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COVID-19 In DFW Sept. 27-Oct. 3: Texans are encouraged to get flu shots

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Health officials warn this year's flu season may be more severe than last year's, mainly because fewer people are wearing masks and more people are out and about in public.

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

Saturday, Oct. 2

State Officials Encourage Texans To Get Flu Shots

The Texas Department of State Health Services is advising people to get flu shots as soon as possible. DSHS Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt said in a statement this flu season may be more severe than last year's.

“For most of last flu season, we didn’t have the COVID vaccine yet, and many Texans were practicing the same basic health protections and good hygiene that have proven to help stop any respiratory virus like COVID-19 and flu," Hellerstedt said. "For this upcoming flu season, we expect fewer people to be wearing masks and physically distancing now that we have effective vaccines for COVID-19.”

Friday, Oct. 1

Texas Emergency SNAP Benefits Extended Through October

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission will provide almost $294 million in emergency Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food benefits for the month of October.

All households that get SNAP benefits will receive a minimum of $95 in emergency allotments that should appear in their accounts by Oct. 31.

El Paso Mask Mandate Ends With Appeals Court Ruling

The 8th Court of Appeals struck down El Paso's indoor mask mandate Thursday.

The El Paso Times reports the court ruled the mask requirement could not stand while it hears an appeal by the Texas Attorney General’s Office of a lower court ruling upholding the mandate.

The city said the Texas Supreme Court orders on similar mask rules in San Antonio and Bexar County influenced the ruling.

The mandate had been in place since Aug. 17. El Paso's rate of new infections has declined since then.

Austin officials urge people to exercise caution as Austin City Limits opens

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have been on the decline over the last few weeks, but health officials are still urging people to be vigilant — especially as many people prepare to attend the Austin City Limits Music Festival this weekend and next.

A move down to Stage 3 of Austin Public Health’s COVID guidance could be in the near future, but officials say more time is needed to monitor case numbers.

“We are in Stage 4, but this is not the time to give up,” interim APH Director Adrienne Sturrup said during a news conference Friday. “We have to keep the pedal to the metal and stay strong in our course.”

The outdoor festival kicks off Friday at 3 p.m., a later start than anticipated because overnight rain impacted the Zilker Park grounds. ACL is requiring attendees to test negative for COVID-19 or show proof of vaccination. People are also supposed to wear masks in certain crowded spaces of the festival.

“With the mitigation plan ACL has presented … we are anticipating that we should have a low number of cases that result from this large gathering event,” said Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes.

Thursday, Sept. 30

Texas Families Have Until Saturday To Apply For Free High-Speed Internet For Students

School districts have until the end of this week to sign families up for a new program that provides free high-speed internet to households across the state. The initiative is targeted at lower income families, but many districts plan to offer help to families who don't qualify.

Districts across Texas are participating in the program that will use federal money to help bridge the connection gap for this school year. The pandemic forcing students home in 2020 really drove home the need for districts to find sustainable solutions to the lack of internet access for some families.

Local NBC station KXAS reports 90% of Texas school districts have signed up for the program.

Dallas ISD has had 7,582 applicants. Today is the last day for families in that district to apply.

"This high speed internet service can support an entire family and that was our intent was to provide a high quality persistent connection within that household so that students can work on their homework, perform their education work," Dallas ISD Chief Technology Officer Jack Kelanic said.

The internet connection will be provided by either AT&T or Spectrum and will include a router that can connect internet to multiple family members in the home.

Four Districts Sued Over The Lack Of Mask Mandates

Four Texas school districts are being sued by a group of parents who feel masks should be required in schools. State law now gives schools an option to mask or not.

The school districts being sued are Lago Vista.. Grapevine-Colleyville, Hurst-Euless-Bedford, and Frisco.

Doctors say not wearing a mask in school allows COVID-19 to spread three times faster than when wearing them Dr. Poushali Bhattacharjee said COVID's earlier versions affected adults more. But the latest variant has become a top-10 cause of death among adolescents.

"The Delta variant is a completely different beast. It is 200% more transmissible," Bhattacharjee said. "And when you get it, it’s a thousand fold in terms of the viral load you carry. It means the majority of our children have no antibodies and with out masks it leaves them completely unprotected to this virus."

The lawsuit urges the districts to require masks for all students and teachers.

Wednesday, Sept. 29

Health officials say COVID-19 hospitalization are trending downward in North Texas

The latest forecast from UT Southwestern Medical Center shows admissions to hospitals in the region's four most populous counties are declining.

