Texas’ disaster declaration does not allow cities and counties to raise their tax rates beyond the state’s 3.5% cap without voter approval, Gov. Greg Abbott said in a Friday interview with KVUE, weighing into a political debate brewing between local and state officials.

A new law passed last year restricts local governments’ tax rate increases to 3.5%. But it also appears to let them bypass that cap in the case of a state or federal disaster declaration in their area.

The Texas Municipal League, which represents city governments, argues that Abbott’s disaster declaration due to coronavirus triggers that section of the property tax law. Cities can increase taxes by 8% and most will not need to hold an election to significantly raise taxes next year, if they are raising money to respond to the disaster, according to TML.

But Abbott said Friday that TML’s interpretation is incorrect. “I disagree and I think the Texas attorney general disagrees with that legal interpretation,” he said.

The statement was the clearest Abbott has been on the issue since it first came up in March, when he told reporters at a press conference he would look into it.

Texas reports 47,784 cases, 1,336 deaths Sunday

Texas reported 785 more cases of the new coronavirus Sunday, an increase of about 2% over the previous day, bringing the total number of known cases to 47,784. No new counties reported their first cases Sunday; over 85% of the state’s 254 counties have reported at least one case.

Harris County has reported the most cases, 9,126, followed by Dallas County, which has reported 7,250 cases. See maps of the latest case numbers for each county and case rates per 1,000 residents.

The state has reported 31 additional deaths, bringing the statewide total to 1,336 – an increase of about 2% from Saturday. Harris County reported five additional deaths, bringing its total to 204 deaths, more than any other county.

As of Sunday, 1,512 patients are known to be hospitalized in Texas. That’s a decrease of 279 patients from Saturday. At least 693,276 tests have been conducted.

Texas coronavirus testing totals include some antibody tests

The number of coronavirus tests administered in Texas includes an unknown number of antibody tests, according to information provided by the Texas Department of State Health Services to The Texas Tribune.

“Some antibody results are included in our current testing totals and case counts,” Lara M. Anton, a press officer for the DSHS, said on Thursday.

Antibody tests can detect whether a person previously recovered from COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. But the state reports do not differentiate those figures from standard nasal swab tests, so it’s impossible to know how many tests show active infections and how many show previous infections. Anton said the agency is working to provide details on how many of these tests are included in the data.

“Certainly that data should be made public on their website, given how people are using it,” Rebecca Fischer, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the Texas A&M School of Public Health, told The Texas Observer. “It would change our whole understanding of when infection events were happening in the community, and that would be really important to know and be reported in the data.”

The state has been struggling to reach the goal that Gov. Greg Abbott set on April 27 of doing 25,000 daily tests by May. By Friday, the threshold had only been achieved three times. The state reported nearly 50,000 tests Wednesday, a record high.

“We don’t attribute the large increase in results received (Wednesday) to antibody tests,” Anton said. As of Saturday, the state has administered 678,471 tests since early March.

Offices, manufacturing facilities and gyms are allowed to reopen

This Monday, offices, manufacturing facilities and gyms are allowed to open in Texas, following the guidelines published by Gov. Greg Abbott in his May 6 executive order. As it already happened with other businesses, these facilities will be limited in their capacity.

Offices will be able to operate with up to five employees at a time or 25% of the total office workforce – whichever number is greater – provided they maintain social distancing and follow other health measures like wearing face coverings. The governor’s task force is still asking employers to encourage employees to work from home if possible and implement alternate schedules for those who go into the office.

Non-essential manufacturing facilities will be able to operate at 25% occupancy. The governor’s task force asks manufacturing facilities to provide physical dividers if keeping workers 6 feet apart isn’t possible. Workers should also wear face coverings and be provided disinfecting products like hand sanitizer and wipes. The governor’s task force asks manufacturers with more than 10 workers at a time to choose a person in charge of enforcing health protocols.

Gyms and exercise facilities will be able to open on Monday too, at 25% occupancy, not counting workers. Lockers and showers will have to remain closed. Workout equipment should be spaced out to allow at least 6 feet between patrons, and cleaning supplies should be provided. Patrons should wear gloves that fully cover their wrists and fingers while exercising and should wear face masks. They should also clean off machines and exercise equipment like free weights after use and sanitize any equipment brought from home. Gym-goers should keep a 6-foot distance from anybody 65 and older, though these individuals are advised to stay home.

Since May 6, beauty services – including barbershops, salons and tanning beds – have been allowed to function under recommendations like offering services that are not time consuming and keeping workstations 6 feet apart. Workers can refuse to serve anybody they suspect to be sick or contagious and it is recommended to screen workers and customers for symptoms.

Indoor and outdoor swimming pools were also allowed to operate at 25% capacity starting May 6. Interactive water venues, like water parks and splash pads, are still closed.

Retail stores, malls, movie theaters and restaurants have been allowed to open at 25% capacity since May 1.

People that violate orders can’t face jail time, but they can be cited and fined.

The next phase of the process could include allowing some businesses to open at 50% capacity. Abbott may outline the next steps in a Monday press conference.San Antonio Food Bank president criticizes federal contract awarded to events company

San Antonio Food Bank’s president aired concerns about an events company receiving a $39.1 million federal contract to distribute food boxes, the San Antonio Express-News reports.

A company called CRE8AD8 LLC, which does not have experience in the food distribution industry, won the U.S. Department of Agriculture contract to provide food through its Farmers to Families Food Box Program, the paper reported.

“The USDA extended a contract to an underdog, someone they are betting on might be able to pull this off, rather than an industry standard,” Food bank president Eric Cooper told the Express-News. “And I am OK with working with anyone that can provide us food. But that gamble sometimes is too great when it comes to feeding families.”

But Gregorio Palomino defended his company’s plans.

“Our values align with the San Antonio Food Bank,” he told the paper. “That’s food safety, food handling and helping families, this is our priority, too. Our goal is to source from local and regional, small minority farmers and suppliers, and work closely with partners such as the San Antonio Food Bank.”

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