MPR Wants To Know: How Have You Been Impacted By The Coronavirus Pandemic?

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted life as we’ve known it in West Texas.

Businesses across the region have dramatically changed their operations to adhere to new safety guidelines, while some have been forced to shutter altogether. School districts and teachers are scrambling to figure out how to educate students in the coming school year. And residents across the Big Bend are questioning how an economy largely based on tourism can continue to thrive during these uncertain times.

That’s why Marfa Public Radio wants to hear from you. 


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Midlanders are struggling to figure out what the future of Midland's Robert E. Lee High School should be. ( Mitch Borden / Marfa Public Radio)

As Debate Over Rober E. Lee High School Continues, Midland ISD Forms Committee To Rename It

By Mitch Borden

Midland Independent School District’s board of trustees Thursday night moved forward with the criteria for renaming Robert E. Lee High School and appointed several representatives to the panel charged with the task.

The move comes after the school board voted in late July to change the name of the controversial school, but what that change will look like is unclear.


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Gov. Greg Abbott has said that school boards are welcome to consult public health authorities as they make decisions about reopening campuses. He also said local health officials could shut down schools that have COVID-19 outbreaks after they reopen. Photo credit: Sacco/Caller-Times via REUTERS

With school reopening, Gov. Greg Abbott sets off another debate over whether local or state officials are in control

By Aliyya Swaby and Cassandra Pollock, The Texas Tribune

Abbott’s decision to curb the role of local health authorities in school reopening decisions has added to the ongoing conflict between him and local governments during the pandemic, with mayors and judges voicing frustration over having their hands tied by the state’s response.

Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott moved to block local health authorities from shutting down classrooms before the school year has started. Since then, he has repeatedly said he is trusting local school leaders to decide whether and how to bring students back to classrooms this fall.


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Marfa City Council signs off on local contact tracing efforts

By Stephen Paulsen, The Big Bend Sentinel

Marfa city officials are moving ahead with plans for local contact tracing. At a city council meeting on Monday night, the council voted unanimously to approve such a program.

Local contact tracing efforts (coupled with state ones) are already the norm in places like Houston and Corpus Christi, where the existence of city- and county-level health departments makes it easier for health officials to coordinate at the state and local level. But Marfa’s contact tracing initiative would be a first for small-town rural Texas, leading some city leaders to dub it a pilot program.


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County case reporting differs slightly from data reported on the Department of State Health Services’ dashboard. In this dataset, one case in Presidio County has not been assigned to a city, so is not refl ected in the chart. Brewster County’s one “probable” case is included in the case count here. This data is as of August 4, 2020. Graphic by Abbie Perrault

Three Presidio residents lose their lives to COVID-19

By Abbie Perrault, The Big Bend Sentinel

On Friday, Presidio County marked a tragic milestone, recording its first COVID-19-related death. A Presidio resident passed away in an Odessa hospital’s COVID-19 unit. Within 24 hours, a second Presidio resident would succumb to the disease. By Monday, a third had died.

For over four months, the county had been able to avoid the deadly impacts of COVID-19, even as neighboring communities have seen higher case counts and the fatalities from COVID-19. Yet, as state data reports that Presidio County’s total case count has only reached 44 cases compared to Brewster County’s 186, Presidio County now has the most deaths in the tri-county area, and a 6.8% death rate.


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Big Bend National Park will partially reopen to the public on Friday, Aug. 7. (Carlos Morales / Marfa Public Radio)

After COVID Recover, Big Bend National Park Will Reopen Friday

By Carlos Morales

Big Bend National Park will partially reopen this week now that an employee who had previously been diagnosed with the coronavirus has recovered.

The employee tested positive late last month and is now “feeling fine,” according to a park official. Five additional employees who had contact with the person are now out of quarantine as well. Since the announcement of the confirmed case, there have been no additional reports of COVID-19 among staff or residents of the park.


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After previously stating the 2020 census would run through Oct. 31, the U.S. Census Bureau announced it was cutting the count short by a month, moving up the deadline for responding to Sept. 30. Photo credit: Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune

An abrupt change to the census deadline shortened the response period by a month, increasing fears of an undercount in Texas

By Alex Ura, The Texas Tribune

For months, as Texans have been asked to stay home to avoid the spread of the new coronavirus, Jennifer Edwards has been doing the rounds at gas stations in a trio of counties near the Texas-Louisiana border.

Volunteering as a census community organizer, the Tarleton State University professor reasoned that gas stations, like grocery stores, would continue to see foot traffic during the pandemic. Setting up a booth just outside the front doors offered her face time with essential workers to deliver an essential message — please fill out the census.


