KETR

Times of Affliction: Northeast Texas COVID-19 Blog

Mar 30, 2020

In an effort to keep up with coronavirus and COVID-19 developments around the region, this blog will be kept during the crisis. A statistical account of COVID-19 cases in the KETR listening area and local restrictions in place can be found here. This blog will be kept in reverse chronological order, with newest entries at the top.

Last updated, April 15, 3:09 p.m.

April 17

 A beloved life, with COVID-19 as a grim coda, remembered

KERA's Rick Holter has a touching remembrance of his father, who died from COVID-19 on April 10, and whose family had to deal with the distancing precautions that are turning the always-nightmarish ordeal of losing a loved one into an even more challenging and surreal experience than it normally is.

 How reliable are our numbers?

In most of the KETR listening area, confirmed cases of COVID-19 have almost flatlined, with only the suburban counties (Collin and Rockwall) showing reliable daily increases in numbers of cases. The Atlantic has an interesting piece on how the current numbers of confirmed cases might be less accurate than we would hope.

April 16

A&M-Commerce advises masks for those on campus

It was a pretty quiet Thursday overall, without much COVID-19 news locally, except for the late-afternoon announcement from Texas A&M University-Commerce President Dr. Mark Rudin:

Dear Lion Family,

As we continue to defend our community against the spread of COVID-19, we are committed to providing relevant information to keep our students, faculty and staff safe.

Following recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), we are advising students, faculty and staff to wear cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. Visitors and vendors on campus are advised to follow the same guidelines.

For detailed information regarding the use of cloth face masks, please refer to the FAQs section of our coronavirus webpage.

Mark Rudin

President

April 15

Back at the blog after a few days catching up elsewhere. Since April 9, the number of COVID-19 cases in Northeast Texas has continued to increase at a slow but steady pace, with the rate of increase almost directly proportional to population totals and proximity to the Dallas suburbs.

AG Paxton to host telephone town hall April 16

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton will be hosting a telephone town hall meeting on the pandemic on April 16 at 3 p.m. Call-in details can be found here

IRS website helps those looking for $1,200 federal check

It's a low-drama April 15 this year for tax filers, as the Internal Revenue Service has extended this year's filing deadline to July 15. KETR has published this explainer from NPR News detailing how folks can expedite their $1,200 coronavirus payements from the federal government (it's featured on the front page of KETR.org this afternoon.)

Too much time stuck at home can be hard on marriages

KERA's Stella Chavez had a timely report on how couples can struggle with too much time at home as a result of the coronavirus crisis. Family law attorneys report an increase in inquiries about divorce. Fortunately, there are resources for spouses who'd like some help working things out and staying together.

How much do facemasks help?

KUT's Hector Chapa looked for answers to that question.

April 9

Paris meeting addresses Lamar County residents' concerns 

The #AskParisTexas electronic town hall meeting hosted by the City of Paris ran for almost two hours. It can be seen here.

April 8

Herald-Banner: Deuell 'pursuing criminal charges' against Carevide employee 

In Greenville, the Herald-Banner reports that Hunt Regional Medical Partners physician and medical director Dr. Bob Deuell says he's "pursuing" criminal charges against a woman who suspected she had COVID-19, but did not self-isolate waiting for results. 

On April 4, Carevide Pediatrics in Greenville released a statement saying that an employee there had tested postive for COVID-19. The worker had not been at Carevide's Greenville clinic since March 16, and was tested on March 27 after becoming symptomatic, the statement said. 

However, Deuell claims the woman did not self-isolate while waiting for the test results.

“It is not their fault, but what Carevide didn’t tell you is that after having symptoms and being evaluated and tested on March 27, that employee ignored specific medical advice to self-isolate and exposed her family, a church group, me and our medical office to COVID-19,” Deuell said in an email to the Herald-Banner. “It was not until April 1, when she was told her test was positive, that she isolated herself if she truly is now.”

