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Rare human case of rabies under investigation

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State Capitol HighlightsA Medina County child is being treated for rabies in a Texas hospital, the Department of State Health Services reported last week. It is the first case of rabies in a human reported in the state since 2009. The child was bitten by a bat, according to DSHS.

Public health officials have identified all the places where someone could have come into contact with either the bat or the child. Experts are assessing the risk to those people and whether they should receive post-exposure vaccinations to prevent them from contracting rabies.

The department noted that rabies is almost always fatal once contracted but is preventable if the vaccine and immune globulin are administered before symptoms begin. In Texas, according to DSHS, skunks and bats account for most animal rabies cases. Nearly 600 animals in Texas tested positive for rabies last year, about half of them bats.

10-digit dialing mandatory in several new areas

The days of being able to just dial seven digits in seven Texas area codes are behind us. In July 2020 the Federal Communications Commission approved 988 as the abbreviated dialing code for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Several Texas area codes (254, 361, 409, 806, 830, 915 and 940) have numbers with a 988 prefix, and had to transition to 10-digit local dialing after the FCC order. 

The Texas Public Utility Commission announced effective Oct. 25 that all local calls dialed in those area codes with just seven digits will reach a recording that prompts the caller to redial using all 10 digits. The change does not affect price, coverage area or other rates and services, according to the PUC.

Another look at impact of Winter Storm Uri

More than eight months after an unprecedented snow and ice storm led to widespread power blackouts in Texas, the Texas Comptroller’s office took an in-depth look at the state’s response and the legislative actions that followed.

Texas is the only state in the continental United States with its own electric power grid, which serves 90% of its population. Parts of East Texas, the Panhandle and El Paso are outside the area managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas and didn’t experience widespread outages.

Winter Storm Uri knocked out power and disrupted water utilities for nearly 70% of the state’s residents for extended periods. Financial loss estimates range from $80 billion to $130 billion, according to Comptroller Glenn Hegar.

The comptroller’s report explains the economic toll of the storm and the legislative changes to the electric market structure passed in the 87thLegislature. Critics have said the changes do not go far enough to make power companies weatherize their plants to insure against further outages due to extreme weather.

Drought expands throughout state

Texas is drying up. 

Warmer and drier conditions are being reported throughout much of the state, reports the Texas Water Development Board. Approximately one-fifth of the state is now experiencing drought conditions, mainly in Northeast Texas, the Panhandle, Far West Texas and South Texas. 

The National Weather Service expects drought to expand across the state through the end of January due to La Niña conditions that are expected to bring Texas a warmer and drier winter than normal.

COVID-19 vaccines for kids coming to state

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized the emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 5 to 11 years. In Texas that could mean nearly 3 million children are now eligible for the vaccine.

The FDA reported immune responses in children in that age range were comparable to those of persons 16 to 25 years old. The vaccine was found to be 90.7% effective in preventing the virus in children 5 through 11. The ongoing study of approximately 3,100 children found no serious side effects.

More than a million doses targeting children in that age group are being sent to providers in nearly half of the state’s counties, according to DSHS. As of Sunday, 15.44 million Texans have been fully vaccinated, which is right at 53% of the state’s population.

COVID-19 cases, deaths continue to drop

The number of new COVID-19 cases in Texas in the past week dropped to 28,840, and new deaths dipped to 937— the first time below 1,000 since summer, according to the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University.

The total number of lab-confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations continues to decrease, with 3,571 reported throughout the state, down nearly 19% from the previous week, according to DSHS.

Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches and Cedar Park. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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James White announces bid for agriculture commissioner

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James WhiteJames White

Via email and social media

State Rep. James White announced Wednesday that he will run for agriculture commissioner. 

"Texas has never been more under assault," White wrote in the relrase. "From out-of-state liberals spending millions to turn Texas blue to a Biden Administration that is seeking to cripple our state financially and erase our rich culture, Texas needs leaders with the boldness of President Donald Trump to fight back and hold the line." 

Texas is the top state in the nation for agriculture, providing $115 billion in annual economic impact and directly or indirectly employing one out of every seven Texans. 

As a member of the Agriculture and Livestock Committee, White had direct oversight of the agency and plans to leverage the experience to ensure Texas remains the national leader. 

"I was proud to serve in the U.S. Army with the Berlin Brigade during the demise of the Soviet Union," White continued. "I saw first-hand the destructive power of socialism, and as a sixth generation Texan, I became determined to make sure it never took root in my state." 

Earlier in the month, White announced he would not seek reelection to the State House, where he has served for six terms. 

The release mentions is the defeat of a 14-year entrenched Democrat incumbent to obtain the  House seat originally. 

The incumbent this time will be a Republican, Sid Miller, who after considering a run for governor, will instead attempt to retain his seat. Miller began as agriculture commissioner in 2015.

White said he is proud of his conservative record that included securing the border, eliminating sanctuary cities, and stoping the flow of illegal immigration. 

