its dress code.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is suing nine more school districts he claims are violating the governor's mask mandate ban. That includes Midway ISD in the Waco area that does not require face coverings. The Republican attorney general initially sued six districts last week.

Paxton's office warned there are more lawsuits to come.

Texas To Receive Up To $5 Million In Federal Funding For Rural Hospitals

Texas Health and Human Services will receive up to 5-million dollars in federal funds to assist rural hospitals.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is replacing Medicare fee-for-service claims reimbursements with lump sum payments for the duration of the program.

"As we work to address health disparities throughout the state, this funding will help break down barriers to accessing care while connecting rural Texans with health care providers in creative ways and improving overall health outcomes within their communities," said HHSC Chief Financial Officer Trey Wood.

Eligible communities include areas within Guadalupe, Burnet and 10 other rural counties. HHSC will recruit additional hospitals from other areas of the state as funding allows.

Education Leaders Thinking Through Ways To Capitalize On Pandemic Changes To Learning

As North Texas Schools settle-in to the new COVID normal, education leaders are discussing how some of the changes brought on by the pandemic could benefit students long term.

We really feel like the pandemic has been a wakeup call," Fort Worth Superintendent Kent Scribner said. We certainly don’t want to go back to the way things have always been.”

Scribner was among a group of business and education leaders who gathered in Fort Worth today to discuss how their intuitions should move forward in a world where COVID-19 is a constant reality.

Harrison Keller, Texas Commissioner of Higher Education, challenged schools to take the new teaching methods and funding that resulted from the pandemic and rethink what education looks like.

“We’re at the front edge of what could be this important transformation in teaching and learning," Keller said. “The public schools, the colleges and universities have infusions of one-time money - much more than they expected to. How do we invest this money strategically so we enhance quality? I do want to call out that it’s a window of opportunity. That window will close. This is a time to push ourselves to do things differently.”

Tuesday, Sept. 14

Some Parts Of North Texas May Soon See A Decline In High Hospitalization Numbers

COVID-19 hospitalization numbers across North Texas remain high, but the latest forecast from UT Southwestern Medical Center predicts some parts of the area may soon see a decline.

New daily hospital admissions in Dallas County have recently fallen. The forecast noted Dallas County has higher levels of mask-wearing than Tarrant, Collin and Denton counties, and local officials are continuing to urge that residents take precautions against spreading the virus.

Dallas County reported 72 more COVID-19 deaths and more than 10,400 new cases of coronavirus in the last week.

Tarrant County reported 111 deaths and more than 17,000 new cases.

The state added 23 deaths and more than 3,700 cases to Collin County’s totals in the past week.

And Denton County reported eight deaths and 3,463 cases in the past week.

Dallas ISD Offers Cash Incentive For Vaccinated Students

The district is offering $50 incentives for Dallas ISD students 12 and older who are fully vaccinated.

To apply for the incentive, families must fill out an application and provide proof of vaccination for each eligible student by Nov. 15.

Allen ISD Board Meeting Leaves Masks Off The Agenda

As cases of COVID rise in Allen schools, parents on both sides of the mask issue showed up at a school board workshop Monday night to voice their concerns. No side was heard Monday, because the matter wasn't on the school board's agenda.

Mom Denise Diorio wants a mask mandate. Some parents have filed suit to force the district to require masks.

"When I drop my kids off in the morning I do see a lot of teachers and students and parents not wearing masks," Diorio said. "I think masks should be mandatory and I know a lot of people aren’t going to like that. But I think that’s going to be too bad."

But Diorio said, outside Monday's meeting, she felt outnumbered 2 to 1 by those who were against mask mandates.

"There was one side where people felt that their rights were being violated," she said. "Of course they're upset and I'm upset, but unfortunately there were not as many people on our side as the other side."

Diorio said she felt intimidated and left the meeting. Her children, who are 7 and 9, attend Marion Elementary.

With 28 active COVID cases, the school has twice the infections as any other elementary school in Allen ISD.  

