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COVID-19 Public Policy Update: March 19, 2020

Published Mar 19, 2020 by Taylor Landin

In response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the Partnership will provide a daily update on public policies and other newsworthy items from local, state and national levels of government. Today all levels of government continued to focus on strategies to contain COVID-19.

Executive Summary

At the federal level, there is an emphasis on supporting hospital preparedness. Today, President Trump is invoking the Defense Production Act to spur the domestic production of personal protective equipment and critical medical supplies, including ventilators and respirators. Federal legislation also continues to move forward. The Senate sent the House's Phase 2 coronavirus package to the President today, and he is expected to sign it. A third package providing loans to the airline and other industries, direct payments to American taxpayers, and small business loans, which the Treasury Department would like to be considered, is being negotiated. At the state level, Governor Greg Abbott has requested designation from the Small Business Administration's (SBA) Economic Injury Disaster Declaration in order to access the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program, which would provide long-term, low-interest loans to qualifying businesses across the state. At the local level, Fort Bend County implemented new guidance effective until April 1st closing bars and requiring that restaurants limit operations to delivery, take-out and drive-through service to help contain the spread of COVID-19. This is consistent with actions taken by Harris County and the City of Houston this week.

Federal

President Trump/Task Force Press Conference

  • The border between the U.S. and Canada has been closed for all non-essential traffic. This will currently not affect trade between the two countries.
  • HUD will suspend all evictions and foreclosures until the end of April.
  • President Trump plans to impose emergency border controls on the Mexican border that immediately send back migrants who cross the border illegally, including those seeking asylum.
  • 50 four-person FEMA teams will deploy to help state governments with procurement processes and providing financial resources.
  • While not mandatory, CMS has instructed hospitals to postpone elective surgeries in an effort to preserve masks, gowns, gloves, and other equipment used in surgeries or other invasive procedures.
  • The Senate has passed the House’s coronavirus package (Phase 2) with a 90-8 vote, sending it to President Trump, who is expected to sign it. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates the bill will cost $104 billion.
  • President Trump did not confirm what they were discussing in terms of working with Congress on a legislative aid package, but noted it would be large. Reports indicate the White House is considering a package that could send Americans direct payments, with amounts varying by income and family size, and $300 billion in small business loans.
  • Attached is the proposal the Treasury Department would like to be considered. The proposal includes $200 billion in loans to the airline and other industries, $500 billion in direct payments to American taxpayers, and $300 billion in small business loans.
  • President Trump is invoking the Defense Production Act to help make up for potential medical supply shortages and deploy two hospital ships. While typically a wartime authority, FEMA describes the authority as “the primary source of presidential authorities to expedite and expand the supply of resources from the US industrial base to support military, energy, space and homeland security programs.”
  • Defense Secretary Esper said that DoD will make available up to five million N95 masks and other personal protective equipment from US strategic reserves, with the first one million masks being made available immediately.

DoD Response

  • In addition to working to deploy protective equipment and hospital ships on the east and west coast, the Pentagon is putting mobile hospitals on alert. This action would add 1,000 beds. The beds would not be used for COVID-19 patients; rather, they would be used by hospital patients without an infectious disease to free up room in hospitals.

Surgeon General

  • U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said today that a 15-day lockdown will not likely be enough to stop the spread of COVID-19. It is about “flattening the curve,” and another assessment can be taken after 15 days. He stated, “We should all be acting as if we have the virus.”

Numbers

  • CDC numbers as of 3/18/20: 7,038 confirmed cases; 97 deaths, 54 jurisdictions reporting cases (50 states, D.C., PR, Guam, and U.S. Virgin Islands).
  • For comparison: CDC numbers as of 3/17/20: 3,487 confirmed cases; 68 deaths, 53 jurisdictions reporting cases (49 states, DC, PR, Guam, and US, Virgin Island

State

Numbers as of 2pm, March 18, 2020

  • 83 Confirmed cases in Texas across 23 counties. 3 deaths.
  • More than 1900 being monitored.

