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COVID Live Updates: Dallas County officials lower COVID-19 risk level to green

A vaccination card.
Tony Gutierrez
/
Associated Press

Get live updates throughout the day on how COVID-19 is affecting North Texas.

» COVID-19 By The Numbers:

  • In Texas: More than 4.3 million cases and more than 74,100 deaths have been reported.
  • Cases In North Texas: Tarrant County: 376,070; Dallas County: 353,389; Denton County: 112,941; Collin County: 109,534. There have been at least 12,277 reported deaths in the region's four largest counties. (Data as of Dec. 14)
  • Counties across Texas: Use the Texas Newsroom's interactive maps.
  • Global: See Johns Hopkins University's COVID-19 dashboard.

Friday, April 22

Dallas County officials lower COVID-19 risk level to green

Dallas County officials have lowered the COVID-19 risk level to Green which means a new normal for fully vaccinated residents.

That means the county is at the lowest risk level since the beginning of the pandemic.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins says fully vaccinated and boosted residents can now safely go about activities such as concerts, restaurants and other crowded events.

"For now, we're at Green, we're at the new normal. If you hadn't gotten your booster, get it and go out, live your lives and have some fun."

Jenkins says as of today, 60% of Dallas county residents are fully vaccinated and 20% are boosted.

Tuesday, March 8

Dallas County has the best-performing state vaccination site, Jenkins says. But that’s not saying much.

Judge Clay Jenkins reported some good news at a Tuesday meeting of the Dallas County Commissioners Court.

“The state tells us that we’re number one — we have the number one [state] site for vaccinating people,” he started.

Then came the less-good news.

“Over the weekend, the number one site in Texas did 91 vaccines,” Jenkins said.

The site he was referring to is Dallas College’s Eastfield Campus in Mesquite.

COVID-19 cases are slowing in Dallas County, but so are vaccinations. The six-day average of vaccinations was 70.33 on Monday, down from 708.83 on Jan. 9. Both the average daily case count and the average daily death count are way down from January.

Jenkins said the doctors who advise him say another potent strain of COVID-19 is inevitable, meaning vaccines continue to be crucial to keep people safe and reduce infections.

About 63% of Dallas County residents ages 5 and older are fully vaccinated, slightly better than Tarrant County’s 60% and slightly worse than the state as a whole, which has about 64% of eligible people fully vaccinated. Collin County has almost 72% of eligible residents fully vaccinated, and Denton County about 65%.

Thursday, March 3

Dallas health officials urge residents to check COVID trends before Spring Break travel

North Texas is seeing a decrease in COVID-19 numbers. But Dallas health officials say residents should check COVID trends before booking their Spring Break travel plans.

"So the question becomes if people travel to an area of high spread, which you know we are in the medium risk category there's a chance we will see an uptick," said Timothy Bray, director at Institute for Urban Policy Research at The University of Texas at Dallas.

Bray went over the data with Dallas city council members during the Ad Hoc Committee on COVID-19 Recovery and Assistance committee meeting on Thursday.

In the last seven days, the region has seen about 7,600 new cases, which is down 16% from last week. Hospitalizations have dropped 5%.

He told city officials that upcoming Spring Break travel plans might lead to an uptick. Bray said residents should monitor COVID advisories before traveling.

Monday, March 2

Denton and Tarrant counties continue to see a decrease in COVID-19 cases

Dallas County last week relaxed its masking requirements against COVID-19 and now Tarrant County has followed suit.

Masks are no longer required if a person is vaccinated and in good health.

"Hopefully soon we'll be at a low level of spread. So this is all great news," said health director Vinny Taneja. "It shows us that we're in an advanced stage in the pandemic and hopefully, soon we'll be exiting out."

Taneja strongly recommended people with increased risk or underlying health conditions should continue wearing a mask.

In Denton County, COVID-19 trends continue to improve as new case numbers and hospitalizations go down across the state.

"We are down to 47 COVID-19 hospitalizations in Denton County, a marvelous, marvelous decline, but it is still unwinding a little more slowly," said health director Matt Richardson.

Richardson said hospital staffing shortages continue despite the drop in COVID-19 patients.

Saturday, Feb. 26

Dallas County loosens its face mask order

Dallas County leaders issued new guidance Friday loosening the local mask order.

"I am revising the Dallas County mask order to drop the requirement of wearing a mask in any settings other than jails, long-term care facilities, and healthcare settings," Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a statement.

The move came shortly after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relaxed its masking guidelines for certain parts of the country.

Officials still "strongly recommend" masks for people who are immunocompromised, as well as those who are in contact with high-risk people.

Saturday, Feb. 19

Dallas ISD to lift mask requirement

The Dallas Independent School District plans to lift its masking requirement at the end of the month. At a briefing Thursday, Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said masks will be "recommended" as of Feb. 28.

He says officials will continue to monitor COVID-19 trends and adjust safety protocols as needed.

“If the data turns around and tells us that we need to go back to a protocol that requires us to wear masks, we will not hesitate to do that,” Hinojosa said.

Friday, Feb. 18

The U.S. Senate rejected Texas Republican Ted Cruz's effort to eliminate funding for vaccine mandates

The funds would be for both federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates and schools that require students to get vaccinated.

Cruz and a handful of other GOP Senators threatened to block a short-term government funding bill if the Senate did not consider the amendments.

He railed against vaccine requirements on the Senate Floor, yesterday.

"Let me be clear, I'm vaccinated, I'm pro-vaccine but I believe in individual choice," Cruz said.

The Senate rejected both amendments and passed a funding bill to avoid a government shutdown.

Thursday, Feb. 17

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is challenging another federal pandemic restriction

Paxton and the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, are suing the Biden administration over the federal air travel mask requirement. The new lawsuit comes as the Republican is running for reelection and facing three primary challengers.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Republican North Texas Congresswoman Beth Van Duyne, who mainly flies out of the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport—one of the largest airports in the nation.

The complaint says Van Duyne averages 80 flights per year and would not choose to wear a mask, while at an airport or on a flight if it was not required.

Per the CDC and the TSA, the mask requirement for air travel is currently set to expire early next month.

Wednesday, Feb. 16

As COVID-19 numbers continue to drop, Dallas County Commissioner J.J. Koch is calling for an end to the mask mandate

Currently, there's a mask mandate in place for county government buildings and schools in Dallas Country,

"I think the public needs a greater deal of transparency in when this thing ends, and how we’re going to deal with things in the endemic stage," Koch said.

However, county health director Dr. Philip Huang warned despite a downward trend — transmission remains high.

"Historically, what we’ve seen is when the numbers start to go down, everyone just relaxes and things just go back to normal, and then something happens and the numbers start going back up," Huang said.

Huang stressed the county’s public health committee will meet later this week. Members will discuss whether to drop the official “risk level” from “high” to “extreme caution.”

Denton County health officials say local COVID-19 trends continue to improve

Denton County Public Health's assistant director yesterday told county commissioners COVID-related hospitalizations are down from earlier peaks.

"It's not normal for us to have double-digit ICU beds. It's been a difficult time for a couple years, so it's great to see we have 12, just a trend that's growing, which is helpful," Juan Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said the demand for COVID-19 vaccines has also gone down, and most of the shots administered in recent weeks have been for second and third doses.

Tuesday, Feb. 15

Texas' COVID-19 death toll surpasses 81,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic

State health officials reported an additional 42 fatalities on Monday pushing the total lives lost since Spring 2020 to 81,030.

New cases and hospitalizations, meanwhile, continue sliding from the latest peak last month, but the risk of transmission remains high in many areas.

Nearly two-thirds of Texas voters back mask requirements in public schools, according to a new survey

The Texas Tribune and University of Texas poll shows 61% support mandatory mask wearing for students and staff on campus despite the Governor's orders banning the requirement. That includes nearly all Democrats and roughly a third of Republicans.

