Public Citizen Texas office compiles essential information for Texans
By Public Citizen Texas staff
THIS POST WAS COMPILED ON MARCH 17-19, 2020.
As the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 spreads rapidly throughout Texas and the United States, Public Citizen’s Texas office has gathered some resources to share with the public.
The Texas team is still hard at work, but we are practicing social distancing and working remotely for now. We will continue to provide online content and opportunities for our supporters and followers to get involved in the issues we work on every day.
For now, we are providing these resources about the COVID-19 pandemic, including information about testing, school closings and school lunches, utility shutoff/eviction postponements, restrictions on community gatherings, plans to help the homeless, available hospital beds and more.
Social Distancing – Why it is critically important:
Experts say social distancing is critical to containing the virus. These guidelines explain that social distancing means staying away from people outside your household as much as possible. The need for social distancing applies even if you have no symptoms, as it takes an average of 5 days for symptoms to appear and you can still carry and spread the virus in the meantime. Research shows that 1 in 10 people in China were infected by people who weren’t showing symptoms.
This article from the Washington Post explains how Social distancing is important for slowing the spread of COVID-19 cases and will reduce the total number of people who die because medical services will better be able to meet demand. We have a serious shortage of hospital beds looming in Texas: “Texas has about 2.9 hospital beds per 1,000 people — less than one-fourth the rate of South Korea.”
Coronavirus Testing and Cases:
The Texas Department of State Health Services offers these recommendations:
- Your doctor will help make the decision if you should get tested for COVID‑19.
- If you do not have health insurance, you can still get tested for COVID‑19 if your doctor or healthcare provider recommends it.
- For information about testing, you just need to call your doctor and/or access care the way you usually do. If you need help finding a doctor or accessing medical care, call 2‑1‑1 and they can direct you to low- or no-cost providers in your area.
County-by-county cases of novel coronavirus in Texas: map by Dallas Morning News.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s Actions:
The Texas governor has declared a state of disaster and activated the National Guard in Texas. There is now what is generally referred to as a “stay-at-home” or “shelter-in-place” order in effect for all of Texas.
On March 19, he issued Executive Order No. GA-08, which mandates the following, as of 11:59 p.m. on March 20:
- Bans social gatherings of 10 or more people;
- Bans people from eating or drinking at bars, restaurants and food courts (take out is allowed), or visiting gyms or massage parlors;
- Bans visiting nursing homes or retirement or long-term care facilities, unless to provide critical assistance; and
- Closes all schools.
On March 31, he issued Executive Order No. GA-14, effective as of 12:01 a.m. on April 2 to do require the following (essentially a stay-at-home or shelter-in-place order):
- Minimize in-person contact with people who are not in the same household (except where necessary to provide or obtain essential services). Essential services are defined as those listed in the DHS Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce List, plus churches.
- Those providing or obtaining essential services “should follow the Guidelines from the President and the CDC by practicing good hygiene, environmental cleanliness, and sanitation, implementing social distancing, and working from home if possible.”
- Extending school closures through May 4.
Here’s a list of some of Abbott’s other executive orders relevant to the novel coronavirus/COVID-19.
- Allowing Virtual and Telephonic Open Meetings to Maintain Government Transparency.
- Waiving STAAR testing requirements.
- Postponing Senate District 14 special election (Kirk Watson resigned) until July 14.
- Allowing general or special elections scheduled for May 2 to happen on November 3.
- Waiving vehicle title and registration requirements.
- Waiving trucking regulations to expedite delivery.
State Education Agency offers resources related to the crisis.
Below are some of the school districts offering free takeout meals to students who rely on school nutrition programs. This list is by no means comprehensive:
- North Texas
- Fort Worth ISD
- Central Texas
- San Antonio area
- East Texas
- Houston ISD
- Spring and Klein ISD
- Spring Branch ISD
- ISDs within Harris County Precinct 2
Resources to Help Texans Cope with the Financial Impact of COVID-19
While some of us are able to work from home, many Texans are or will be experiencing temporary unemployment as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. Those who work in service industries (bars, restaurants, entertainment) are among those worst affected.
