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October 17th, 2020:

Don’t look now, but COVID numbers are ticking up again

In the state as a whole.

Texas reported more than 4,100 people hospitalized with the coronavirus on Wednesday, its largest total in six weeks and one that comes amid rising infections in El Paso and North Texas.

Hospitalizations hit a low in late September after a summer surge, but have risen incrementally for the past 10 days, reaching 4,133 on Wednesday. Other key metrics were also up slightly from a week earlier, including the reported rolling average of new daily infections and the number of people testing positive for the virus.

Public health officials said the increase is likely due to a combination of factors, including pandemic fatigue and expanded reopenings, especially bars. Bars were only allowed to begin reopening in select counties on Wednesday, but many have already been opened for weeks after reclassifying as restaurants — a loophole that the state created in hopes it would lead to better social distancing.

[…]

The biggest increases appear to be in West Texas and areas in and around Dallas.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins raised the county’s pandemic risk level back to red on Wednesday, and earlier this week Gov. Greg Abbott sent medical staff and supplies to El Paso to help respond to a wave of new COVID-19 cases.

“With a new and quickly escalating wave of COVID-19 cases hitting North Texas, it is more important than ever that we make good decisions,” Jenkins tweeted.

And here in the Houston area.

Houston-area COVID-19 numbers, trending in a positive direction for the last couple months, have taken a turn for the worse.

Four key coronavirus metrics all show an increase in the past week, according to the Texas Medical Center, which tracks the data for the complex’s seven major hospital systems. Those numbers had started trickling up the previous week in daily reports produced by the center.

The latest numbers from Wednesday’s report:

• The number of COVID-19 cases reported Tuesday, 671, represents a 62 percent increase over last week’s daily average of 412 cases per day.

• The number of COVID-19 patients admitted to TMC hospitals Tuesday, 102, represents an 18 percent increase over last week’s daily average of 86 patients per day.

• The TMC COVID-19 test positivity rate of 3.8 percent represents an 8 percent over last week’s daily average.

• The so-called R(t), or reproduction rate, the rate at which the virus is spreading, hit 1.16 Tuesday, an 18 percent increase in the past week. On Sept. 29, the number was 0.64, which meant the virus’ spread was then decreasing significantly.

The latest metric is probably the most concerning to health officials. A number below 1.0 means the virus is burning out in the area; a number above 1.0 means the spread is accelerating. After 32 consecutive days in which the metric showed the virus was burning out in the Houston area, it now shows the virus is again picking up steam.

And as was the case in the month of June, it’s already too late to stop this. The best we can do now is go back to what we had been doing before to bend the curve back in the downward direction. First and foremost, wear your goddamn masks, and practice social distancing. Don’t be this guy.

As for bars, I want them to survive, and I’ve been up front about the arbitrariness of the state’s definition of what a “bar” is versus what a “restaurant” is. I support the various ways that have been suggested to help bars survive by being more like restaurants, and by enabling to-go and outdoor service. And we really need a federal rescue bill for bars and restaurants and theaters and music halls and other public-gathering businesses that have been so devastated by this pandemic. But we have to be real and recognize that there are no circumstances under which crowding a bunch of people into indoor spaces is a good idea. How many times are we going to have to learn this lesson? The Trib has more.

All those voter registration efforts did what they set out to do

News item #1: Texas adds nearly 300,000 more voters in the last two weeks, approaches 17 million voters overall.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

In just two weeks, Texas added more than 284,000 more voters to its rolls just before the registration deadline and now has a record-setting 16.9 million voters heading into the first day of early voting on Tuesday.

That is an increase of 1.8 million voters just since the last presidential election in 2016 — a 12-percent increase in voters.

Nowhere have the gains been greater than along Interstate 35 — a region that has become a blue spine in the heart of an otherwise red state. Of the 1.8 million voters added since 2016, half have come from the 21 counties that stretch from Laredo north into San Antonio, Austin, Waco and the Dallas-Fort Worth region.

The biggest percentage increase has been in Central Texas where Hays, Williamson and Comal counties have all seen their voter registration rolls grow by 24 percent or more. Further north, outside of Dallas, suburban Collin and Denton counties have seen voter rolls grow 19 percent and 21 percent respectively.

[…]

In Bexar County, voter registration has jumped from just over 1 million in 2016 to 1.2 million this year.

“There’s an energy out there,” former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro said on a conference call with former Congressman Beto O’Rourke on Monday. “There’s a hunger for change.”

