CORPUS CHRISTI — A day after roaring ashore as a hurricane, Hanna lashed the Texas Gulf Coast on Sunday with high winds and drenching rains that destroyed boats, flooded streets and knocked out power across a region already reeling from a surge in coronavirus cases.
Downgraded to a tropical depression, Hanna passed over the U.S.-Mexico border with winds near 50 mph, the National Hurricane Center said. It unloaded more than 12 inches of rain on parts of South Texas and northeastern Mexico.
Border communities whose health care systems were already strained by COVID-19 cases — with some patients being airlifted to larger cities — found themselves under siege from the first hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic season. There were no immediate reports of any deaths on either side of the border.
Dr. Ivan Melendez, the health authority in Hidalgo County, Texas, was treating a patient overnight at a hospital when he and a nurse noticed water streaming down a wall and pooling on the floor. The water was flowing through a vent in the room, which had been retrofitted with a fan to create negative pressure and prevent the virus spreading through the hospital.
After driving home in the storm in the middle of the night, Melendez was trapped Sunday morning in his home by downed trees and had no electricity. He used the phone to discuss whether to put a 58-year-old woman on a ventilator, a decision he felt uncomfortable making without seeing the patient in person.
“You look at the people’s eyes,” he said. “You’ll know if they’re in despair.”
Another doctor decided to place the woman on the ventilator, he said later.
Henry Van De Putte, CEO of the Red Cross’ Texas Gulf Coast chapter, said the organization would open more shelters with reduced capacity to ensure social distancing. Volunteers and people seeking refuge will undergo temperature checks, and a medical professional will be assigned to each location, he said.
A community building known as the “Dome” in Mercedes, Texas, was set aside for evacuees who had tested positive for COVID-19 or were exposed to the virus. Across the region, shelters were also opened in hotels, schools and gyms.
Van De Putte emphasized that people should not delay seeking help because of the virus.
“Yes, coronavirus provides risk, but so does floodwater, so does not having electricity, so does not having required medications,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can do possible to make it a safe environment.”
In the Mexican border city of Reynosa, a maternity hospital was damaged by heavy rain, and water had to be pumped out, authorities said. Some patients had to be moved to upper floors, and a few were evacuated to other hospitals, said Pedro Granados, director of civil protection for Tamaulipas state.
Coastal states scrambled this spring to adjust emergency hurricane plans to account for the virus, and Hanna was the first big test. Gov. Greg Abbott said Saturday that some people in need of shelter would be given hotel rooms to keep them apart from others.
Abbott announced Sunday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency approved an emergency declaration that will provide federal aid.
Hanna blew ashore as a Category 1 storm late Saturday afternoon with winds of 90 mph not far from Port Mansfield, which is about 130 miles south of Corpus Christi.
Myrle Tucker, 83, tried to ride out the storm in a powerboat docked in a Corpus Christi marina. But winds and rain blew out the vessel’s windows. Eventually rescuers in a dinghy were able to reach him and bring him to shore. Many other boats were flooded and lashed by the storm.
Tucker said he told his rescuers he wasn’t sure he would be able to climb out of his boat.
“They picked me up,” he said. “They carried me like a box of napkins.”
More than 150,000 customers lost power Sunday throughout South Texas, including Corpus Christi, Harlingen and Brownsville, utility officials said.
Corpus Christi is in Nueces County, where 60 babies tested positive for COVID-19 from July 1 to July 16. Farther south in Cameron County, more than 300 new cases have been reported almost daily for the past two weeks. The past week has also been the county’s deadliest of the pandemic.
Hanna came nearly three years after Hurricane Harvey blew ashore northeast of Corpus Christi. Hanna was not expected to be as destructive as Harvey, which killed 68 people and caused an estimated $125 billion in damage in Texas.
In the Mexican city of Matamoros, across from Brownsville, the rains shook tents in a refugee camp housing an estimated 1,300 asylum seekers, including newborns and elderly people, who have been waiting for months for court dates under a U.S. immigration policy informally known as “Remain in Mexico.”
In the Pacific Ocean, meanwhile, Hurricane Douglas closed in on Hawaii over the weekend.
It is not quite a field-trip-in-a-box, but the Mayborn Museum’s latest online offering, Mayborn Connect, is expanding the museum’s educational reach to groups at a time.
