COVID-19 Live Updates: Abbott Announces 1st Tarrant County Death, Increased Testing Capacity | KERA News

COVID-19 Live Updates: Abbott Announces 1st Tarrant County Death, Increased Testing Capacity

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Get live updates throughout the day on how COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, is affecting North Texas. 

Wednesday, March 18

2 p.m. — Gov. Greg Abbott Announces New Testing Capacity, Hospital Preparations, First Tarrant County Death

Governor Greg Abbott announced in a press conference on Wednesday afternoon that hospitals across the state are preparing for a rise in cases and that there will be an increase in statewide testing capacity for COVID-19.

“Our testing capabilities have increased dramatically,” Abbott said.

He said the state will be able to administer 15,0000 to 20,000 tests per week by the end of the week. Abbott also said he has been in talks with the CEOs of leading hospitals across the state.

“I was impressed with the number of beds that already exist and the secondary strategies,” he said. Abbott said he was told those secondary strategies include medical tents that can be set up in a day.

Additionally, he said the state could use recently closed hospitals, quick clinics, standalone ERs and other pop-up facilities if needed, which "are equipped to handle this."

He also said standalone motels or hotels could be used for individuals who test positive, but are not in critical condition.

Abbott said there are currently 83 confirmed cases across 23 counties, three deaths and more than 1,900 people who are being monitored for possibly being infected with COVID-19.

“As we see the spread of this across the state of Texas, it is absolutely essential every leader must employ the standards that have been established by the CDC to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus."

Abbot also announced Tarrant County's first death due to the virus.

Patrick James was an elderly man who lived in a cottage at the Texas Masonic Retirement Home  in Arlington with his wife. They participated in activities at the cafeteria of the main facility.

James was hospitalized on Thursday, March 12 and died early March 16. The positive tests results were obtained Tuesday, March 17.

He had no known travel or contact with other COVID-19 cases.

1 p.m. — Collin County Reports First COVID-19 Related Death 

Collin County health officials announced a 64-year-old man in Plano died in a hospital yesterday from an underlying medical condition and was infected with COVID-19. 

The positive case was discovered posthumously and the man was not one of the nine confirmed cases previously announced. 

At this time, there are nine confirmed positive COVID-19 cases in Collin County and 66 people are being monitored.

12:17 p.m. - Tarrant County Announces New Cases

Tarrant County Public Health announced on Wednesday two additional cases of COVID-19. 

One of the patients traveled out of the state and the travel history of the other patient is still pending. 

“Both of these cases have been isolated at home after developing symptoms,” Vinny Taneja, Tarrant County Public Health Director, said in a statement.

12:13 p.m. - Fort Worth ISD Launches Learning At Home 

The Fort Worth ISD announced students will now have access to content and grade-appropriate online materials for learning at home. 

“These are challenging times for us all. Students, although you are not in school right now, you remain our number-one priority,” Jerry Moore, FWISD’s chief academic officer, wrote in a March 18 letter to families and students. “We encourage students and parents to explore the materials we’ve provided.”

The school district launched its Learning at Home webpage on Wednesday with elementary and secondary resources. Fort Worth ISD plans to share a more detailed curriculum in the future. 

» RELATED | Browse the KERA Learn toolkit for helping keep kids educated and engaged at home during the coronavirus outbreak

11:20 a.m. - Gov. Abbott Issues Proclamation Allowing For Postponement Of May Local Elections

Gov. Greg Abbott issued a proclamation Wednesday allowing local governments to postpone their May 2, 2020 elections until November 3, 2020. 

"I strongly encourage local election officials to take advantage of these waivers and postpone their elections until November," Abbott said in a statement. "Right now, the state's focus is responding to COVID-19 — including social distancing and avoiding large gatherings. By delaying this election, our local election officials can assist in that effort." 

In conjunction with suspending parts of the election code to allow for the delay, Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughs has released guidance for local governments on the process of postponing their May elections. 

Read the Governor's proclamation.

10:40 a.m. - Dallas County Reports 11 Additional Positive COVID-19 Cases

Dallas County Health and Human Services (DCHHS) is reporting 11 additional positive cases of novel coronavirus in the county.

“We will get through this North Texas by following the science and exercising personal responsibility,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a statement. “You should limit unnecessary trips beyond work and necessities like food and medical care. Every interaction in this outbreak carries some risk of spread. This doesn’t mean you can’t go for walks or runs outside; however, you should maintain six feet social distancing.”