White called agriculture is the foundation of the state's culture, saying it "defines who we are as Texans:  Free People who are tough, self-reliant, and know that their blessings originate from a merciful Almighty."

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DETCOG to appeal grant decision

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Speed Test from Pixabay

By Chris Edwards

NACOGDOCHES – The Deep East Texas Council of Governments (DETCOG) announced its plan to appeal a decision handed down federally concerning a grant.

The $100 million grant, to help provide broadband access to the 11-county region of DETCOG service, was denied by the federal government, DETCOG’s Executive Director Lonnie Hunt announced at the board of directors’ regular meeting in early June. The board’s decision to appeal the outcome was announced during a conference call last Tuesday with the Nacogdoches Chamber of Commerce.

The grant application was made through the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, which is funded through the Department of Housing and Urban Development. DETCOG’s application, though not funded, scored high in its ranking with marks of 75.48, which Hunt said was only two and a half points short of what was needed, which he said was unfortunate.

“We have appealed that scoring because we found a couple of things where we think they made an error and should have scored us higher,” he said. 

Hunt said the appeal is worth the odds, and that those couple of issues would have put DETCOG “in the money,” had they been caught.

He said if DETCOG is unsuccessful with its appeal, the organization will continue to work toward the project and obtain high-speed internet in the region. “It will take us longer to get it done, but we are committed to the task,” said Hunt.

One thing Hunt noted as a positive factor that will bode well for future grant requests is the statewide legislation passed concerning broadband. A bill, which was co-authored by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) and Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville), was made an emergency item during the 87th Legislature, and works to increase access to high-speed internet throughout Texas.

Hunt said that bill will add points to future grant requests, which is one of the questions asked by the CDBG as criteria for funding broadband projects.

“One of the questions is, does your state have a state broadband plan. And if you check that box you pick up points,” he said.

DETCOG made broadband a priority three years ago, when it launched a feasibility study for the region. According to its findings, the Deep East Texas region is one of the most underserved regions in the nation for high-speed internet access, which it states is a necessity.

Hunt did speak during the call about one grant that was approved in March for broadband in the northern part of Newton County in the amount of $9 million. DETCOG is awaiting a contract from the state’s General Land Office (GLO) to begin that work. The contract, initially, was estimated to take 45 to 60 days to put into place.

As Hunt said in March when that grant award was announced, “broadband is coming, but it will take some time.”

Link to DETCOG’s Broadband Study: https://www.detcog.gov/broadband

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Anti-mask mandate mandated

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governorFILE PHOTO Gov. Greg Abbott

Special to the News-Times

AUSTIN — Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday issued an executive order prohibiting governmental entities in Texas — including counties, cities, school districts, public health authorities, or government officials — from requiring or mandating mask wearing. 

Public schools may continue to follow current mask-wearing guidelines through June 4. After June 4, no student, teacher, parent, or other staff member or visitor can be required to wear a mask while on campus, according to a press release from the governor’s office.

However, in San Jacinto County, the governor’s action will have no effect, as both the Coldspring-Oakhurst and Shepherd districts had already voted to remove masks.

Shepherd Superintendent Jason Hewitt said that in April, the board voted to remove masks after a survey of the staff and community showed masks should be removed.

Cassie Gregory, information officer for COCISD, said that board had made masks optional previously.

Beginning May 21, local governments or officials that attempt to impose a mask mandate or impose a limitation inconsistent or conflicting with the executive order can be subject to a fine of up to $1,000.

"The Lone Star State continues to defeat COVID-19 through the use of widely-available vaccines, antibody therapeutic drugs, and safe practices utilized by Texans in our communities," Abbott said. "Texans, not government, should decide their best health practices, which is why masks will not be mandated by public school districts or government entities. We can continue to mitigate COVID-19 while defending Texans' liberty to choose whether or not they mask up."

Exempt from the order are state-supported living centers, government-owned or operated hospitals, Texas Department of Criminal Justice facilities, Texas Juvenile Justice Department facilities, and county and municipal jails.

Additionally, the governor said that Texas will opt out of further federal unemployment compensation related to the COVID-19 pandemic, effective June 26.

This includes the $300 weekly unemployment supplement from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, a release states.

“The Texas economy is booming and employers are hiring in communities throughout the state,” Abbott said. “According to the Texas Workforce Commission, the number of job openings in Texas is almost identical to the number of Texans who are receiving unemployment benefits. That assessment does not include the voluminous jobs that typically are not listed, like construction and restaurant jobs. In fact, there are nearly 60 percent more jobs open (and listed) in Texas today than there was in February 2020, the month before the Pandemic hit Texas.”

The current job openings are good paying jobs. According to the Texas Workforce Commission, nearly 45 percent of posted jobs offer wages greater than $15.50 per hour. Approximately 76 percent pay more than $11.50 per hour. Only 2 percent of posted jobs pay around the minimum wage.

