Texas bolsters COVID-19 testing capabilities, moves toward reopening

Staff Writer
Brownwood Bulletin
Ed Sterling

AUSTIN — Texas continued to feel the effects of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic last week as Gov. Greg Abbott and advisors worked on a plan to ease his statewide stay-at-home order.

Abbott set April 27 as the target date for announcing his plan for the state to move toward normalizing business activities.

The Texas Democratic Party criticized the governor for following President Trump in rushing “to reopen Texas for business against the advice of experts and medical professionals.” Democrats said doing so would risk “a new surge of cases and deaths, threatening not just the public health, but also the health of the economy in the long term.”

Meanwhile, on April 24, Abbott announced that the Texas Division of Emergency Management and the Texas Department of State Health Services have launched an online COVID-19 test collection map.

The interactive map on the Texas.gov COVID-19 resource page displays information on public and private mobile, walk-in and drive-thru test collection sites around the state. A search feature allows users to locate test collection sites near them and includes details such as contact information and hours of operation for each location.

"By using this map," said Abbott, "Texans will have access to pertinent information on a variety of test collection options that will help fulfill testing needs in communities across the Lone Star State."

More than 340 test collection sites are currently listed on the map. Additional locations will be added as more sites are identified across the state, Abbott said.

On April 20, Abbott said the Texas National Guard would mobilize more than 1,200 personnel operating in 45 teams to share the work of other COVID-19 mobile testing teams in various parts of the state. Guard personnel also have helped local communities manufacture more than 4 million pieces of personal protective equipment, have helped conduct more than 9,000 COVID-19 tests and have helped distribute food and supplies to thousands of Texans each day, according to the governor's office.

Update: COVID-19 numbers

Figures posted by the Texas Department of State Health Services at noon on April 26 showed that some 24,631 people in Texas had been diagnosed with COVID-19. Officials had confirmed 648 deaths resulting from the virus.

SBOE approves course

At its first-ever virtual meeting on April 22, the State Board of Education gave final approval to include an African-American Studies course for high school students as a component of Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills. More than 1,100 viewers tuned in for the live stream of the meeting, the Texas Education Agency said.

This is the second ethnic studies course adopted by the board, following the passage of Mexican-American studies in 2018. Texas is now the first state in the nation to offer stand-alone Mexican American studies and African American studies courses for its students.

African American Studies will provide a broad overview of African American involvement in history, geography, economics, government, citizenship, culture and science and technology.

The board also gave final approval to a legislature-mandated career and technical education plan to help students master academic, technical and employability skills. The intent is to prepare students for high-skill, high-wage and in-demand occupations in current and/or emerging professions.

Price drop hits hard

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on April 20 issued a statement on the historic drop in oil prices to less than $0 per barrel last week.

Hegar called the decrease "unprecedented and likely indicative of very limited storage capacity" and that "supply gluts continue to strain storage capacity."

Hegar pointed out that severance tax reductions would primarily affect the state’s Rainy Day Fund and State Highway Fund and to a lesser extent the amount of general revenue available to meet budget needs. Contraction in the energy industry also will affect other sources of tax revenue, including sales and franchise taxes.

“The Texas budget is based on the average price of oil in each year of the biennium, thus daily market activity doesn’t significantly affect revenues, which are forecast based on average prices rather than spot prices or prices for specific futures contracts. That being said, given the historic nature of today’s market moves, we are carefully monitoring trading as June contracts come into focus. Should prices remain depressed over a long period of time, we anticipate the impact will be reflected in a reduction in the revenue forecast we’ll be releasing in July,” Hegar added.