Laredo, a key Texas border crossing, uses strict coronavirus measures as it fears spread to rest of U.S.

WASHINGTON POST: Leaders in this border city have implemented some of the strictest coronavirus control measures of any in America — with curfews, anti-gathering orders and a requirement to wear masks — seeing themselves as the first line of defense in protecting the nation’s most important commercial corridor.

With four bridges and a rail line bringing goods into the country from Mexico, Laredo is the fulcrum of a delicate supply chain that generates billions of dollars in trade and brings crucial supplies, including produce and medical and electrical equipment, into the country.

From here, via Interstate 35, most everything that crosses the border goes north to San Antonio, and then to points across the country, stocking shelves from California to New York and everywhere in between. City officials worry that viral spread in Laredo could mean a threat to the entire nation, as products, trucks and their drivers disperse along the highways.

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More delays in the Census could affect redistricting and response rates in Texas

FORT WORTH STAR TELEGRAM: The U.S. Census Bureau’s request to delay the once-a-decade count that has already been disrupted by the novel coronavirus’ spread may postpone Texas’ redistricting process.

The Census Bureau announced Monday that it is seeking an additional 120 days to finalize its count of the nation’s population, pushing the date data is delivered to states to no later than July 31, 2021 — well after the Texas legislature’s regular session is scheduled to end in May, possibly requiring a special session.

For the next decade, the census will help determine how billions in federal funds are distributed and be the basis for redrawing congressional and state districts. Because of the state’s growth, Texas stands to gain up to three more seats in Congress, and in Fort Worth, the census will also help shape the creation of two new city council districts.

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How tacos became a universal thing

MERCURY STANDARD: You can eat one with carne asada and corn tortillas in East Los Angeles, or one with flour and pit-grilled pork known as al pastor in Dallas. Travelers can pick a few up outside of Berlin’s Schonefeld Airport before boarding a flight, or grab one with albondigas and collard greens in Memphis, Tennessee.

In each place, you can taste the social and global evolution of the taco, according to José R. Ralat.

Ralat, the new Taco Editor at Texas Monthly (yes, that’s his title), has written a new book exploring how this simple dish with Mexican origins has spread and been transformed, from San Antonio to Tokyo, gaining fans and sparking some outrage among purists.

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Coronavirus outbreak tied to US-owned factory in Mexico

FREIGHT WAVES: Officials have confirmed that a rising number of coronavirus cases are tied to maquiladoras, foreign-owned factories in Mexico that build products made strictly for export. 

Eleven workers who have died from the coronavirus have been linked to the Lear Corporation automotive factory in Juarez, Mexico. Juarez is located directly across the U.S.-Mexico border from El Paso, Texas. The Lear Corporation is based in Southfield, Michigan.

In a statement, Lear officials said “during this last week, we have learned of the hospitalization of some employees from our operations in Ciudad Juarez and the unfortunate death of several of them, officially, due to complications from respiratory conditions, presumably related to the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19).”

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Trump’s America Inc. Reboot Needs to Sync With Canada, Mexico

BLOOMBERG NEWS: President Donald Trump made it official on Thursday: He’s determined to reopen the U.S. economy — at least in part — next month.

“A national shutdown is not a sustainable long-term solution,” he said in a press conference announcing his administration’s three-phase plan to restart economic activity in America. “To keep vital supply chains running, these chains have to be taken care of so delicately. We must have a working economy and we want to get it back very, very quickly.”

Yet, for companies whose supply lines stretch across North America, that won’t be enough to get back to business. Take the automotive sector. Without a coordinated timetable between all auto-producing states in the U.S., Mexico and Canada, they won’t be able to manufacture vehicles.

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As testing outcry mounts, Trump cedes to states in announcing guidelines for slow reopening

WASHINGTON POST: President Trump released federal guidelines Thursday night for a slow and staggered return to normal in places with minimal cases of the novel coronavirus, moving to try to resume economic activity even amid an outcry from political and health leaders about the nation’s testing capacity.