According to a statement from officials, the 11 cases include:

  • One individual in their teens, one female in her 20s, one male and one female in their 30s, one male in his 40s, three males and two females in their 50s, and one male in his 70s.
  •  Three patients were hospitalized, including one in a critical care unit; eight are self-isolating at residences.
  • Seven are residents of the city of Dallas, one is a resident of Coppell, one is a resident of Irving, one is a resident of Mesquite, and one is a resident of Richardson.
  •  One case is related to domestic out-of-state travel and two are related to international travel.
  •  Three patients are close contacts of a confirmed COVID-19 case.
  • Five have no source or travel risk factor yet identified, and are therefore indicative of community transmission.
  • Cases without a source or travel risk factor yet identified (indicating community transmission instead) have been reported from residents of the city of Dallas and Mesquite. Note that these individuals could have acquired the infection in a different city, such as where they work or socialize.

Dallas County has now reported 39 presumptive positive cases. Four of those cases are out of county residents and will not be reflected in the case counts on the DCHHS website.

8:45 a.m. - Dallas Holding Special City Coucil Meeting at 9 a.m. Wednesday

Dallas is holding a special COVID-19 City Council meeting at 9 a.m. In a tweet, Mayor Eric Johnson’s office asked that citizens watch the meeting on TV or online instead of showing up in person to maintain social distancing.

You can watch the meeting on Spectrum Cable channel 95 or online at DallasCityNews.Net/Watch-Live.

7:30 a.m. - Abbott To Hold Joint Press Conference In Arlington With Mayor, Tarrant County Judge 

Gov. Greg Abbott will hold a press conference today at noon in Arlington. He’ll be joined by Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams, Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, Department of State Health Services Commissioner John Hellerstedt and Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd.

Abbott’s office said social distancing protocols will be enforced, and everyone will be screened before entering the facility.

Gov. Abbott Waives Some Telemedicine Regulations

Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott waived certain regulations and instituted an emergency rule that will allow COVID-19 related telemedicine visits for patients with state-regulated plans to be paid in the same way as in-office visits for insurance purposes. 

“As the State of Texas responds to COVID-19, we continue to work to maintain regular health care services and operations throughout the state, and telemedicine is one of the most valuable tools we have to ensure Texans continue to receive the health services they need,” Abbott said in a statement. “Expanding telemedicine options will help protect the health of patients and health care professionals, while helping Texas mitigate the spread of COVID-19.” 

According to the statement, doctors will be eligible for payment from insurance plans regulated by the Texas Department of Insurance for medical visits conducted over the phone instead of in-person at the same rate they would receive for in-person visits. 

Mayor Eric Johnson Creates Two Committees To Address COVID-19 Recovery Efforts

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson has created two new committees that will recommend strategies to help the city mitigate the impact of COVID-19 and recover from effects of the disease's spread.

He announced Wednesday the creation of the Ad Hoc Committee on COVID-19 Economic Recovery and Assistance and the Ad Hoc Committee on COVID-19 Human and Social Recovery and Assistance.

“As policymakers, we must rise to meet the unprecedented challenges presented by COVID-19’s spread,” Johnson said in a statement. “These committees will enable the Dallas City Council to consider concrete steps that will help mitigate any negative effects of our painful but necessary emergency measures on our economy and our society. Additionally, our City Councilmembers will work through these committees to start preparing now for Dallas’ recovery.”

Each committee will have seven members and two co-chairs.

Tuesday, March 17

Tarrant County Announces Its First COVID-19 Death 

A Tarrant County senior citizen who died Sunday tested positive for COVID-19, health officials said.

Tarrant County Public Health says the person was a resident of the Texas Masonic Retirement Center in Arlington.

“Information about the person’s residence is being released because the facility provides housing to retired persons and senior citizens who are most vulnerable to the effects of severe illnesses,” a county news release said.

Tarrant County is investigating the source of the infection and determining who might have come into contact with the patient while he was ill. 

Fort Worth To Impose Stricter Social Distancing Rules

In Fort Worth, restaurants and bars will no longer be serving dine-in customers.

Mayor Betsy Price says that on Wednesday, bars and restaurants will only be allowed to fill takeout or delivery orders. That follows stricter social distancing protocols announced Monday for public places.

In a Facebook video, Price stressed that people should limit trips to shops, malls and any other public places, and maintain a six-foot distance from others when venturing out.

“I was at the grocery store today and I was doing pickup,” Price said. “I ordered my groceries online and picked them up today, but I was shocked by how many people were going in and out for just one or two items, but particularly the elderly folks.”

Price urged people to offer to do grocery shopping for older neighbors and people with compromised immune systems, who are at increased risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19.

