Since April, testing for the coronavirus in the Tri-County area has largely been provided by the state. (Carlos Morales / Marfa Public Radio)

West Texas Coronavirus Tracker: Data & Information

Since the pandemic reached West Texas earlier this spring, the total number of coronavirus cases has climbed into the thousands. Recently, the area’s more rural pockets have been plagued by infrequent testing and shrinking resources. Meanwhile, in the Permian Basin, Midland-Odessa hospitals are inundated with COVID-19 patients.

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In recent weeks, as cases surged in Texas and across the U.S., the White House task force urged state and local leaders to adopt aggressive mitigation measures and to fervently enforce safety guidelines. (Kevin Dietsch/Sipa USA via REUTERS)

“We Are In A Very Dangerous Place”: White House COVID-19 Task Force Pleads With Texas Health Officials To Warn The Public

By Shawn Mulcahy, The Texas Tribune

The report also recommends that anyone younger than 40 who gathered with people outside their immediate household during Thanksgiving should “assume you became infected.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic reaches dangerous new levels nationwide, the White House Coronavirus Task Force acknowledged this week that state and local policies in Texas and around the country could be underplaying the severity of the virus and urged public health officials to take their case directly to the public.

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photograph courtesy Rolfe Mandel.

photograph courtesy Rolfe Mandel. There’s no doubt that Native Americans inhabited the Big Bend in the Ice Age, but most of the evidence of their ancient presence is deeply buried. In the photo above, from an arroyo bank south of Alpine, all but the very bottom layers of soil were deposited during the last 11,500 years, since the end of the Ice Age.

Odyssey in Big Bend: Tracking the Continent’s First People in the Texas Desert

When it comes to understanding the deep history of human life in the Americas, our region has played a pivotal role. Sites on the plains of West Texas and eastern New Mexico yielded the first evidence of Ice-Age Americans. Indeed, … Continue reading

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During the last round of public coronavirus testing in Presidio, officials say over 550 Big Bend residents were tested. (Carlos Morales / Marfa Public Radio)

COVID-19 Spike Puts Tri-County Area In ‘Dire’ Situation

By Ari Snider and Carlos Morales

Coronavirus cases in the Big Bend region have reached a staggering and grim milestone. As of Tuesday, the number of current cases in the tri-county area was over 700, with Brewster and Presidio counties currently one of the nation’s top coronavirus hot spots.

Dr. John Paul Schwartz, the local health authority for Presidio County, says the region is facing a crisis. And with no statewide stay-at-home mandate coming, Dr. Schwartz urged residents to take the initiative and isolate themselves as much as possible.

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Signs in some parts of Marfa discourage tourism to the city during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Sarah Vasquez for The Texas Tribune)

Coronavirus Is Ablaze In West Texas As Tourists Flock To Big Bend And Marfa. Hospitals Are Running Out Of Overflow Options.

Presidio and Brewster counties, home to the popular tourist destinations, along with nearby Culberson County, lead the state in cases per 1,000 residents in the last two weeks. All of West Texas is dealing with increasing COVID-19 cases while low on hospital beds.

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(Carlos Morales / Marfa Public Radio)

In Midland And Odessa, City Leaders Take Two Different Approaches To Fighting The Coronavirus

By Mitch Borden

Leaders in Midland and Odessa have faced a choice for months. The question, what actions should they take to slow the spread of the COVID-19. Since March, the coronavirus has infected thousands of residents of the two Permian Basin cities—leading to hundreds of deaths.

Odessa’s mayor this week made their choice by establishing a mask mandate, requiring employees and customers in businesses to wear face coverings. Midland leaders have considered similar orders but have so far failed to take action to prevent more residents from catching the deadly virus as hospitals are pushed to the brink. 

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The StoryCorps MobileBooth on Sunday, June 24, 2018, in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

StoryCorps Makes (Virtual) West Texas Stop Next Month

By Ari Snider

The oral history group StoryCorps is coming to West Texas next month, virtually, from Dec. 2 to Dec. 19, and you can sign up now to participate. The organization records and documents conversations with people from all walks of life.

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A scene outside the Presidio school board meeting last week, where school officials prompted outrage after they prevented worried residents from entering the meeting and offered no virtual options to attend. (Carlos Morales / Marfa Public Radio)

More Planned Cuts To Virtual Learning Spark Protests In Presidio

By Stephen Paulsen, Big Bend Sentinel and Carlos Morales

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Like many in Presidio right now, Alondra Flores is angry at the local school district. A student at Sul Ross State University, she’s been attending classes virtually from her home in Presidio, where she hoped to safely ride out the coronavirus pandemic with her family.