The museum, one of Waco’s more popular educational and tourism sites, has been closed since March because of the coronavirus.
In the weeks that followed the closure, Mayborn staffers repurposed many of their talks, demonstrations and activities into online videos aimed at families and students.
Series including Mayborn@home and Meet The Mayborn take viewers on tours of the museum’s natural science collections, the Gov. Bill and Vara Daniels Historic Village, the Waco Mammoth National Monument and Waco historic homes, insect and animal specimens, and introductions to museum curators, researchers and scientists.
Since March, museum educators have created almost 30 virtual tour videos and a comparable number of children’s activities.
Mayborn Connect builds on that programming and allows interactivity between multiple viewers and an onsite educator, curator or scientist.
Mayborn Connect lets viewers ask questions of the person doing the talk or demonstration, much like the in-person experience of a field trip, said Rebecca Nall, the Mayborn’s assistant director for exhibits.
In the Connect program, a group leader such as a school teacher, parent or youth leader will coordinate with a Mayborn staff worker on event time and date, videoconferencing platform such as Zoom, Google Meet or Go To Meeting, and the topic or demonstration to cover.
Up to 35 people can participate in the 50-minute programs, and the content is aligned with Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills learning objectives, allowing school teachers to more easily fit them into class curriculum, Nall said.
Subjects include “Wild About Bugs,” “Rocks and Minerals,” “Dinosaurs and Fossils” and “Aniimal Adaptations: Bones and Teeth.” The museum will add more programs on scientific and cultural topics in upcoming weeks.
The museum tested the concept this spring with classes at St. Paul’s Episcopal School in Waco, St. Mary’s Catholic School in West and Walnut Creek Elementary School in Azle.
Nall said Mayborn Connect aims in part to meet needs for teachers and homeschoolers who will not have the access to field trips as in the past due to COVID-19 restrictions on group activities and school travel, district cost-cutting and an increase in students working from home.
The Mayborn was hosting visits from about 300 school groups and 100 school districts in a typical year before COVID-19, Director Charlie Walter said.
That dried up after mid-March. Although Gov. Greg Abbott allowed museums to reopen in late May with capacity limits and new sanitation measures, the state order required interactive exhibits and touch displays, a major part of the Mayborn’s offerings, to stay closed to the public.
The Mayborn plans to reopen to members Saturday and to the general public a week later, Walter said. A video on the reopening and new procedures will be released in the upcoming week.
AUSTIN — Police have identified an armed protester who was shot and killed by a person who had driven into a crowd at a demonstration against police violence in the Texas capital.
Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said Garrett Foster, 28, was shot and killed Saturday night as demonstrators marched through downtown Austin.
Manley said officers heard “two separate volleys of gunfire” and made their way to the crowd where they found Foster suffering from multiple gunshot wounds.
Foster was taken to the hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.
Manley said a vehicle turned onto the block where protesters stood and honked its horn. Police declined to say why the driver was there at that time or whether his intent was nefarious.
Witness Michael Capochiano told the Austin American-Statesman that the car sped through the protesters before it apparently hit an orange barrier and stopped.
In video that was streamed live on Facebook, a car can be heard honking before several shots ring out and protesters start screaming and scattering. Police can then be seen tending to someone lying in the street.
Manley said the driver and several witnesses told police Foster approached the driver side window of the vehicle and pointed an assault rifle at the driver.
The driver said they shot Foster and drove off, police said.
Manley said the driver called 911 and reported the incident. That person was taken into custody but later released. The driver’s name wasn’t immediately released.
The second round of shots was fired by protesters who witnessed the shooting, Manley said. The shooter fired at the car while it drove away. That person was also taken into custody but later released, Manley said.
In an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Sheila Foster said Garrett was her son and he had been a regular at the protests with his fiancée.
“They’ve been participating in these protests almost every day for the past 50 days,” she said.
WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday assailed Republican “disarray” over a new pandemic relief package as the White House suggested a narrower effort might be necessary, at least for now.
The California Democrat panned the Trump administration’s desire to trim an expiring temporary federal unemployment benefit from $600 weekly to about 70% of pre-pandemic wages. “The reason we had $600 was its simplicity,” she said from the Capitol.