Dallas ISD Student Tests Positive For COVID-19

The Dallas school district said it has its first confirmed case of COVID-19 — a middle school student. 

The student, who attends J.L. Long Middle School, was seen by the school nurse Friday and sent home. The district said the student is at home and is "doing well." The student did not have symptoms prior to Friday, Dallas ISD said.

Dallas County health officials told the district they've "determined the student did not get sick at school" and attended two classes before visiting the nurse. Health officials were working to trace the people the student was in contact with that day. 

A letter went out to the middle school community to inform them of the matter.

Dallas County Judge Urges Governor To Impose Statewide Ban

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins is urging Gov. Greg Abbott to implement a statewide ban similar to Dallas' on gyms, bars, restaurants and theaters.

Jenkins talked with WFAA-TV.

“I mean this with the utmost respect. There are no easy decisions left in this fight, but this is a decision he’s uniquely in a place to lead on and we need him to do it," Jenkins told WFAA.

Dallas County says of the nine additional cases of COVID-19 announced Tuesday, three of the patients have been hosptalized and were in critical condition. And some of the new cases are people in their 20s and 30s. 

“This disease is nothing to play with no matter what your age is,” Jenkins told the TV station.

Dallas ISD Announces Employees Will Receive Regular Pay, School Locations For Meals

The Dallas school district announced on Tuesday that all of its active employees will receive their regular paychecks “with no deductions on their paid time off” during school closures.

The district also announced the cancellation of all bond community meetings and bond-related events the week of March 23. 

According to the news release, comprehensive middle school and high schools will provide grab-and-go meals on Monday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at school entrances. 

On Monday and Thursday, students will be provided with three days of breakfast and lunch. 

All students qualify, but must accompany parents to pick up meals. Families can pick up meals from their cars at most locations.

Here is the list of school locations where meals will be provided.  

Over Spring Break, all students through age 18 are also being offered grab-and-go meals at 20 Dallas ISD schools.  

5:20 p.m. - City Of Dallas Closes Playgrounds, Golf Courses and Tennis Courts

The city of Dallas announced that it would close down playgrounds, golf courses and tennis centers “out of an abundance of caution” starting Tuesday at 9 p.m. 

Open air parks and trails will remain open, though the city advises citizens to practice social distancing. 

4:29 p.m. - Charter School Closes

ILTexas, a local public charter school with many campuses in North Texas, announces it is closing all 19 campuses indefinitely to mitigate COVID-19. According to the superintendent Eddie Conger, students will not be returning to campuses. Instead, the district will be offering virtual classrooms and online learning.  

3:49 p.m. - Denton County, East Texas Announce New Cases

Denton County Public Health announced on Tuesday a second positive case of COVID-19.

The patient is in her 50s and resides in Prosper, where she is currently in home isolation. She recently traveled, according to a press release. 

“This morning’s newest disaster declaration and executive order provide recommendations to limit the spread of disease,” Denton County Judge Andy Eads said in a statement. “Even more so now, with a second positive case within Denton County, we stress the importance of heeding these recommendations.”

In East Texas, Smith County announced its fifth confirmed case of coronavirus on Tuesday. The patient had direct exposure to a known case in the county, according to the Northeast Texas Public Health District

3:03 p.m. - Dallas County Officials Work To Open Two New Testing Sites 

Elected officials in North Texas said on Tuesday that they are working to open sites so residents can be tested for COVID-19.

In a telephone town hall held Tuesday morning, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said they plan to open a site at the American Airlines Center in Dallas and one in Grand Prairie.

"They'll have the capacity to test 2,500 people at each test site per week, so 5,000 tests a week, that will be focused on people with underlying conditions, and over 65,” he said. “But we need the federal government to release the tests to us, and to work with us on that.” 

Democratic Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, who represents Dallas, took part in the town hall. 

"This country was late in getting instructions from the leadership of the nation,” Johnson said. “Many of the research areas that could have been put into action right away had been dismantled by the lack of funding, that's all revved up now and we're trying to get as much information as we can.” 

Both the city of Dallas and Dallas County are prohibiting gatherings of 50 people or more. Bars, nightclubs, entertainment venues, restaurants and gyms are closed to the public. Restaurants can offer take-out, delivery and drive-through service. 

Cedar Hill ISD Approves Pay For All District Employees 

The Cedar Hill ISD Board of Trustees unanimously approved pay for all 900 plus of the district’s employees while schools are indefinitely closed. 