But now coronavirus cases in the city are spiking, and Presidio schools look set to cut all virtual learning options for students. For Flores, who graduated from Presidio Independent School District and has three brothers there, that feels risky.

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Being transferred from small to major hospitals in parts of rural West Texas can involve hours-long drives or expensive helicopter flights. (Courthouse News photo/Travis Bubenik)

As Virus Stresses Texas Hospitals, Rural Patients Face Greater Risks

By Travis Bubenik, Courthouse News

In the rural Big Bend region of Far West Texas, there have been signs lately of life returning to some kind of normalcy despite the coronavirus pandemic’s resurgence here and across the country.

Tourists are once again flocking to the region’s friendly small towns for a breath of fresh, high-desert air, campsites are filled with travelers and locals alike seeking a break from the monotony of work-from-home routines and Netflix binges.

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Volunteers hand out food. (Sarah Vasquez / Marfa Public Radio)

Quiet And Loud: How The Pandemic Has Changed The Sounds Of West Texas

By Ari Snider

Quiet and Loud is a new series exploring the way the pandemic has changed the soundscape of West Texas.

In the second installment of the series, we go to Presidio, where the West Texas Food Bank’s monthly mobile distribution has seen a boom in demand as the economic fallout of the pandemic pushes more people into food insecurity.

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Marfa Public Radio Is Looking For A News Director

Marfa Public Radio is one of the most awarded small-market stations in the nation for excellence in journalism. MPR serves approximately 30,000 square miles of Far West Texas, plus an online streaming audience worldwide.

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“Cancel Gatherings, Large And Small”: Texas Officials Raise Alarm Ahead Of Thanksgiving Holiday

Health experts worry that increased travel and mingling over Thanksgiving and into the December holidays could exacerbate an already dangerous situation as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are rising across Texas.

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With Increasing Demand, State Returns To Big Bend Region For COVID Testing

By Public Radio Staff

For the second time this month, the state of Texas will hold mobile coronavirus testing throughout the Big Bend area.

The upcoming public testing follows an increasing demand for frequent screening for the virus—in Presidio County alone, the last round of mobile testing saw nearly 950 residents tested. Testing sites will be in Presidio, Marfa, Alpine, Fort Davis. All testing is free and open to residents throughout the Big Bend region.

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Permian Basin Health Officials Concerned Over COVID-19 Surge While Leaders Take Little Action

By Mitch Borden

As the coronavirus continues to spread throughout the Permian Basin, medical leaders are worried the region—without meaningful action or a drastic change in how residents are behaving—could become the state’s next covid hotspot.

Since the beginning of October, thousands of Midland and Odessa residents have tested positive for COVID-19 and the city’s hospitals are filling with patients in critical condition. But West Texans continue to shirk wearing masks and practicing social distancing — their defiant actions propped by city leaders who have not recently taken substantive action to prevent the spread of the virus.

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Joe Biden Can Quickly Reverse Many Of Donald Trump’s Immigration Policies, Experts Say. Others Will Be More Complicated.

By Julián Aguilar, The Texas Tribune

Biden can unwind many Trump policies the same way they were created, via executive order, but bigger immigration reforms will depend on how much Congress is willing to take on, experts say.

It took less than a half hour after the presidential election was called for President-elect Joe Biden on Saturday before Krish O’Mara Vignarajah tweeted her thoughts on what she expected from the incoming administration.

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A Close Race For Midland ISD’s School Board Just Got More Complicated After Voters Were Given The Wrong Ballots

By Mitch Borden

Would-be voters in a tight school board race in Midland were given incorrect ballots on Election Day and were unable to vote, throwing the results of a close election into question.

Voters who should have been able to cast ballots in the race for the District 1 seat on Midland Independent School District Board of Trustees were given the wrong ballots. Midland County’s Election Administrator Carolyn Graves confirmed the error on Thursday to Marfa Public Radio.  The three-way race for the District 1 seat was so tight that it will be decided in a runoff election. 

But it’s unclear which candidate will face-off against incumbent James Fuller. Currently, only eight votes separate the two candidates who could qualify for second place in the runoff.

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