The spread of coronavirus across the country is a serious threat to our health and financial security. We here at TexPIRG are working from home and wishing everyone health, calm, and plenty of hand-washing.

During this time, we must ensure that consumers are protected from those who would take advantage of the pandemic situation and that everyone has access to what they need to stay healthy and prevent the spread of this disease. 

The changes occurring to our daily lives and the whole country is overwhelming. We’ll get through it by working together, so we wanted to offer some information on what TexPIRG is working on.

  • Calling on Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Brett Giroir, to ensure that everyone who needs a test gets a test. Admiral Giroir, the new head of coronavirus testing response should adopt a plan to make sure that everyone who needs a test gets a test in the next seven days. This requires coordinating with health officials, universities, private institutions, shipping companies and tech companies to expand testing locations, expedite testing, improve data management and increase the number of test kits sent out into the field.

  • Urging Amazon to stop price gouging.  Price gouging is when sellers use emergencies as opportunities to inflate their prices exorbitantly due to increased demand. Analysis from the U.S PIRG Education Fund, featured in the Wall Street Journal, found that after the WHO declared a public health emergency, high prices for surveyed hand sanitizer more than doubled over their 90-day average on Amazon. Prices shouldn’t be allowed to spike during a state of emergency. TexPIRG has resources on how to avoid price gouging and fake products and a platform to report problems. We applaud Governor Abbott and Attorney General Paxton for their work pushing back against price gouging and hope their leadership will continue.  

  • Giving tips to consumers. We’re putting together a series of tip guides on the Coronavirus including how to deal with travel cancellations, phishing scams, the dos and don'ts of Coronavirus safety, student loan payment deferrals, open textbook usage for e-learning, negotiating delays on paying credit cards or mortgages, what to stock up on, and getting help if you think you're sick.

  • Urging congress to prevent reckless deregulation. -- Right now, Wall Street is asking federal officials to lift regulations that are specifically designed to ensure banks don't fail in the event of a crisis. The top priority needs to be making sure we have the resources to fight the coronavirus and keep Americans safe. The changes the banks are calling for aren't necessary to serve that purpose. TexPIRG and our national network were a big part of the effort to advocate for strong protections in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. To prevent economic disaster in the face of the disease's spread, we need strong protection more than ever.

  • Providing resource guides for students. Students are dealing with huge transitions as their classes move online. They may be unsure if and when they can return to campus or where their next meal will come from. We have worked with thousands of UT students this year on our transit campaign and we’re making sure they know what campus and community resources are available to them and their peers.

  • Joining the calls for full vote-by-mail. The continued spread of the coronavirus poses a real threat to our elections, not just through the runoffs and special elections, but into November. While Texas has plans to deal with emergencies like power outages, natural disasters and other one-off situations, we are not currently set up to successfully run an election where large public gatherings, such as polling places, present a public health risk. If people are unable to safely get to polling places, the state of Texas needs to modify our elections to accommodate the voters. Fortunately a solution exists and, in some places, is already in use. Here in Texas, if a person is unable to physically make it to the polls, they can request an absentee ballot be sent to their home.  They can then vote at home and mail their ballot back to be counted. The Governor should use his power under the Disaster Act to allow all Texans to vote by mail. 

We’re also investigating the need to expand telehealth coverage, require government workers to work from home, and other policies to help address the pandemic and its consequences.  We would love to hear any ideas you have and issues you are working on to protect Texans during this health crisis.