You Are Now Free To Move About the Country

As more businesses open back up, and the state continues to reduce restrictions, a lot of information is being released daily. Here are your bullet points for today:

  • You are now free to move about the country – Abbott lifts air travel restrictions
  • New cases continue to drop, hospitalizations hold steady
  • Abbott announces phased opening of driver license offices
  • Real estate group is looking for your heroes

You Are Now Free to Move About the Country

Not quite a month after issuing orders that required air travelers from specific states and cities to undergo a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order lifting that order – effective immediately.

The order, which Abbott issued on April 27, applied to people traveling from Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, and Miami, as well as the states of California, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Washington.

All had been hot spots at some point for cases of the novel coronavirus.

In addition, the Transportation Security Administration announced several changes to air travel designed to prevent the spread among passengers and employees, including TSA officers wearing masks and gloves at checkpoints, some wearing optional eye protection and clear plastic face shields, officers changing gloves after each pat-down, plastic shields at many document checking podiums and other locations, TSA officers practicing social distancing, and routine cleaning and disinfecting of frequently touched surfaces.

The agency said it would begin rolling out additional safeguards in the next few weeks, with full implementation by mid-June.

“In the interest of TSA frontline workers and traveler health, TSA is committed to making prudent changes to our screening processes to limit physical contact and increase physical distance as much as possible,” said TSA Administrator David Pekoske in a press release. “We continue to evaluate our security measures with an eye towards making smart, timely decisions benefiting health and safety, as well as the traveler experience.”

Some of the changes are procedural – instead of handing boarding passes to TSA officers at the podium, travelers will place their boarding pass on the reader themselves, and then hold it up so the officer can visually inspect it, for instance.

Passengers will also place carry-on food items into a clear plastic bag, and then put that bag into the bin at screening to lessen the need for an officer to open a carry-on bag and remove items for inspection. TSA Precheck members will not need to remove items from their bags.

” Travelers are also encouraged to remove items such as belts, and items from their pockets, like wallets, keys and phones, and put them directly into their carry-on bags instead of into the bins to reduce touch-points during the screening process,” the TSA said.

Travelers are also encouraged to make sure they don’t carry on any prohibited items. One change, though – instead of a 3.4 ounce limit on containers of hand sanitizer, travelers are allowed to carry one container up to 12 ounces per passenger.

“If a bag is found to contain a prohibited item, passengers may be directed to return to the divestiture table outside of security with their carry-on bags to remove the item and dispose of the item,” the TSA said. “The passenger may also be directed back outside of security to remove, items that should have originally been divested (such as laptops, liquids, gels, and aerosols, and large electronics) and resubmit their property for X-ray screening.”

The TSA is also encouraging passengers to wear masks, but note that they may have to adjust them during the screening process, and will encourage social distancing by placing visual reminders on the floor that will appropriately space travelers, and staggering the use of lanes where they can.

No two airports are alike, so this could look a little different at each airport,” the TSA said, adding that passengers should also check with their airline and specific airport for any further guidance.

And don’t think about cutting it close on your arrival to the airport – all of this will tack on extra time before you get to your flight, especially as more people begin to travel again.

“Individuals who were traveling in the early months of the pandemic became accustomed to arriving at the security checkpoint shortly before their flight departure time,” the agency said. “TSA recommends that travelers no longer do so (or arrive well in advance of their flight) since more people are flying and new procedures such as social distancing have been implemented in airports, potentially adding time to the pre-flight experience.”

For more information, head to the TSA’s website.

New Cases Continue to Drop, Hospitalizations Hold Steady

Dallas County health officials reported 183 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday, for a total case count of 8,273. An additional seven deaths were also reported, for a total of 203.

Five had been hospitalized, including a Lancaster man in his 50s, a Dallas woman in her 50s, a Dallas man in his 80s, as well as a woman in her 80s who had been a resident of a long-term care facility in Mesquite, and a woman in her 90s who had been a resident of a long-term care facility in Dallas.

