The Latest | April 1st
Case Counts/Testing in Texas – Thursday, April 1st (9:30 AM data)
Total Tests Performed – 25,637,605
Confirmed Cases – 2,395,313 (3,077 new cases)
Active Cases – 93,719
Hospitalizations – 3,097 (12,885 available beds, 1,123 available ICU beds)
Fatalities – 47,404 (126 new deaths)
Recovered Cases – 2,637,688
Vaccine Data – Wednesday, March 31st (2:00 PM data)
Doses Shipped by state – 12,930,065
People with one dose received – 7,422,893
People fully vaccinated – 3,972,931
Total doses administered – 11,120,217
Inside the Numbers
Molecular positivity rate as of Thursday, April 1st was 5.42%. One month ago, there were 1,600 new cases reported, one week ago there were 2,800 new cases reported, compared to the 3,077 reported today. The 3,097 COVID patients in hospitals now are 337 fewer than one week ago, and COVID patients make up 4.8% of total hospital beds in the state.
Over the last week, an average of 211,762 doses have been administered each day in the state. As of March 29th, 13.3% of Texans have been fully vaccinated.
Senate Passes SB 3, House Passes Series of Electric Bills
The Texas Senate and House have passed bills in response to the recent deadly winter storm that resulted in massive power outages across the state. The bills aim to prevent similar failures in the future. For some critics, the legislative proposals do not go far enough to prepare electricity infrastructure for increased risks posed by climate change. Critics are also wary of some measures that would put the Public Utility Commission in charge of enforcing the mandated upgrades seeing as the Commission disbanded its oversight and enforcement division in 2020.
Senate Bill 3, the upper chamber’s comprehensive electricity legislation, was approved Monday. The House is approaching the problem via a series of similar, but not identical standalone bills.
The house is expected to give final approval to HB 11, 12, 13, and 16 on Wednesday. HB11 relates to the extreme weather emergency preparedness of facilities for providing electric service. HB 12 relates to a study on a statewide disaster and extended power outage alert system and implementation of that system. HB 13 relates to the establishment of the Texas Energy Disaster Reliability Council. And HB 16 relates to a prohibition on the sale of wholesale indexed products by retail electric providers.
Each chamber could soon have a chance to tweak the others’ bills. But members of both chambers will at some point have to work out the differences in their respective bills before anything can become law.
Senate Passes Bill Restricting Censorship by Social Media Companies
Early Thursday morning the Texas Senate passed SB 12, a bill prohibiting social media companies with at least 100 million monthly users from blocking, banning, demonetizing or discriminating against a user based on their viewpoint or their location within Texas.
Sponsored by Republican state Sen. Bryan Hughes of Mineola, the bill applies to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, among others. It also requires the companies to disclose their “content moderation” policies, publish regular reports about the content they remove and create an appeals process for user content that has been taken down.
The bill empowers the Texas attorney general to file suit against any company that disobeys any provision of the bill.
The legality of the measure is being questioned by experts. Hughes himself noted that, if signed into law, SB 12 would almost definitely be taken to court.
Lawmakers Put Pressure on UT to Drop Alma Mater
UT’s alma mater, “The Eyes of Texas”, has faced serious scrutiny in recent times. Several members of the Texas’ Leigslative Black Caucus have brought their case to get rid of the song directly to University President Jay Hartzell.
Religious leaders, state and local NAACP chapter presidents, and UT-Austin students joined State Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City at the Capitol for a press conference to criticize the university for its decision to keep the song. The group ultimately determined that the song is not “overtly racist,” however, was perturbed by the university’s recently commissioned report finding that the song was likely performed in blackface when it premiered in 1903.
“According to the committee report, they believe they can redefine what the song stands for by acknowledging its history,” said Anthony Collier, student body president at the University of Texas School of Law. “You can’t redefine racism. Acknowledging racism is fine, but it’s far from sufficient. It’s not enough to acknowledge racism. We must abolish racism.”
Since last summer when students and a group of athletes announced a list of demands in the wake of the death of George Floyd, the song has become a dividing line within the UT community. These students and athletes called for the discontinuation of the singing of the song because it premiered at a university minstrel show where students likely wore blackface and performed skits that perpetuated racist stereotypes of Black people.