The results of the 1,2000 registered voter poll were taken early this month and are largely unchanged from a poll taken last October, before the most recent pandemic surge.

Public opinion remains mixed in terms of allowing schools to require vaccinations or frequent testing, with 50% supporting the requirement and 44% opposed.

Saturday, Feb. 12

As cases fall, community spread remains high in Dallas County

Dallas County reported a total of 830 new COVID-19 cases Friday, along with nine more COVID-related deaths.

Though daily case counts have been trending down, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins is reminding residents to take precautions as community spread remains high.

“Wear your mask when indoors with others who don’t live with you," Jenkins said in a statement. "With greater accessibility of at-home COVID tests, if you are planning a gathering, you could ask all guests to self-test before coming over."

County officials offer guidance here on what activities are safe as the COVID-19 risk level remains high.

Wednesday, Feb. 9

Governor Greg Abbott's once again tries to block the Pentagon from enforcing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for Texas National Guard

The motion is the next step in a lawsuit Governor Abbott filed in January challenging the requirement for nearly all military personnel, including state guard members, to get vaccinated or face consequences.

The Republican governor argues the Biden administration is usurping his powers as commander-in-chief of the Texas National Guard. Texas and other GOP-led states have successfully sued to halt other White House vaccine mandates.

However, last month, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the vaccination requirement for health care workers at facilities that receive federal funds.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is accepting applications to help cover funeral costs for people who died of COVID-19

FEMA has distributed nearly $1.8 billion in COVID-19 related funeral assistance to roughly 273,000 people nationwide.

The federal agency says that, in Texas, it has provided more than $176-million to almost 27,000 people. Over 38,000 people in the state have at least started the application process for assistance.

Texas has one of the highest pandemic death tolls in the U-S, with more than 79,000 deaths associated with COVID-19.

Tuesday, Feb. 8

Denton County is seeing a decline in hospitalizations and cases

Denton County health officials say local COVID-19 trends are improving.

Matt Richardson is the director of Denton County Public Health. He told county commissioners Tuesday that there's less of a strain on local hospitals.

"Omicron brought us to our pandemic high of 236 hospitalizations in Denton county,” he said. “We are down to 161 as of yesterday, and so we are really seeing improvement in hospitalizations."

Richardson says the number of new COVID-19 cases tied to the omicron variant is also declining.

Tarrant County closes temporary testing site

A drive-through COVID-19 testing site near Choctaw Stadium in Arlington will close its doors tonight. The temporary site Tarrant County first opened last month.

Tarrant County Public Health Director Vinny Taneja told county commissioners today the demand for tests has declined.

“We still are hanging on to our vendor locations and public health locations, but some of the public health locations that we're seeing max capacity of about 200 - 250 a day are seeing less than 20,” Taneja said.

Taneja did stress there is one area of concern: the county's vaccination rate. About 60% of eligible residents are fully vaccinated, according to state data.

"Prevention is better than treatment, but both options are available to all of us testing operations,” Taneja said.

Tarrant County reports only about 16% of eligible residents have received a booster dose.

Tuesday, Feb. 7

Texas hospitals are seeing a sharp decline in COVID-19 cases

The number of patients with COVID-19 in Texas hospitals continues to decline after surging above 13,000 last month.

Anass Bouchnita is with the University of Texas at Austin COVID-19 Modeling Consortium. He says if Texas follows national trends, he expects hospitalizations to keep dropping.

"Probably by the end of this month we will be at maybe around 4,000 patients in hospitals in Texas," Bouchnita said.

There are currently 9,659 patients with COVID in Texas.

Monday, Feb. 7

Dallas County District 6 hosts a free COVID-19 vaccine event

The event is in partnership with the United States Hispanic Contractors Association, Hispanic Contractors Association de Tejas, and the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

The pop-up clinic will be open from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., Tuesday and Wednesday at San Juan Diego Catholic Parish on Royal Haven Lane.

Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will be available for ages 11 and older. No advance registration is required.

Saturday, Feb. 5

Dallas County testing sites reopen after winter weather

Dallas County's COVID-19 testing sites have reopened and are operating on normal schedules after shutting down this week due to the winter storm.

Tests are available today at sites including the Crawford Aquatic Center, the Dallas College Mountain View Campus and Fair Park.

Wednesday, Feb. 2

Dallas County is seeing a clear decline in COVID-19 numbers

Omicron cases and hospitalizations are declining in Dallas County, although numbers are still high overall.

The county’s health director Dr. Philip Huang told elected officials the transmission rate is still at the highest level.

The number of vaccine doses administered in the county is declining too. Last week, it was below 30,000 for the first time since July, according to state data.

A little over 60% of eligible people in Dallas County are fully vaccinated.

Monday, Jan. 30

Congressman Colin Allred has tested positive for the coronavirus after traveling to Europe

The Dallas congressman has tested positive for COVID-19 after returning home from an overseas trip with a congressional delegation.

Allred had been traveling with 10 other members of Congress in Europe on a trip that included a meeting with the president of Ukraine. His statement said he tested negative for the virus before boarding a flight back to Texas and again after landing, before testing positive yesterday.

Allred says he's fully vaccinated and boosted, and that he has mild symptoms.

Friday, Jan. 28

The new strain of omicron, B-A-2, has been detected in Texas

Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas have confirmed two cases of another strain of the omicron variant.

The Dallas Morning News reports public health experts are monitoring B-A-2 as it spreads in several European and Asian countries. It's believed to be more transmissible than B-A-1 - the original omicron lineage, but not much else is known about the variant.

Fewer than 100 cases of B-A-2 have been reported in the U-S. That's a fraction of the more than 660,000 omicron cases detected in the country in the last week.

Scientists discovered B-A-2 in December. The recent spread of it led the U-K Health Security Agency to designate B-A-2 as “under investigation.”

Thursday, Jan. 27

Crowley ISD begins two week, temporary mask mandate

The Crowley school district today begins a two-week, temporary mask mandate.

Superintendent Michael McFarland said it was necessary after an increase in COVID-19 cases. A majority of nearly 4,000 parents, students, and staff surveyed agreed.

The district at the end of the mandate period will reevaluate whether to extend it another two weeks or allow it to expire.

Texas health agency offers signing bonuses to address staffing shortages at state hospitals

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission is offering up to $5,000 in hiring bonuses for several health care positions in an effort to address staffing shortages at state-supported living centers and state hospitals.

Scott Schalchlin is the deputy executive commissioner for the agency's Health and Specialty Care System. He said they're feeling the pressure to hire more people.

"One of the impacts that it has, for example, on our state hospital system is if we can't fill positions or we're down staff then that means we're going to be able to serve fewer people."

State hospitals provide inpatient psychiatric care and state-supported living centers offer residential services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The Texas Restaurant Association continues to push Congress to replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund

The nearly $29 billion pandemic relief program ran out of funding last year.

Emily Williams Knight is the TRA's president and CEO. She said at a news conference Wednesday restaurants were struggling even before the latest COVID-19 wave.

"In December of 2021, even before the omicron variant hit Texas, 78% of our restaurants reported that they did not have enough employees to support existing customer demand."

She stressed without federal relief, many restaurants will be forced to permanently close.

Wednesday, Jan. 26

Texas health officials are cautiously optimistic the latest COVID-19 surge has started peaking

The seven-day average for new confirmed cases is trending downward, but remains extremely high, at roughly 45,000.

State Chief Epidemiologist Doctor Jennifer Shuford says a drop in hospitalizations should follow soon, even though the number of patients reported Tuesday rose to nearly 13,300.

"We're hoping that we're going to see a pretty sharp decrease in the number of hospitalizations too following quickly on the heals of our downturn in cases," Shuford said.

