Testing mess leaves Texas in the dark as cases spike

“More than one-in-five Texans who are tested for coronavirus are positive, the worst statewide rate in the country. But the number of people getting tests has plummeted in the last two weeks, which could understate how widespread the virus really is as schools reopen and hospitalizations and deaths remain near record highs.”

“Public health experts say a number of factors may have depressed demand for tests, including long wait times and changing rules for who is eligible and the effects of Tropical Storm Hanna, which battered the southern part of the state late last month and disrupted services near the border with Mexico.
But the biggest reason may be an apparent false sense of security. The drop off in testing coincides with a decline in infections after Abbott ordered people to wear masks, reimposed seating limits in restaurants and closed down bars again. That worries disease trackers who suspect any positive news will breed complacency and make people willing to ignore the possibility they could be infected without showing symptoms. Without widespread testing, new Covid spikes could pop up and go unnoticed.”

“Texas’s drop in testing is part of a larger nationwide trend that’s seen the average number of coronavirus tests fall from more than 800,000 a day in late July to roughly 700,000 over the last week.”

“But the testing problems aren’t all linked to Texans’ behavior. There also are questions about flaws in the state’s data collection that may have distorted who was sick and where. Texas at the end of July had 1 million completed tests whose results had not been assigned to a particular county. Officials are now sorting through the backlog, which could have had the effect of making the tested population appear smaller than it really was.”

“Abbot said testing numbers should rebound in the coming days. There will be a surge in Houston, the governor said, where he aims to test an additional 50,000 people over a 10-day stretch.”

A Texas Supreme Court decision could disenfranchise millions during the pandemic

“The overwhelming majority of states allow any lawful voter to obtain an absentee ballot without having to justify their request. Texas, by contrast, allows only a minority of voters to obtain one. One provision of state law allows elderly voters to vote absentee. Another permits absentee ballots if a voter will be away from their home county on Election Day. A third provides that “a qualified voter is eligible for early voting by mail if the voter has a sickness or physical condition that prevents the voter from appearing at the polling place on Election Day without a likelihood of needing personal assistance or of injuring the voter’s health” — a requirement that, according to the state Supreme Court’s decision in Texas, applies only to people who are ill or disabled.

Civil rights groups and the state Democratic Party argued that this third provision should be broadly interpreted to allow anyone who could become infected with the coronavirus to vote absentee. The words “physical condition,” they argued, includes the physical condition of being susceptible to a deadly pandemic disease. In other words, during a pandemic that requires social distancing to control the spread of said disease, nearly everyone has a “physical condition” that should enable them to vote absentee.

In recent elections, older voters have tended to prefer Republican candidates over Democrats. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, objected to the broader interpretation of the law. At one point, his office even threatened to bring criminal prosecutions against any organization that encourages younger voters to request an absentee ballot. The state Supreme Court’s nine Republican justices ultimately sided with Paxton, although two of the nine did so for different reasons.

The court’s decision in Texas will not be the last word on whether younger Texans may vote absentee in November. In a separate Texas lawsuit, a federal trial judge ruled last week that the state cannot discriminate against younger voters. Among other things, he determined that the Texas law violates the 26th Amendment, which permits all otherwise eligible voters over the age of 18 to cast a ballot.

But the federal decision has been appealed to the notoriously conservative US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and may ultimately be heard by a US Supreme Court that is frequently hostile to claims of voter suppression. So it is far from clear that younger Texans will be allowed to vote absentee.”

Texas just became the first state to shut the door on refugees

“Texas became the first state to refuse to take in refugees..under an executive order from President Donald Trump that allows state and local authorities to block refugees from settling in their areas.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott wrote a letter to the State Department Friday saying that while Texas has historically welcomed more refugees than any other state, it will not resettle any additional refugees in the 2020 fiscal year. “

The extraordinary danger of being pregnant and uninsured in Texas

“From 2012 through 2015, at least 382 pregnant women and new mothers died in Texas from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, according to the most recent data available from the Department of State Health Services; since then, hundreds more have likely perished. While their cases reflect the problems that contribute to maternal mortality across the United States — gross medical errors, deeply entrenched racism, structural deficiencies in how care is delivered — another Texas-size factor often plays a significant role: the state’s vast, and growing, problem with health insurance access.

About one in six Texans — just over 5 million people — had no health insurance last year. That’s almost a sixth of all uninsured Americans, more than the entire population of neighboring Louisiana. After trending lower for several years, the Texas rate has been rising again — to 17.7 percent in 2018, or about twice the national average.”

“Texas has the highest rate of uninsured women of reproductive age in the country; a third were without health coverage in 2018, according to a State Health Services survey. In some counties, mainly along the Mexico border, that estimate approaches 40 percent.”

“How Texas came to have the worst insurance gaps in the country is no mystery: It was an accumulation of deliberate policy choices by state lawmakers going back decades, driven largely by an aversion to government-mandated insurance and a desire to keep taxes low.”