District 29 coronavirus update

As the situation with COVID-19 continues to rapidly evolve, we will be sharing information with you, especially as it relates to state actions and resources.

First, please be advised that my Senate offices in El Paso, Marfa, and Austin are closed, and my staff is working remotely until further notice. We have also canceled April and May meetings of my District Advisory Committees. Beginning this week, we will schedule meetings to take place via conference call.

If you need any assistance during this period, please call 915.244.2425 or 512.463.0129, or email [email protected] to be routed to the staff member best equipped to help you with your request.

We encourage you to follow prevention measures like social distancing and regular hand-washing, and to stay informed. Included below are useful links from the Paso del Norte Health Foundation:

— Facts about COVID-19 
— What you need to know English Spanish 
— What to do if you are sick English Spanish 
— Stop the spread of germs poster English Spanish 
— Symptoms of Coronavirus Disease 2019 poster English Spanish

“Social distancing” is critical to the public health response; the phrase is “flattening the curve,” which means to slow the rate of spread enough to avoid an influx of patients at the same time that could overwhelm hospitals.All public agencies are limiting their contact with the public when possible. For those that cannot – for example, driver’s license offices – you will find hand sanitizer near entrances and other visible places.


The Centers for Disease Control has information and updates via this link.

State Department has travel information available here.

USCIS has announced that treatment or preventive services for coronavirus will not negatively affect any alien as part of a future Public Charge analysis. The announcement may be found here, and you may find more information from advocacy groups here.

Governor virtual town hall ThursdayTexas Gov. Greg Abbott is coordinating many of the state’s responses. At 7 p.m. CST on Thursday he will discuss the statewide response, joined by the Department of State Health Services, the Texas Division of Emergency Management and the Texas Education Agency. In El Paso, it will be televised on KTSM Channel 9, www.ktsm.com/@KTSMtv. Viewers will be invited to submit questions using the hashtag #AskAbbott.

Disaster declaration
Gov. Abbott on Friday issued a disaster proclamation for the state of Texas, directing “day cares, nursing homes and prisons to limit visitations and ordering state employees to work from home, where possible.” Stay up-to-date on the latest guidance to providers by visiting the HHS COVID-19 page. Child care providers are encouraged to contact the Child Care Licensing (CCL) team at [email protected] CCL is prepared to answer questions, provide technical assistance, and grant regulatory flexibility to operations when needed to protect children in care.The governor also has activated the Texas National Guard.

Texas Education Agency
STAAR testing for this year has been suspended. You can click on the TEA website for general Public Health resources, school closures, superintendent debriefs, general guidance and FAQ, testing waiver, specific information for SPED, nutrition, etc.

Texas Workforce Commission
The 10-day investigation period for people applying for unemployment benefits has been waived. If your employment has been affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19), apply for benefits either online at any time using Unemployment Benefits Services or by calling TWC’s Tele-Center at 800-939-6631 from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Central Time Monday through Friday. Because of an increase in call volumes, however, TWC encourages people to use the online claim portal, and to sign up for Electronic Correspondence.

Texas Legal Aid has provided a web page for employees on their legal rights and other questions regarding time off from work.

Health and Human Services information
The Texas Department of State Health Services has extensive information about the virus and what you can do to prevent its spread. For that and other state information about the virus you may visit the Texas Department of State Health Services by clicking here.

For those with health insurance, most health insurers have agreed to waive costs for medically necessary testing. You may find information from the Texas Department of Insurance. by clicking here. Unfortunately, Texas has the most uninsured in the nation, and must step up to fill that gap.

To protect vulnerable hospital patients from COVID-19, Texas Health and Human Services has issued updated, expanded guidance to hospitals that now includes granting access only to essential visitors such as medical professionals and authorized caregivers acting specifically on a patient’s behalf.

Doctors will be eligible for payment from insurance plans regulated by TDI for medical visits they conduct over the phone instead of in-person at the same rate they would receive for in-person visits. Medical providers can expect guidance from the Texas Medical Board to be issued in the coming days. Insurers seeking guidance on implementation of the emergency rule should contact TDI or visit its webpage for more information.

Texans covered by CHIP or Medicaid will not be charged copays for test or telemedicine consults. Individuals covered by Medicare or large employer plans should check with their health plan administrator to determine their specific benefits.

Small Business
The governor has requested designation from the Small Business Administration (SBA) Economic Injury Disaster Declaration in order to access the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program for the entire state of Texas. If granted, the SBA would provide long-term, low-interest loans to qualifying businesses across the state. All small businesses who believe they may be eligible for an SBA EIDL should visit the Texas Division of Emergency Management website. They will be directed to the SBA website where they can apply for assistance.

Price gouging
“A disaster declaration triggers tough penalties under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act … civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation with an additional penalty of up to $250,000 if the affected consumers are elderly.” If you think this has happened you may report it at the Attorney General’s complaint line at (800) 621-0508 or file a complaint online by clicking here.