“What was made abundantly clear to me and in my discussions with other members of the Black community was it felt very much so that the university was gaslighting us to believe the song was somehow acceptable,” said junior Judson Hayden, who is also a member of the Longhorn band. “For months the university said, ‘We’re going to view this from a third-party lens.’ … But that’s not what happened. In my opinion, they cherry-picked information and had evidence to support a narrative they already wrote.”
Texas Businesses Starting to Rebound
[Partial] As written by Lori Hawkins for the Austin American-Statesman.
Texas service sector activity in March grew at its fastest pace since the middle of 2019, with retailers reporting a solid rebound.
That’s the upshot of the most recent report by the Federal Reserve of Dallas.
The Dallas Fed’s Texas Service Outlook Survey takes the pulse of executives in the service industry, which includes retail, hospitality, professional and technical services and other businesses.
“Texas service sector activity accelerated sharply in March, with revenue and labor market indicators rising to multi-year highs,” said Christopher Slijk, Dallas Fed associate economist.
The state revenue index, a key measure of the service sector, surged 19 points to 21.6, indicating a significant increase in revenue growth, the report said.
Positive numbers in the index reflect expansion, while negative numbers reflect contraction. A March 2020 reading of minus-66 was the lowest since collection of the data began in 2007.
The general business activity index rose 24 points to 28.9 — a record high since the beginning of the survey in 2007. The company outlook index added 23 points, rising to an all-time high of 26.1.
Labor market indicators suggest strong growth in employment and increases in average hours worked.
“Price pressures continued to increase, and wage pressures surged to pre-pandemic levels,” Slijk said. “Firms were very optimistic about current conditions and in their expectations of future activity.”
Private service-providing companies account for nearly 70% of the state’s economy and employ about 8.6 million workers, according to the Dallas Fed.
A look at unemployment in Austin
The unemployment rate in the Austin metro area, which includes Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell counties, soared to about 12% in April 2020 amid the initial economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. It since has settled into a monthly range of about 5% to 6% that is roughly double pre-pandemic levels, according to the Texas Workforce Commission.
The Austin area’s leisure and hospitality sector shed more than 60,000 jobs collectively in the initial weeks of the pandemic. With only about half having been added back since then, the sector accounts for the vast majority of the region’s continued pandemicrelated job losses.
The Dallas Fed survey includes a retail section that is based on information from respondents in the Texas retail and wholesale sectors only. According to those surveyed, March was a strong month.
“Texas retail activity rose sharply in March,as sales growth surged and job growth rose to rates last seen in 2019,”
Slijk said. “Retailers were very positive in their assessment of business conditions and outlooks, despite voicing concerns about inventory shortages.”
According to those who responded to the anonymous survey:
- The retail sales index rose nearly 20 points to 19.6, its best reading since September.
- Labor market measures rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, with the employment index rising over six points to 4.7.
- Inventories fell sharply, with the inventories index shedding nearly 17 points to fall to -14.8.
- Retail price pressures remained elevated, while wage pressures surged to levels comparable to late 2019.
For this month’s survey, executives in the Texas service sector responded to questions on the impact of the freezing storms in February and the lifting of state occupancy restrictions and mask mandates. (Austin and Travis County are continuing to require masks after a district judge denied Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s request for a temporary block of the local mandate.) About 60% of those surveyed said they lost power during the storms for an average of three days. About 40% said they lost water, also for an average of three days, and 40% were forced to completely shut down their businesses for an average of four days.
“We are able to function, but quality of services to customers has been impacted as we have been unable to obtain necessary repairs to back-up systems to restore full functionality to our phone system,” said one respondent, who works in administrative and support services. “We must use an external vendor, and there is limited availability of vendors, and the vendors have limited capacity. We’re not sure of the time frame for repairs.”
Both the House and Senate will take an Easter break, with all session activities pausing from Friday through Monday. Both chambers will reconvene Tuesday, April 6th. On Tuesday, the Senate is expected to take up the state’s budget, Senate Bill 1. When the legislature returns to work on Tuesday, there will be 56 days remaining in the session.
Here’s wishing everyone a very safe and happy Easter weekend.