Despite Trump’s desire for a May 1 reopening, his plan does not contain a date for implementation and is a vague set of recommendations for a three-phased reopening of businesses, schools and other gathering places in jurisdictions that satisfy broad criteria on symptoms, cases and hospital loads.

“America wants to be open and Americans want to be open,” Trump said. “A national shutdown is not a sustainable long-term solution. To preserve the health of our citizens, we must also preserve the health and functioning of our economy.”

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Meat processing plants are closing due to covid-19 outbreaks. Beef shortfalls may follow.

WASHINGTON POST: The coronavirus has sickened workers and forced slowdowns and closures of some of the country’s biggest meat processing plants, reducing production by as much as 25 percent, industry officials say, and sparking fears of a further round of hoarding.

Several of the country’s largest beef-packing companies have announced plant closures.

Before the coronavirus hit, about 660,000 beef cattle were being processed each week at plants across the United States, according to John Bormann, program sales manager for JBS, the American subsidiary of the world’s largest processor of fresh beef and pork.

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U.S. stocks soar after coronavirus drug trial shows early promise against severe symptoms

WASHINGTON POST: Stocks flashed green around the world as investors clung to early reports that an antiviral medicine appeared to successfully treat severe symptoms for coronavirus patients.

The Dow Jones industrial average initially surged 600 points at Friday’s open but was up 350 points, or 1.5 percent, within the hour. The Standard & Poor’s 500 jumped 1.5 percent and Nasdaq composite climbed 0.85 percent.

U.S. markets appeared headed toward their second straight week of gains, bouncing back from March lows that ended the 10-year bull market. The rally came a day after dismal economic numbers showed the United States had erased all job gains of the past decade due to the pandemic, which continues to force tens of millions of Americans to stay home and disrupt entire industries.

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Straggling in a Good Economy, and Now Struggling in a Crisis

NEW YORK TIMES: An indelible image from the Great Depression features a well-dressed family seated with their dog in a comfy car, smiling down from an oversize billboard on weary souls standing in line at a relief agency. “World’s highest standard of living,” the billboard boasts, followed by a tagline: “There’s no way like the American Way.”

The economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic has suddenly hurled the country back to that dislocating moment captured in 1937 by the photographer Margaret Bourke-White. In the updated 2020 version, lines of cars stretch for miles to pick up groceries from a food pantry; jobless workers spend days trying to file for unemployment benefits; renters and homeowners plead with landlords and mortgage bankers for extensions; and outside hospitals, ill patients line up overnight to wait for virus testing.

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Bill Gates, at Odds With Trump on Virus, Becomes a Right-Wing Target

NEW YORK TIMES: In a 2015 speech, Bill Gates warned that the greatest risk to humanity was not nuclear war but an infectious virus that could threaten the lives of millions of people.

That speech has resurfaced in recent weeks with 25 million new views on YouTube — but not in the way that Mr. Gates probably intended. Anti-vaccinators, members of the conspiracy group QAnon and right-wing pundits have instead seized on the video as evidence that one of the world’s richest men planned to use a pandemic to wrest control of the global health system.

Mr. Gates, 64, the Microsoft co-founder turned philanthropist, has now become the star of an explosion of conspiracy theories about the coronavirus outbreak. In posts on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, he is being falsely portrayed as the creator of Covid-19, as a profiteer from a virus vaccine, and as part of a dastardly plot to use the illness to cull or surveil the global population.

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How Native Americans Are Fighting a Food Crisis

NEW YORK TIMES: For the roughly 20,000 members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe living on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation — a vast, two million-acre expanse in southern South Dakota — social distancing is certainly feasible. Putting food on the table? Less so.

Getting to food has long been a challenge for Pine Ridge residents. For a lot of people, the nearest grocery store is a two-hour drive away. Many rely on food stamps or the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, a federal initiative that provides boxes of food (historically lacking in healthy options) to low-income families. Diabetes rates run very high.

The coronavirus crisis — one case has been reported on the reservation — has only made access to food harder, as shelves of the few groceries empty out, shipments of food boxes are delayed because of supply chain disruptions, and hunting and gathering are restricted by government regulations and environmental conditions.