Shuford expects the surge to decline sooner in cities like Houston and Dallas where the omicron variant began spreading earlier. She says some areas of Texas will continue to see cases and hospitalizations rise.

Tarrant County's public health director says COVID-19 trends are beginning to stabilize in the county

Vinny Taneja told county commissioners Tuesday, the omicron surge may be peaking.

"This is gonna go up and down for a little bit,” he said. “But overall I think we're starting to see that decline come that we were hoping for, but not to short sell what has happened. I mean, it is quite eye-opening, this week we're going to have surpassed half a million cases in Tarrant County.”

Taneja says 100,000 residents have been infected in just the past month.

He reiterated that the best way to keep COVID from spreading further is to wear a mask, avoid large gatherings and get a vaccine or booster shot.

The county also successfully launched a new mobile-vax initiative this week, aimed at getting COVID-19 shots to areas with the lowest vaccination rates in the county.

A 60-foot, double-decker Trinity Metro bus with handicap access has been converted into a mobile clinic.

"Some of our brick and mortar clinics didn't bring this many people yesterday, we did 44 at the bus,” Taneja said. “So seemingly the public is liking it because it's convenient, it comes to your neighborhood."

Taneja said the grant-funded program will run for one day a week up to 12 weeks, rotating locations across the county.

But if there's more interest, he said they can expand operations to multiple days a week.

Dallas County's COVID numbers are showing slight improvement, but transmission threat still remains high

Dallas County is starting to see a drop or slowing of pandemic metrics, like emergency department visits for suspected and confirmed COVID-19, confirmed hospital admissions, and deaths.

Yet County Health Director Doctor Philip Huang reminded county commissioners on Tuesday the county remains at “red” - the highest threat level for transmission.

“These levels that we’re seeing are still at record highs compared to the entire pandemic,” he said.

Huang said people shouldn’t relax and go back to normal, but continue to mask in public places, even if they are vaccinated and boosted.

“You can carry the infection, get infected, and spread it to others,” said Huang.

About 61% of people in Dallas County age 5 and over are fully vaccinated.

Tuesday, Jan. 25

Crowley ISD will begin a two-week, mask mandate later this week

The temporary mask mandate will begin on Thursday.

In a video message on the district website, Superintendent Michael McFarland said it's needed after an increase in COVID-19 cases.

"Now, after the two weeks, we'll reevaluate the data to determine if the mandate should be extended another two weeks or allowed to expire based on the COVID cases in our schools and our community," said McFarland.

A majority of nearly 4,000 parents, students and staff surveyed support the temporary mask requirement.

The Lewisville school district will close campuses beginning tomorrow

As with several other North Texas school systems of late, you can blame staffing shortages related to COVID-19 and other illnesses.

The Dallas Morning News reports absences for on-campus staff in Lewisville are reaching as many as 800 a day. That's more than double the number administrators expect during non-COVID years.

Classes will resume on Monday.

Monday, Jan. 24

The Grapevine-Colleyville school district resumes classes after staffing shortages

The Grapevine-Colleyville school district resumes classes today.

All campuses and facilities were closed Thursday and Friday for cleaning and misting.

That was after an increase in COVID-19 cases, and staffing shortages as a result. Last Wednesday, the District needed 169 substitutes and only 76 of those positions were filled for a fill rate of 44%.

Classes resuming today will be in-person instruction.

Grapevine-Colleyville ISD's website said the district will have to use an inclement weather day and add time to some other days to make up the time off.

Saturday, Jan. 22

Dallas County Judge stresses importance of boosters

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins is encouraging fully vaccinated residents to get booster shots as COVID-19 spread remains high.

"71% of Dallas County residents have received at least one shot, but a little over 15% have received their booster," Jenkins said in a statement Friday. "Boosters are very important, as is wearing a mask in indoor settings outside your home, and maintaining at least six-foot distance when in crowds outside your home."

Dallas County reported a total of 7,726 new cases of COVID-19 Friday, as well as 10 more COVID-related deaths.

Friday, Jan. 21

A federal court in Texas has closed the Biden administration's vaccine mandate for federal workers

A federal court in Texas has blocked the Biden administration's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal workers, which has been in place since November.

According to the White House, 98% of federal workers have already complied with the policy.

That means they're either vaccinated or excused due to a religious or medical exemption.

The US Justice Department plans to appeal the ruling.

Texas restaurants and bars temporarily closing their doors during latest surge

The Oak Lawn bar Alexandre’s is closed for the rest of the month.

Owner Lee Daugherty made the decision after one of his bartenders and other customers contracted COVID.

"They came to me with a proposal, and they said, ‘Listen, you know, scale back New Year's Eve. We’ll do that. But, would you mind closing the bar in January, until this wave is projected to be over?’," Daugherty said. "And I accepted their proposal, we got them all placed on paid sick time, and we shut down.”

CEO of the Texas Restaurant Association, Emily Williams Knight, anticipates current COVID surge could lead thousands of Texas restaurants to close their doors for good.

Dallas landlords must provide "COVID notice of possible eviction" before requiring a tenant to vacate

The city of Dallas now requires landlords to provide what's called a "COVID notice of possible eviction" before requiring a tenant to vacate for not paying rent.

The ordinance gives a tenant 21 days after receiving the notice to provide evidence of being negatively impacted by the pandemic.

Dallas Policy Manager Priscylla Bento talked about the updated policy.

"If a response is not provided by the tenant the landlord can proceed with the eviction process," she said. "However if a tenant does provide documented evidence, then the tenant then has 60 days from original receipt of the notice to enter into a repayment agreement."

If a tenant doesn't proceed with the repayment agreement, the landlord can once again go through the eviction process.

Thursday, Jan. 20

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton tests positive for COVID-19

He's fought COVID-19 mask and vaccine mandates, but Ken Paxton has now tested positive for the virus.

The Texas Tribune reports it’s not clear when Paxton tested positive, whether he has symptoms, or if he's fully vaccinated.

No comment so far on any of that, but a spokesperson with the Attorney General's office did say Paxton's working from home.

Paxton's not the first Texas official to test positive. Governor Greg Abbott tested positive for coronavirus last summer. Earlier this month, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced he was in self-quarantine after a positive test.

Grapevine-Colleyville ISD and Richardson ISD to close schools through Friday

Grapevine-Colleyville ISD has closed all campuses today and tomorrow after more than 230 new positive student and staff cases of the virus Tuesday.

The district needed nearly 170 substitutes but could only fill less than 50% of those positions.

Richardson ISD has closed Bowie Elementary School today and tomorrow for similar reasons.

The latest closures come as numerous districts across North Texas resumed classes this week after calling off classes late last week.

Dallas County reports more than 500,000 cases since the beginning of the pandemic

Dallas County yesterday reported nine more COVID-19 deaths between Sunday and Tuesday and nearly 9,400 new coronavirus cases.

The Dallas Morning News reports the new cases pushed Dallas County passed the half a million mark in COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began. There's also been nearly 5,700 deaths during that time.

Between late Oct. and Dec., Dallas County regularly reported anywhere between 200 — 1,000 cases per day. However, those numbers increased after the holiday season to 1,000s of new cases per day.

Wednesday, Jan. 19

A new temporary drive-thru COVID-19 testing site opens today in Arlington

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is parterning with Tarrant County to bring more testing centers to the community.

Testing will take place in the Texas Rangers Sienna Lot M on 1205 Pennant Drive. Hours of operation are from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. The site will offer tests until early Feb.

In order to receive a test, participants must register ahead at https://ineedacovid19test.com/.

Tuesday, Jan. 18

Weatherford ISD to close schools through Friday

Weatherford ISD is closing schools Wednesday through Friday due to a rise in COVID-19 cases. In a statement Tuesday, Superintendent Beau Rees said the district does not have enough staff or substitutes to keep schools open.