From the Houston Chronicle: “Texas utility rules prohibit retail electric providers from cutting off customers during times of extreme weather but there are no stated exceptions to the rules during times of emergency. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of emergency over the coronavirus last week. The PUC is encouraging retail electric providers to help consumers affected by coronavirus.”
Some utilities are suspending disconnections due to nonpayment during the COVID-19 crisis, although customers will still be responsible for paying their bills after the crisis. Many utilities offer payment plans.
- Atmos Energy has suspended natural gas disconnections.
- Austin Energy, Austin Water and Austin Resource Recovery have suspended disconnections.
- CenterPoint Energy has temporarily suspended natural gas disconnections due to nonpayment.
- CPS Energy has suspended energy disconnects due to nonpayment in response to COVID-19.
- Houston will not disconnect water service for nonpayment during the COVID-19 emergency.
- Dallas Water Utilities has suspended disconnections until further notice.
- El Paso Electric has suspended disconnections for nonpayment until further notice. El Paso Water and El Paso waster services will continue regardless of payment during the COVID-19 emergency. El Paso water customers who were previously disconnected can call to be reconnected.
- Entergy has temporarily suspended disconnections.
- Xcel Energy has suspended disconnections for all residential customers until further notice.
- Fort Worth Water Utilities is temporarily halting disconnections due to nonpayment “ensuring customers have continued access to potable water.”
- San Antonio Water System (SAWS) will not disconnect service for non-payment during COVID-19.
- SWEPCO has temporarily suspended all disconnections for nonpayment.
Other utilities are asking customers to call and make special payment arrangements.
- Reliant offers payment assistance, payment extensions and deferred payment plans.
- TXU Energy is waiving late fees, reducing down payments, and extending due dates for payments.
Phone and Internet Access:
- AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and T-Mobile are postponing service termination for customers who cannot pay their bills.
- Comcast, T-Mobile and Sprint are providing unlimited data to all current customers who have plans with data for the next 60 days.
- Comcast is also offering everyone free access to its hot spots for 60 days.
- El Paso has ordered the suspension of all cable and internet disconnections for nonpayment.
Food pantries across the state are working hard to keep people fed. If you know of other food pantries that aren’t on the FoodPantries.org list, please let us know. Also see the list of schools (above) providing prepared meals, even while they are closed.
Grocery stores are making adjustments in response to the crisis. All H-E-B stores, Central Market and H-E-B pharmacies will close at 8 p.m. and open at 8 a.m. to give workers more time to restock shelves, the store said in a news release. The shortened hours are in place until further notice. Other grocery stores are taking similar steps.
- El Paso has suspended evictions.
- San Antonio and Bexar County put an indefinite pause on evictions.
- Travis County, which includes almost all of Austin, has postponed all eviction hearings until May 8.
Other Important Topics and Resources:
National and Other Resources:
Nations across the world have imposed travel restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Please don’t travel unless it is absolutely necessary. Here is the current list of countries and territories limiting entry.
Here’s travel guidance from the U.S. Department of State.
What happens to the at least 25,000 homeless in Texas?
From the Texas Tribune: At the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless, employees can’t stockpile hand sanitizer or face masks because their suppliers are out. The 26,000-square-foot facility in downtown Austin sleeps up to 130 men each night — with a median age around 50 to 55 — stationed side by side like soldiers in military barracks. Bunk beds…are built in and “unfortunately pressed right against each other.”
“A lot of the individuals we’re working with are older, longtime smokers with compromised lung capacities,” McCormack said. “From what we’ve heard so far, this could be very dangerous for the homeless population.”
More coverage of those without a home to go to during the crisis.