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U.S. Coronavirus Infections Top 671,000 as China Revises Death Toll Higher

WALL STREET JOURNAL: China revised its coronavirus death toll upward and recorded its steepest quarterly economic slide on record, as the U.S. braced for prolonged pain from extended lockdowns in some hard-hit states and the White House charted a gradual path to reopening.

The confirmed U.S. death toll from the Covid-19 disease caused by the virus continued to rise a day after it nearly doubled to 4,591 over 24 hours Thursday, with New York, New Jersey and Michigan among the hardest-hit states. After appearing to stabilize, new confirmed cases in the U.S. have risen for three consecutive days, with the total now over 671,000, data from Johns Hopkins University showed.

With more than 2.1 million cases reported world-wide, the global death toll exceeded 146,000 on Friday, according to Johns Hopkins. Of those, more than 33,000 were in the U.S.

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Fed Up With Staying Home, Some Americans Push Back

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Americans impatient with continuing stay-at-home orders and other coronavirus-related restrictions have descended on several statehouses this week to clamor for governors to ease up and reopen the economy.

Some of the governors have rebuked the demonstrators, including in Kentucky, where Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear said during a briefing that reopening the state immediately “would absolutely kill people.”

The protests came as a record-shattering 22 million workers have sought unemployment benefits during a month of coronavirus-related shutdowns, and many employees and business owners have grown frustrated with forced shutdowns of businesses, especially those that don’t require large gatherings.

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White House Seeks to Cut Wages, Smooth Migrant Labor Hiring for Farms Squeezed by Coronavirus

WALL STREET JOURNAL: The Trump administration is taking steps to reduce costs and restrictions on farmers looking to hire migrant workers during the coronavirus pandemic, including lowering their minimum wages, according to people familiar with the plans.

The push is driven by newly installed White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, these people said, and many agricultural employers support lower wages. Mr. Perdue has long championed easing requirements on seasonal agricultural guest-worker visas, known as H-2A, and the administration’s pandemic response has accelerated some of these changes.

The wage change, which the administration hasn’t yet formally proposed, would effectively cut the minimum wage for migrant farmworkers to $8.34 an hour, 15% above the federal minimum wage. That would amount to a cut of around $2 to $5 per hour from current wage rates, which vary by state. States with higher minimum wages wouldn’t be subject to the new rate.

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As economic data lags, Texas reports 4.7% jobless rate for March

TEXAS TRIBUNE: Far more Texans are out of work than the state’s latest 4.7% unemployment rateindicates because thegovernment data released Friday predates the widespread business closures and layoffs that escalated as the coronavirus crisis worsened. Analysts said the actual rate of jobless Texans is likely greater than 10%, which could be a record high for the state.

More than 22 million Americans have already lost their jobs or had their incomes slashed over the last four weeks, including more than 1 million people in Texas, and even those numbers don’t show the full picture of the economic toll.

“It’s always a backward-looking indicator,” Cullum Clark, director of the George W. Bush Institute’s Economic Growth Initiative at Southern Methodist University, told The Texas Tribune. “When layoffs are skyrocketing every single day, the number that comes out will not capture how bad things are today.”

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Federal judge orders Texas prison to provide hand sanitizer, face masks for inmates

TEXAS TRIBUNE: A federal judge has issued a temporary order requiring one Texas prison to provide hand sanitizer and face masks to inmates. The order comes after older inmates at a geriatric prison sued the Texas Department of Criminal Justice over its handling of the new coronavirus.

After multiple hearings and an inmate’s related death at the Pack Unit near College Station, U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison in Houston issued a preliminary injunction Thursday night. The order also requires TDCJ to provide a plan within three days to test all inmates at the unit for the virus. Jeremy Desel, a spokesperson for TDCJ, said Friday that the ruling would be appealed.

By Thursday, 327 Texas prisoners had tested positive for the coronavirus. A total of 531 tests had been completed of the approximately 140,000 inmates in the state’s prison system, according to TDCJ reports. More than 25 of the state’s more than 100 prison units were on lockdown — where all activity is halted and inmates are largely kept to their dorms or cells — because a person recently tested positive.