Just as a point of comparison, at the same 59.39% turnout level that we had in 2016, Texas will see a smidge over ten million voters. Approximately 78% of all voting age Texans are registered, which is where it was in 2016. Note that not all voting age Texans are eligible to vote – we do have a large non-citizen population, after all – so I don’t know offhand what the maximum would be. But we’re likely not that far from it.

New item #2: Record voter turnout expected, as Harris County roll grows by 234K since 2016.

Harris County has added nearly 234,000 voters to its rolls since 2016, despite adding just 143,000 residents during the same period.

As of Monday, the county had a record 2,468,559 registered voters for next month’s presidential election, according to the soon-to-be-final tally by the county voter registrar office.

The Texas Secretary of State’s Office has yet to confirm a final tally of registered voters from all 254 counties. The current count stands at 16.9 million, an increase of 12 percent, or 1.8 million, since four years ago. About 28 percent of that increase came in Harris, Bexar and Travis counties.

The growth benefits both major political parties, said Southern Methodist University political science professor Cal Jillson, but gives an edge to Democrats, who have a greater number of potential supporters who are unregistered.

Republicans draw a lot of support from Anglo voters, who already are registered and participate at high levels. African American and Latino residents, who historically have faced higher barriers to voting, could be a crucial source of new supporters for Democrats, he said.

“There’s just more room to grow the vote on the Democratic side than the Republican side,” Jillson said.

Young voters who just turned 18, especially Latinos, and naturalized citizens are two pools of voters where Democrats can make gains, University of Houston political science professor Jeronimo Cortina said.

“Democrats have a more diverse pool of people that sympathize with the Democratic Party,” Cortina said. “Part of it is, you have a tremendous pool of eligible potential voters in the state, especially in the urban areas, that four years ago was not tapped.”

Going again by 2016 turnout, which was 61.33%, would put turnout at over 1.51 million in Harris County, easily surpassing the 1.34 million we had in 2016. We would need over 68% turnout to get to 1.7 million, a number that County Clerk Chris Hollins has floated. That’s a bit high for me, but we could get close to 1.6 million if this really is a high-water year for turnout. Remember, the record number of people who voted in 2016 were a lower percentage of registered voters than in 2012 or 2008, but because there were so many more registered voters, the overall total was higher. Turnout as a percentage of registered voters was 62.81% in 2008, and at that level we’d top 1.55 million voters, for an increase of over 200K from 2016.

As we’ve seen so far, turnout numbers have been off the charts. A lot of that is from regular voters, but not all of them. There’s almost two million more voters in Texas than there were in 2016 – it won’t take much from them to have a significant effect, and that’s before we take into account the potential for higher turnout among less-frequent voters. We can’t say too much just yet, but the conditions are there to make the kind of difference Dems have been working towards.

The overlooked Congressional race

There are ten Congressional races involving Republican-held seats that are seen as competitive. Nine of them have gotten a fair amount of attention. The tenth is CD06, and the Texas Signal steps in to fill the gap.

Stephen Daniel

The race in the Texas sixth congressional district between challenger attorney Stephen Daniel and incumbent Rep. Ron Wright has been chugging along, under the radar from other clashes in the state. However, many pundits have looked at the district, which includes parts of Arlington, as well as Waxahachie and Corsicana, and have proclaimed it’s a sleeper for flipping, something Daniel himself sees in the final weeks of the campaign.

In 2018, Jana Lynne Sanchez ran for the seat. It was the first time in years a serious Democratic challenger had entered into the race. In the documentary film Surge, which recently premiered in Texas at the Dallas International Film Festival and is airing on Showtime, filmmakers chronicle the battle Sanchez endured to raise money and to get people interested in a race many deemed out of reach.

Sanchez came within seven points of Wright. Two years later, several polls are showing an even tighter race between Daniel and Wright, a combative Texas conservative and the former Chief of Staff to Rep. Joe Barton, who retired from the seat after explicit photos appeared on social media. Wright was recently hospitalized after complications from lung cancer treatment.

Wright has said that women who have abortions have committed murder and should be jailed. As a former columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he said that “white males are the only species without some form of federal protection.” Like most Republicans in Congress, he supports dismantling the Affordable Care Act. Texas currently leads the nation in the number of uninsured, and since the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 650,000 Texans have lost their health insurance.

