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Coronavirus live updates: Texas requests extra $300 per week in federal unemployment assistance

The Houston Chronicle’s Live Updates blog documents the latest events in the coronavirus outbreak in the Houston area, the state of Texas and across the U.S. with a focus on health and economic impacts.

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Total coronavirus cases:

• 577,132 cases in Texas, including 10,917 deaths.

• 137,206 in the Houston region, including 2,527 deaths.

• More than 5.5 million in the U.S., including 173,193 deaths. Click here to see a U.S. map with state-by-state death tolls and the latest coronavirus case counts.

• More than 22.2 million in the world, with more than 788,326 deaths. More than 14.3 million people have recovered. You can view the worldwide totals here.

Resources on COVID-19 and Texas’ reopening: Use our interactive page to track the spread of cases through Harris County and the rest of Texas. For a detailed look at our state, check out the Chronicle’s Texas Coronavirus Map. To get regular updates on our coverage, sign up for our coronavirus newsletter.

Latest updates from today:

11:40 a.m. The goal of physical education is to teach students how to have a healthy life as an adult, says Stasie Veinotte, lead PE teacher for primary education in Aldine ISD. It’s less about athletics, and more about nutrition and life skills.

Virtual learning started Aug. 17 for Aldine, and in-person classes are slated to start in mid-September. Parents can choose to send their children back to campus at that point but will have the option to keep them online until they feel safe.

Even though “gym class” is out, PE requirements haven’t changed, Veinotte says.

Since Aldine ISD is a Title I school, many of the families are low-income and need assistance to buy computers or tablets to do at-home instruction. The school district has given away many laptops since the start of the pandemic, Veinotte says.

“All of our classroom teachers have taken surveys from their parents to make sure they have their devices, especially those with multiple students in the household,” she says. “We have tried to problem-solve with families to help them figure that out. Providing for our families is crucial so we can be successful for online learning, and our teachers have gone above and beyond to make sure we can connect with our kids.”

— Julie Garcia

11:04 a.m. On Thursday, Gov. Greg Abbott’s office announced that the Texas Workforce Commission, which administers unemployment benefits in the state, applied for the additional federal funding provided by the president’s executive memo, and that claimants should expect to get $300 per week in additional assistance after Aug. 23. The funds will be backdated to the benefit week ending Aug. 1.

The Labor Department said that states may opt to count state unemployment benefits as the cost share, or find some other source to fund the $100 in state assistance. Texas opted not to match the assistance with additional funds — the state will count the $100 per week in unemployment benefits as the match, meaning Texans who qualify will get $300 per week in additional assistance rather than the $400.

Erin Douglas

11 a.m. With the novel coronavirus pandemic and all its effects dragging on — social isolation, job losses and crushing uncertainty about the future — the mental health consequences will likely only escalate. Some people feel pre-pandemic mental health issues intensify; others are experiencing their first-ever panic attacks.

Numerous studies show a correlation between the unemployment and suicide rates. The National Alliance on Mental Illness of Greater Houston is seeing the escalation in real time: Before the pandemic, the organization’s “warm line” handled about 50 calls a week, including call ins and check-ups on people by staff. Now, on average, staff handles 800 calls a week.

The long-term impacts of natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey have been well-documented: Increased and new mental health symptoms like depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. But the pandemic is different because there’s no real end in sight, at least in the United States, said Octavio Martinez, executive director of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health.

“We’re not even to the backside of that first wave,” Martinez said. “More and more of our population are gonna have these ongoing issues and increasing risk factors to develop mental health symptoms — and in some cases, become actual disorders.”

— Sarah Smith

9:15 a.m. UTHealth and Baylor College of Medicine have begun enrolling participants in rigorous studies investigating the therapeutic benefit of recovered COVID-19 patients’ blood plasma, also known as convalescent serum therapy.

The trials will compare outcomes in participants who receive plasma and those who receive a placebo, the so-called gold standard of testing. The Food and Drug Administration reportedly has put on hold a plan to allow easier access to the therapy because of the lack of such testing.

UTHealth will administer the study at three of its affiliated Memorial Hermann hospitals — the ones in the Texas Medical Center, southwest Houston and the Heights — as well as the Harris Health System’s Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital and the University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler.

— Todd Ackerman

9 a.m. Texas’ positive test rate sunk to its lowest since June 23 at 10.81 percent Wednesday, according to a Houston Chronicle analysis of state data.

The positive test rate on Tuesday was 11.18 percent. The seven-day rolling average of viral tests is now 58,690.

The statewide case total went from 570,583 to 577,132, an increase of 6,549 cases. Another 303 newly reported deaths brought the overall fatality count to 10,923.

The Houston region’s case count is 137,206, up 1,844 from Tuesday. Harris County added 804 new cases Wednesday, and is now at 94,676 cases total. There have been 2,527 deaths in the Houston region, up 62 from Tuesday.

Statewide, there were 5,974 patients hospitalized for lab-confirmed COVID-19. There are 55,028 total staffed hospital beds, and 11,167 beds available, including  1,232 ICU beds available. There are 6,910 ventilators available.

— Julian Gill and Matt Dempsey

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