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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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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Transportation is one of the biggest challenges for school districts, which already have trouble hiring enough bus drivers during normal circumstances. Austin ISD plans to provide hand sanitizer on buses, require drivers to wear facial coverings, and separate students’ seat assignments. Photo credit: Allie Goulding/The Texas Tribune

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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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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Teams of Texas National Guard Troops and healthcare professionals are heading throughout Texas setting up mobile testing sites, like this one in Alpine. (Carlos Morales / Marfa Public Radio)

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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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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Bill Hyman is executive director of the Independent Cattlemen’s Association of Texas. (Allie Goulding/The Texas Tribune)

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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(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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As School Reopenings Falter, Some Texas Parents Hire Private Teachers. Others Can Only Afford To Cross Their Fingers.

By Aliyya Swaby, The Texas Tribune

With the safe reopening of schools this fall in doubt, parents with the resources are setting up “learning pods” or seeking other options. But the do-it-yourself approach to education threatens to leave behind students of color and poorer families.

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National Guard and West Texas Food Bank Staff drove 250 miles to Presidio to distribute food. Without the Guard, food bank says it's "Back to the drawing board" on volunteer shortages. (PAUL FLAHIVE | TEXAS PUBLIC RADIO)

Food Banks Across Texas, U.S. Brace For ‘Perfect Storm’ Of August Challenges

By Paul Flahive, Texas Public Radio

With millions of people out of work because of the coronavirus, food banks have seen a major surge in demand since March. But August is set to be one of the busiest months yet and that worries food bank operators. 

That’s because not only is National Guard support set to end, but extra federal unemployment funds as well, which could push the demand for food banks even higher. 

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Meet Ari Snider, The New Voice Of Morning Edition on MPR

Marfa Public Radio is pleased to introduce Ari Snider, our newest staff member.

He’s taking over for Carlos Morales as the host of Morning Edition beginning Thursday, July 23. But don’t worry, you’ll still hear Carlos reporting on the air for the station.

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With the start of the school year only weeks away, parents with children at Marfa Independent School District are eying the fall with trepidation as administrators struggle to navigate the latest guidance from the state. (Carlos Morales / Marfa Public Radio)

With New Guidance From The State, Marfa ISD Weighs Options as School Year Looms

By Carlos Morales

With the start of the school year only weeks away, parents with children at Marfa Independent School District are eying the fall with trepidation as administrators struggle to navigate the latest guidance from the state.

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Marfa hairstylist Lawrence Rivera (Courtesy of)

‘The Bills Aren’t Stopping’: Marfa Hairstylist Describes Struggle To Make Ends Meet

As part of our West Texas Wonders journalism initiative, we’re asking you to tell us how you and your loved ones have been affected by the pandemic.  One of the first people to respond to our callout was Lawrence Rivera, … Continue reading

Midland Memorial Hospital is the only hospital in Midland and is leading the city's fight against the coronavirus. (Mitch Borden / Marfa Public Radio)

Morale Low At Midland Hospital As Public Criticism Intensifies

By Mitch Borden

Midland healthcare workers are facing growing doubt from some members of the community, as more coronavirus patients flood the city’s only hospital and COVID-19 related deaths rise. 

Officials at Midland Memorial Hospital have said they’re concerned about the impact the public’s criticism is having on staff morale.

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Israel Campos opened Pody's BBQ in 2011 in Pecos, TX. (Photo source: Instagram)

Owner Of BBQ Joint In The Oil Patch Says He’s Hanging On

By Mitch Borden

The Permian Basin has been feeling the impact of low oil prices as the coronavirus pandemic persists. Recently, prices have stabilized around $40, compared to last year when the average price of a barrel was in the upper 50s.

The hit energy companies have taken has trickled down to smaller businesses that have relied on workers from the oil patch.

Marfa Public Radio’s Mitch Borden spoke to Israel Campos of Pody’s BBQ in Pecos to see how his business is doing.

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By March 18, the Census Bureau had officially postponed their field operations. During the national count, Big Bend census workers were planning to drop off questionnaires in person since the bureau doesn’t mail directly to post office boxes. (U.S. CENSUS BUREAU)

Census Continues Struggle With Low Response Rates Across Far West Texas

By Ari Snider

Most of Far West Texas continues to lag well behind the rest of the state in responding to the US Census — the once-per-decade headcount that determines political representation and guides the flow of government funding.

In the tri-county area, response rates range from 20% to a little over 30%, compared to an average of 57% across the state.

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2020 West Texas Runoff Election Results

By Public Radio Staff

On Tuesday, voters in West Texas weighed in on a handful of state and congressional races, including a dramatic race for Congressional District 23 that’s still unresolved.

Below you’ll find primary results for State Senate District 19. We’re also tracking the results for the Republican primary race for Congressional District 23For additional results on statewide races, click here.

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Texas Hospitals Are Running Out of Drugs, Beds, Ventilators and Even Staff

By Edgar Walters, Shannon Najmabadi and Emma Platoff

Many Texas hospitals are no longer accepting transfer patients in order to maintain space for a surge that’s expected to come. In some parts of the state, it’s already here.

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Record-Setting Heat Reaches West Texas This Week

By Public Radio Staff

A high-pressure system hovering over West Texas is causing record heat throughout the region with temperatures reaching well into the triple digits.

Afternoon highs over the next few days will reach “dangerous” levels, according to the National Weather Service, and will bring weather capable of spreading fires to parts of West Texas.

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Texas Runoff Elections Show Stress of Coronavirus Pandemic on State’s Voting Systems

By Alex Ura, The Texas Tribune

Disabled and older voters have encountered the most problems navigating mail-in balloting as they try to avoid going to polling places. In-person voting has been generally smooth so far in the low-turnout runoffs.

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Donald Trump, Ted Cruz back opposing candidates in competitive GOP runoff to replace U.S. Rep. Will Hurd

By Patrick Svitek, The Texas Tribune

As early voting got underway, Cruz shook up the TX-23 runoff by endorsing conservative underdog Raul Reyes. Three days later, Trump backed national GOP favorite Tony Gonzales.

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