U.S. Customs And Immigration Changes Vaccine Policy For Those Applying To Be Permanent Residents

People applying to become permanent residents of the United States must now be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before undergoing the required immigration medical exam. The policy goes into effect on Oct. 1.

U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) may grant waivers if the vaccine is:

  • Not age-appropriate;
  • Can't be administered because of a medical condition;
  • Not routinely available in the place where the immigration medical exam is administered;
  • Limited in supply and would cause significant delay for the applicant to receive the vaccination.

Individuals may also apply for individual waivers based on religious beliefs or moral convictions by submitting Form I-601, Application for Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility.

For more information, see the policy alert.

Monday, Sept. 13

Fort Worth ISD's Mask Requirement Won't Go Into Effect

Face coverings won't be required in Fort Worth schools after all, at least for now.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports an appeals court Monday ruled that Fort Worth ISD cannot legally enforce a mask requirement. The motion comes as a group of parents sued to try to block a mask mandate.

Fort Worth ISD's mask requirement went into effect Monday morning. It required all staff, parents, students, and visitors to wear protective face masks at all Fort Worth ISD indoor facilities, absent a medical exemption.

Masking at outdoor activities is not required.

Fort Worth ISD had been granted a temporary injunction in Travis County that prohibits the governor from enforcing Executive Order GA-38, which bans governmental entities from mandating masks, against the district.

Carter BloodCare Joins Nation's First Emergency Blood Reserve

Carter BloodCare is one of three Texas blood centers that have joined a newly formed reserve aimed at preparing for emergency situations in which blood needs are high.

The Blood Emergency Readiness Corps, or BERC, includes seven blood centers from five states. The centers will work on a rotating on-call schedule, collecting extra blood units, according to Linda Goelzer with Carter BloodCare.

Other centers that are partnering with BERC are Texas' We Are Blood and South Texas Blood & Tissue Center, Oklahoma Blood Institute, Houchin Community Blood Bank in California, The Community Blood Center in Wisconsin, and Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank. The network is expected to expand.

Attorney General Sues San Antonio ISD For Employee Vaccine Mandate

The office of Attorney General Ken Paxton announced it filed a lawsuit against San Antonio ISD and Superintendent Pedro Martinez for mandating all of its employees get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order (GA-39) that prohibits government entities from having vaccine mandates.

“The decision to openly violate state law and devote district resources to defending Superintendent Martinez’s unlawful actions is irresponsible,” Paxton said in a statement. “But if school districts decide to use their limited funding to try to get away with breaking the law, my office will oppose them and uphold the rule of law in Texas.”

Pandemic Leads To Larger Teacher Shortages

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a larger teacher shortage in Texas. That's according to Brian Lopez with the Texas Tribune. He talked with public radio's Texas Standard.

"Houston ISD, our largest school district, lost over 700 employees over the last year y'know they have to make that up," Lopez said. "Other school districts they've lost over 200 and are still needing 200 school teachers, that's in Killeen ISD, and that's a big number for y'know both those schools. And something y'know they've told me that there's always a teacher shortage but this is an unusually high number."

Lopez said many teachers he's talked to say they're leaving due to pandemic-related stresses.

Allen ISD Will Hold Board Meeting To Listen To Pandemic Concerns

Some Allen Independent School District parents have spoken out in favor of the governor's ban on mask mandates. Others have filed suit, seeking to force the district to require masks as a way of slowing the spread of COVID-19.

On Monday, AISD's board will hear from parents, including those who aren't happy with the district's decision not to mandate masks. Mom Denise Diorio wants a such a mandate.

"When I drop my kids off in the morning I do see a lot of teachers and students and parents not wearing masks," Diorio said. "I think masks should be mandatory and I know a lot of people aren’t going to like that. But I think that’s going to be too bad."

Diorio also wants virtual school options, especially for those too young for a vaccine, like her children, who are 7 and 9. She said at her school, nearly 30 children have COVID.

"I really hope Allen ISD listens and pays attention because I’m just afraid if they don’t do anything about this, this could go on for who knows how long? This may go on for another 6 months," she said. 

Read More: A Timeline Of COVID-19's Spread In North Texas

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