COVID-19 Live Updates: City of Dallas To Ban Large Gatherings; Dallas ISD Closes Indefinitely | KERA News

COVID-19 Live Updates: City of Dallas To Ban Large Gatherings; Dallas ISD Closes Indefinitely

19 hours ago

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

• Monday, March 16

7:25 p.m.: — Fort Worth Tightens Social Distancing Measures

The city of Fort Worth is tightening social distancing measures. Starting at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, most public places in the city will be limited to half of the maximum occupancy of the venue -- and no more than 125 people will be allowed to gather in one place.

The rules apply to restaurants, bars and coffee shops, as well as plazas, event centers and public buildings. Also included: gyms, theaters, houses of worship, malls and shopping centers. The rules apply to convenience and retail stores, but not to grocery stores.

Fort Worth health director Brandon Bennett discussed the rules on a Facebook video.

“We are doing these measures to protect our residents from both illness and from loss of life,” he said. “These are not draconian; these are very reasonable things that we see happening across the nation.”

The declaration authorizes all lawfully available enforcement tools be used to make sure the new limits are being followed.

6:05 p.m. — Dallas and Richardson ISD To Close Indefinitely

Dallas and Richardson ISD have announced they will close indefinitely. The Dallas district said it is "activating at-home learning" and will continue providing meals at select schools.

Richardson ISD announced students will be able to continue lessons at home via school-issued devices starting on Wednesday, March 25. 

The Richardson district is still working on a plan to provide students with meals during the closure. 

Learn more here from Dallas ISD.

Highland Park ISD says it will close schools indefinitely starting March 23 and plans to reassess by April 5. Garland ISD says it will remain closed through April 3.

5:03 p.m.  — Dallas Announces New Restrictions, Shutdown Of  Several Local Businesses

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson announced new coronavirus restrictions, including the shutdown of restaurants, bars, gyms, theaters and the banning of gatherings of 50 people or more. They go into effect at 11:59 p.m. Monday.

Johnson called the decision “gut-wrenching," saying that he understands the economic impact the closures will have on local businesses. 

“I lost a lot of sleep over this,” he said. “We’re only doing this because we genuinely believe it’s going to save lives and flatten the curve of this pandemic.” 

The new restrictions include: 

  • Public or private gatherings of 50 people or more will be prohibited. 
  • Dine-in service will not be allowed in restaurants. 
  • Entertainment and amusement establishments (gyms, amusement parks, theaters, bars, clubs, etc.) will be closed. 

Minutes later, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins announced similar restrictions throughout Dallas County. He emphasized the importance of early action in preventing the spread of the virus. 

"We’re at a place where we’re seeing rapid multiplying,” he said.

City officials say the new restrictions will be enforced by the Code Enforcement Department and the Dallas Police Department, when deemed necessary. Jenkins said the fine for businesses that fail to comply is $2,500 and the jail sentence could be up to six months. 

Johnson said there will be a City Council meeting on Wednesday to discuss ways to mitigate the economic impact on local businesses. 

“I understand the pain that this decision is going to cause,” he said. 

4:31 p.m. — McKinney And Other Cities Announce Public Health Emergency 

The city of McKinney announced a local state of disaster on Monday, following similar declarations from Collin County and other nearby cities including Frisco, Plano and Allen.

“I am convinced that the risks of underreacting are so much greater than the risks of overreacting, and although we hope for the best, we must be prudent and plan for the worst,” Mayor George Fuller said. “It is going to take all of us, working together, to ensure that we put the health and safety of our community above all else, and I have no doubt that is what we will do.

1:39 p.m. — Dallas, Tarrant Counties Announce New Cases

Dallas County Health and Human Services announced five additional cases of COVID-19 on Monday. 

The five patients include a man in his 40’s, a man in his 50’s, a man in his 60’s, a man in his 70’s and a woman in her 50’s. 

All the patients are self-isolating at residences and are not hospitalized. 

Three of the patients are residents of the city of Dallas, one is a resident of the city of Farmers Branch and one resides out-of-state. 

One of the cases is likely linked to community spread and the other four cases are related to domestic out-of-state travel. 

“Significantly, there’s another likely case of community spread among the five cases we are reporting today,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said. “I am in consultation with the mayors of the cities in Dallas County and our state and federal partners. We will be announcing additional measures to keep you safe soon.”

Dallas County now has 19 presumptive positive cases. However, four of those cases are out of county residents and will not be reflected in the case counts posted on the DCHHS website.

Meanwhile, Tarrant County on Monday announced its fifth COVID-19 case. Health officials say the resident contracted the virus on an out-of-state trip, developed symptoms after returning home and later tested positive for COVID-19.

12:29 p.m. — Collin County Issues A Disaster Declaration 

Collin County Judge Chris Hill issued a disaster declaration over the coronavirus on Monday morning.

In the declaration, Hill cited President Trump’s national emergency declaration and Gov. Greg Abbott’s disaster declaration over the coronavirus. 

“Declaring a state of disaster in Collin County will facilitate and expedite the procurement, use, and deployment of resources to enhance preparedness and response,” according to the declaration. 