Rees said the decision “was not taken lightly,” and students will not be required to make up the days off. Campuses are set to reopen Monday. The district plans to deep clean facilities during the closure.

Denton County hospitalization rate holds, number of cases rise

COVID-19 cases are rising in Denton County, but hospitalization rates are holding steady.

Public health director Matt Richardson updated county commissioners today.

He says multiple projections indicate the omicron wave could peak by the end of the month. But Richardson says we're still about two weeks away from knowing that.

"So we remain very hopeful, we're also very concerned. The positivity remains very very high, so that's telling us we're still in the thick of it," he said.

The week after Christmas, Denton County reported a record of nearly 8,000 COVID cases in one week.

Saturday, Jan. 15

ACA open enrollment ends today

Today is the last day Texans can sign up for health insurance through healthcare.gov, the online marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act. Coverage will start February 1.

"Last year, out of 1.2 million people who signed up for health insurance, 660,000 did it the last week," said Brian Sasser with the Episcopal Health Foundation in Houston. "So hopefully, that’s the case again this year, and there’s even more options and more financial assistance available this year than last.” 

At least 1.7 million Texans have already signed up for ACA health insurance, a record high for enrollment in the state.

Thursday, Jan. 13

State officials continue to wind down the Texas Rent Relief Program

Bobby Wilkinson, with the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, gave an update Thursday on how much money has been distributed through the Texas Rent Relief Program.

"We've distributed approximately $1.97 billion in rent and utility assistance to more than 307,000 households across the state," Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson stated less than 2% of the assistance funds remain in the rent relief program. He expects them to be distributed by the end of the month.

The program stopped accepting new applications in November due to overwhelming demand.

Wednesday, Jan. 12

Another weekly COVID-19 testing site and vaccination clinic opens in Dallas County

Friendship-West Baptist Church is hosting a free-COVID 19 rapid testing clinic, starting today. Tests will be administered every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. Rapid test results will be available within 3 to 5 hours.

The Dallas church will also host a vaccine clinic until Feb. 11th. Vaccines and boosters will be available every Sunday from 10 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. and every Thursday from 4 p.m. - 7 p.m.

Appointments are not required for either service. Vaccines and testing will be administered on a first-come, first-served basis.

Health officials are encouraging rural hospitals to apply for pandemic relief funds before today's deadline

The federal funding is made available through the American Rescue Plan Act and is aimed at supporting critical staffing needs during the pandemic.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission have about $90 million dollars in grants for nursing facilities.

Each can receive up to $75,000 in funding. HHSC has another $38 million to distribute to rural hospitals, which can each get $250,000.

So far, roughly 90% of eligible nursing facilities and hospitals have applied.

State researchers project the latest surge in COVID hospitalizations will surpass last year's peak

University of Texas researchers project the U.S.'s latest surge in coronavirus hospitalizations will surpass last year's peak by later this month.

UT-Austin's COVID Modeling Consortium based its projections on the omicron variant's transmissibility, severity, and the population's immunity from prior infections and vaccinations.

Anass Bouchnita is a researcher with the university. He said their best-case scenario shows about half as many deaths and slightly more hospitalizations than the peak last January.

"The number is that we will exceed the prior level of hospitalizations by 20% on average," Bouchnita said.

Bouchnita emphasized the worst-case scenario projects slightly more fatalities and nearly three times as many hospital admissions as seen a year ago.

Tuesday, Jan. 11

State education officials reduce the isolation period for school staff

Texas education officials have reduced how long school staff should isolate after contracting COVID-19 from 10 to 5 days.

The Texas Education Agency's recommendations updated Friday are based on the latest CDC guidelines. Ovidia Molina, President of the Texas State Teachers Association, emphasized a shorter quarantine time should also come with more local control.

"We would like to see our education agency in Texas actually look at what is happening in our schools and not follow what our governor is saying -- who does not know what is happening in our school systems," Molina said.

Members of the Texas State Teachers Association are currently calling for Governor Greg Abbott to lift his ban on school mask mandates.

Denton County hospitals challenged by staff shortages

Denton County hospitals are facing staffing challenges as the highly contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus spreads.

Public health director Matt Richardson updated county commissioners this morning. He said patients are facing lengthy delays in emergency rooms while trying to get care.

"So many of our hospitals are experiencing E.R. holds. Some are hours and some are multiple hours, maybe double-digit hours in the E.R., waiting for a staffed bed," Richardson said.

Richardson encouraged all eligible residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and get booster shots.

If you've been exposed to COVID, get tested five days later or sooner if you develop symptoms.

Testing is available at the Denton County Public Health building and Westside Baptist Church this week. Appointments are required.

Monday, Jan. 10

Dallas ISD boosting substitute pay, shuffling staff to cover teacher absences

The recent surge in COVID-19 cases across North Texas is affecting schools as teachers and staff are out sick.

Sherry Christian, Deputy Chief of Staff with Dallas ISD, updated Dallas City Council members Monday. "We are seeing an uptick in the number of individuals who test positive,” she said. “So we are having to request quite a few subs, and it is difficult to get subs sometimes.”

Christian says so one of the district’s strategies right now includes having central staff subbing in several classrooms.

Dallas ISD is among several North Texas districts boosting pay for substitute teachers as a way to try to attract more workers.

Christian also says, per CDC recommendation, the quarantine time for DISD staff who test positive for COVID-19 is five days.

Dallas County opens up four new drive-thru testing sites this week

Growing demand for COVID-19 testing has prompted Dallas County to open four new drive-thru testing sites this week.

Here are the times and locations for the new testing sites:

Monday

  • Dallas College North Lake Campus 5001 N MacArthur Blvd | 7:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. | Monday - Thursday
  • Trinity View Park 2221 E. Highway 356 | 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. | Monday - Saturday

Tuesday

  • Thurgood Marshall Recreation Center 5150 Mark Trail Way | 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. | Monday - Thursday

Wednesday

  • Fair Park — Lot 13 3809 Grand Ave | 7:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. | Monday - Sunday

Appointments can be made at My-COVID-Appointment.com.

Federal health officials recommend getting tested at least five days after being exposed to COVID, or as soon as symptoms start.

Saturday, Jan. 8

Richardson ISD to require face masks as cases rise

Richardson ISD will require face masks in pre-K through grade 12 schools beginning Monday. In a statement Friday, Interim Superintendent Tabitha Branum cited "an unprecedented rise in positive cases."

“We continue to focus on the goal of keeping our schools open for in-person teaching and learning, and this is a necessary step if we hope to keep our students learning in school," Branum said.

Officials say they'll assess conditions by the end of the month to decide whether to keep the universal mask requirement in place.

Friday, Jan. 7

State educators are concerned for faculty and students amid the surge in COVID-19 cases ahead of the spring semester

As universities and colleges reopen this month for the Spring semester, the Texas Faculty Association is concerned for faculty and students amid the surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the Omicron variant.

Cary Wintz is the Vice President of the group’s board. He’s also a distinguished professor of History at Texas Southern University. He says while online learning is not the best way to teach, it can stop the spread of the virus.

“It’s a tough decision, but certainly, I have no doubt if we fill our campuses up with students, we’re going to have a shutdown in three to four weeks.”

Earlier this week, state health officials reported that Texas surpassed 4 million COVID-19 cases.

Dallas County reports the highest single-day total of new cases since the beginning of the pandemic

Dallas county yesterday reported 6,310 new cases of COVID-19. The highest single-day total reported since the beginning of the pandemic.

The actual number could be higher because county officials report the data doesn't include home test kits.

Tarrant County is also experiencing an alarming rise in new cases as the Omicron variant continues to spread. Tarrant County reported more than 6,040 new cases, yesterday.

