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COVID-19 In DFW Oct. 11-Oct. 17: Texas lawmakers work on bill that would ban vaccine mandates


As some employers require their workers to get COVID shots, GOP lawmakers in the state are pushing back against those requirements.

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

Friday, Oct. 15

Texas GOP lawmakers working to pass bill banning vaccine mandates

Republican state lawmakers are moving quickly on Gov. Greg Abbott's directive to pass legislation banning COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

The GOP governor this week added the issue to the special legislative session agenda after issuing an executive order banning any entity, including private businesses, from requiring the shots.

A Texas Senate committee on Thursday advanced a bill that would make employers vulnerable to discrimination lawsuits if they require workers to get vaccinated.

Ahead of the 5 to 1 vote, the panel heard from a variety of stakeholders who oppose the measure. That included Dr. John Carlo, who testified against Senate Bill 51 on behalf of the Texas Medical Association. He said vaccines are a key part of protecting medical staff and patients.

"Just like a firefighter would not go into a fire without all the great protective equipment they have," Carlo said.

The bill now heads to the full Texas Senate with less than a week left in the special session.

Meanwhile, Texas physicians are urging Gov. Greg Abbott to rescind his order prohibiting any entity in Texas, including hospitals, from requiring coronavirus vaccines.

Today, members of the Committee to Protect Health Care, said Abbott needs to reverse course.

Doctor Audrey Nath, a Houston neurologist, is part of the national advocacy group.

"This poor leadership has resulted in a senseless loss of life," Nath said. "A tragic study released this week found if 74% of Texans had been vaccinated by the end of August we could have prevented thousands of hospitalizations and thousands of deaths."

Thursday, Oct. 14

A Fort Worth federal judge has extended a ban on United Airlines putting unvaccinated employees on leave

U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman of Fort Worth granted a restraining order earlier this week in favor of employees who are suing the airline over the mandate.

Lawyers for the employees say they are seeking a medical or religious exemption from United’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

United says about 2,000 of its 67,000 U.S. employees asked for exemptions from vaccination.

Last month, both parties agreed United wouldn’t put the workers on unpaid leave, but Pittman said that the agreement expires before he can rule on the merits of the matter. That would leave “hundreds of workers” at risk of being put on indefinite unpaid leave or forced to get a vaccination that violates their religious beliefs or medical restrictions.

The restraining order expires on Oct. 26.

Over 14,000 kids in Texas have lost a parent to COVID

A Texas House panel this morning heard from experts on how the pandemic is affecting children's mental health.

Doctor Carol Nati is the chief medical officer for My Health My Resources of Tarrant County.

She told the Select Committee on Youth Health and Safety that one of the most adverse childhood experiences is losing a parent and 140,000 children in the US have lost a parent or caregiver to COVID-19.

"Over 14,000 of those children are Texas children," she said. That's over 10% of the national total.

Losing a parent is linked to mental health issues such as lower self-esteem and increased risk of substance use disorder.

Hospitalizations continue to trend down across Texas

State health officials are expressing optimism about the latest trends in coronavirus hospitalizations and new cases.

Chief State Epidemiologist Jennifer Shuford says Texas hospitals are treating just over 6,000 COVID-19 patients or about half as many as a month ago. The weekly average for new cases is also down about 50%.

"We are coming down nicely, thankfully, after the big surge that happened there from August to October," Shuford said. "We're seeing good decreases now in our cases per day."

Shuford says the statewide share of COVID patients in intensive care units has fallen from about 40% last month to less than 30%, but medical resources are still stretched thin in some areas.

Wednesday, Oct. 13

White House criticizing Gov. Greg Abbott's effort to ban vaccine mandates

The White House is criticizing Gov. Greg Abbott's effort to ban any entity in Texas, including private businesses, from mandating COVID-19 vaccines.

Abbott issued an executive order in defiance of the Biden administration which is set to issue rules requiring employees at large companies to be vaccinated or tested weekly for the coronavirus.

"We know that federal law overrides state law," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday. But fundamentally beyond the legal aspect — which is unquestionable in our view — the question for any business leader is what do you want to do to save more lives in your companies?"

Psaki chalked up Abbott's decision to 'politics.'

"I think it's pretty clear when you make a choice that's against all public health information and data out there that it's not based on what is in the interest of the people you are governing," Psaki said. "It is perhaps in the interest of your own politics."

The Republican governor is up for reelection next year. He's facing pressure from GOP primary opponents who have blasted his handling of the pandemic and vaccine requirements.

The U.S. will soon allow nonessential travelers from Canada and Mexico again

Beginning next month, the U.S. will allow nonessential travelers to enter the country along the long land borders it shares with its two neighbors.

Nonessential entry has been barred since the early weeks of the global COVID-19 pandemic, in March 2020. That's despite the fact that Canada began allowing vaccinated Americans back in in August.

Inbound nonessential travelers will have to prove they are fully vaccinated, along with other more standard paperwork required for legal entry.

The move parallels a recently announced step for international air travelers.

Read more from NPR.

Tuesday, Oct. 12

September deadliest month for Texas prison employees since the pandemic began

The State Criminal Justice Department said COVID-19 contributed to the deaths of at least 13 prison staff last month.

Lauren McGaughy with The Dallas Morning News told public radio's Texas Standard part of the issue was that prison facilities relaxed some of their health and safety guidelines back in July — even as the delta variant fueled COVID-19 cases across Texas.