A Dallas man in his 60s was found dead at his home, and a woman in her 90s died at the Dallas long-term care facility where she had been living.

Of cases requiring hospitalization who reported employment, about 80% have been critical infrastructure workers including those in healthcare (18%), transportation (16%), food and agriculture – which includes grocery stores and places you can buy food (15%), public works (8%), finance (5%), communications (4%), teachers, real estate, and clergy (8%), and first responders (3%).

About two-thirds of those hospitalized have been under 65 years of age, and about half do not have high-risk chronic health conditions. Diabetes has been an underlying high-risk health condition reported in about a third of all hospitalized patients with COVID-19. Of the 203 total deaths reported to date, over a third have been associated with long-term care facilities.

On Thursday evening, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson said that 25 hospitals reported their bed availability. Of the 5,706 total beds, 68% are occupied. Of the 828 ICU beds available, 68% (or 560) are occupied. And 317 of the total 944 ventilators available are currently in use.

For our report on the county’s May 19 aggregate report with additional statistics, click here. Aggregate reports are released twice a week.

“Today’s numbers continue a trend that we’re seeing this week of less positive cases,” said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins. “We also recorded seven more deaths today, bringing our number of total deaths up to 203.  Our hospital COVID-19 beds, ICU admissions and emergency room visits for COVID-19 symptoms have remained flat.”

“This information does not change that the most important thing we can do to flatten the curve and get to a place where we can safely do more things and get our economy moving again is to make good personal responsibility decisions,” he added.

Abbott Announces Phased Opening of Driver License Offices

Gov. Greg Abbott Thursday announced that the Texas Department of Public Safety will begin a phased opening of driver license offices starting May 26, with limited service offerings by appointment only.

As part of this opening plan, DPS will launch a statewide driver license (DL) appointment system that allows customers to book appointments up to six months in advance.

“This phased opening of our driver license offices and the launch of DPS’ online appointment system prioritizes the health and safety of our communities and ensures Texans have access to the services they need at their local driver license offices,” said Governor Abbott. “I thank DPS for developing this safe and strategic plan to open their offices and for launching a new appointment system to streamline our driver license services.”

Abbott said the offices will reopen in four phases, with offices in Northwest and West Texas opening first. Drivers who need to schedule a driving test, or who don’t currently have a driver license, CDL, learner permit, or ID card, can begin scheduling appointments today at 1 p.m.

South and Central Texas offices will open on May 29 and will start taking appointments on May 26 as phase 2. Southeast and North Texas will open on June 3 and will begin taking appointments on May 29.

The Dallas-Fort Worth area is North Texas.

In phase 4, customers will be able to schedule an appointment at all driver license offices, for any transaction, and should begin in the midsummer, with details announced later. An extension for expiration dates will remain in effect until phase 4 is implemented.

Real Estate Group Looking for Your Heroes

Park Cities real estate group The Rhodes Group – which is comprised of Dan Rhodes, Burton Rhodes, Thomas Rhodes, Tom Rhodes, Neil Broussard, and Nina Sachse – has launched a contest to honor neighborhood heroes.

“From the beginning, The Rhodes Group has been founded on the importance of being nice — it’s one of the most important Rhodes Rules,” the agents, who are with Compass, explained. “Today, being kind, caring for others, and helping out matters more than ever. We’ve seen so many people in our community responding to this crisis with generosity, and we want to celebrate that — so we’ve created the #NeighborhoodHeroes contest, to encourage our Park Cities neighbors to share stories of people who have gone above and beyond to help those in need in our community.”

Users can enter by sharing their #NeighborhoodHero’s story as a comment on this post from @therhodesgroup on Instagram, and by tagging their hero on the Instagram post. Each user and their hero will then be entered for a chance to each win a $100 gift certificate to the local restaurant of their choice. For official contest rules, click here.

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, deputy editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at bethany.erickson@peoplenewspapers.com.

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