The Herald-Banner said that Carevide CEO Dr. Michelle Carter declined a subsequent request for comment from the newspaper.

Deuell said the woman denied being ill while at Hunt Regional's facilities on April 1 and no other patients were present that the time. Carevide should not be held responsible for the woman's behavior, Deuell told the Herald-Banner.

Sharp gives live interview to Texas Tribune

Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp discussed the A&M System's response to the coronavirus crisis - and the effect the virus has had on the system - in an interview with the Texas Tribune today.

Sulphur Springs moves municipal elections to December  

The Sulphur Springs city council on April 7 voted unanimously to move this year's municpal election to Nov. 3, the date of the general election. The Texas Democratic Party is pushing the state to ease its vote-by-mail requirements during the pandemic.   

April 7

State Sen. Hughes hosting April 7 teleconference

Texas State Sen. Bryan Hughes, whose district includes Lamar, Franklin, and other Northeast Texas counties, will host a "telephone town hall" meeting this evening that will include Dr. Julie Philley, Professor of Medicine at UT Health Center-Tyler and Leader of Critical Care at UT Health East Texas. 

"Dr. Philley has an impressive record of accomplishments and service, and she is actively treating COVID-19 patients here in East Texas," Hughes said.

The teleconference is scheduled for 6:25 p.m. on Tue., Apr. 7. To participate, call 833-380-0286.

Texas State Parks closing today

Texas State Parks will close today at 5 p.m. Central Time, following an order from Gov. Greg Abbott's office. In the KETR listening area, this order will affect Bonham, Cooper Lake, Lake Bob Sandlin, and Lake Tawakoni State Parks. Other lakes in the region, including Lake Fork, remain open for the time being. 

City of Paris information session scheduled for April 8

Paris mayor Steve Clifford has scheduled a public information session on the crisis to begin at 5:30 p.m. Wed. April 8. The session will feature a panel composed of "representatives from Paris Regional Medical Center, representatives from the Lamar County Health Department, Paris City Council members, heads of city departments, Lamar County representatives, representatives from outpatient minor emergency and outpatient ERs, and several local physicians," Clifford said. The session will be accessible from a link on the city's website, he said.

April 6

Wilson Center to host April 7 webcast on combating misinformation

The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a project of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., is hosting a webcast titled "Disinformation Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic" at 2 p.m. Central Time on Tue. April 7. 

The Wilson Center, as the organization is generally known, is a public-private partnership commissioned by the U.S. Congress in 1968. It is recognized as one of the top "think tanks" in the world.

Delta County seeking donations of protective equipment

Delta County emergency management officials are seeking donations of personal protective equipment, according to the Paris News. Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced today that the state has received 2.5 million masks in the past 24 hours and Abbott expects another 3 million by April 11.

Turner Industries says slowdown, not closure, at Paris plant

Turner Industries, a maker of heavy infrastructure for the petroleum industry and related sectors, has announced that it intends to keep its Paris facility open, despite planned layoffs, according to a report in the Paris News. The company, which is based in Baton Rouge, La., has announced layoffs scheduled to begin in June due to the pandemic-related economic slowdown. But Turner Industries insists it plans to maintain its production center in Paris, which was opened in 1999. 

Research center projects Texas COVID-19 woes to peak in mid-late April

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation an independent global health research center at the University of Washington in Seattle, has published projections for how the COVID-19 pandemic will play out in the United States, including state-by-state projections. 

Texas is predicted to hit a peak number of cases and deaths in the second and third weeks of April. The projected number of deaths in Texas is placed around 2,000. The organization expects the pandemic to ebb slowly during May and be more or less concluded by June.

April 3

Flynn calls for pivot on tax appraisals

Dallas-based WFAA-TV reported on State Rep. Dan Flynn's request to the governor's office that the state freeze last year's appraisal values for this year or require all appraisal districts to reappraise based on current market conditions.