“They reopened visitation, and they dropped mask mandates at any facility that had a 70% vaccination rate," McGaughy said. "Now, that’s a vaccination rate total between inmates and staff, and that mask mandate being dropped also applies to any visitors coming in and out.”

McGaughy said overcrowding and inadequate social distancing behind bars also make jails and prisons a hotbed for COVID.

Allen West is back home after COVID hospitalization

Texas Republican gubernatorial candidate Allen West is now home after being hospitalized for COVID-19. The former Florida congressman, who is not vaccinated, was released from Medical City Plano Monday afternoon.

In a video on Facebook, West thanked hospital staff for their help and supporters for their well wishes.

​"Now I will tell you I'm looking forward to getting back out there," West said. "I need some time to rest and recuperate a little bit. We'll be doing a lot of things virtually to stay on track with you and stay in contact with you but I've got to get that negative COVID test and once I get that negative COVID test, I'll get back out there and spend some time with you."   

West's wife, who is vaccinated, also tested positive for the coronavirus but was not hospitalized.

Hospitalizations continue to decline in North Texas

COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations continue to drop after a summer surge fueled by the more contagious delta variant.

The Dallas Morning News reports the number of patients hospitalized across North Texas with COVID has fallen by about half since the most recent peak six weeks ago.

The latest model from UT-Southwestern Medical Center predicts those numbers will continue declining.

Even still, number remain high: Dallas County reported 88 more COVID-19 deaths and nearly 5,500 new coronavirus cases in the last week.

Over the same period, Tarrant County had 114 deaths and more than 4,600 new cases.

The state added 26 deaths and nearly 1,600 cases to Collin County’s totals.

And Denton County reported two deaths and nearly 2,000 new coronavirus cases in the last week.

Health experts and local officials continue to stress getting vaccinated as the best way to get COVID under control.

Abbott bans COVID-19 vaccine mandates — including for private employers

Gov. Greg Abbott is now banning any entity in Texas, including private employers, from mandating COVID-19 vaccines. The Republican, who is up for reelection, issued the order Monday.

Abbott also added the issue to the agenda for the current special legislative session which ends Oct.19.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick praised the move, vowing on Twitter the Texas Senate will "move swiftly to take up this matter." Both Patrick and Abbott are vaccinated.

Pandemic's forced over 100 million people into poverty across the globe

The United Nations chief says the pandemic has forced more than 100 million people into poverty.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres yesterday also said the pandemic's also left more than 4 billion people with little or no social support, health care or income protection.

Guterres said global solidarity “is missing in action” and people living in poor countries are suffering most of all.

Crude oil prices have risen, but production hasn't ramped up yet

U.S. crude oil prices have risen above $80 per barrel this week for the first time in seven years, due to global demand outpacing supply. But the steady rebound from last year's energy market crash is not prompting Texas and other American companies to ramp up production again, says Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas economist Garret Golding.

"These higher oil prices are benefiting these companies but it's not translating to as much of a positive economic impact for certain communities in Texas that are centered on drilling activities as it would have in the past," Golding said.       

Golding said most publicly traded companies are instead returning the gains to shareholders though stock buybacks and dividends. He added Americans are still spending less on gasoline than the last time crude oil hit $80 in 2014.

Monday, Oct. 11

Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker tests positive
The mayor of Fort Worth has tested positive for coronavirus.

Mayor Mattie Parker — who's fully vaccinated — said in a statement yesterday she's experiencing only mild symptoms.

Her husband, David Parker, also tested positive Friday.

Parker said she'll isolate and work from home, and will follow city guidelines to decide when she returns to the office.

Allen West hospitalized with COVID-19

Tea party firebrand Allen West, a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor of Texas, was hospitalized with COVID-19 on Sunday but said he’s “doing great.”

“No complaints. I’m just relaxing,” West told The Associated Press during a brief phone interview from a hospital in the Dallas suburb of Plano. He said he got a good night’s rest and was awaiting the results of an early morning chest X-ray.

West and his wife, Angela West, were diagnosed with the virus after attending a “packed house” fundraising event in Seabrook, Texas, last week. He said Saturday that he is “suspending in-person events until receiving an all-clear indication.”

Both Wests received monoclonal antibody treatments for COVID-19 and Angela, who was vaccinated against the virus, was released to go home, Allen West said on Twitter. The Republican candidate said he has not gotten a coronavirus vaccination and that doctors were worried Saturday about the lowered level of oxygen saturation in his blood.

Read more from AP News.

Texas Senate's plan to distribute COVID relief funds moves to the House

The Texas Senate's plan for how to distribute $16 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds is heading to the House. State senators unanimously approved the proposal Friday.

"This bill invests over $3 billion to bolster our health care workers who are fighting on the front lines to contain the virus," said Jane Nelson, a Republican from Flower Mound and the Senate's chief budget writer. "That includes $2.5 billion for hospital surge staffing."

The bill also allocates $7.2 billion for the state's unemployment compensation fund. More than $500 million would go toward expanding broadband internet access. The Texas House's version of the plan has not yet passed out of committee.

Merck asks for approval for antiviral COVID pill

Drugmaker Merck has asked U.S. regulators to authorize its antiviral pill against COVID-19, hoping for a decision within weeks.

The Food and Drug Administration will scrutinize company data on the drug’s safety and effectiveness before rendering a decision.

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

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