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A natural gas flare is pictured near Orla, Texas, in 2018. (Courthouse News photo/Travis Bubenik)

Texas Regulators Move Forward With Plan to Reduce Oilfield Flaring

By Travis Bubenik, Courthouse News

Texas regulators on Tuesday moved forward with proposed administrative changes that are expected to become part of a broader effort to tackle the years-long problem of oilfield flaring, where companies burn off excess natural gas into the air.


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A member of the Texas National Guard checks information on a driver's license at one of the state's recent mobile coronavirus testing sites in Far West Texas. (Mitch Borden / Marfa Public Radio)

As new company prepares testing push in tri-county, local officials assess last effort

By Stephen Paulsen, The Big Bend Sentinel

There’s a new coronavirus-testing company in town, and it isn’t Honu Management Group. Last week, The Big Bend Sentinel reported that the Washington State-based company was taking over testing sites from the National Guard after scoring a contract from the Texas Division of Emergency Management.


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A father, right, and his son, who was detained in an American hotel and faced expulsion to Honduras. | Photo credit: Carolina Guerrero for The Texas Tribune/ProPublica

Federal agents are expelling asylum seekers as young as 8 months from the border, citing COVID-19 risks

By Lomi Kriel, The Texas Tribune and ProPublica

Thousands of migrant children have been expelled by the Trump administration since March. Some have been held in hotels without access to lawyers or family. Advocates say many are now “virtually impossible” to find.

A teenage girl carrying her baby arrived at the U.S. border this summer and begged for help. She told federal agents that she feared returning to Guatemala. The man who raped her she said had threatened to make her “disappear.”


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After 59 years, Midland ISD Agrees To Change The Name Of Robert E. Lee High

By Mitch Borden

Midland school officials recently approved changing the name of the city’s famous Robert E. Lee High School, along with its freshman campus. This comes as school districts across the country reevaluate campuses named after Confederate leaders.

The decision sparked celebration and rage across Midland as locals wrestle with the future as well as the history of one of the community’s most beloved schools.


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Isaiah Vale places flowers at a memorial honoring the victims of the Walmart shooting at Ponder Park in El Paso. Photo credit: Joel Angel Juárez for The Texas Tribune

El Pasoans remember victims of the Walmart shooting one year later

By Briana Vargas and Joel Angel Juárez, the Texas Tribune

A year after the mass shooting in El Paso, where 23 people were killed at a Walmart in what was the worst attack on Latinos in modern U.S. history, Texas Tribune photographers document a city still in mourning.


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Medical Center Hospital in Odessa has set up a hotline for locals to call to ask questions and be assessed for COVID-19 symptoms. (Mitch Borden / Marfa Public Radio)

Presidio Officials Confirm County’s First COVID-19 Death

By Mitch Borden

A 91-year-old man from the City of Presidio has died from the coronavirus while receiving treatment at Medical Center Hospital in Odessa. 

Hospital officials announced the death Friday afternoon saying the Big Bend resident died this morning due to complications with the coronavirus. This is the first coronavirus related death of a Presidio County resident officially announced — which County Judge Cinderela Guevara confirmed — and the third person in the Big Bend to die as a result of the pandemic.


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President Donald J. Trump waves to supporters after disembarking from Air Force One. (Mitch Borden / Marfa Public Radio)

In The Permian, Trump Touts His Record On Oil And Attacks Democrats

By Mitch Borden

For the first time as President, Donald Trump visited Midland and Odessa, the two cities at the center of America’s most productive oil field — the Permian Basin. He had two goals in mind for the trip, to drum up funds for his reelection bid and reinforce his image as a champion of the oil industry.

Which he did as he outlined the stakes of the upcoming November elections to a crowd of supporters in front of an oil rig near Midland.


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U.S. President Donald Trump signed presidential permits for energy development Wednesday during a tour of the Double Eagle Energy oil rig in Midland. (Carlos Barria/REUTERS)

Trump Rallies Oil And Gas Workers In The Permian Basin Against Democrats Ahead Of The November Election

By Patrick Svitek and Mitchel Ferman, Texas Tribune

President Donald Trump sought to give a morale boost to the beleaguered Texas energy industry during a visit Wednesday to the Permian Basin, while also rallying oil and gas workers against Democrats ahead of the November election.


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While Marfa teams have been practicing , it’s unclear whether the University Interscholastic League, which oversees Texas sports and competitions, will allow sports to continue this school year. (Carlos Morales / Marfa Public Radio)

Across West Texas, School Districts Chart Differing Paths Toward Reopening

With the beginning of the academic year just around the corner, schools across Texas are preparing for a year like no other in recent memory.

Even as they contend with growing COVID-19 outbreaks in many regions, administrators and teachers have also had to navigate varying guidelines from the state. The latest directive from the Texas Education Agency says school districts can shift to four weeks of remote learning — before needing to provide in-person instruction for students whose families want it.


