Hegar Bests West To Face Cornyn in November

With a pandemic, plus back-to-school discussions, plus an election season kicking into high gear, there is a lot to watch for these days. We have today’s bullet points to get your morning started:

  • M.J. Hegar bests Royce West to face Cornyn in November;
  • New cases slightly lower Tuesday, but deaths were higher; 
  • Abbott says some districts may be able to extend distance-only learning beyond three weeks;
  • Volunteers needed for COVID-19 vaccine trials.
Hegar Bests West To Face Cornyn in November

Air Force veteran M.J. Hegar seemed to hold off State Sen. Royce West in a runoff election to see which Democrat would face off against Republican incumbent John Cornyn for the U.S. Senate.

Although most news outlets had called it for Hegar by early Wednesday morning, West’s campaign indicated on Twitter that he would not be conceding just yet.

“At last count, 37,000 votes remained uncounted. Some people stood in lines to vote for Senator West today. Out of respect for those who cast their votes in this historic election, Senator West will issue a statement in the morning, hoping more votes are tabulated by then,” the campaign said.

At the time of this writing, 93% of the state’s precincts had reported, and Hegar had a slim lead over West, 52.1% to 47.9%. In the March Democratic primary, Hegar and West emerged from a crowded field of contenders, with West trading seats for second place with Christina Tzintzun Ramirez before finally pulling ahead, and Hegar holding on to the lead all night.

“I am humbled by the support we have received from all across the state, and am confident we have a decisive victory,” Hegar said in a statement. “Together, we are mounting a Texas-sized winning campaign that will take down Sen. [John] Cornyn and deliver real results on health care, racial justice, economic opportunity, climate change, immigration and gun violence.”

Other races on many Democratic runoff ballots in Park Cities and Preston Hollow included State Railroad Commissioner, which had Chrysta Castañeda beating Roberto Alonzo 62% to 38%; and Dallas County Criminal Court 3 Judge, where Audra Riley handily beat incumbent Teresa Hawthorne 62% to 38%.

New Cases Slightly Lower, But Deaths Rise

Dallas County health officials Tuesday reported 1,000 new cases of COVID-19, and 20 additional deaths, bringing the total case count to 35,914, including 477 deaths. 

“We, unfortunately, are reporting the deaths of 20 more of our county residents today, and with another day of 1,000 cases, we continue to see significant spread in Dallas County,” said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins. “Our hospitals and healthcare heroes are feeling the strain as COVID-19 hospitalizations remain high. Please continue to wear a mask when around others outside your home and maintain six-foot distancing.”

Among the 20 dead are a Grand Prairie man in his 40s, a Dallas man in his 40s, a Duncanville man in his 50s, a Dallas man in his 50s, two Dallas men in their 60s, a Dallas woman in her 70s, a Dallas man in his 70s, a Duncanville man in his 70s, two Dallas men in their 70s, a Cedar Hill woman in her 70s, two Dallas women in their 70s, two Dallas men in their 80s, and one Dallas man in his 80s. 

Long-term care facilities continue to account for a third of all COVID-19 deaths, including a woman in her 80s, a man in his 80s, and a woman in her 90s. All three lived in Dallas facilities.

The county said that the average number of COVID-19 hospitalizations Monday was 730 patients. Emergency room visits for COVID-19-like symptoms also continued to increase, representing about 32% of all ER visits, according to information reported to the North Central Texas Trauma Regional Advisory Council.

“These numbers do show a bit of a decrease, but we believe that is in part from a reporting issue. Overall the impact on our hospitals and providers remains high,” the county said.

By looking at the Tuesday evening data from the Institute for Urban Policy Research, which collects data from the North Central Texas Trauma Regional Advisory Council, we can see that for Dallas County, roughly 82% of hospitals are reporting, and the occupancy rate is somewhere around 71%, but 79% of all available ICU beds are in use, and half of all ventilators are in use. Estimated active cases have increased by almost 40% in a week, now to 16,319, from 11,694 a week ago. Deaths have increased by 81%.