The administration’s chief negotiators — White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin — spent a few hours at the Capitol later Sunday to put what Meadows described as “final touches” on a $1 trillion relief bill Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to bring forward Monday afternoon.
“We’re done,” Mnuchin said as he and Meadows left Capitol Hill after meeting with GOP staff.
Meadows said as the White House was “looking for clarity” on a “handful” of remaining issues ahead of Monday. “We have an agreement in principle,” he said.
Both Mnuchin and Meadows said earlier Sunday that narrower legislation might need to be passed first to ensure that enhanced unemployment benefits don’t run out for millions of Americans. They cited unemployment benefits, money to help schools reopen, tax credits to keep people from losing their jobs, and lawsuit protections for schools and businesses as priorities.
Pelosi has said she opposes approving a relief package in piecemeal fashion.
“We can move very quickly with the Democrats on these issues,” Mnuchin said.
Separately, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said a federal eviction moratorium on millions of rental units, due to expire at the end of the month, will be extended. “We will lengthen it,” he said, without specifying for how long.
Republicans have argued that federal jobless benefits should be trimmed because the combination of state and federal unemployment assistance left many people better off financially than they were before the pandemic and therefore disinclined to return to their jobs.
Many Democrats contend that a lot of people don’t feel safe going back to work when the coronavirus is surging again around the country.
A former Republican congressman from North Carolina, Meadows said he is working with Mnuchin and Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia to address complaints that outdated state computer systems will make it difficult for the jobless to get their benefits in a timely fashion if the formula is changed.
“It’s our goal to make sure that it’s not antiquated computers that keep people from getting their benefits,” Meadows said.
Pelosi criticized the hold-up on the GOP side. House Democrats passed a $3 trillion relief package a couple of months ago, with the aim of jump-starting negotiations. Republicans abruptly halted rollout of their bill last week amid differences between senators and the White House.
“They’re in disarray and that delay is causing suffering for America’s families,” Pelosi said.
She declined to say whether she could accept 70% of wages in place of the now-expired $600 weekly benefit.
“Why don’t we just keep it simple?” she asked, referring to a flat dollar amount.
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said he doesn’t support the GOP legislation as proposed. He argued for lifting taxes and regulations he says are “hammering” small businesses. Cruz also argued for a payroll tax cut, which will not be in the bill. President Donald Trump had insisted on a temporary trim of payroll taxes, but both parties resisted the idea.
Cruz alleged that Pelosi isn’t working to solve either the virus crisis or the economic one.
“Her objectives are shoveling cash at the problem and shutting America down,” he said. “It’s just shoveling money to her friends and not actually solving the problem.”
The White House and Senate Republicans were racing to regroup after plans to introduce a $1 trillion virus rescue bill collapsed Thursday during GOP infighting over its size, scope and details.
It was expected to bring $105 billion to help schools reopen, new money for virus testing and benefits for businesses, including a fresh round of loans, tax breaks and a sweeping liability shield from COVID-19-related lawsuits.
The expiration of the $600 weekly jobless benefits boost had been propelling the Republicans to act. Democrats already approved their sweeping $3 trillion plan from Pelosi two months ago. But with millions of Americans about to be suddenly cut off from the aid, they were bracing to prevent social and economic fallout.
The White House floated plans to cut the additional aid back to $100 a week, while Senate Republicans preferred $200, with general GOP agreement about phasing out the flat boost in favor of one that ensures no more than 70% of an employee’s previous pay.
Apart from jobless benefits, Mnuchin said Saturday that new $1,200 direct payments would be based on the same formula from the earlier aid bill. Then, people making $75,000 or less received the full amount and those making more than $75,000 received less, depending on their income. People earning above $100,000 did not qualify for the payment.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Lang Holland, the chief of police in tiny Marshall, Arkansas, said he thinks the threat of the coronavirus has been overstated and only wears a face mask if he’s inside a business that requires them. He doesn’t make his officers wear them either.
So the day after Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed an order requiring masks to be worn in public throughout Arkansas, Holland made it clear his department wasn’t going to enforce the mandate in the Ozarks town of about 1,300, calling it an unconstitutional overreach.
“All I’m saying is if you want to wear a mask, you have the freedom to choose that,” said Holland, who said he supports President Donald Trump. “It should not be dictated by the nanny state.”