“I applaud the Board for approving this resolution,” Dr. Gerald Hudson, Cedar Hill ISD superintendent, said. “This will allow us to ensure all of our employees receive a paycheck to take care of their families.”

Cedar Hill ISD Board President Cheryl Wesley said the decision was a simple one made with the District’s employees’ well-being in mind.

“With the Coronavirus Pandemic affecting our employees in several ways, the resolution that the Board approved tonight ensures that this is one less concern that our teachers and staff need to have during this time,” she said.

2:17 p.m. - Tarrant County Commissioners Extend Emergency Declaration 

At an emergency meeting on Tuesday, Tarrant County Commissioners extended the emergency declaration of disaster for an additional 90 days.

The county reported its sixth case of COVID-19 on Tuesday morning, which is also its first case of local transmission.

Public health director Vinny Taneja said recent measures being enacted like limiting the size of public gatherings are precautionary rather than reactionary.

"We have to really be methodical and thoughtful,” Taneja said. “You don't just react to the situation, you think it through and make the right decisions for your community." 

He urged North Texans to follow guidance from public health officials and continue social distancing.

12:37 p.m. - Gov. Abbott Activates The Texas National Guard 

Governor Greg Abbott activated the Texas National Guard on Tuesday to assist with the state’s coronavirus response. 

Healthcare workers and first responders who are members of the Texas National Guard will be excluded from the activation so that they continue working in their respective fields.

"By activating the Texas National Guard, we are ensuring Texas is prepared as we continue to mitigate the spread of COVID-19," Gov. Abbott said in a statement. "I am grateful to the men and women of the National Guard for their dedication to serving their fellow Texans, and want to assure the public that this is a precautionary measure to make sure the Texas National Guard has the capability to serve at a moment's notice where they are needed most."

McKinney Updates Disaster Declaration For Restaurants 

The city of McKinney updated its local disaster declaration for restaurants. 

From today until 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, all restaurants and bars must limit dine-in customers to 50% of the capacity allowed under the Certificate of Occupancy. Restaurants will also be required to provide a space of at least six feet between dining parties. 

All dine-in service restaurants and bars must be closed from March 20 until 11:59 p.m. on March 23. On March 24, the McKinney City Council will then be asked to continue restrictions until March 31. 

12:30 p.m. - TxDOT Takes Precautions Amid The Coronavirus 

The Texas Department of Public Transportation announced on Tuesday that it is taking steps to protect the public and TxDOT employees from the coronavirus, including canceling in-person gatherings, requiring in-office employees to work from home and closing down information centers. 

TxDOT announced it is postponing or canceling in-person public hearings and gatherings until April 3, excluding the Texas Transportation Commission meeting on March 26 that will be addressed separately. TxDOT said in a statement that it will look to offer virtual options for public input in the future. 

All office-based TxDOT employees are being required to work from home starting March 16.

The department also announced the closing of its 12 Travel Information Centers, although outside restrooms will remain open and be cleaned between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Highway safety rest areas through the state will also remain open for drivers. 

TxDOT has also begun to share safety messages on digital highway signs across Texas to encourage drivers to take precautions against the coronavirus.

Travelers can reach center counselors about road conditions or travel information from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 1-800-452-9292 or visit to obtain road condition information 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Visit the Texas Department of State Health Services’ COVID-19 website for the most up to date information and guidance from state health officials.

 11:40 a.m. - Dallas County Announces Nine Additional COVID-19 Cases

Dallas County Health and Human Services (DCHHS) is reporting nine additional positive cases of COVID-19 in the county.  Five of the cases involve people who may have contracted it locally.

“As we have warned you, the testing data is well behind the situation on the ground. Today, we have five new cases of likely community spread,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a statement. “It is imperative that you exercise sound decision making in your personal responsibility decisions.”

With the new cases, the county's now reported 28 presumptive positive cases.

In a statement, DCHHS said the nine new cases include: 

-Two women in their 20s, one man in his 30s, one man and one woman in their 40s, two women in their 50s, one man in his 60s and one woman in her 70s.

-Five patients are hospitalized, including 3 in critical care units; 4 are self-isolating at residences.

-Eight cases are residents of the city of Dallas and one is a resident of the city of Irving.

-One case is related to international travel.

-Three patients are close contacts of a confirmed COVID case.

-Five have no source or travel risk factor yet identified, and are therefore likely from local community spread. 

Texas Reports 1st Coronavirus Death

A man who tested positive for COVID-19 has died, becoming Texas’ first coronavirus-related death, officials said late Monday while also confirming a second case.