10:36 a.m. — Texas Waives STAAR Testing Requirements 

Gov. Greg Abbott announced on Monday that he would waive the STAAR testing requirements as many schools anticipate months-long closures due to the spread of coronavirus. 

Abbott also said he would ask the Department of Education to waive federal testing requirements for the 2019-2020 school year. 

“Your health and safety are top priorities, and the state of Texas will give school districts flexibility to protect and ensure the health of students, faculty, and their families,” Abbott said in a press release. “We will empower schools to make the best decisions to protect their communities from COVID-19.” 

According to The Texas Tribune, as of Sunday afternoon, 569 school districts in the state had announced closures due to the coronavirus. Additionally, more than 30 other states have closed schools, affecting at least 30 million public school students. 

Drive-Thru COVID-19 Testing Will Start In North Texas Today

Catalyst Health Network, a North Texas-based group of primary care physicians, is opening its first drive-thru COVID-19 testing facility on Monday. 

Testing must be ordered by a physician and is being prioritized for specific groups. The test is currently unavailable for those who don’t have symptoms. 

Parkland Hospital will also begin limited drive-thru testing today. The service will be available by appointment and is only being offered to current Parkland patients, though the hospital hopes to expand its capacity in the future. 

Parkland patients can reach the hospital's COVID-19 Patient Line at 214-590-8060.

Children’s Health Announces Visitor Restrictions In Response To COVID-19 

Children’s Health announced it is implementing visitor restrictions at all of its facilities in an effort to limit exposure to its patients. 

On their website, Children’s Health listed their visitation protocols: 

  • Visitation is limited to two caregivers 18 and older 
  • Visitor restrictions apply to common patient areas, playrooms, food service locations, lobbies and waiting areas 
  • Caregivers who have fevers or respiratory symptoms will not be allowed inside facilities 
  • Daily screenings will be required of any caregivers entering any of Children’s Health hospitals or facilities 
  • Visitors will be required to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer before and after entering a patient room 

CDC Advises Against Gatherings Of 50 People Or More

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the cancellation or postponement of large gatherings with 50 people or more.

“This recommendation is made in an attempt to reduce introduction of the virus into new communities and to slow the spread of infection in communities already affected by the virus,” according to the CDC’s website

Large gatherings and events include conferences, festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events, weddings and other assemblies, according to the CDC. 

The guidance does not apply to schools, higher learning institutions or businesses. 

The CDC website says gatherings of any size should only proceed if they can be carried out while adhering to the proper guidelines for “protecting vulnerable populations, hand hygiene, and social distancing. When feasible, organizers could modify events to be virtual.” 

8:57 a.m. — Dallas County Cancels All Jury Trials

Dallas County announced that it is canceling all jury trials for Dallas County Criminal Courts, Civil Court and Justice of the Peace Courts through May 8. 

Citizens of Dallas County who have been summoned to the Frank Crowley Criminal Courthouse, the George Allen Civil Courthouse or a Justice of the Peace Court before May 8 are not to reschedule, according to a press release. 

“We are taking the necessary steps to continue the justice system and keep you safe,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said. “I will extend these orders if necessary.” 

The city is also asking attorneys who are representing those accused of crimes to reach out to the Court Managers Office about how to continue representing their clients. 

Jail cases, jail pleas and bond hearings will proceed as usual. In-person disposition of bond cases will resume on May 11 and appearances for bond cases will be waived until May 8. 

According to the press release, cases can be reset by calling or emailing the appropriate Court Coordinator. Some courts can be accessed through Skype as a dispositive setting for jail and bond cases, but citizens are instructed to check with each individual court to determine what options are available. 

• Sunday, March 15 

Texas Nursing Homes Will No Longer Allow Visitors 

The Texas Department of Health and Human Services is restricting nursing home access to staff, designated medical professionals and other providers of key services. 

The HHSC encourages nursing homes to help residents use apps like Skype and Facetime to talk with their family and friends. 

Nursing homes are now required to screen everyone who would like to enter, including all staff members, for symptoms of COVID-19.

Facilities with a history of infection control problems will be under the microscope with the new policies. The state will inspect facilities that were hit with violations over the last three years.

Texas Organizations Collaborate To Launch A Website Of Food Sites For Children 

The Baylor University Collaborative On Hunger and Poverty has launched a website with an updated list of sites where schools will have meals available for students who typically rely on the school cafeteria for food. 

The list will be updated with site locations and times when food will be available under the “School Food Resources” tab, according to a press release. 

“We are working with state and local officials to ensure all children in Texas have ample food access during school closures due to COVID-19,” said Jeremy Everett, executive director of the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty. “In most communities, parents and guardians can take their children to pick up a sack breakfast or lunch from their local school or designated pick-up site.” 

After hundreds of Texas school districts closed due to the coronavirus, a coalition of schools, state and federal agencies, advocacy groups and nonprofits are collaborating to ensure children and families have access to meals. 

The Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) announced on Friday that it had been granted a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture child nutrition programs. The waiver will allow the TDA to grant schools the freedom to provide meals on a case-by-case basis while schools remain closed. 