Texas Now Qualifies for Small Business Disaster Loans

  • Governor Greg Abbott has requested designation from the Small Business Administration's (SBA) Economic Injury Disaster Declaration in order to access the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program. If granted, the SBA would provide long-term, low-interest loans to qualifying businesses across the state. The SBA disaster loan information may be reached here:

Governor's Call with Hospital CEOs and Representatives Across Texas

  • Governor Greg Abbott held a call yesterday with hospital CEOs and representatives across Texas to provide an update on care capacities as COVID-19 response continues. On the call, the Governor and hospital representatives discussed the supply, staffing, and bed capacities of hospitals to ensure care providers have the support they need to assist patients. They also discussed strategies to further increase these capacities. The Governor provided an update on Texas' testing capabilities, and announced a survey on capacity needs for hospital networks so that state agencies can ensure adequate resources are continuously provided. The Governor also announced a temporary waiver for hospitals to increase unused bed capacity without submitting an application or associated fees. During a press conference in Arlington this afternoon, the Governor said he expects in the next several days the state will have the capacity to test 15,000-20,000 people per week for COVID-19 in concert with private labs.

Other Proclamations

  • Governor Greg Abbott today issued a proclamation allowing local governments now have the ability to postpone their May 2, 2020 elections until November 3, 2020.
  • Expiration dates for driver licenses, commercial driver licenses, and other identification forms have been temporarily waived as part of the State Disaster Declaration. This suspension will be in effect until 60 days after the DPS provides further public notice that normal Driver License operations have resumed.
  • A proclamation was issued allowing for telemedicine care for patients with state-regulated insurance plans to help doctors across Texas continue to treat their patients while mitigating the spread of COVID-19. The suspensions and emergency rule will work together to allow telemedicine visits for patients with state-regulated plans to be paid the same as in-office visits for insurance purposes.

Local

Closures

  • Effective today, Fort Bend County implemented new guidance regarding the operation of bars and restaurants, similar to rules in place in the City of Houston and Harris County. Fort Bend County ordered local bars, nightclubs, gyms and facilities that do not serve food to close. Restaurants may only provide take-out, delivery or drive-through. These rules will be in effect through April 1st.
  • No significant news from Judge Hidalgo's Office or Mayor Turner. No other major news from Brazoria, Galveston or Montgomery Counties.

Education

Public School Closures

  • Nearly all school districts in Texas have announced closures as of this morning. Many have extended closures to April 10

STAAR Assessment

  • The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) has announced plans to create an online form for states to submit requests for the department to waive accountability and testing requirements under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
  • We anticipate the USDE to grant one-year waivers to the majority of states who request a waiver due to the growing number of school closures across the country.

Distance Learning and Student Supports

  • We are still waiting to hear from other districts in our region on their timeline for distance learning implementation.
  • The greatest concern with distance learning is reliable student access to the internet or a phone, especially in school districts with a majority economically disadvantaged students. Education leaders are concerned that extended closures will disproportionally impact outcomes for students without this access, unless we are able to find a way to provide every student with access. As such, some school districts have begun parent surveys to assess students’ ability to access technology outside of school.
  • We continue to be in contact with the Region 4 Education Service Center and many area school district leaders to coordinate assistance as necessary.
  • There is growing concern from school districts and community members about the need for affordable and safe childcare as school closures are extended.