The Matagorda County Emergency Operation Center said in a news release that a male patient in his late 90s died Sunday evening at Matagorda Regional Medical Center with symptoms consistent with the virus. The patient was a resident of the county.

“Our hearts and prayers go out to the family,” the statement said.

The Houston Department of Health and Human Services notified hospital officials of a positive COVID-19 test result at 6:15pm on Monday, the release said.

Officials said the state has launched an extensive investigation into this second positive case, informing the Matagorda County Hospital District that evidence exists of a possible community link to the earlier positive case in Matagorda County.

Read the full story from the Associated Press.

Tarrant County Reports First Local COVID-19 Transmission

Tarrant County has announced its sixth positive case of COVID-19 – and the county’s first presumed local transmission.

Tarrant County Public Health says the Grand Prairie resident contracted the virus in Tarrant County. The resident had no recent travel history and had no known exposure to a confirmed case. The person is staying at home.

Public health officials remind people to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands; cover coughs or sneezes with tissues or your sleeve.

Gov. Abbott Postpones Special Texas Senate Election 

The election for the Austin area's Texas Senate District 14 to replace retiring state Sen. Kirk Watson, an Austin Democrat leaving office at the end of April, has been moved to July 14, Gov. Greg Abbott  has announced. It was originally secheduled for May 2.

Abbott's office said postponing the election "is another step the state is taking to protect health and mitigate the spread of COVID-19," noting that it was consulting with the Texas Secretary of State's office "on additional strategies to ensure public health in relation to any upcoming election."

It's unclear whether additional action will be taken to delay municipal elections across the state, which are also slated for May 2.

Read the full story from The Texas Tribune.

More School Districts Close Indefinitely

More North Texas school districts are extending their closures.

Cedar Hill ISD Superintendent Gerald Hudson announced Monday that the district will be closed indefinitely due to COVID-19.

“The safety of our scholars and staff are of the utmost importance during this challenging time,” Hudson said. “We will continue to work closely with federal, state and local officials as we continue to assess and reassess the situation.”

DeSoto ISD is also closing.

"While our classrooms are empty, our work on behalf of children continues," the district said in a statement. "We have activated at-home learning, our teachers are prepared to begin distance instruction, and Chartwells, DeSoto ISD Food and Child Nutrition Services provider, will distribute meals at select campus locations. These sites will become central locations for family and student resource distribution in the coming weeks." 

The districts join others, including Dallas and Richardson ISD, that are closing indefinitely. Highland Park ISD says it will close schools indefinitely and plans to reassess by April 5. Garland ISD says it will remain closed through April 3.

Uplift Education's free public charter schools in North Texas are also closing. The school said in a statement they're offering breakfast and lunch pick up at five locations, and have campus social counselors available to support students. 

Fort Worth ISD Adds Meal Pick Up Locations And Will Serve Breakfast for Children 

Fort Worth ISD is now providing meals at Como Montessori School and Polytechnic High School in addition to the eight original school locations they announced would provide meals Friday. Lunch at Como Montessori will begin on Wednesday. Lunch at Poly High will begin on Tuesday. 

Breakfast will be served at all locations beginning Wednesday, but the district said in a statement that breakfast is intended for consumption the following morning. 

Parents can't pickup meals without their children being present, but unaccompanied hildren will be issued meals.

Here are all the locations providing meals and their hours: 

>>Springdale Elementary School - 3207 Hollis St. Fort Worth - 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

>>Manual Jara Elementary School - 2100 Lincoln Ave., Fort Worth - Noon to 1:30 p.m.

>>Western Hills Elementary School - 2805Laedo Dr., Fort Worth - 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

>>Hubbard Heights Elementary School - 1333 W. Spurgeon St., Fort Worth - Noon to 1:30 p.m.

>>Paul L. Dunbar High School - 5700 Ramey Ave., Fort Worth - 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

>>Eastern Hills High School - 5701 Shelton St., Fort Worth - Noon to 1:30 p.m.

>>Clifford Davis Elementary School - 4300 Campus Dr. Fort Worth - 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

>>De Zavala Elementary School - 1419 College Ave, Fort Worth - Noon to 1:30 p.m.

>>Como Montessori School - 4001 Littlepage, Fort Worth - 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

>>Polytechnic High School - 1300 Conner Ave., Fort Worth - Noon to 1:30 p.m.

Read More: What's Been Happening In Previous Weeks

KERA's Elizabeth Myong, Syeda Hasan, Christopher Connelly and Eric Aasen, and the Associated Press and The Texas Tribune contributed to this report.