Capital Highlights: Delta variant spurs increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations and 4 other Texas issues

By Gary Borders, Texas Press Association
Posted 8/9/21

The number of Texans hospitalized with lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases is increasing faster than at any other point since the pandemic began in early 2020, due to the highly contagious delta …

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Capital Highlights: Delta variant spurs increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations and 4 other Texas issues

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The number of Texans hospitalized with lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases is increasing faster than at any other point since the pandemic began in early 2020, due to the highly contagious delta variant.

As of Sunday, the Texas Department of State Health Services reported 8,892 people were in Texas hospitals. That is up more than four-fold from a month ago. The Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University reported 96,807 cases in the past week and 384 deaths. That is nearly eight times the number of new cases reported a month ago and more than double the deaths.

In Austin, health authorities warned the public that a surge in cases has swamped hospitals, according to a New York Times report. Intensive-care units are near capacity, with only a handful of ICU beds available.

Gov. Greg Abbott has barred local governments and public schools from reinstituting mask mandates but is urging people to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The vast majority of those hospitalized have not been vaccinated.

A total of 12.84 million Texans are fully vaccinated, about 44% of the state’s total population, according to DSHS.

Second special session underway; Dems still AWOL

Abbott convened a second special session just hours after the first session expired but there still wasn’t a quorum present to pass bills. Many Texas House Democratic legislators remained in Washington, D.C. in an effort to both block a quorum and lobby members of Congress to pass a federal voting rights bill.

Abbott has put forth a 17-item agenda that includes the election reform bill, bail reform, border security and other issues that were presented but not passed during the regular session.

“I will continue to call special session after special session to reform our broken bail system, uphold election integrity, and pass other important items that Texans demand and deserve,” Abbott said when announcing the new session. “Passing these special session agenda items will chart a course towards a stronger and brighter future for the Lone Star State.”

Texas House Democrats predictably were critical. State Rep. Ina Minjarez said Abbott is “wasting” taxpayers’ money, chiding the governor in a tweet with the hashtag #StopGaslightingTexans.

Additional month of legislative funding announced

Texas Capitol employees won’t have to go without a paycheck in September after all.

Abbott vetoed a portion of the state budget that funds the Legislature and its staff after House Democrats walked out during the regular session. But Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, House Speaker Dade Phelan and others announced an additional month of funding for the Legislature before the second special session that began Saturday.

“Texans should not have to pay for Legislators who quit their jobs and leave unfinished business,” Abbott said. “…Funding is being temporarily restored for legislative staff that will be necessary to pass critical legislation…”

At least $12.6 million will be transferred from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to both chambers and the legislative agencies that support them, the Texas Tribune reported. The biennial budget, which is already funded, ends Aug. 31. Without the additional funding, more than 2,000 state workers might not have been paid after that date. The special session by law lasts no more than 30 days.

Pandemic help for timber harvesters, haulers

Texans who make a living cutting or hauling timber, or processing wood by chipping or grinding, are eligible for grants from a fund of up to $200 million provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture under a pandemic assistance program. The new program, Pandemic Assistance for Timber Harvesters and Haulers (PATHH), encourages timber harvesters and haulers to apply. The deadline is Oct. 15.

“We Texans pride ourselves on our rugged individualism and self-reliance.  However, when the entire forestry supply chain crashed as a result of the pandemic response, it was more than just a hurdle to overcome,” said Rob Hughes, executive director of the Texas Forestry Association. “That’s why TFA and Texas A&M Forest Service, along with many other partners, have been actively involved in pushing for the Logger Relief Act, which passed in the last federal pandemic relief bill.”

Loggers and truckers can apply for PATHH by working with their local Farm Service Agency office. To find a local office, go to farmers.gov/service-locator or call 877-508-8364.

Avoid scams when buying a used vehicle

With used-vehicle demand soaring and inventories shrinking, it’s easy to fall victim to scams, according to the Texas Department of Insurance. At least part of most sales now take place either on apps or online, and a lot can go wrong. Here are some tips from TDI to avoid being swindled:

  • If the price is amazingly low, odds are high that it’s a scam.
  • Take your time. Be skeptical when sellers claim they must sell quickly because they’re moving soon, or say they need to sell the vehicle for a relative. And never pay for a vehicle with gift cards.
  • Some scammers use the same photo on different sites, with different prices and contact information. This scam can be avoided by using a “reverse image search.” To learn how, look up “reverse search” in your preferred search engine.
  • See the vehicle in person and take it for a drive. Buying a vehicle sight unseen can lead to disaster.
  • Check the VIN to make sure the vehicle wasn’t stolen, flooded or totaled after a wreck. A VIN search will also ensure there isn’t a lien on the vehicle you are buying.

Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches and Cedar Park. Email: gborders@texaspress.com.

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