Coronavirus in Texas 4/2: State reports 4,669 cases and 70 deaths; unemployment claims skyrocket
The streets of downtown Houston during the coronavirus pandemic.
The streets of downtown Houston during the coronavirus pandemic.
Michael Stravato for The Texas Tribune

Thursday’s biggest developments

  • Texas reports more than 4,600 cases and 70 deaths
  • More than a quarter million Texans file for unemployment relief in one week
  • Cities projecting decreases in sales tax revenue are worried about their budgets
  • ER doctors say lack of rapid testing hinders care for respiratory patients

Military personnel to run Dallas pop-up hospital, Pence says

[6:20 p.m.] President Donald Trump has paved the way for U.S. military personnel to help operate Texas’ first pop-up hospital to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The president took the unprecedented step to direct the Department of Defense to use military health care personnel to operate all COVID facilities at the Javitz Center in New York, at the convention center in New Orleans and at the convention center in Dallas,” Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday evening at the White House’s daily briefing on its efforts to fight the virus.

The particulars of Trump’s decision were not immediately clear. Gov. Greg Abbott has already deployed the Texas National Guard to help set up the hospital, which is at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas.

Abbott announced the ad hoc hospital Sunday. He said the convention center has the capacity for 250 beds, “with plenty of room to massively expand that number if needed.” — Patrick Svitek

Houston opens its second drive-thru coronavirus test site

[4:15 p.m.] Houston’s second drive-thru testing site opened at Delmar Stadium on Wednesday and will test around 250 people per day, Mayor Sylvester Turner said Thursday.

Anyone with symptoms can get tested for free after completing an online screening process. Turner also announced that the city has received 21,000 masks donated by Shanghai. However, he urged those with extra personal protection equipment to continue to donate it to first responders and health care professionals. Turner previously said that three of the four drive-through testing sites slated to open in Harris County had been unable to because of a shortage of such equipment. — Naomi Andu

Texas reports 4,669 cases and 70 deaths

[12:30 p.m.] Texas reported 672 more cases of the new coronavirus Thursday, an increase of about 17% over the previous day, bringing the total number of known cases to 4,669. Eight new counties reported their first cases Wednesday; more than half of the state’s 254 counties have reported at least one case.

Harris County has reported the most cases, 847, followed by Dallas County, which has reported 731 cases.

The state has reported 12 additional deaths, bringing the statewide total to 70 — an increase of about 21% from Tuesday. Dallas County reported two additional deaths, bringing its total to 15 deaths, more than any other county.

As of Wednesday, at least 50,679 tests have been conducted in Texas. — Darla Cameron

Some Dallas hospitals report bed, ICU capacity

[12:15 p.m.] Twelve Dallas hospitals reported bed and ventilator capacity to the mayor’s office Wednesday, a requirement of the city’s local disaster declaration.

According to a Thursday press release, 2,267 of 4,343 total hospital beds are occupied — including 315 of 565 ICU beds — and 188 of 622 ventilators are in use. But the numbers don’t give a full picture because not all hospitals are reporting. There are 27 hospitals in Dallas, according to a 2019 report by the Texas Department of State Health Services. — Naomi Andu

Unemployment claims skyrocket in Texas

[12:05 p.m.] The economic impact of the new coronavirus pandemic came into alarming focus Thursday with the release of unemployment claims data. Last week, 275,597 Texans applied for unemployment relief — a 1,604% increase over the 16,176 Texans who filed in the week ending March 14.

Both numbers are miles higher than the worst week of the Great Recession, which saw 49,398 Texans file for benefits, and the 63,788 who filed after Hurricane Harvey devastated the Houston area. In the last year, the Texas Workforce Commission has typically fielded 13,600 individuals applying each week. — Naomi Andu

Local governments facing a fresh budget threat: economic recession

[5 a.m.] While city leaders in Texas are trying to slow down the novel coronavirus pandemic, their financial officers are already warning about the damage a new economic recession will have on local budgets.

“We work on the budget year round, and we anticipate even the worst scenarios,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said at a press conference Tuesday. “This one is even worse than anyone had imagined.”

Texas cities’ two biggest sources of money are typically property taxes and sales taxes. The protracted public health crisis’ effect on property taxes is still unclear. But there is certain to be a massive financial blow to sales tax revenues since officials shuttered businesses and limited Texans’ movements outside their homes, according to Bennett Sandlin, the executive director of the Texas Municipal League, an organization that represents local governments across the state.

“Sales taxes are tied to retail economic activity, among others,” Sandlin said. “And that’s just been shut down in the vast majority of urban areas in our state.” — Juan Pablo Garnham

Lack of rapid testing hinders care for respiratory patients, emergency doctors say

[5 a.m.] As the novel coronavirus pandemic fills intensive-care units with patients who need breathing assistance, doctors say caring for patients with other respiratory ailments has become more difficult — and they’re sounding the alarm about a lack of available coronavirus tests that could help keep patients and physicians safe.

Many treatments available to people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma or congestive heart failure are risky for doctors to perform if the patient is infected with the new strain of coronavirus, doctors say, because the treatments rely on nebulizers that can spray pathogens into the air. Without rapid testing available in hospitals and ambulances, doctors are left to make difficult decisions about patients who are struggling to breathe, said Robert Hancock, president of the Texas College of Emergency Physicians.

If a critically ill patient might have COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, should doctors risk using a treatment that could spray millions of virus particles in an enclosed space? Or should they intubate the patient, a more invasive procedure?

“This is a huge problem,” Hancock said of the lack of rapid tests. “I don’t think you’ll find anybody who’ll say it’s adequate. — Edgar Walters

Disclosure: The Texas Municipal League and the Texas College of Emergency Physicians have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.