Local government meetings
In accordance with section 418.016 of the Texas Government Code, the Governor has suspended various provisions that require government officials and members of the public to be physically present at a specified meeting location. Members of the public will be entitled to participate and address the governmental body during any telephonic or videoconference meeting; the governmental body must post a written notice that gives the public a way to participate remotely, such as a toll-free dial-in number, and include an electronic copy of any agenda packet that officials will consider at the meeting; and the body must provide the public with access to a recording of any telephonic or videoconference meeting.

Department of Public Safety / Driver Licenses
DPS will temporarily close its driver license locations, and will waive expiration dates for Driver Licenses, Commercial Driver Licenses, and other identification forms. This suspension will be in effect until 60 days after the DPS provides further public notice that normal Driver License operations have resumed.

Some individuals may be eligible to quickly renew their Texas DL or identification (ID) card online (or by phone). Address changes can also be taken care of online (or by mail) in many instances. Click here to find out if you are eligible to renew online. For additional information about renewing your driver license or ID card, visit the DPS website.

Employees Retirement System
For information on your health plan and other resources available to members of ERS, please click here.

Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board
The Coordinating Board has established a central website for coronavirus information relevant to Texas higher education. This includes the currently reported status of each institution in regard to suspending face-to-face instruction and moving to distance education.

Texas Department of Transportation
TxDOT has closed the lobbies of its 12 Travel Information Centers until further notice to help combat the threat of COVID-19. Outside restrooms will remain available at all times and will be regularly cleaned between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. The safety rest areas on highways throughout the state remain open. These provide important rest stops for drivers.


Local emergency declarations
The City and County have declared emergencies. You can find information about what local health authorities are doing at the Health Department’s web page, which has links to the local declaration of emergency, announcement of the first case reported in El Paso, and status of the Public Health COVID-19 Education Taskforce. The Health Department also has a public information line at 2-1-1.

The order prohibits both private and public community gatherings of 50 persons or more in a single space anywhere in El Paso County effective immediately. Further, all bars, lounges, taverns, arcades, and private clubs shall close. Restaurants will remain open at 50% of occupancy, but will have to adhere to the measures included in the order.The order also ensures consumer protections for El Paso County residents in the form of prohibiting prices for certain goods and services to remain at the levels they were at on March 13, 2020. Click here to view the county order.

Most schools are closed until April 6. You should check with your individual school district on their plans. You may find a list of El Paso school districts here.District 29 stretches from El Paso to the Big Bend, where schools so far are on track to return to classes March 24. You may find more information on closures of schools, institutions, and events in West Texas here.

El Paso Water will suspend service disconnections for non-payment on March 18, 2020 until further notice. Customers will be responsible for the full bill amount accrued until payment is made. Customers are encouraged to pay bills online or by phone.

EP Water’s Customer Service Center has been temporarily closed to limit in-person interactions and protect the health of both employees and customers. Customers who already may have been disconnected and wish to be reconnected during this period can contact the utility via email at [email protected] or by phone at 915-594-5500 to arrange for service to be restored.

Texas Gas is temporarily suspending disconnects due to nonpayment through April 15. To discuss short-term payment extensions and long-term payment assistance: Self-service phone system at 800-700-2443; Customer service representatives (available Monday-Friday, 7 am – 7 pm CT) at 800-700-2443. The Share The Warmth program also provides energy assistance click here to find out more. You may find more information at TexasGasService.com/coronavirus.

El Paso Electric has suspended service disconnections for nonpayment until further notice. Regular billing will continue for all customers. For billing options, contact the Customer Care Team by email at [email protected] or by phone at (915) 543-5970 or (575) 526-5555. EPE is maintaining normal business hours at payment locations, but encourages using its website to pay online.

Other impacts
— The University of Texas at El Paso and El Paso Community College are moving classes online. 
— For people age 60 or older, or those with medical conditions, the obligation to attend Sunday mass has been lifted by the Diocese of El Paso 
— The City of El Paso temporarily has closed senior centers, which serve about 900 senior citizens regular meals. El Pasoans Fighting Hunger is assembling food boxes click here to learn more

Other nonprofits will be challenged in different ways, from potentially halting operations for those who provide such services as child care, to front line health providers who serve the uninsured and other vulnerable populations. You may learn more about the nonprofits and connect with some of them by emailing the El Paso Community Foundation at [email protected] The Paso Del Norte Community Foundation also has established a fund that will be used to “to support the community’s needs as they become clear.” You may find that fund by clicking here.

Facebook pages have emerged to support community. Two in particular that provide information and ways to help are Data Driven Community COVID-19 Response and El Paso Community Response to COVID-19

Needs we all must address – whether though institutional or local government action, as has happened in other cities – include emergency funds for paid sick leave and income assistance, and generally protecting and prioritizing the most vulnerable, which includes the elderly, homeless, and those in immigration detention and jails, as well as those who work with those populations.We will get through this, because we are all in this together.
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