Here are things to know for Monday, Feb. 22:
1. US coronavirus death toll approaches milestone of 500,000
The U.S. stood Sunday at the brink of a once-unthinkable tally: 500,000 people lost to the coronavirus.
A year into the pandemic, the running total of lives lost was about 498,000 — roughly the population of Kansas City, Missouri, and just shy of the size of Atlanta. The figure compiled by Johns Hopkins University surpasses the number of people who died in 2019 of chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, Alzheimer’s, flu and pneumonia combined.
“It’s nothing like we have ever been through in the last 102 years, since the 1918 influenza pandemic,” the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
2. Texas coronavirus deaths top 200 Saturday as hospitalizations decline
The number of deaths in Texas due to the illness caused by the coronavirus increased by more than 200 on Saturday while the number of people hospitalized with the virus declined, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
There were an additional 227 COVID-19 deaths, more than 4,900 new cases and 7,535 hospitalizations, a decline of 222 people hospitalized, the department reported.
Texas has had more than 2.5 million coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, and more than 42,000 deaths due to COVID-19, the third highest death count in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The seven-day rolling average of new cases has fallen from nearly 18,980 per day to nearly 5,041 and the average of daily deaths had dropped from 305.7 per day to 127.3, according to the Johns Hopkins data.
3. Gov. Greg Abbott says power is almost fully restored statewide and grocery stores will soon be restocked
Gov. Greg Abbott on Sunday said power should soon be fully restored across the state and that grocery stores will be restocked for Texans in the wake of a massive winter storm that left many without power for days.
Abbott, speaking in San Antonio while flanked by other state and local leaders, said roughly 13,000 Texans still did not have power due to issues with local power providers. At its height, more than 4 million Texans were without electricity.
He said power should be fully restored across the state Sunday night or Monday.
Abbott also said food supply shortages at grocery stores would soon be resolved, now that road conditions are safe for deliveries. Abbott said he suspended state regulations to get more delivery trucks on roads to help deliver food and supplies at a faster rate.
4. AOC raises $3.2 million for Texas winter storm victims, volunteers at Houston food bank
Congresswomen from two different states came together Saturday to provide relief of Texans impacted by the winter storm.
U.S. Representatives Sylvia Garcia and Shelia Jackson-Lee of Texas, along with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York joined forces Saturday morning. The elected officials met at the Houston Food Bank to pack boxes of meals and share their plan to help Texans hit hard by this week’s deadly weather event.
Rep. Ocasio-Cortez announced that she helped to raise $3.2 million. The New York congresswoman said 100% of the donations will be split among five to ten organizations, which includes the Houston Food Bank. The chosen organizations either provide food support, elder care, or shelter assistance.
5. Why some Texans are getting sky-high energy bills
After unusual icy weather left millions of Texans without power, some are facing another crisis: Sky-high electricity bills.
The surge in pricing is hitting people who have chosen to pay wholesale prices for their power, which is typically cheaper than paying fixed rates during good weather, but can spike when there’s high demand for electricity. Many of those who have reported receiving large bills are customers of electricity provider Griddy, which only operates in Texas.
Wholesale electricity prices fluctuate based on demand. Because natural gas pipelines and wind turbines froze up in Texas, there was less power available, but high demand for electricity, causing wholesale prices to shoot up, said Joshua Rhodes, an energy research associate at the University of Texas.
Wholesale prices are typically as low as a couple of cents per kilowatt-hour but spiked to $9 per kilowatt-hour after the storm.