Access to healthcare prompted Daniel to enter into the race against Wright. In an interview with the Texas Signal, he spoke about his background growing up in a small town and being the first person in his family to go to college. “There’s a lot of people who flat out can’t afford healthcare,” said Daniel.

[…]

Like every campaign, Daniel and his team had to adjust to the pandemic era. He misses the in-person experience of block walking, where he could personally connect with voters. He particularly enjoyed campaigning alongside statehouse candidates. There are five competitive races in the sixth congressional district. Now, that campaigning has moved to Zoom and other virtual settings.

Daniel is optimistic. “The path to turning Texas blue goes through Texas sixth [district],” he said. Nearly seventy percent of the voting bloc in the district is in Arlington and Tarrant county. He sees firsthand how voters in the district are changing. The DCCC recently added the race to their Texas target list.

There was one poll of this race, done by the DCCC back in June, that had Wright up by four points, 45-41. The DCCC Executive Director mentioned CD06 as a race to watch a couple of weeks ago, for whatever that means. Daniel has been a modest but decent fundraiser who would need some help to get a boost. (I have not heard anything about his Q3 report as yet.) I should note that Beto lost CD06 by a 51.2 to 48.0 margin, which made it closer than the more-touted CDs 03 (51.3 to 47.9) and 25 (52.1 to 47.0), with that pattern holding true for other races as well. I don’t know exactly why CD06 has gotten less attention than the other races – Daniel was unopposed in the primary, so there hasn’t been much to report on – but that’s the way it is sometimes. However you want to look at it, this is a race to keep an eye on.

On a side note, seven of the ten Democratic candidates in those competitive races are women. Daniel, along with Mike Siegel in CD10, is vying to join Rep. Lloyd Doggett as the white Democratic Congressmen from Texas. I believe the last time there were as many as three white male Democratic members of Congress from Texas was 2009-10, when then-Reps. Chet Edwards and Gene Green were still serving. Nick Lampson had been there in the prior session, in that election where Tom DeLay withdrew and the Republicans ran Shelley Sekula Gibbs as a write-in, but he lost to Pete Olson in 2008. Edwards was wiped out in 2010, and Green retired prior to the 2018 election.

November 2020 Early Voting Day Four: One hundred thousand is the magic number

Lather, rinse, repeat.

The county announced it had passed the 100K mark in a tweet just after 6 p.m. It was the four straight day with more than 100,000 ballots cast by county voters.

Those four days now mark the four highest single-day totals in the county’s early voting history.

Through the first four days of early voting, roughly 500,000 Harris County residents have cast their ballots at early voting locations or through the mail. That is about half the total early and absentee turnout from 2016, when some 985,000 Harris County residents voted before Election Day.

Seemed like yesterday started out slowly, with the rain in the area, but by the end of the day we had reached the same 100K benchmark as before. Saturday has always been a heavy day during early voting, but that’s been in the context of shorter first week hours and only Saturday of the EV period. I expect it will still be busy, but maybe not much different than what we’ve seen so far. But who knows?

Here are your Day One, Day Two, and Day Three numbers, and we’ll go ahead and finish off that daily comparison to finish the first work week.


Year    Day One   Day Two Day Three  Day Four    Total
======================================================
2008     39,201    43,411    43,782    44,235  170,629
2012     47,093    51,578    52,051    51,240  201,962
2016     64,471    73,542    76,098    76,329  290,440
2018     63,188    64,781    62,476    58,938  249,383
2020    128,186   114,996   105,175   104,870  453,227

Year    Day One   Day Two Day Three  Day Four    Total
======================================================
2008     68,502    44,428    47,991   45,503   206,424
2012     87,679    55,105    53,744   54,765   251,293
2016    129,014    76,376    81,744   79,349   366,483
2018    115,601    66,315    64,035   63,164   309,115
2020    169,523   118,008   111,435  112,709   511,675

Top table is in person votes, bottom is all votes. The Day Four daily EV totals are here. You can find the daily totals for 2008 and 2012 (and 2016 as well, but I’ve got a separate link for it) here, for 2016 here, and for 2018 here. We’re now over 58K mail ballots returned, so I feel pretty comfortable saying we’ll be at least at parity with 2016 by the time we see the Monday number. A bit less than one fourth of all the ballots that have been sent out have been returned so far.

I don’t have much to add today. Here’s the Derek Ryan report, and here’s a Texas Monthly story that puts some context onto what we’ve seen. Remember, Monday is the day that early voting would have started. Have you voted yet?