Related News

Membership

COVID-19 Public Policy Update: April 8, 2020

4/8/20
In response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the Partnership will provide a daily update on public policies and other newsworthy items from local, state and national levels of government. Executive Summary  All levels of government continue to implement economic and public health policies to respond to COVID-19. At the federal level, CMS Administrator Seema Verma announced $30 billion from the $100 billion allocated to hospitals in the CARES Act will be disbursed this week. Hospitals will receive the funding based on the individual hospital’s Medicare revenue. While Congress is in recess, negotiations, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have begun on a fourth phase for the coronavirus recovery package. Despite earlier discussions of this phase being focused on infrastructure, Speaker Pelosi has recently indicated the package will be like the recently passed CARES Act and focus on small business assistance, direct payments to Americans, and funding for public health. At the state level, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Historical Commission will temporarily close all state parks and historical sites to strengthen social distancing measures. At the local level, Harris County Commissioners Court approved an agreement with Houston-Galveston Area Council for a Small Business Economic Assistance Loan Program in response to COVID-19. The program aims to help businesses impacted by the pandemic by offering zero-interest, forgivable loans up to $25,000 to meet ordinary and necessary operating expenses and obligations.  Federal Phase 4 Recovery Package – “CARES Act 2”  While Congress is in recess, negotiations, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have begun on a fourth phase for the coronavirus recovery package.  Despite earlier discussions of this phase being focused on infrastructure, Speaker Pelosi has recently indicated the package will be like the recently passed CARES Act and focus on small business assistance, direct payments to Americans, and funding for public health.  It is anticipated the bill will be on the House floor on April 20th, when Congress is expected to return to Washington, D.C.  CARES Act Hospital Funding  CMS Administrator Seema Verma announced $30 billion from the $100 billion allocated to hospitals in the CARES Act will be disbursed this week.  Hospitals will receive the funding based on the individual hospital’s Medicare revenue and funds will be received via direct deposit. It should be noted that the money will not be released on a first come, first serve basis.  Numbers  As of early Tuesday morning, Johns Hopkins University is reporting nearly 400,000 cases and over 12,900 deaths in the United States.  African Americans may be disproportionately affected by COVID-19.  Reports are showing African Americans make up over 70% of deaths from COVID-19 in Louisiana and Chicago, while only approximately 30% of the population.  In Chicago, African Americans make up 30% of the population, yet represent 52% of the reported cases of COVID-19 and 72% of the related deaths.  Similar reports are coming out of Wisconsin, Washington, D.C., and Michigan.  More testing and better data are still needed, as most states and territories have not released racial or ethnic data.  Sources:  Washington Post NBC News  State  At the direction of Governor Abbott, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) and the Texas Historical Commission (THC) will temporarily close all state parks and historical sites to strengthen social distancing measures in response to COVID-19. State parks and historical sites will remain closed until further notice otherwise to be given by the Governor.  Governor Abbott announced that the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) has implemented an emergency rule that will provide increased flexibility to providers to serve dialysis patients during the COVID-19 crisis. This will allow end stage renal disease (ESRD) facilities to operate off-site outpatient locations for those who test positive for COVID-19 to prevent the spread of the virus to other dialysis patients.   Numbers  As of late afternoon on April 7: 8,262 cases in Texas. 154 deaths. 161 counties reporting cases. 88,649 tests administered.  Local  On Tuesday, Harris County Commissioners Court approved an agreement with Houston-Galveston Area Council for a Small Business Economic Assistance Loan Program in response to COVID-19.  The program aims to help businesses impacted by the pandemic by offering zero-interest, forgivable loans up to $25,000 to meet ordinary and necessary operating expenses and obligations. Businesses must demonstrate that they have been harmed by the pandemic. Loans can be forgiven through county tax breaks over five years. If the borrower violates the loan's conditions, the business will become ineligible for loan forgiveness and will begin repayment following a three-month grace period.  An amendment was accepted to track whether businesses that are approved for loans are MWBE businesses.  The program will go live Wednesday and anticipates cutting checks to businesses within 30 days.  To be eligible, businesses must have existed for at least one year, be in Harris County and in good standing with the tax assessor, have a net worth of less than $15 million and annual average net income of less than $5 million over the past two years.  Source: Houston Chronicle Visit the Partnership's COVID-19 Resource page for updates, guidance for employers and more information. And sign up for daily email alerts from the Partnership as the situation develops. 
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Membership