The amount of COVID hospitalizations in Dallas and Tarrant Counties are expected to drop by more than a hundred patients each by mid-October.

Dallas County will see a decrease in hospitalizations by 14%, while Tarrant County will see a 15% decrease.

Pediatric hospital admissions are still nearly double since January. However, admission levels are currently declining.

Fort Worth ISD Offers $500 Stipends For Fully Vaccinated Employees

Employees who show the district proof they're fully vaccinated by Nov. 15 will receive a $500 stipend this December.

All full-time, part-time and substitute employees are eligible.

A number of other school districts in Texas are offering cash incentives for employees and/or students who get the vaccine. Dallas, Aldine, Fort Worth, Abilene, Tyler, Houston and Midland are among them.

Tuesday, Sept. 28

Disability Rights Texas Files Lawsuit Over Ban On Mask Mandates

A federal trial set to begin on Oct. 6 will consider whether Gov. Greg Abbott's ban on mask mandates in schools violates the rights of students with disabilities.

Disability Rights Texas filed a lawsuit in August on behalf of 14 immunocompromised students, arguing the policy denies students with disabilities safe access to public education — a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Riki Graves is the mother of one of the students who is a plaintiff. Her first grader is a heart transplant recipient and has had 20 infectious disease hospital stays since she was born.

"For her to be exposed to another infectious disease is really scary and troubling, so we have decided to keep her home," Graves said to the Texas Standard on Monday.

Here's What You Need To Know About The Fight Over Mask Mandates In Texas

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is locked in several pitched legal battles with cities, counties and school districts over their bids to require masks in public schools.

In a May executive order, Abbott banned local governments from requiring people to wear masks.

But as the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19 spread across Texas and the state’s vaccination rate stagnated, several public school and local government officials grew uneasy with Abbott’s order — particularly as schoolchildren too young to get vaccinated returned to classrooms.

Some local officials defied Abbott and issued mask mandates for schools anyway. Others sued the state over Abbott’s order. As dozens of ensuing legal battles continue playing out, Texas parents have found themselves caught in confusion about whether their children have to mask up at school.

The Texas Tribune has a summary of which districts have sued to enact mask mandates, who has won their legal battles, and what the rules are in different districts.

Baylor Scott & White Is Offering Drive-Through Flu Shots In Dallas And Irving

Baylor Scott & White is offering eight outdoor drive-through flu clinics in North Texas, with two of them scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 2 in Dallas and Irving.

The Dallas clinic will be at the community care facility on 4001 Worth Street, Dallas, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The Irvine clinic will be at the internal medicine associates facility on 2005 W Park Dr. Suite 300, Irving, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Scheduling an appointment is highly recommended.

More information about the clinics, including a schedule for later events and their locations, can be found at Baylor Scott & White's website.

Monday, Sept. 27

Boosters Roll Out Across North Texas & The State

More providers in Dallas-Fort Worth and across the state will be administering Pfizer's COVID-19 booster shot beginning today.

Many places offering the first and second dose of the Pfizer vaccine are also offering boosters to those who are eligible. The shots are currently reserved for people 65 or older, or at a higher risk of infection due to their health or profession.

This week, Denton County Public Health will begin sending scheduling links to people eligible for a booster shot.

A statement from County Judge Andy Eads said those who received shots through the county's public health department should check their texts and emails for information on eligibility.

Dallas County’s Parkland Hospital will begin administering booster shots starting today.

Appointments can be scheduled through Parkland. However, Ellis Davis Field House on Polk Street will offer doses without an appointment. The drive-through open Wednesday through Saturday from 7:30 a.m. - 4 p.m.

Houston Methodist Hospital CEO Marc Boom says the hospital system will first focus on those considered "at risk" when giving out shots. Dr. Boom adds he's already seeing growing demand for the shot.

"I expect that's just the tip of the iceberg, we're going to see that shoot up quite a bit more, as word gets out, news gets out, and people begin scheduling," Boom said.

CVS locations in Texas and across the country are also offering Pfizer boosters. The company says people interested in getting booster or their initial vaccine series are strongly encouraged to make an appointment at CVS.com or MinuteClinic.com to ensure they are able to access the correct vaccine at a convenient time and location.

Back in August, the FDA approved boosters of both the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines for those who are immunocompromised or can't mount a strong immune response to the shot. Read more about who needs a booster and why from NPR.

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

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