Paris Junior College campuses will remain closed through semester

Paris Junior College announced on April 3 that it will not reopen any locations for the remainder of the spring semester and all classes will finish online. Originally the semester was to end on May 8. Due to extending Spring Break one week, the semester end was moved to May 15.

"With the dates so close," PJC President Dr. Pam Anglin said, "the College will extend the online only environment to the end of spring semester."

Students in workforce programs who need to come in physically to complete their labs will be given an incomplete. As soon as it is safe to bring students back, a schedule will be developed and students will be informed of when they can come in to complete their course.

Details about PJC’s response to the crisis can be found at www.parisjc.edu/covid-19.

April 2

 State Rep. Flynn hosts telephone Q&A

Texas State Rep. Dan Flynn, a Republican from Van, hosted a telephone question-and-answer session this evening that included Hopkins County Judge Robert Newsom and Dr. Kuty Calhoun from the UT Tyler Medical Center. In case you missed it, the raw (unedited) audio is here:

Rep. Flynn's district includes Hopkins, Hunt and Van Zandt counties.

State Sen. Bob Hall hosts Facebook Live information session

State Senator Bob Hall, whose District 2 includes most of the KETR listening area, hosted a Facebook Live information session April 1. If you missed it, it’s still up at Hall’s Facebook page. KETR tried to record the audio from the video for the benefit of people without Facebook accounts, but regrettably, problems with the video buffering made gathering the audio impossible.

April 1

Federally mandated COVID-19 sick leave begins today 

Federally mandated eligibility for paid sick leave, even for those workers whose employers do not typically offer paid sick time, goes into effect today and continues through the end of 2020. 

State health office in Tyler COVID-19 testing stalled

The Paris News reports that The Texas Department of State Health Services office in Tyler is currently unable to process COVID-19 tests due to the lack of a regeant, a necessary chemical component used in testing.

“This isn’t likely to change in the next two weeks or so,” Paris Mayor Steve Clifford told the newspaper. “So even if the virus is spreading rapidly in our community, we cannot possibly have confirmation of this due to the inability to test.”

The Tyler office serves counties including Delta, Franklin, Hopkins, Lamar, Rains, Van Zandt and others to the east and south. Collin, Fannin, Hunt, Kaufman, Rockwall and other counties are served by the Texas Dept. of State Health Services office in Arlington. A map of the agency's regions can be found here.

Hunt, Rockwall chambers of commerce announce #UniteWithLight

The Caddo Mills, Greenville, the Lake Tawakoni Regional, Rockwall Area, Rowlett and Royse City chambers of commerce have announced an initiative to show support for those professionals and volunteers helping their communities get through the crisis.

Called #UniteWithLight, the effort urges Northeast Texans to thank the medical professionals, first responders, food industry workers and others whose efforts are vital to the survival of communities weathering the personal, social and economic effects of the pandemic.

The initiative also asks area residents and businesses to place a light outside their businesses or homes, or just turn their porch lights, between 8 and 10 p.m. Friday nights.

Hunt Regional accepting donated equipment

The Greenville Herald-Banner reports that Hunt Regional Medical Center is seeking donations of facemasks and other protective equipment as well as respirators.

Abbott urges Texans to stay at home in April

In another public statement, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott urged Texans to remain at home in April unless engaged in an essential activity. He also extended the mandatory closure of schools until May 4. Abbott also detailed how the federal stimulus can help Texas workers and employers.

March 31

State Senator Hall to host Facebook Live information session April 1

Texas State Senator Bob Hall, whose District 2 includes most of the KETR listening area, will host an information session about the coronavirus crisis using the Facebook Live video feature at 6:30 p.m. April 1. Constituents are encouraged to send questions in advance to Amy.Lane@senate.texas.gov.

