New State Capital Highlights writer

State Capital Highlights

 

It’s an honor to take over writing “Capital Highlights” from two capable predecessors, Chris Cobler and Ed Sterling. They are tough acts to follow, but I’ll do my best.

I echo what Chris wrote in his first piece last July. The need for providing reliable and accurate information is greater than ever, especially as we continue to fight a pandemic that reaches into all corners of Texas and has upended our lives. If there is a Texas topic you think I should cover, please email me at gborders@texaspress.com.

My focus is searching through the activities of state agencies, the Legislature and elsewhere for news that affects the readers of these newspapers. Your input is welcomed and appreciated.

Vaccine pace picks up slowly

The rate of COVID-19 vaccine administration is slowly increasing in Texas as we enter the second full month of shots going into arms. The Texas Department of State Health Services last weekend reported that about 1.6 million Texans—overwhelmingly frontline health workers, people over 65 or those with chronic health conditions—have received the first dose. Just over 400,000 are fully vaccinated. The state has received 3.16 million doses so far; nearly half remain to be administered. Texas ranks near the bottom in per-capita doses administered when compared to other states, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Defense sent 80 medical military personnel last week to Abilene, Lufkin and Eagle Pass to assist in administering the vaccine in those cities. “The medical personnel deployed to our communities will provide much-needed support to our frontline healthcare workers,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in a news release.

The state surpassed two million COVID 19 cases with nearly 36,000 fatalities as January came to a close. A total of 11,473 COVID-19 patients are in Texas hospitals as of Jan. 31, according to TDSHS. Across the state, there are only 753 intensive-care beds available. Even as vaccines are being administered, health officials across the state are urging Texans to wear masks and follow other safety protocols that have been in place since last March.

Grants available for special needs students affected by COVID-19

Abbott and the Texas Education Agency late last week announced the rollout of a grant program for eligible families of children with “significant cognitive disabilities and complex educational needs.” The $1,500 grants can be used to purchase educational resources and services through the TEA’s supplemental special education services program.

A total of $30 million was allocated, which could provide help for up to 20,000 students. To find out if your child is eligible, email the agency at ssesinfor@tea.texas.gov or call 855-772-3839.

Texas Lyceum poll measures impact of the pandemic

The Texas Lyceum, a nonpartisan group of movers and shakers based in Austin, released its annual survey last week. It painted a fairly negative picture of the state’s economy as a result of the pandemic and illustrated the widespread impact of the coronavirus on Texans. Responding to the pandemic is the most important issue facing the state, according to 37 percent of respondents. Political corruption and leadership ran a distant second at 10 percent.

The 2021 poll presented the most negative views of the state’s and nation’s economies since the Great Recession of 2008. Additionally, four in five respondents said they knew someone who had contracted COVID-19, while half knew someone who had died from it. On the somewhat brighter side, nearly three-fourths were either “very hopeful” or “somewhat hopeful” that the nation would get the pandemic under control in the next six months. But just 45 percent of Texans say they plan to get vaccinated when it becomes available to them.

The complete poll results can be found at texaslyceum.org.

GARY BORDER is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. You may reach him at gborders@texaspress.com

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