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COVID Live Updates: CDC expands eligibility for booster shots

A medical worker retrieves a syringe of COVID-19 vaccine from a cooler.
David J. Phillip
/
AP
The CDC is expanding eligibility for booster shots, after the FDA approved "mix and match" vaccines.

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

» COVID-19 By The Numbers:

  • In Texas: More than 4.1 million cases and more than 69,300 deaths have been reported.
  • Cases In North Texas: Tarrant County: 359,131; Dallas County: 340,666; Denton County: 106,582; Collin County: 104,438. There have been at least 11,372 reported deaths in the region's four largest counties. (Data as of Oct. 22)
  • Counties across Texas: Use the Texas Newsroom's interactive maps.
  • Global: See Johns Hopkins University's COVID-19 dashboard.

Friday, Oct. 22

CDC updates its eligibility requirements for booster shots

With the FDA's approval of mixing COVID-19 booster shots, the CDC has updated its guidelines for the boosters.

Those who got a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine and fall into the following categories are eligible for a booster shot six months after their second shot:

For those who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, booster shots are recommended for those 18 and older who were vaccinated two or more months ago.

Texas schools started this year with record high coronavirus cases, but weekly totals have now declined

Students in Texas public schools are facing another year upturned by COVID-19 as the highly contagious delta variant spreads, mask mandates are inconsistent and children under 12 cannot yet be vaccinated against the virus.

Nearly three months into this school year, the number of reported coronavirus cases among students has surpassed the total from the entire 2020-21 school year. Schools are prohibited from taking precautions such as requiring masks, though some are fighting the governor’s order banning mask mandates. Far more students are on campus, since most districts do not have a remote learning option.

Every Friday, the Texas Education Agency releases COVID-19 case counts for students and staff, as reported by the state’s school districts.

State data on school cases is incomplete and likely an undercount. TEA suppresses some districts’ case counts to protect student privacy, and not all districts report student and staff cases to the state, despite agency guidance requiring otherwise. The agency also retroactively updates its data from previous weeks as more districts report cases.

Some large districts, such as Houston and Dallas, have not consistently reported cases to the state since TEA started tracking COVID-19 data on Aug. 2 for this school year. Many districts publish a COVID-19 dashboard that shows cases, and TEA recommends families check for the latest data there.

Read the full story by The Texas Tribune.

American and Southwest airlines post third-quarter profits

Third-quarter profits posted by Texas's two major airlines Thursday signal the industry's rebound from the pandemic is getting off the ground.

Fort Worth-based American Airlines reported a $169 million profit from July to September. Dallas' Southwest Airlines says it earned nearly $450 million. But those profits did rely on federal pandemic relief funding.

Southwest CEO Bob Jordan expects gains to continue after the coronavirus surge this summer.

"As cases have come down and subsided booking trends have recovered nicely on both the leisure and the business front and booking trends are in line for the holidays with 2019," Jordan said.      
 
Southwest said it lost $75 million after having to cancel more than 2,000 flights earlier this month.

Thursday, Oct. 21

FDA OKs mixing COVID vaccines; backs Moderna, J&J boosters

U.S. regulators on Wednesday signed off on extending COVID-19 boosters to Americans who got the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine and said anyone eligible for an extra dose can get a brand different from the one they received initially.

The Food and Drug Administration’s decisions mark a big step toward expanding the U.S. booster campaign, which began with extra doses of the Pfizer vaccine last month. But before more people roll up their sleeves, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will consult an expert panel Thursday before finalizing official recommendations for who should get boosters and when.

The latest moves would expand by tens of millions the number of Americans eligible for boosters and formally allow “mixing and matching” of shots — making it simpler to get another dose, especially for people who had a side effect from one brand but still want the proven protection of vaccination.

Read the fully story by the Associated Press.

Number of COVID Hospitalization, Student Infections Drop To Lowest Point In Last Three Months

Texas has seen the lowest COVID hospitalization numbers in three months. The number dropped under 5,000 Tuesday for the first time since the last deadly surge began.

Texas has seen huge improvements across the board at most of its hospitals with ICU bed availability more than doubling since peak infection.

The latest numbers of reported public school student infections have dropped from a peak of 43,000 students in early September to a tenth of that in mid-October.

One area where the state has seen little improvement is in the number of mobile mortuary trailers being used statewide. Eight counties are using nine morgue trailers after local capacity was overwhelmed despite a dramatic drop in deaths from the disease.

Wednesday, Oct. 20

Despite looming deadline, most Texas nursing home staff vaccination rates didn’t change between August and September

Long-term care facilities in Texas have not reported a recent uptick in COVID-19 vaccinations among staff. That's despite the possibility of a federal mandate.