Holland is among a number of police chiefs and sheriffs in Arkansas and elsewhere who say they won’t enforce statewide mask requirements, even within their departments. Some say they don’t have the manpower to respond to every mask complaint, treating violations of the requirement as they would oft-ignored minor offenses such as jaywalking. Others, including Holland, reject the legal validity of mask requirements.
The pushback is concerning to health officials, who say a lack of enforcement could undermine what they say is a much-needed and simple step that can be taken to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“If people undermine that mandate, they undermine the public health benefits of masking in the setting of this pandemic, and that just doesn’t make any sense to me,” said Dr. Cam Patterson, the chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, who had called for a statewide requirement.
More than half the states have issued orders to wear masks in most public settings, with virus cases and hospitalizations on the rise. Polling shows overwhelming public support for such requirements, and even Trump, who had long been dismissive of wearing masks, last week said it was patriotic to wear one.
The most vocal police pushback to mask requirements is coming from Republican-led states that aggressively reopened businesses or previously opposed stricter measures such as mask requirements. Hutchinson, who was among a handful of governors who didn’t issue a stay-at-home order, long resisted issuing a mask mandate in Arkansas, but he relented in the face of the state’s worsening numbers.
Arkansas’ active virus cases, meaning those excluding people who have died or recovered from COVID-19, have nearly quadrupled since Memorial Day. The number of people hospitalized with the disease in the state is almost five times higher than it was that day.
“This is a way to enlist the support of everyone in this fight,” Hutchinson said before signing the order, which took effect Monday.
Several police chiefs and sheriffs immediately said they wouldn’t enforce Hutchinson’s order, which prohibits people from being jailed for violations and only imposes fines for repeat offenders. The Texarkana Police Department said it wouldn’t enforce the order, saying its primary responsibility was “fighting crime and providing police services.”
John Staley, the sheriff of Lonoke County in central Arkansas, said he agrees with the need for masks and his deputies wear them when in contact with the public. But he said his department doesn’t have the manpower to respond to complaints about them.
“I support the governor’s position and his decision, but we’re not going to be out writing tickets for masks,” Staley said.
None of the resistant law enforcement agencies are refusing to respond to disturbances related to masks, which have turned violent or deadly in some incidents. Staley and officials from several other law enforcement agencies have said they would respond if businesses complain about people refusing to wear masks or to leave the premises.
Several sheriffs in neighboring Texas have also said they wouldn’t enforce a mask requirement issued by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott. And a group of 38 sheriffs in Montana signed an op-ed this months saying they believe that the mask requirement issued by the state’s Democratic governor this month “is not a mandate for law enforcement to issue citations and arrest violators.“
Enforcement of Alabama’s mask rule, which took effect this month, has also varied. Some police said they would provide masks to those not wearing them in public, and others said they didn’t plan to ticket people for violations.
“We as law enforcement are NOT the social distancing police OR the face mask police. Just be responsible, that’s all, and be safe,” the Bay Minette Police Department announced in a Facebook post.
In New York City, which was at the heart of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak early on in the pandemic, the nation’s largest police department has struggled with how to enforce mask mandates. Police initially assigned 1,000 officers this spring to enforce mask wearing and social distancing rules, but they backed off after some violent arrests were caught on video.
Now, the city relies chiefly on civilian workers and community group members to hand out masks and encourage people to wear them.
Hutchinson said he would defer to local police and sheriffs on how to enforce his order, saying it was their prerogative on how to prioritize offenses. But he also said police “don’t pick and choose” which laws they enforce. The difficulty of enforcing a mandate in a rural state like Arkansas was one of the reasons Hutchinson gave for resisting the requirement until recently.
Not all police departments are resistant to enforcing mask mandates, though they’re hoping to avoid the need to write anyone up for not complying.
“I am confident that the overwhelming majority of Fort Smith residents and visitors care about each other and will choose to help us through personal accountability, making the need for enforcement action non-existent,” Danny Baker, the chief of police in Fort Smith, an Arkansas city along the Oklahoma border, said in a statement.
Supporters of mask mandates say penalties were never their goal and that they never envisioned police having to respond to every complaint about someone not wearing one.
“Nobody’s asking for a masking gestapo,” Patterson said. “We’re just asking for good behavior and support from our local communities.”