UT Southwestern’s latest forecast projects that by July 23, Dallas County hospitals could see concurrent hospitalizations from COVID-19 increase to between 840 and 1,360 cases. Roughly 1,800 new cases per day are expected by July 23. Hospitalizations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area have increased by 19% in a week, and 167% compared to a month ago. In Dallas County, hospitalizations have increased by 13% in a week and 148% compared to a month ago.

In the county’s July 14 aggregate report, most cases continue to be between the ages of 18 and 60, with the 18-40 age group accounting for 47% of the cases, and the 41-64 age group accounting for another 34% of the total cases.

Close contact or community transmission continues to be the biggest risk factor for contracting COVID-19,  accounting for roughly 91% of all cases. Living in a long-term care facility or being incarcerated in the county jail are a distant second, and third, at 2.4% and 1.6%, respectively.

Of the testing done, positive cases accounted for 30.5% as of July 4, with 1,526 positives coming from 5,011 tests.  Testing and positive test results of COVID-19 far outpaces any other respiratory virus – even if you combine them all.

Eleven percent of all cases ended up hospitalized – 23% ended up in intensive care, and 13% ended up on a ventilator.

In a city-by-city breakdown, Dallas still comes in with the highest number of cases – 19,483, or 54.2%. Highland Park has 30 (up from 25 last week) cases so far, and University Park has 57 (up from 43).

Abbott Says Some Districts Could Extend Distance Learning

The Texas Education Agency last week provided guidance to districts regarding the start of school, and the agency made clear that districts were expected to offer in-person learning as well as distance learning, and that they could  go online-only for the first three weeks. Anything longer than that, the guidance said, would put a district’s state funding in jeopardy.

However, many parents, teachers, and advocates railed against the TEA’s latest instruction, saying it left gaps in guidance and was too vague. Many teachers felt that an emphasis on how frequently children contracted COVID-19, and how severe their symptoms were, neglected to remember that teachers are adults who, as one teacher said, “are also people.”

Even Gov. Greg Abbott admitted in TV interviews that school might not be able to start on-campus this fall.

“If we continue to see COVID spreading the way that it is right now, it may be necessary to employ that flexibility and use online learning,” he said.

On June 14, Abbott told a Houston TV station that the state would extend that timeframe for schools that need it, offering more flexibility to districts in counties hardest hit by the pandemic.

“I think Mike Morath, the commissioner of education, is expected to announce a longer period of time for online learning at the beginning of the school year, up to the flexibility at the local level,” Abbott told Houston’s KTRK. “This is going to have to be a local-level decision, but there will be great latitude and flexibility provided at the local level.”

What is still up for discussion, though, is whether the state will opt to hold off on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (or STAAR) test one more year. 

“It’s way too early to determine whether or not the STAAR test may not be used this particular year,” he said. “We gotta wait and see.”

Volunteers Needed for COVID-19 Vaccine Trials

Healthy volunteers are needed for COVID-19 vaccine testing, the COVID-19 Prevention Network said.

The network, which was formed by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, was formed to address the need for vaccines and monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) against the virus. The network has partnered with  HIV Vaccine Trials Network, HIV Prevention Trials Network, the Infectious Diseases Clinical Research Consortium, and AIDS Clinical Trials Group to utilize expertise and researchers already familiar with the process to more speedily move on creating the vaccine.

“The vaccines and antibodies being tested by the CoVPN are preventive products. They must be tested on volunteers who do not have COVID-19, because our goal is to keep people healthy,” the network said in its frequently asked questions section. “There are other research groups that are conducting studies of treatments that might be used for people who already have COVID-19.”

There will be clinics in Dallas that will be assisting in conducting the trials, according to the CoVPN website. For details on volunteering, the science behind the vaccine, and more, click here. To add your name to a list of potential volunteers, 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 first place for her tornado coverage from the National Newspapers Association's 2020 Better Newspaper Contest, 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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