The Biden Administration has announced it will seek to require vaccinations for staff at health care facilities funded by Medicare or Medicaid.

But overall, only 11% of Texas nursing homes and assisted living facilities are known to have staff vaccination rates of 75% or more.

Texas Standard did a breakdown of of the numbers.

"We looked at state and federal data between mid August and that was right before the Biden administration announced an upcoming federal mandate, and then we looked at that through mid September," Caroline Covington with the Standard said. "And found that even with the threat of that mandate, the needle hasn't really moved much on staff vaccinations."

Gov. Greg Abbott recently issued an executive order barring COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

American and Southwest Airlines have backed off plans to fire or suspend workers who file for religious exemptions.

Both airlines have recently talked with employee unions that workers granted religious exemptions can continue to work, according to reporting by The Dallas Morning News.

If granted an exemption, employees are asked to take extra health protocols, such as wearing masks and participating in regular testing.

However, Fort Worth-based American Airlines could still fire employees who refuse to go along with the policy. On the other hand, Gary Kelly, CEO of Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, recently said on ABC's Good Morning America, the airline will not fire any employees over this particular issue.

Airlines have until Dec. 8th to comply with federal mandates for company employee vaccinations or risk losing federal contracts.

Read the story from The Dallas Morning News.

Tuesday, Oct. 19

FDA to announce that people can mix and match brands when they get booster shots

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is planning to allow Americans to mix and match COVID-19 vaccines when getting a booster shot, according to reporting by The New York Times and The Washington Post.

By way of example, those who received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine can get the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine as their booster shot. And those who got the single-dose J&J shot can turn to Moderna or Pfizer for their booster.

An independent panel that advises the FDA has recommended a half-dose of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine as a booster for people 65 and older, as well as adults with other health problems, jobs or living situations that put them at increased risk for COVID-19.

The FDA panel has endorsed boosters of Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot COVID-19 vaccine for people 18 and older.

Read the story from The Dallas Morning News.

Some families who got advance child tax credit payments might see smaller checks in the future because of a technical error

The IRS said some families eligible for the advanced child tax credit who received a split payment in September may have gotten a little too much. As a result, their October, November and December payments may be reduced slightly.

It goes back to what was described as a "technical issue" with the September payment. This caused about 2% of child tax credit recipients to get their payments late.

One of the issues, the IRS said, was with parents who file their taxes jointly -- the basis of which determines how much money each family gets. If the parents want to opt out or change their banking or address information, then both parents must apply for that change. If only one makes a change, only half the money will be affected.

Read more from WFAA.

Dallas County officials want residents to be vaccinated against COVID and the flu

Dallas County health officials are urging residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the flu.

Dr. Phillip Huang, the director of Dallas County Health and Human Services, updated county commissioners at a meeting Tuesday and said residents who are not fully vaccinated make up a majority of COVID-19 hospitalizations. And many people have yet to get shots.

"Still about, close to 50% that are not fully vaccinated, so that's still a lot of vulnerable people in our community," he said.

Huang said COVID-19 hospitalizations are declining, but people still need to remain vigilant and follow safety guidelines as the holiday season approaches.

Hospitalizations are going down in Tarrant County

Tarrant County health officials said COVID-19 metrics are starting to improve.

Public health director Vinny Taneja updated County Commissioners on Tuesday

"All of the indicators are in a down trend, so that's great news," he said. "We're almost half in terms of hospitalizations where we were two weeks. So we have 456 people in the hospital confirmed with COVID, that's 10.71% of the capacity. Pediatric hospitalizations are down."

Taneja said Tarrant County is still seeing a high level of community spread.

The county reported 328 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 and four additional deaths.

Monday, Oct. 18

Fauci criticizing Gov. Abbott's vaccine mandate ban

President Biden's chief medical adviser and infections disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci is condemning Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's ban on vaccine mandates.

"From a public health standpoint, that is really unfortunate because we know how effective vaccines are in preventing not only illness for the individual but for diminishing the dynamics of the infection in society," Fauci said on Fox News Sunday.

Fauci added Abbott's decision to block businesses from requiring inoculations will damage public health, calling vaccines the most effective means to stop the spread of COVID 19.

"We're not living in a vacuum as individuals, we're living in a society. And society needs to protected," he said. "You do that by not only protecting yourself but by protecting the people around you."

The FDA will decide on a panel recommendation for Moderna and Johnson and Johnson boosters as soon as this week.

Fauci also says vaccinated people could have a normal holiday season with others who have received the shot.

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 Abbot'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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