Calls for Absentee Voting:
“To ensure that every eligible voter can safely cast their ballot amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. PIRG is calling on all states to adopt emergency universal absentee voting.”
More on this from the League of Women Voters.
Government Stimulus Proposal to Send Payments to Every American:
The federal government is strongly considering mailing checks of at least $1,000 to every American to help prop up the cratering economy.
What to Expect Looking Ahead and How to Cope:
From the New York Times: “When can we go back to normal? Unfortunately, normal is a long way off. We need to be thinking in terms of months, not weeks.”
This means that it will be important for all of us to develop and maintain physically and mentally healthy routines and activities, even while practicing social distancing. The World Health Organization developed this document on mental health considerations during the COVID-19 outbreak. Healthline offers some useful tips, including connecting with people via phone and video and getting outside to take walks.
Please be safe as stay connected as best as you can.
More local info below the jump:
Bans on Gatherings and Activities other Local Information for Texas Cities:
24 Texas counties, as well as some cities, issued “stay-at-home” or “shelter-in-place” orders, after previously adopting restrictions on gatherings and eating and drinking at bars and restaurants. Most of the stay-at-home orders were pretty similar. All are now preempted by Governor Abbott’s Executive Order No. GA-14, which is a stay-at-home order for the entire state.
- Community gatherings of more than 10 people are banned until May 1.
- Bars and restaurant dining rooms are closed until May 1.
- All deadlines imposed by city code, ordinance, rule, or regulation suspended until May 1.
Austin COVID-19 Resources
Austin disaster declaration.
- All city-produced, sponsored and permitted events are canceled through the end of April.
- The City and Harris County, in conjunction with Fort Bend and Montgomery Counties, have recommended the cancellation of events with more than 250 people or where people would be in close quarters.
- All city of Houston bars, nightclubs, and restaurant dining rooms in the city of Houston are closed through March 31.
- City of Houston has suspended water disconnection.
City of Houston extends Emergency Disaster Declaration.
Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo declare Public Health Emergency.
Houston COVID-19 Resources.
Harris County COVID-19 resources, includes a map tracking cases globally.
Restaurants, lounges, nightclubs, taverns, gyms, health studios, bowling alleys, bingo parlors and theaters are ordered to remain closed for 7 days. Food and beverage can still be provided via takeout.
- Mass gatherings of 50 or more people are banned until March 23.
The mayor issued a public health emergency declaration.
San Antonio COVID-19 resources.
- Community gatherings of more than 50 people are banned until further notice.
- Restaurant dining rooms are closed until further notice.
- Bars, lounges, taverns, private clubs, gyms, health studios, theaters and commercial amusement facilities are closed until further notice.
City of Dallas COVID-19 resources.
- 125 individuals occupancy limit for restaurants, bars, event centers, gyms, hotel restaurants, retail stores, theaters, convenience stores, public buildings, plazas, churches and shopping malls.
Fort Worth COVID-19 resources.
Live daily updates at 6 pm from Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price.
DFW-area city policies roundup.
Denton County banned gatherings of more than 50 people. March 17 disaster declaration.
McKinney banned gatherings of more than 50 people. March 16 disaster declaration.
Plano declared public health emergency.
Frequently asked questions about Dallas food and beverage establishments during the crisis.
From KVIA-TV in El Paso:
An El Paso city ordinance passed unanimously on Tuesday calls for the following for 30 days, unless another council action:
- Closure of bars, lounges, taverns and private clubs.
- All City boards and commission meetings are suspended unless required by state law.
- Stores are banned from price gouging.
- No utility disconnections during the time period.
- No evictions during the time period.
- No more than 50 people at public or private gatherings, with exceptions for offices, stores, hospitals and places of transit.
- Restrictions on restaurants including the number of people at a time and space between tables, disinfecting every hour, no more than parties of 6 at a table and screening of employees and food-handlers.
- Urging businesses to give two weeks of paid sick leave.
El Paso COVID-19 resources.