Partnership Members Respond to COVID-19

4/7/20
Members of the Partnership are helping fight COVID-19 here in Houston and around the country in many different ways. Learn about some of our member companies who are making a difference.    Donations & Assistance  AT&T: Supporting Families and Educators with New Fund – April 3  AT&T has created a Distance Learning and Family Connections Fund to give parents, students and teachers tools they need for at-home learning. The $10 million fund also will provide families resources to maintain meaningful connections and stay well while isolated from one another. Learn More Camden: Launch of Fund for Residents Without Income Due to Coronavirus  –  April 2  Houston-based apartment company Camden Property Trust has launched a $5 million program to provide financial support to residents who lost their source of income as a result of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Learn More  AT&T: Feeding First Responders – April 2  AT&T has committed $5.5 million to provide much needed support – in the form of nourishing meals – for first responders, medical personnel and others in need impacted by COVID-19. The effort began with a $1.5 million contribution to World Central Kitchen. Learn More NRG: Pledges $2 million to COVID-19 Reflief Efforts  – April 1 NRG Energy, Inc.announces broad efforts to support first responders, community relief efforts and teachers. Learn More COMCAST: Offering Free Resources for Kids K-12 – March 31 COMCAST has made nearly 2,000 hours of programming and thousands of free titles available to Xfinity video customers to give children and parents quick and easy access to educational programming by grade level. Learn More Kroger: Donating $100,000 to Greater Houston COVID-19 Recovery Fund – March 27  Kroger has announced a $100,000 commitment to the Greater Houston COVID-19 Recovery Fund, funding access to food, health care, shelter and more in Harris, Fort Bend, Waller and Montgomery counties. Learn More Veolia North America: Donating 40,000 Masks to Hospitals – March 26  Veolia is working to get the company's stockpile of surgical masks to hospitals in six cities that need them to keep patients and healthcare workers safe. Learn More United Way of Greater Houston and Greater Houston Community Foundation: Launch of Greater Houston COVID-19 Recovery Fund – March 25  The Greater Houston COVID-19 Fund will focus on funding of support services that stabilize basic needs by providing access to food, health care, shelter, utility assistance, transportation and other unmet basic needs that have arisen as a result of the pandemic in the short-term and will respond to developing needs over time as resources are available. Learn More Houston Texans: Donating $100,000 to Houston’s COVID-19 Recovery Fund – March 25  To help support the community's most vulnerable affected by the growing coronavirus pandemic, the Houston Texans Foundation donated $100,000 to the Greater Houston COVID-19 Recovery Fund. Learn More   Aiding Coronavirus Response Effort  Houston Community College, San Jacinto College, TX/RX and Other Education Institutions: Create Community Partnership to Address Protective Gear Shortages – April 8 Houston Community College, San Jacinto College, University of Houston at Sugar Land, Fort Bend County Judge’s Office, TX/RX Labs, Alief ISD and Houston ISD have joined efforts to help address personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages for local area medical professionals and first responders in the fight against COVID-19. Learn More Harmony Public Schools: Creating Face Shields – April 7 A team of education engineers at Harmony Public Schools have turned their "Innovation Lab" into a workshop to help healthcare workers. Learn More Houston Methodist: First to Transfuse Donated Plasma from Recovered COVID-19 Patient – March 29  The local health care giant is the first in the nation to be approved by the FDA to transfuse donated plasma from a recovered COVID-19 patient to other critically ill patients. Learn More Union Pacific: Supplying Communities with the Goods to Survive a Pandemic – March 27  Whether it's stocking a home pantry or having the supplies to support essential services at hospitals, police and fire stations, and restaurants, the items in greatest demand are riding the rails as freight trains move the goods communities need most in a national emergency. Learn More Accel Lifestyle: Manufacturing Medical Masks  – March 27  The owner of apparel line Accel Lifestyle is using her antibacterial fabric to make masks for health care workers. Learn More Houston Community College: Making Face Shields – March 26  HCC is making face shields in response to the lack of personal protective equipment for healthcare providers out on the front lines. Learn More HEB: Launch of Texans Helping Texans – March 20  H-E-B has launched Texans Helping Texans, a community-outreach initiative that’s guided by digital innovation, compassionate philanthropy and the generous spirit and strength that brings together all Texans during uncertain times. Learn More  Visit the Partnership's COVID-19 Resource page for updates, guidance for employers and more information. And sign up for daily email alerts from the Partnership as the situation develops.   
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