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Analysis: Coronavirus could threaten local property tax limits

TEXAS TRIBUNE: You haven’t heard everything yet: The coronavirus could ignite a fight over local government taxes in Texas.

A law passed less than a year ago requires cities and counties to get approval from voters any time they’re increasing property tax revenue by more than 3.5%. The old restriction was 8% — an increase that lawmakers decided was too generous, especially at a time when voters were boiling mad about rising property taxes.

They did leave open some exceptions, though. Local governments don’t have to seek voter approval for increases of more than 3.5% that are attributable to disasters.

It’s not limited to hurricanes and tornadoes, either.

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It’s been 30 days since COVID-19 reached El Paso; here’s the latest on stay-at-home rules

EL PASO TIMES: It’s been just over a month since the first COVID-19 case was reported in El Paso. As a result, El Paso leaders have implemented numerous emergency measures — from limits the size of social gatherings to barring in-restaurant dining —  to promote social distancing and slowing the spread of the coronavirus. 

Between the city, county and state rules, keeping track of what’s on the books can be difficult. 

Here are coronavirus-related orders and declarations currently impacting El Pasoans. 

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Coronavirus in El Paso: Case total reaches 451, one new death reported

EL PASO TIMES: A seventh person has died from the coronavirus, El Paso health officials said Thursday.

The latest death involves a man in his 60s with underlying health conditions, officials said.

El Paso health officials reported 58 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, bringing the total case count to 451. That is the largest daily case increase since El Paso County reported its first case on March 13.

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Domestic violence is a growing “shadow pandemic”

EL PASO MATTERS: ncreased mental health stressors and ongoing “stay home” orders during the COVID-19 pandemic are increasing the risk of family violence, experts say.

“We tend to think that (home is) the safest place for people to be, but for victims of domestic violence or sexual assault, that’s not necessarily their reality,” said Sandra Garcia, executive director of El Paso’s Center Against Sexual and Family Violence. “Because they’re obviously staying with that particular individual, stress levels are increasing, the tension is building, and it’s almost the perfect formula for there to be an incident of physical assault.”

And a key child abuse early warning system — schools and teachers  — are having only virtual connections with their students, making it more difficult to spot signs of abuse.

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Farmworkers face unique challenge with COVID-19 social distancing requirements

EL PASO MATTERS: El Paso area farmworkers are transported to worksites in conditions that may make them susceptible to the spread of coronavirus.

Farmworkers generally are picked up at a Downtown center and put in vans and trucks that take them to farms. These tight transportation conditions fall short of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation to stay six feet apart from each other.

“I see that as a big problem.  When you transport people from El Paso and the border to the fields they are putting them in buses and they are putting them in vans,” said Ed Ogas, owner of the Seco Spice chili farm in Anthony, New Mexico. “I don’t want to open a can of worms, but I think we have a problem in the transport (of the workers).”

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Coronavirus outbreak among Laredo hospital staff traced to asymptomatic patient

LAREDO MORNING TIMES: Over a fifth of the confirmed COVID-19 cases in Laredo are employees at Laredo Medical Center, city officials announced Thursday.

The initial infection among LMC staff stems from an incident where employees treated a patient who showed no symptoms or risk factors for the virus, according to contact tracing performed by the hospital.

“Employees who were exposed were still working closely with others on the team until they began developing symptoms,” the hospital said in a statement.

Sixty-four LMC employees have now tested positive for the virus, four of whom are themselves hospitalized, and ten have recovered, according to the hospital.

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City of Laredo confirms 11th coronavirus death, 245 total cases

LAREDO MORNING TIMES: The City of Laredo has confirmed another death due to coronavirus-related complications. The death marks the 11th death due to COVID-19 in the Gateway City.

The 11th person was male in his 40s who had underlying conditions. Further information was not available due to the city’s policy to not releasing identifying information on coronavirus patients.

On Wednesday, the city announced two deaths due to COVID-19.

