Coronavirus daily news updates, March 26: What to know in East Texas, the state and nation

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The information surrounding the new coronavirus pandemic is changing rapidly. Here, we'll provide updates throughout the day from Northeast Texas, the state and beyond. 

12:31 p.m., Thursday

Harrison County confirms first positive COVID-19

Harrison County has reported a positive case of COVID-19.

“I was notified about 10 a.m. by the Texas Department of State Health Services that there was a positive test for the COVID-19 Coronavirus in our county,” Harrison County Judge Chad Sims said in an e-mailed statement.

“We already have a voluntary shelter in place order by the governor and I’d like to reinforce that from the county.”

The county judge said all residents must do their part to stop the spread of the virus. He urges all to not panic.

“There is no need for alarm. Grocery stores, banks, etcetera will continue to work as normal,” he said. “Please stay at home, practice social-distancing and use excellent personal hygiene habits. This is a voluntary self-quarantine.”

Sims said residents are free to leave home for essentials but must take this seriously to achieve best results.

“I intend for county offices to continue to work as needed and with reduced staff,” he said.

11:15 a.m., Thursday

Texas schools get OK to give free meals to parents when kids aren't present

After pleas from Texas school superintendents and lawmakers, t​​​​​he U.S. Department of Agriculture on Wednesday granted school districts more flexibility on how and what they feed students in free and reduced-price meals while schools are temporarily closed statewide due to the new coronavirus.

The Texas Department of Agriculture, which administers the federally funded school meal programs, had already received a federal waiver allowing school districts to hand out curbside breakfasts and lunches to parents who show up. But until Wednesday night, the law required parents to bring their children with them to prove they qualify for school meals — which educators and lawmakers argue contradicts public health recommendations during the crisis.

"This is ridiculous to expect somebody to put all their kids in a car and bring them up here and possibly expose them to the virus," said Troy Parton, superintendent at Munday Consolidated Independent School District in the Texas Panhandle.

Read the full story

11:06 a.m., Thursday

Read the full text of Gregg County's mandatory shelter-at-home order

We've been getting some questions about specifics the mandatory shelter-at-home order for Gregg County residents that goes into effect at 11:59 p.m. today. 

The full document from Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt is below. 

9:25 a.m., Thursday

U.S. Senate advances $2 trillion stimulus package

The U.S. Senate unanimously passed one of the most sweeping pieces of legislation in American history late Wednesday night, aiming to mitigate the fallout from a COVID-19 outbreak that has forced people across the nation to self-isolate and disengage from American commerce.

Nearly 900 pages in length, the $2 trillion bill will direct payments of up to $1,200 to adults and $500 per child. There is also $500 billion allotted in aid to large corporations, including airlines, and $350 billion in small business loans.

The affirmative votes included those of Texas’ U.S. senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz. In all, 96 senators voted in favor the bill. Three Republican senators missed the vote due to self-quarantines after being potentially exposed to the virus.

The bill now heads to the U.S. House and faces a complicated trajectory. U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was deeply involved with the Senate negotiations, but House members are currently in their home districts — many sheltering in place. There is little appetite to bring those representatives back to Washington and risk endangering their health.

Read the full story.

9:15 a.m., Thursday

What we know about the three confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Gregg County

Gregg County officials on Wednesday said there had been two more confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing the county’s total to three.

The three active cases in Gregg County include the patient who initially tested positive March 9. A re-test after two weeks showed he was still infected, Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt said. The list now also includes his wife, with whom he’s been in isolation.

The third case, like the first, is travel-related. Gregg County Health Administrator A.J. Harris said that meant all three Gregg County case are travel related.

“There’s been no community spread” cases, he said.

However, Harris called “highly likely” the probability community spread is occurring, which means the virus is being passed between residents of the county. That likelihood is in part because of what is known about the latest case.

“The new one is a gentleman who is a truck driver who had been to New Jersey and has tested positive,” he said. The patient lives with his wife, four children and one other adult. All are being tested.

“We don’t know where these people have been or what they’ve been doing,” Harris said of the new case, who first presented at Christus Good Shepherd Medical Center-Longview on March 11 but was sent home. “He went back to the ER on the 15th and that’s when they tested him.”

The Northeast Texas Public Health District reports the two new cases were confirmed Wednesday.