Important information regarding meal access:

  • Children need to be present to receive free meals.
  • Meals are available for children and teenagers under the age of 18.
  • If schools are serving both breakfast and lunch, these meals are not necessarily served at the same time. Please refer to the “School Food Resources” tab for site-specific distribution information.
  • If a school district or community is not represented, visit the “Share with Us” tab and tell us what you know. As appropriate, it will be added to the site.
  • If an individual or family needs food resources, they can complete the form on the “I Need Help” tab. If the Collaborative knows of resources in the area, the individual will be contacted.

6:36 p.m. — Denton County Reports Its First Case; Collin County Reports New Case

Denton County announced its first presumptive positive case of COVID-19 on Sunday. 

The patient is a man in his 30s who resides outside of Denton County. However, he is temporarily living in Double Oak, where he is in isolation. 

“DCPH is identifying and contacting individuals who may have been exposed,” according to the press release. “Any individuals identified as having been exposed will be contacted directly by DCPH.”

Denton County Judge Andy Eads announced a disaster declaration over the coronavirus on Friday.

Nearby, Dallas, Tarrant and Collin counties had been reporting presumptive cases since last week.

Meanwhile, the Collin County Health Department announced on Sunday the county's eighth presumptive positive case of COVID-19. The patient is a 32-year-old Frisco man who has no underlying health conditions and is self-isolating. He is not connected to other cases in the area, according to the health department. 

5:42 p.m. — City Of Dallas Opens Temporary Overnight Shelter 

The office of Mayor Eric Johnson announced on Sunday evening that it is opening the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in downtown Dallas as a temporary overnight shelter. 

The shelter will have extra bed capacity to make up for the beds lost at overnight shelters that are taking social distancing precautions, according to the mayor's office. 

The shelter will be open at 5 p.m. on Sunday, March 15 through the morning of Saturday, March 21. During this period, the shelter will continue overnight sheltering operations from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m. each day. 

11:15 a.m.  DFW Airport Customs Lines Stretch For Hours

Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport is one of 13 across the country where international flights are being sent and returning travelers are undergoing special screening for coronavirus symptoms. That's producing hours-long waits for people coming back into the country.  

"I spent three or more hours in the most disgusting close contact with strangers that I've ever experienced,” passenger Emma Swaim told KERA's Hady Mawajdeh.

The Dallas Morning News is also covering the story locally. NPR has more on the additional travel restrictions imposed Saturday.

9:47 a.m. — Dallas, Tarrant and Collin Counties Announce New Cases

Dallas County has announced three more travel-related presumptive positive cases of COVID-19. 

They are all men -- one in his 30s, one in his 50s, and one in his 60s. Two are hospitalized; the other is self-isolating at home. 

A county news release says one patient lives in Coppell and one is in Dallas. The other lives out-of-state. 

One case is linked to international travel, one to domestic travel and one to cruise travel.

In total, Dallas County has reported 14 presumptive positive cases. 

Tarrant County announced its fourth positive case -- a close contact to the American Airlines pilot who tested positive earlier in the week. The pilot is an out-of-state resident. 

“The fourth COVID-19 case was isolated at home and then developed symptoms,” Vinny Taneja, Tarrant County public health director, said in a news release. “No one at DFW Airport came in contact with the fourth patient since symptoms developed.” 

The Collin County Health Department announced its seventh presumptive positive case.

The patient is a 56-year-old man in Plano who has no underlying health conditions. He is quarantined in his home, according to the county’s health department.

There are currently seven confirmed presumptive positive cases in Collin County and 63 people are being monitored by the county.

Meanwhile, Mayor Eric Johnson says that Dallas County Health and Human Services reports that 60 people have been tested for COVID-19 through its lab.

12:04 a.m. — More North Texas School Districts Extend Spring Break

Over a dozen school districts in North Texas are announcing an extension of spring break. Large gatherings including meetings, campus events, practices and other extracurricular activities are also being suspended. 

Here are the school districts which have announced spring break extensions so far: 

  • Allen ISD
  • Arlington ISD 
  • Coppell ISD 
  • Denton ISD 
  • Fort Worth ISD
  • Frisco ISD 
  • Garland ISD 
  • Irving ISD
  • McKinney ISD 
  • Plano ISD 
  • Prosper ISD 
  • Rockwall ISD 
  • Wylie ISD 

• Saturday, March 14

10 a.m. — No Catholic Masses In Dallas Through March 30 

Edward Burns announced Friday night that public masses in the Diocese of Dallas will be suspended through March 30. Catholic schools in the diocese will be shuttered until at least March 27. Virus-spurred shutdowns are causing places of worship across the faith spectrum to go virtual with online services.

Denton County also joined municipalities across Texas and the country in issuing an emergency declaration. The county's declaration recommends postponement or cancellation of any gathering of more than 250 people.

Read More: What's Been Happening In Previous Weeks

KERA's Elizabeth Myong, Syeda Hasan, Christopher Connelly and Eric Aasen contributed to this report.