Federal court blocks Dallas mandatory sick-leave ordinance

In a move that could have significance regionally, a federal court has struck down a City of Dallas municipal ordinance mandating the option of paid sick time for workers. The law had been in effect since last August, although enforcement was not to have begun until April 1. As of midday on March 30, Dallas County is second in Texas with confirmed cases of COVID-19 (488) and first in confirmed dathes (10) related to the disease.

Federal court issues temporary stay on Texas abortion order

Gov. Greg Abbott has issued an order banning all medical procedures deemed not medically necessary, and Attorney General Ken Paxton says that includes abortions in cases where the life of the mother is not at risk. But a federal judge temporarily blocked that order on March 30 in response to a lawsuit presented by abortion providers. The temporary restraining order against the order’s inclusion of abortions is set to expire April 13. The order itself currently is set to expire April 21, pending review. The Texas Tribune reports that Paxton’s office will seek immediate appellate review. Similar orders issued by Alabama and Ohio were also blocked.

Paris Campbell staff to receive pay bump

In response to the crisis, Campbell Soup has given its hourly employees throughout the company a $2 raise, while some other staff will be getting an extra $100 a week, according to the company. Campbell operates a production facility in Paris, which produces a variety of the company's soups, Prego and Pace sauces, and V8 juices. 

 

March 30

Local officials present variety of responses

Life in Northeast Texas isn’t quite normal anywhere, but just how far from normal depends in large part on which county you’re in. Hunt County’s decision to issue restrictions on business and travel last week before any COVID-19 cases had been documented was criticized by Greenville mayor David Dreiling last week. Since then, the county has confirmed three cases: Two in southern Hunt County, and one in Commerce. The two patients in southern Hunt County are both men, one middle-aged, one a senior.

The Commerce case is that of a young woman who’s also a student at Texas A&M University-Commerce. Officials say she lives off campus and has not been on campus recently. The university has moved all classes online for the remainder of the semester. Students who live on campus are being allowed to stay, those who choose to go home are being offered a partial refund for housing costs, and the school has established its own information page for quick reference to its engagement of the crisis.

Meanwhile, most Northeast Texas counties have no restrictions on activity except for the statewide orders issued by the governor’s office. Little Delta and Rains counties have yet to confirm a case of the virus, while other county totals remain in the single digits.

Situations requiring the cooperation of federal, state, county and municipal governments often highlight the necessary work performed by the various regional councils of government. The KETR listening area covers the intersection of several such organizations. The North Central Texas Council of Governments serves Collin, Hunt, Kaufman and Rockwall counties, as well as the rest of the greater DFW region. Fannin County is served by the Texoma Council of Governments. The Ark-Texas Council of Governments service area includes Delta, Franklin, Hopkins and Lamar counties. Rains, Van Zandt and Wood counties are among those served by the East Texas Council of Governments.

Taylor Nye of the Sulphur Springs News-Telegram reports that the Ark-Tex governments are determined to maintain the region’s public transportation and senior meal deliveries despite the present difficulties.

ATCOG director Chris Brown told the News-Telegram “Our TRAX drivers are still running full routes, with the change that they are shutting down in the middle of the day to sanitize the buses.”

Modest numbers, but real danger

Roughly three weeks into the crisis, the KETR listening area (defined roughly as those communities within a 50-mile radius of Commerce), hasn’t been hit as hard as our urban and suburban neighbors in nearby parts of the state.

Still, the viral pandemic that has thrown much of the United States and the world is gradually finding its way into this normally quiet part of Texas. Not only have cases and deaths continued to rise in the Dallas area, but a second COVID-19 death along the Interstate 20 corridor (in Van Zandt County, the first was in Smith County) proves that the rural parts of the state are part of this crisis, too.

To our west, the chilling story of an epidemic within a pandemic, the COVID-19 outbreak at the Denton State Supported Living Center, was told by KERA’s Christopher Connelly in a story that made NPR’s Morning Edition earlier today. The facility is a residential institution for people with developmental disabilities.