The new data follows a report from UT Southwestern Medical Center showing Dallas County could see more than 1,200 hospitalizations by the end of the month. Tarrant County could see about 2,000.

According to a study by state health officials, unvaccinated Texans are twenty times more likely to die from COVID-19 and thirteen times more likely to test positive.

Thursday, Jan. 6

COVID-19 hospitalizations in North Texas are expected to see record numbers this month

COVID-19 hospitalizations in North Texas are expected to see record numbers this month. That's according to the latest forecast from U-T Southwestern Medical Center.

The model released yesterday shows Dallas County could see more than 1,200 hospitalizations by the end of the month. Tarrant County could see about 2,000 hospitalizations. Both counties are expected to see more than 5,000 new cases per day in Jan.

As of today, the Omicron variant makes up the majority of the cases reported in the area.

According to a study released by the Texas Department of State Health Services, unvaccinated Texans are twenty times more likely to die from COVID-19.

FEMA is set to open six COVID-19 testing centers in Texas

Local officials are welcoming news that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is opening six COVID-19 testing sites across Texas.

One will be located in Tarrant County, which like many other communities, is facing a surge of infections and hospitalizations fueled by the omicron variant.

"A shortage of staff in our hospitals. It's not so much that we don't have beds available. It's the problem of staffing those beds," said Judge Glen Whitley of Tarrant County. He spoke with public radio's Texas Standard about the challenges his county is facing.

Whitley emphasized the staffing shortage is because health care workers are coming down with COVID-19.

Wednesday, Jan. 5

State officials sue the Biden administration over vaccine mandate affecting Texas National Guard

Governor Abbott is suing the Biden administration to block a vaccine requirement that applies to Texas National Guard members.

In the lawsuit filed Tuesday, state officials are refusing vaccinations in defiance of a Biden administration order that requires National Guard members on state duty to receive COVID-19 vaccinations.

Approximately, 40% of the state's Army National Guard are currently refusing to receive the vaccine. The state currently has more than 20,000 National Guard members, the largest contingent of any state.

Texas has previously sued over federal vaccine requirements for large companies, health care workers, federal contractors, and the Head Start program.

FEMA distributed more than $159 million in financial assistance to help cover funeral expenses for COVID-19 related deaths

In Texas, the agency distributed more than $159 million to 24,386 people. Nearly 75,000 Texans have died from COVID-19 during the pandemic. Only California has confirmed more fatalities than Texas.

The assistance is limited to $9,000 per funeral.

FEMA says it has distributed more than $1.6 billion to at least 247,000 people nationwide to help with COVID-19 related funeral costs.

Tuesday, Jan. 4

Parkland Hospital opens new COVID-19 testing site

Amid a surge of coronavirus cases, Dallas’s Parkland Health and Hospital System opened up a new COVID-19 testing site at their Amelia Court Clinic.

Hospital spokesperson Jared Lange said, while the clinic is open to everyone, some people’s testing needs may be more urgent.

“In regards to who we can test, it is open to anybody,” Lange said. “But we do stress that you only get tested if you are symptomatic, or if you had exposure. There's a lot of demand right now. So we want to conserve those tests for those that truly needed.”

The testing is by appointment only, Monday through Saturday between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. To make an appointment, visit www.parklandhospital.com/covidtest.

Tarrant County sees rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations

COVID-19 spread remains high in Tarrant County. Officials say they're also seeing an uptick in hospitalizations.

Public health director Vinny Taneja updated county commissioners Tuesday.

He says Tarrant County has seen an increase in hospital admissions tied to COVID — in adults and children.

"We're starting to see an increase in pediatric hospitalizations, I think the last I checked we were at 29, we've had a pandemic high of about 44. All indications from looking elsewhere, it is coming for the kids too, and a little worried that schools are about to open, so let's see what happens."

Taneja encourages residents to take precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. That includes avoiding crowds, getting vaccinated and wearing well-fitting face masks.

Monday, Jan. 3

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick tests positive for COVID-19

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is completing a self-quarantine after contracting COVID-19 with mild symptoms.

His campaign says he tested positive last week, quarantined at home where he continues to work, and now tests negative.

No one in his household is positive, and Patrick plans to resume a public schedule by week’s end, his campaign announced.

FDA authorizes booster shots for 12- to 15-year-olds

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) expanded booster shots of the Pfizer vaccine Monday for teens as young as 12 as the omicron surge continues.

The decision still needs approval from the CDC, which plans to make a final decision later this week.

Meanwhile, cases in Dallas county continue to rise with twice as many cases reported compared to the previous week.

“It's just readily apparent that this is so easily spread now and so it's concerning, especially with school coming back. We want to make sure everyone takes all the precautions and does everything they can to slow the spread," said Dr. Philip Huang, director of Dallas County Health and Human Services.

Huang said he encourages everyone who’s eligible to get boosted to do so as soon as possible. The FDA recommends the eligibility for teens will be five months instead of six.

Thursday, Dec. 30

Pediatric COVID admissions at Cook Children's hospital have more than tripled in the past week

Dr. Mary Whitworth is the medical director of infectious diseases at the Fort Worth hospital. She says 29 children are currently hospitalized with COVID-19.

"So our peak in September, I think, was 50. But just to give you some perspective, a week ago we had eight in the hospital," Whitworth said. " And so we are saying for sure rising numbers throughout the country of children in the hospital with this."

As of Tuesday, 75 kids across North Texas were hospitalized with the virus. That's about 8% of the total bed capacity available.

Whitworth stressed a vast majority of the children hospitalized at Cook Children's are unvaccinated.

COVID-19 patients are taking up roughly 82% of the ICU bed capacity in North Texas

Head of the DFW Hospital Council Stephen Love says as of Tuesday, there were more than 1,600 adults and at least 75 children hospitalized with COVID in North Texas.

"We definitely have seen an increase in adults and in pediatrics, so we're definitely seeing a surge," Love said.

The highly contagious Omicron variant is partly to blame for the spike, as well as large gatherings over the holidays.

Infectious disease experts say the best defense against severe illness and hospitalization is to get vaccinated and get a booster shot, if eligible.

Tuesday, Dec. 28

Dallas County moved to "red" after major uptick in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations

Citing a “dramatic increase” in the number of COVID-19 cases due in part to the highly contagious Omicron variant, the Dallas County Public Health Committee has moved the county’s threat level to Red, or “high risk of transmission.”

In a letter to Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, the committee said it was “very concerned” and pointed out that Dallas County data currently shows a spike in positive cases of COVID-19, lack of access to testing supplies and more ER visits and hospitalizations, including elevated pediatric hospitalizations.

The committee ends its letter asking Jenkins and the Dallas County Commissioners for help in increasing the vaccination rate, including booster shots, and expanding COVID-19 testing. The committee also wants to limit public gatherings and enforce universal masking.

Dallas county released its latest COVID-19 case count Tuesday evening, revealing 1,619 new positive cases and 19 deaths. Jenkins tweeted about the significant spike in cases.

“The numbers for today (Tuesday) are doubling the numbers from our last reported day before Christmas (Dec. 23) of 874 cases which was an 82% increase of the day before. COVID is now spreading rapidly again.”

In a lengthy Twitter thread, Jenkins urged people in Dallas County to get vaccinated, get the booster shot, wear surgical masks or N95s outside of the household, consider using drive up and delivery services to shop, and work remotely, if possible.

The Dallas Stars' next two games have been postponed due to the omicron variant

The National Hockey League announced the Stars' next two games against Colorado this week have been postponed. The team was set to play the Colorado Avalanche both at home and away.

All tickets for Friday's scheduled home game will be valid for the rescheduled date.

Currently, Dallas has eight players in the NHL's COVID-protocol, along with two support staff members.