At this stage of opening the state 100 percent, the focus must be on helping unemployed Texans connect with the more than a million job openings, rather than paying unemployment benefits to remain off the employment rolls.

Another reason why the action was necessary is the high level of fraudulent unemployment claims being filed. TWC estimates that nearly 18 percent of all claims for unemployment benefits during the pandemic are confirmed or suspected to be fraudulent, which totals more than 800,000 claims, worth as much as $10.4 billion, if all claims had been paid.

Federal law requires the effective date of this change to be at least 30 days after notification is provided to the Secretary of Labor. As a result, the effective date will be June 26.

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Willie Nelson: A look back in 10 songs

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Willie Nelson at Farm Aid 2009 CroppedWillie_Nelson_at_Farm_Aid_2009.jpg: Larry Philpot from Indianapolisderivative work: GDuwenTell me!, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

By Chris Edwards

Texas original and national treasure Willie Nelson just turned 88 years young and hasn’t showed many signs of slowing down.

Musical movement s come and go, but one thing most folks (well, folks with any degree of good sense) can agree on is the greatness of Mr. Nelson. Actually, scrap that “Mr. Nelson” business – Willie is “Willie.” If Madonna is cool enough to be a mononym, then so is our native son, for he is infinite number of degrees cooler than Madonna, Cher, Beyonce (and any more recent singer or showbiz personality choosing to use just one name.)

Aside from being a genuinely great human being, Nelson is one of the classic songsmiths of the great American songbook, and a stellar interpreter of the music of others.

In no particular order, to celebrate the greatness of the red-headed troubadour, here are 10 songs that I believe to be among the top of the list in a career filled with incredible songs.

#1 Always on My Mind – This song, which features one of Nelson’s most emotionally charged vocal performances, was originally intended for inclusion on the Pancho and Lefty album as a duet with Merle Haggard. When Haggard passed on the tune, Nelson saved it for his next project. Even in a lush arrangement of strings and brass, Nelson’s vocal still cuts through and deftly communicates an earnest, heartfelt plea of another chance at a romance that has soured.

#2 Pretty Paper – A Christmas song from Nelson’s pen, this lovely melody frames a lyric about a man selling pencils and the titular stationery on the street. The song is a great snapshot of a type of person who is likely forgotten by many, and also a look at the way love is expressed among people during the holiday season.

#3 Angel Flying too Close to the Ground – One of Nelson’s most incredible lyrics, this song, which came from the same album as “On the Road Again,” is one of the best meditations on love and loss ever committed to tape.

#4 Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain – In an era when country music that was acceptable to the masses was drenched in strings and keyboards, Nelson made this Roy Acuff cover a certifiable classic from his stripped-down monumental LP Red-Headed Stranger. “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” contains not much, arrangement-wise, outside of Nelson’s trusty old guitar “Trigger,” his vocals, a bass and Mickey Raphael’s harmonica.

#5 On the Road Again – This song, which was reportedly written on a barf bag while Nelson was on a plane, is one of those classics that, like Nelson himself, is loved by just about everyone. The song, which chronicles the narrator’s love of being on the road and playing music with friends, is also one of Nelson’s biggest commercial successes.

#6 Pancho and Lefty – This song was already a classic by the time Nelson and duet partner Merle Haggard cut it for an album of the same name. Songwriter Townes Van Zandt was one of the original outlaws of Texas country music and managed to write this tune while on the road in the early 1970s. It is, without a doubt, one of the most lyrically complex standards of the American songbook.

#7 Crazy – This song, as well as the next one on this list, was one of Nelson’s early triumphs as a songwriter. Although it is best associated with the late, great Patsy Cline, Nelson’s own stripped-down version of it is magical in of itself.

#8 Night Life – Another early Nelson-penned classic, he sold the publishing rights to this song and a couple of others for peanuts when he was trying to eke out a living playing music. “Night Life,” with its jazzy phrasing, is one of the best odes to the late-night existence of musicians – it “ain’t no good life,” as the lyric goes – and has been covered by everyone from Ray Price to Aretha Franklin.

#9 Whiskey River – Like he did with “Pancho and Lefty” a few years later, Nelson turned another one of his buddies’ songs into a bona-fide classic and a signature for his life shows.

The Johnny Bush-penned ode to the power of distilled spirits for erasing heartache has been used as a show opener for Nelson for eons. The studio version off 1973’s Shotgun Willie is just a stone-cold classic.

The undeniable power of this Texas anthem is so strong that there’s probably not a single musician in any genre who doesn’t love it. The East Texas-based psych-metal merchants the Beef Masters used to close out their shows with a cover of it.

#10 Funny How Time Slips Away – Reportedly written the same week as “Crazy” and “Night Life,” this song, which was written about a short-lived courtship, opens up into a universal complaint and makes for a song that sounds like it has always been a part of our universal, collective consciousness.

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