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A volunteer loads a box of groceries into a truck for delivery to a nearby community in the Panhandle. Photo credit: Callie Richmond for The Texas Tribune

Texas families now have until Aug. 21 to apply for food aid to make up for school meals

By Stacey Fernández, The Texas Tribune

The families of more than 20% of the 3.6 million eligible school children across the state have yet to apply for federal aid under the Pandemic EBT program.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday that he has extended the deadline to apply for the Pandemic EBT card, which pays $285 for each student who received free and reduced-price meals, to Aug. 21.


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Texas’ count of coronavirus deaths jumps 12% after officials change the way they tally COVID-19 fatalities

By Edgar Walters, The Texas Tribune

Hispanic Texans are overrepresented in the state’s updated fatality count, making up 47% of deaths, but only 40% of the state’s population.

After months of undercounting coronavirus deaths, Texas’ formal tally of COVID-19 fatalities grew by more than 600 on Monday after state health officials changed their method of reporting.


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Gas is burned off from an oil well in West Texas. GABRIEL C. PÉREZ / KUT

One In 10 Permian Basin Flares Are Spewing Methane Into The Air, Environmental Defense Fund Says

By Mose Buchele, KUT

The amount of methane that fossil fuel companies burn off in Texas as a waste product could power every home in the state, according to some estimates. The industry practice known as “flaring” has been decried as wasteful and polluting by public health groups, environmentalists and even some in the industry.

Now, a survey of flares in West Texas suggests the problem could be even worse than previously thought.


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(Carlos Morales / Marfa Public Radio)

Big Bend National Park Will Remain Closed As An Employee Tests Positive

By Carlos Morales

A newly confirmed case of coronavirus at Big Bend National Park has halted plans to reopen, according to an official familiar with the decision. 

This is the second confirmed case of the virus within the park community since the beginning of the month. Park officials first closed the Far West Texas destination in April as a precautionary measure. It was reopened for nearly a month before closing again at the beginning of July when a park resident tested positive for COVID-19.


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(Photo: Sally Beauvas/KRTS)

Ector County ISD Students And Parents Provided Learning Options For Upcoming Year

By Mitch Borden

Ector County ISD administrators are preparing to welcome students back in just a few short weeks. The district is giving students and parents options on how kids will be educated in the upcoming school year, but says it is ready to quickly transition to fully remote learning if it needs to.


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MPR Wants To Know: How Have You Been Impacted By The Coronavirus Pandemic?

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted life as we’ve known it in West Texas.

Businesses across the region have dramatically changed their operations to adhere to new safety guidelines, while some have been forced to shutter altogether. School districts and teachers are scrambling to figure out how to educate students in the coming school year. And residents across the Big Bend are questioning how an economy largely based on tourism can continue to thrive during these uncertain times.

That’s why Marfa Public Radio wants to hear from you. 

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From West Texas to Australia, Probing the Mysteries of “Gypsophilic” Plants

The white sands of the Chihuahuan Desert – which, in the U.S., are found at their namesake national park in New Mexico, and near the Guadalupe Mountains – are rightfully described as “otherworldly.” The gypsum dunes are luminous, hypnotic. But … Continue reading

Nature Notes is broadcast Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:45 am and 4:45 pm.
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Custodians, cafeteria workers and bus drivers also fear returning to Texas schools

By Aliyya Swaby, The Texas Tribune

Texas schools employ almost as many support staff members as they do teachers, often in hourly or part-time jobs with low pay. The state has offered limited guidance on how to protect them on the job.

Custodian Daurice Browne went back to work June 1 at a Killeen middle school, cleaning and moving furniture to prepare for students returning this fall.

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Desert Vampires: Ectoparasites in West Texas

They’re a maligned group of creatures, and not entirely without reason. Ticks, fleas, lice and chigger mites fasten themselves to a host to feed – on blood, or, in some cases, dead skin, hair or feathers. In the process, they … Continue reading

Nature Notes is broadcast Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:45 am and 4:45 pm.
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More COVID-19 Testing Coming To Marfa

Another round of free COVID-19 testing will take place in Marfa on Monday, August 3rd.

Testing will run from 9am to 4pm — or until testing capacity is reached — at the Marfa Visitor Center, located at 302 South Highland Avenue.

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Texas Ranchers, Activists And Local Officials Are Bracing For Megadroughts Brought By Climate Change

By Meena Venkataramanan, Texas Tribune

Arthur Uhl III has been ranching for 30 years and routinely has the same lament: “It doesn’t rain enough.”

Uhl, who works on his family’s San Angelo-area ranches, needs the rain to grow the grass that feeds his livestock. But in a region that’s prone to megadroughts, he’s had to make changes for sustainability’s sake.

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