Several Texas facilities run out of monoclonal antibody treatment as a surge in omicron variant cases continues

The Texas Department of State Health Services says five facilities in Texas have run out of a monoclonal antibody treatment that is effective against the omicron variant.

The affected infusion centers are located in Austin, El Paso, Fort Worth, San Antonio, and The Woodlands.

The Department of State Health Services said the sites will not be able to offer this monoclonal antibody treatment until the federal government is able to ship more of it. The expected date is sometime in January.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the omicron variant accounts for more than 90% of all COVID-19 cases in Texas.

Studies show vaccines still give adequate protection against the omicron variant

Amid the Omicron surge, experts say the COVID-19 vaccines are still protecting people against severe illness.

Dr. Trish Perl is chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and Geographic Medicine at UT-Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. She talked to public radio's Texas Standard.

"We still may be having breakthrough infections, and in fact, we are having breakthrough infections. When we give someone a booster, what we're doing is really enhancing the immune response," Perl said.

Dr. Perl stressed regardless of vaccination status COVID-19 precautions are still vital at this time.

Monday, Dec. 27

The city of Fort Worth offers new mobile testing sites 

The Fort Worth ISD Scarborough-Handley Fieldhouse and Como Community Center will be open for testing on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Appointments are not required and saliva tests will be given out at no cost. Insurance is not required.

Here are the times and locations for the new testing sites:

Tuesdays

  • FWISD Scarborough-Handley Fieldhouse, 6201 Craig St. | 8-11:30 a.m.
  • Como Community Center, 4660 Horne St. | 1-4:30 p.m.

Thursdays

  • FWISD Scarborough-Handley Fieldhouse, 6201 Craig St. | 8 - 11:30 a.m.
  • Como Community Center, 4660 Horne St. | 1 - 4:30 p.m.

The city plans to keep these testing sites open for the next few weeks.
If you need help getting a free COVID-19 test, contact the COVID-19 hotline or call 817-392-8478. Check out more information about testing and vaccination in Tarrant County.

Thursday, Dec. 23

Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic enters NBA's COVID-19 protocols

Tonight's matchup against Milwaukee would have marked his return from a five-game injury absence, but The Dallas Morning News reports Doncic yesterday entered the NBA's COVID-19 protocols.

It is unclear if Doncic will be on the starting lineup for the game against The Utah Jazz on Saturday night in Salt Lake City. The matchup is the final one of ESPN/ABC's five Christmas Day games.

He joins several other Mavs players now sidelined.

Players have to test negative twice or be sidelined for 10 days to return to the court.

Read more from The Dallas Morning News about what that means for the Dallas Mavericks here.

Wednesday, Dec. 22

State officials are distributing more federal pandemic relief to support higher education and public schools

Governor Greg Abbott says Texas is distributing another $123 million in federal pandemic relief to support higher education and public schools in the state.

Texas is going to spend $20 million of this final allocation of funding on the Supplemental Special Education Services program.

It helps families of students with disabilities cover the cost of services, such as tutoring, from state-approved vendors.

More than $30 million will go toward initiatives that help with student enrollment and retention. Another $10 million was allocated for a grant program for charter schools.

Tuesday, Dec. 21

County officials worry about holiday spread of omicron

Dallas County officials are keeping the county’s COVID-19 risk level at “orange” for now. Orange means “extreme caution,” a step below the highest risk level of red, or “high risk of transmission.”

Yet County Health Director Philip Huang said the omicron variant is a “serious concern” due to its high rate of spread. In remarks to the county commissioner’s court, Huang noted recent CDC data showed omicron is the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the U.S. This development came less than a month after the first reported U.S. case of the variant.

“More data are needed to know if omicron infections … cause more severe illness or death than infection with other variants,” according to the CDC.

Either way, Huang said higher transmissions could strain the health care system.

“Even if it’s a lower percentage that are severe illness, with huge numbers that can still lead to increased numbers of hospitalizations.”

Further strain could come from health care staff getting omicron, Huang said.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins encouraged people to move some Christmas celebrations outdoors, where COVID-19 is less transmissible. Forecasters predict highs in the 80s this weekend in North Texas.

Tarrant County awaits inevitable surge in COVID-19 cases

Tarrant County Public Health director Vinny Taneja told county commissioners Tuesday that COVID-19 data is currently stagnant in the region.

“The post-Thanksgiving bump, we got over that, and with the holidays less testing's happening, labs are closed, or less staff are there, people are just enjoying the holiday time,” he said. “And so there's less demand on testing, so we'll find out after Christmas what is really happening." 

Taneja says more than half of all eligible people in the county are fully vaccinated (58%), and is urging people also get a booster shot.

"All indications are that if you're boosted you have a better chance of fighting off any variant, including the omicron,” he said. “So let's do that, and other folks who are not yet vaccinated, certainly it's time to get vaccinated."

Tarrant County reported 421 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19, and six additional deaths on Tuesday.

Vaccine expert says Texans need to take extra precautions over the holidays amid omicron spread

Dr. Peter Hotez with the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children's Hospital told NPR it's important to keep gatherings small.

"Make certain that everyone who is eligible for that booster get boosted," Hotez said. "And if you have vulnerable people that you're celebrating with keep that in mind."

Texas has seen a growing number of coronavirus cases with nearly 9-thousand new infections confirmed yesterday.

Harris County reports its first death related to the Omicron COVID-19 variant

The first county in Texas to confirm an omicron case is now reporting its first death from the COVID-19 variant.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo yesterday said the man in his 50s was not vaccinated.

"As we've been expecting the omicron variant of COVID-19 has arrived in full force," Hidalgo said.

Hospitals in North Texas are preparing for a COVID-19 surge in cases and hospitalizations sparked by omicron that may come in early next month.

Dr. Joseph Chang called it inevitable. The chief medical officer at Parkland Health and Hospital System told The Dallas Morning News the hospital closed most of its COVID-19 units recently as cases dwindled. Chang now expects to open more of those units again.

Monday, Dec. 20

COVID-19 hospitalizations in North Texas are expected to increase over the holidays

COVID-19 Hospitalizations in North Texas are expected set to increase over the holidays. That's according to a new COVID-19 forecast from UT Southwestern Medical Center.

In Dallas County, a 6% increase is expected in the next two weeks. In Tarrant County, it's forecasted to be a 13% spike.

Delta is still the prominent COVID variant, with Omicron not too far behind. Currently, there are confirmed cases of the new variant in Collin, Dallas, and Tarrant counties.

As cases increase, vaccination rates are expected to stay the same.

Unvaccinated Texans are 20 times more likely to die from COVID-19, state health officials say. They also make up the majority of hospitalizations in the region.

Read the full report from UT Southwestern Medical Center here.

Saturday, Dec. 18

NFL tightening COVID-19 protocols after surge in cases

The NFL is updating its COVID-19 policies in response to an increase in cases, as well as the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. All 32 football teams must require masks in their facilities, only offer grab-and-go meals and hold meetings virtually for at least the next few days.

Dallas Cowboys Coach Mike McCarthy, who recently had COVID-19, said Friday switching to virtual meetings was fine.

"We're much better prepared to do the virtual clearly, and I thought it was very smooth," McCarthy said.

The NFL is also making it easier for players who are vaccinated and asymptomatic to return to games.

Wednesday, Dec. 15

Judge Clay Jenkins urges residents to get booster shots

Dallas County leaders are urging residents to be aware of the growing dangers of COVID-19 variants.

Today at a town hall conducted by telephone, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins urged people to get their COVID booster shots.

"The booster will provide you significantly more protection against the omicron, the omicron variant, than just your two shots.”

Jenkins is also encouraging people to wear masks.