In Thursday’s noon update, the city and Webb County also confirmed an additional six cases of COVID-19, marking 245 total positive cases throughout the city.

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2 new coronavirus fatalities reported in Valley

MCALLEN MONITOR: Officials in Hidalgo and Cameron counties reported two new coronavirus fatalities Thursday.

In Hidalgo County, officials reported the death of a 77-year-old Mission man who had underlying medical conditions, according to a news release. The man’s death was the second COVID-19 related fatality in as many days, and marked the third such death in Hidalgo County overall.

Meanwhile, in Cameron County, an 82-year-old woman who was a resident of the Veranda Nursing Home in Harlingen died at the facility, county officials reported there. Her death marks the fourth COVID-19 fatality in that county.

“This disease is particularly tough on our most vulnerable populations,” Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez said in the release, adding that the three fatalities thus far have been older men with underlying conditions.

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Groups sue ICE on behalf of detainees

THE MONITOR: On Wednesday, attorneys representing three detainees held at South Texas detention centers filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in an effort to have them released from the detention centers.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, MALDEF, and the Texas Civil Rights Project, along with their attorneys, filed the suit arguing three detainees, Raul Garza Marroquin, Rafael Olvera Amezcua, and Giorge Gonzalez, are “uniquely vulnerable to contracting the novel coronavirus disease while in custody at three different detention centers in South Texas, including the Port Isabel Detention Center, the Webb County Detention Center, and the Rio Grande Detention Center, the lawsuit states in part.

Filed in the Southern District of Texas, Laredo Division, the lawsuit claims the government is violating their clients’ rights by continuing to detain them despite their susceptibility to contracting the virus; mainly their respective underlying medical conditions and advanced age.

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Discarded gloves littering RGV parking lots raise concerns

THE MONITOR: Although facemasks are in such short supply that they’re being hoarded and stockpiled, disposable gloves, the other key component in a pandemic outfit, are being discarded carelessly in a way that some Rio Grande Valley officials say could cause a public health risk.

Parking lots at supermarkets and businesses across the RGV are strewn with latex gloves, apparently being tossed onto the asphalt by shoppers when they return to their vehicle.

The city of Edinburg addressed the littering on social media last week.

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Veranda patient is fourth to die of virus in Cameron County

VALLEY MORNING STAR: Cameron County health officials confirm an 82-year-old woman who was a patient at Veranda Rehabilitation and Healthcare in Harlingen died at the facility of COVID-19.

Officials knew the victim had the virus and had been previously reported as one of patients in the county who was stricken.

The county also is reporting 16 new cases of the virus. This brings the total number of cases to 270, which 96 people recovering from the illness.

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Good news, bad news: State, federal aid resources are overwhelmed

VALLEY MORNING STAR: An April 15 “telephone town hall” hosted by U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, fielded questions across a wide range of topics related to the coronavirus emergency, including financial assistance for struggling small businesses and the newly unemployed, with a mix of good and bad news.

Among the guest experts answering questions was Julian Alvarez III, the commissioner representing labor for the Texas Workforce Commission, and TWC Executive Director Ed Serna, who explained in response to a caller how unemployment benefits that are part of the $2 trillion CARES Act combine with unemployment insurance available through the state.

One thing the CARES Act does is expand eligibility for unemployment benefits to people who weren’t eligible before, specifically self-employed individuals, contract employees and employees of nonprofit organizations, he said.

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Library staff sewing masks, making 3D face shields

BROWNSVILLE HERALD: The Brownsville Public Library System may be physically closed, but its services to the public continue online.

Brownsville Public Library staff members are sewing face masks — about 20 a day — using the library sewing machines and are manufacturing 20 to 30 face shields with the library’s 3D printers. These masks and face shields will be initially distributed to essential city employees, like bus drivers and bank tellers, who are currently working to keep the city running during the pandemic.

Eight members of the library staff tested different designs and materials to sew and manufacture the masks and shields. Library staff also acquired the materials necessary to 3D print reusable face shields to help keep city employees healthy. These will be used by Brownsville Urban System bus drivers, who continue to serve routes during the pandemic.

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