Tuesday, Dec. 14

UT Southwestern scientists have found its first omicron variant case

The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center has identified its first omicron variant case using genomic sequencing, according to a story in the Dallas Morning News.

The Texas Department of State Health Services verified the case Monday, UT Southwestern spokesperson James Beltran said. The UT Southwestern lab declined to share details of the case, including where the patient is from and when they were diagnosed with COVID-19.

The first two cases of omicron were found in North Texas last week: a 35-year-old man from Tarrant County and a 40-year-old man from Collin County.

Monday, Dec. 13

Experts say omicron variant not top concern in Dallas this holiday season — delta is

The Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation in Dallas County (PCCI) has been tracking COVID-19 data since March 2020, including the new omicron variant recently found in Texas.

However, omicron is not their top concern in North Texas this holiday season, according to the group’s CEO, Steve Miff.

“Relative to omicron, we anticipate that we're not going to see that to be a dominant strain in the Dallas area in Texas for the next six to 12 weeks,” Miff said. “So we're still going to have need to have our guard up relative to delta.”

While the omicron variant is still new, Miff said there are a few things that the group knows for sure: it spreads faster than any other variant.

“Just to put in perspective what we're talking about is, about 3.5% reproduction rate versus a 1.5% rate with Delta, so significantly higher,” Miff told KERA News.

Hospital administrators advise people to get fully vaccinated and get a booster shot.

Read the full story.

Saturday, Dec. 11

Dallas County to continue offering gift cards at vaccine clinics

Dallas County will continue offering $25 gift cards to those getting a COVID-19 vaccine. The county has already been distributing Walmart gift cards, as well as other incentives, at certain vaccine clinics. During a special-called meeting Friday, Dallas County Commissioners approved funding for more gift cards.

District Four Commissioner Elba Garcia praised the vaccine incentive and said it's important to accurately track how many gift cards the county is handing out.

"[An] overabundance of caution, that's it," Garcia said, "and be sure there's a process for accountability."

Eligible residents can earn up to $75 in gift cards, one for each dose, including a booster shot.

In a statement Friday, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins stressed the importance of getting boosters ahead of holiday gatherings.

Friday, Dec. 10

First-time jobless claims in Texas jumped to more than 18,000 last week

Texas set a new low during the pandemic a week before.

The number of Texans seeking first-time benefits increased more than 75% for the week ending Dec. 4th.

A week earlier, roughly 10,400 Texans filed claims, which would be considered especially low even before the onset of the pandemic in March 2020.

Nationwide, the Labor Department reports initial jobless claims last week hit their lowest level in 52 years.

Texas Workforce Commission urges businesses to report to their employers if they're subjected to a vaccine mandate

The governor's executive order against such mandates says no entity in the state - including private businesses - can require anyone to take the COVID vaccine if they cite a medical, religious or personal exemption. It carries a $1,000 fine.

In a statement to the Dallas Morning News, Greg Abbott said a hotline has been created so employees can report illegal vaccine mandates.

The Governor said he encourages Texans to get vaccinated, but it's a voluntary choice.

The omicron COVID-19 variant has been detected in North Texas

Officials received a report from a lab in Frisco yesterday showing a man from Tarrant County in his 30s and a man from Collin County in his 40s tested positive.

Neither of the patients traveled internationally and both received two doses of the COVID vaccine.

Public health officials say the third booster dose appears to provide better protection against the new strain.

Thursday, Dec. 9

CDC expands boosters to include 16- and 17-year-olds

U.S. health authorities said Thursday that 16- and 17-year-olds should get a booster dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine once they’re six months past their last shot.

The U.S. and many other nations already were urging adults to get booster shots to pump up immunity that can wane months after vaccination, calls that intensified with the discovery of the worrisome new omicron variant.

On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration gave emergency authorization for 16- and 17-year-olds to get a third dose of the vaccine made by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech. And hours later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lifted the last barrier — saying those teens should get their booster as soon as it’s time.

A top vaccine expert in Texas is warning about the next wave of COVID-19 cases this winter

Doctor Peter Hotez, with Texas Children's Hospital Center for vaccine development in Houston, said his current concern is not the omicron variant detected in the city's wastewater earlier this week.

"My first is this Delta Wave that's gonna start revving up, and it's maybe already starting in Texas," said Hotez. "You know, that hit us so hard over the summer, and we're up for another round... When I think about things that keep me up at night, it's the next round of the Delta variant."  

Hotez stressed he's watching for a possible rise in cases and hospitalizations as people gather indoors and meet over the holidays.

Wednesday, Dec. 8

State and local officials are investigating omicron's arrival in Texas

State and local health officials are investigating the omicron variant’s arrival in Texas.

Chief State Epidemiologist Dr. Jennifer Shuford said they’re hoping to identify where the new strain is, and how quickly it’s spreading.

“One thing that we’re doing is really trying to ramp up our sequencing efforts very quickly," said Shuford. "We have established a sequencing partnership with the UT School of Public Health, as well as other academic medical centers in Texas and some commercial labs."

Shuford stressed improved surveillance across the state is also important in the short term as the variant spreads throughout the state.

A Harris County woman is the state’s first known case so far.

West Texas hospital expects to lose staff over vaccine mandate for healthcare workers

A West Texas hospital expects to lose staff if the Biden administration's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers eventually goes into effect. A federal judge blocked the requirement last week.

Russell Meyers is the CEO of Midland Health. He said Tuesday they are prepared to comply with the mandate but welcome the reprieve.

"We certainly were concerned and remain concerned that we could have a loss of staff," Meyers said.

Texas and other Republican-led states have sued the Biden administration over vaccine mandates for health care workers, large companies, and federal contractors. Federal courts have now blocked each of the requirements nationwide.

Tuesday, Dec. 7

Unvaccinated people make up vast majority of Dallas County hospitalizations, deaths from COVID-19

Dallas County Health Director Dr. Philip Huang told the Dallas County Commissioners Court on Tuesday the vast majority of people hospitalized are unvaccinated.

“When you look at the percentage of the hospital admissions of people who are fully vaccinated versus not fully vaccinated, [at least] 80% are not vaccinated,” he said.

Similarly, Huang said, deaths are also afflicting non-vaccinated people way more than those who’ve had the shot.

About a million Dallas County residents have not received a vaccine for COVID-19. More vaccine and infection data for the county is here.

People can get a vaccine in several ways — calling their doctor, visiting the county health department, or visiting a vaccine site like Dallas College Eastfield Campus. There are also vaccines at pharmacies.

Find more information at vaccines.gov.

Denton County health officials increase efforts to get people vaccinated

COVID-19 cases are no longer trending up in Denton County, after a slight uptick last month. Currently, there are more than 5,000 active cases throughout the county.

Public Health Director Matt Richardson updated County Commissioners Tuesday on efforts to increase vaccinations as cases decrease.

"We're both doing large population eligibility. We're also reaching out in this phase of the pandemic to those individuals who might have limited access," said Richardson.

The county is focusing on reaching people in jail and juvenile detention centers and those without permanent housing.

Denton County continues to offer COVID vaccines at its community clinics.

Officials will administer pediatric doses of the Pfizer vaccine at the Morse Street Facility Wednesday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Monday, Dec. 6

Texas reports its first case of omicron COVID-19 variant

A Houston-area resident is the first known Texas case of the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

State health officials announced Monday night that the adult female, a Harris County resident, was recently diagnosed with COVID-19. Genetic sequencing results indicated the infection was caused by the omicron strain, officials say.

The woman is in her 40s and had no recent travel history, County Judge Lina Hidalgo said on Twitter.

Harris County and state health officials are investigating the case.

Dr. John Hellerstedt, Texas Department of State Health Services commissioner, says he’s not surprised the omicron variant showed up in Texas.

“It’s normal for viruses to mutate,” Hellerstedt wrote in a statement. “Getting vaccinated and continuing to use prevention strategies, including wearing a mask when you are around people you don’t live with, social distancing, handwashing and getting tested when you have symptoms, will help slow the spread of the virus and help end the pandemic.”

Gov. Abbott says state officials are preparing for omicron variant

More than a dozen states have confirmed cases of the omicron variant of the coronavirus according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

While Texas has not yet detected it, Gov. Greg Abbott told Fox News Channel on Sunday that state health officials are taking steps to prepare for a possible increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

"We're working to make sure that vaccines are available to anyone who wants a vaccine and also working to make sure that we make it easier for people to get a test so they can determine whether or not they have the new variant or the delta variant — whatever the case may be," Abbott said.

COVID-19 hospitalizations have already been trending up in Texas over the last week or so. Nearly 60 %of Texans ages 5 and older are fully vaccinated.

Texas educators say they're concerned about omicron variant

A group representing Texas teachers says educators are increasingly concerned about the omicron variant, especially as the holiday break approaches. Ovidia Molina heads the Texas State Teachers Association.

“There’s a fear for the students who cannot get a vaccine yet, our young students," Molina said. "There’s a fear for family members that may be immunocompromised or themselves or in a higher risk. So, we’re always looking to have as many safety protocols, precautions in place to ensure we all survive the pandemic.”

The group has repeatedly criticized Gov. Greg Abbott for banning mask mandates in schools.

Even though a federal appeals court recently upheld the Republican governor's order, several of the largest school districts in Texas — including Houston ISD and Dallas ISD — continue to defy it.

Friday, Dec. 3

Tarrant County Public Health will host a series of pop-up COVID-19 vaccination clinics over the weekend

Sites will have Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and Moderna shots available. Pediatric and booster shots will also be administered.

  • Dan Dipert Career + Technical Center
    2101 Browning Drive Arlington, TX 76010
    Open on Saturday, Dec. 4 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Grace Methodist Church of the Metroplex
    1310 Collard Street Fort Worth, TX 76105
    Open on Saturday, Dec. 4 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
  • First Presbyterian Church Fort Worth
    1000 Penn Street Fort Worth, TX 76102
    Open on Sunday, Dec. 5 from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Parents need to bring proof of the child’s age and their own ID for the vaccination. The vaccination is free.

You can find a full list of local vaccine sites on the county's website.

Texas jobless claims hit another record low since the start of the pandemic

The U.S. Labor Department reports first-time jobless claims in Texas fell sharply last week to hit another record low since the onset of the pandemic.

Less than 10,000 Texans filed initial claims for benefits in the last full week of Nov. That's a 38% drop from the week before and the lowest level reported since Dec. 2019.

For more than a month, weekly claims in Texas have hit new lows since the pandemic began. But, the job market recovery is still ongoing.

Preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show there were about 770,000 out-of-work Texans in Oct. That's down from the peak of roughly 1.7 million in April 2020.

Thursday, Dec. 2

Ken Paxton celebrates court's decision to keep Texas ban on mask mandates in schools

The Texas Attorney General is praising a federal appeals court for upholding Gov. Greg Abbott's ban on mask mandates in schools amid the pandemic.

Republican Ken Paxton said on the Mark Davis Show this morning the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily stayed a decision from a federal judge in Austin. That judge ruled Abbott's order violated the rights of students with disabilities.

"He stopped the governor's executive order from being enforced in any school district in the entire state and we were able to go to the Fifth Circuit and have that stay stayed," Paxton said.

Disability Rights Texas, which filed the lawsuit challenging Abbott's mask mandate ban, said it's disappointed with the Fifth Circuit's decision.

Wednesday, Dec. 1

First U.S. case of COVID-19 omicron variant identified

A person in California became the first in the U.S. to have an identified case of the COVID-19 omicron variant, the White House announced Wednesday as scientists continue to study the risks posed by the new strain of the virus.

The Biden administration moved late last month to restrict travel from Southern Africa where the variant was first identified and had been widespread. Clusters of cases have also been identified in about two dozen other nations.

“This is the first case of COVID-19 caused by the omicron variant detected in the United States,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said at the White House. He said the person was a traveler who returned from South Africa on Nov. 22 and tested positive on Nov. 29.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is taking steps to tighten U.S. testing rules for travelers from overseas, including requiring a test for all travelers within a day of boarding a flight to the U.S. regardless of vaccination status. It was also considering mandating post-arrival testing.

Read the fully story by the Associated Press.

Marcus Lamb, Founder of Dallas-Area Christian TV Network Daystar, Dies at 64

Dallas-area televangelist Marcus Lamb has died, his Daystar Television Network announced.

Daystar said in a post on its website that Lamb died Tuesday morning. He was 64.

“He leaves behind a legacy of fiercely loving the Lord, all the people of the world and, most of all, his family,” the network said.

The network did not say how Lamb died, but a Facebook post from Perry Stone Ministries on Nov. 18 said Lamb was being treated for a severe case of COVID-19.

Read the full story by NBCDFW.

Judge blocks federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers after Texas, other states sue

The Texas Attorney General is praising a federal judge for blocking the Biden administration's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal contractors in three states.

Republican Ken Paxton said on Twitter he has sued to block the same requirement. He has criticized the president's vaccine mandates as federal overreach.

Read the full story by The Texas Tribune.

Texas worker wages surged this month, according to Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas

The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas reports Tuesday worker wages surged this month in the Texas service and retail sectors.

The Dallas Fed says average employee wages in both sectors increased in November faster than any other time since 2007.

Respondents to a monthly survey noted that hiring in the tight labor market remains a challenge. Global supply chain disruptions are also driving up costs for businesses.

Still, executives in both sectors expressed optimism about future business activity.

Tuesday, Nov. 30

Denton County continues to see an increase in cases

Denton County officials report more than 5,400 active cases.

Public Health Director Matt Richardson updated County Commissioners on Tuesday. He said a spike in COVID cases would further strain local hospitals.

"This is going to squeeze our hospital staff. This is going to squeeze access," Richardson said. "So be thinking about strokes and heart attacks and babies with fewer nurses being able to respond with increasing infections. This is an issue."

Richardson also addressed the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus. He said information is limited, but he expects to know more about how transmissible the variant is in the coming weeks.

Denton County will host two pediatric vaccine clinic this week at the Morse Street Facility. Shots are available by appointment only this Thursday and Friday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Monday, Nov. 29

Texas vaccine expert says delta variant still the biggest threat in the U.S.

Dr. Peter Hotez of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston says scientists should know within the next two weeks whether current COVID-19 vaccines are effective against the omicron variant. He told CNN he remains most concerned about another variant.

"Right now, I think it's, it's important to focus on what we do know is the biggest threat in the United States and that is the delta variant," Hotez said. "It is accelerating now and the U.S. population isn't completely vaccinated."

The U.S. did impose travel restrictions today on South Africa and seven other countries in response to the omicron variant.

Rebecca Fischer, Texas A&M University epidemiologist told Texas Standard it's important to keep an eye on COVID-19 numbers in the weeks ahead.

"We should be really cautious here in Texas and continue to practice those preventive and protective behaviors that we have become so familiar with, Fischer said.

According to the latest data from the Department of State Health Services, just under 59% of Texas' eligible population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Anyone 5 and up can get the shots.

Manufacturing up in Texas

Texas factory activity picked up speed this month, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas' monthly manufacturing survey.

Indexes measuring production, new orders and shipments all increased this month from levels already well-above average. More than 90 manufacturing executives who took the survey also reported ongoing growth in employment and wages. But, the Dallas Fed also found the price of raw materials continued to climb.

Almost 93% of those surveyed said they faced supply chain disruptions or delays. Most do not expect their supply chains to return to normal for months.

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

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