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TPR's top stories in 2021

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This year, Texas Public Radio reporters covered more than 800 stories — not including the hundreds of radio features and spots filed throughout the year that never made it to our website. The stories we translated for our Spanish-speaking audience push us even closer to 1,000 posts published in 2021.

Overall top stories

These are TPR's top stories from 2021, starting with No. 1.

Dr. David Portugal and other Texas members of the advocacy group the Committee to Protect Health Care called on the governor to rescind his executive order barring local governments from mandating masks in schools. They are just a few of the many healthcare workers and local governments frustrated by the state's lack of action on preventing the spread of COVID.

TPR first provided daily updates on local COVID-19 information in 2020 — we continued this effort in 2021 as vaccine information became crucial. Coronavirus cases dipped and jumped throughout the year, and our team continued to track trends and provide medical guidance.

Senate Bill 8 — often called the "heartbeat bill" by supporters — effectively bans abortions after six weeks, well before many people even know they are pregnant. Physicians who specialize in reproductive health say the term “fetal heartbeat” used in the legislation is misleading because there is no cardiovascular system or a functional heart six weeks into pregnancy.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said his department will urgently explore all options to challenge the law. In the meantime, he said it will continue to protect the rights of people seeking access to abortion under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act of 1994.

The intentional outages stemmed from a basic problem of supply and demand. The historic storm knocked many power production sources offline as demand from customers surged. The grid couldn’t handle the load.

Doug Lewin, an energy and climate consultant said the state needs to start preparing for more extreme events.

“As soon as we get on the other side of this thing, we really need to, as a state, get serious about planning ahead for climate change,” he said. “People have always thought about climate change as being something that's going to affect the next generation. That clearly is no longer the case. It is happening right now.”

Before SpaceX moved in, the Federal Aviation Administration conducted an “environmental impact statement” — an in-depth examination required by federal law. Since then, FAA regulators have allowed the company to ramp up activity beyond what was initially planned for.

Rather than doing new impact statements for the company’s increasingly large tests and launches, the FAA has done a series of “reevaluations” — a less intensive process.

The current reevaluation will lead either to an approval of the Starship program, or to a new impact statement, which would further delay SpaceX's plans as regulators take a closer look at the proposed program.

Not long ago, most of them were among the thousands gathered under the International Bridge. All told TPR they are seeking entrance to the U.S. — many looking for asylum. These are the fortunate few who’ve made it this far. Now, they wait for buses that will take them to new cities, where their asylum process will continue.

But many more at the migrant encampment under the Del Rio International Bridge are in limbo, including the thousands of people fleeing Haiti. The island nation experienced massive upheaval over the summer following the assassination of the country's president and a devastating earthquake which killed more than 2,200 people.

In April 2020, TPR launched a live blog to share critical COVID-19 information to serve the Rio Grande Valley. The RGV COVID-19 liveblog is available in English and Spanish, and continues to be updated with public data on cases, hospitalizations, and vaccinations from Hidalgo and Cameron counties, as well as information from Willacy and Starr counties when available. This resource page includes the latest information on where and how to access vaccine clinics and local infusion centers for antibody treatments.

In his order, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott links the restrictions to what he describes as "a dramatic rise in COVID-19 among unlawful migrants."

The executive order states that only local, state and federal law enforcement agencies may provide ground transportation. The order allows law enforcement to stop, reroute or impound any vehicle that they reasonably suspect may be violating the order. The governor’s order did not detail what constitutes reasonable suspicion.

Immigrant rights activists described that as misleading, and they characterized the governor's action as unconstitutional and fascist.

Police in Austin and San Antonio are investigating acts of antisemitism after members of a neo-Nazi group traveled through both cities in recent days.

Around 10 members came to Austin from Florida this past weekend, hanging an antisemitic banner on a MOPAC overpass near the Shalom Austin Jewish Community Center on Saturday and then walking around the heavily trafficked 6th Street.

The neo-Nazi group traveled down I-35 to San Antonio on Sunday to protest outside an annual fundraiser for Israel held by the Cornerstone Church.

The organizers of a separate protest outside the church said they were shocked to see them.

Once vaccines became available in San Antonio, our readers wanted to know how to get them. Our Spanish-language information post repeatedly hit the “top three” of our weekly stories, which signaled a need for readers in that community.

We committed to update this post with new locations, dates and scheduling tips. 

Top education story

Northside, San Antonio’s largest school district with more than 100,000 students, is taking a wait-and-see approach to the legal battle that temporarily allowed Metro Health to implement the mask mandate.

District officials told TPR they didn’t want to confuse parents and staff by implementing a mandate that may no longer be in place on Aug. 23, the district’s first day of school.

Parents and teachers, however, told TPR they didn’t receive any communication from the district about the local mask mandate. Nothing was communicated publicly on the district’s website or social media accounts.

Top military story

TPR’s Carson Frame spoke with Christopher Sandles, CEO and medical center director for the South Texas Veterans Healthcare System, in January 2021 about vaccine distribution plans. 

This Q&A interview was conducted as Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for COVID-19 became available to the general public.

For the most recent South Texas Veterans Healthcare System COVID-19 vaccination information, visit https://www.va.gov/health-care/covid-19-vaccine/.

Top arts and culture stories

  1. Myths & Rituals Around Eclipse Includes Red Underwear And Safety Pins
  2. The Texas History Behind John Ford's 'The Searchers'
  3. Hardberger Park's Treetop Trail Opens To The Public On Monday
  4. Vets Help Researchers Pinpoint The Site Of The Bloodiest Battle In Texas History
  5. 'Bambi,' Disney's First Circle Of Life
  6. Why Did San Antonio's Most Famous Brothel Lose Its Historic Designation?
  7. British Musician Bringing Fish-n-Chips To Downtown San Antonio
  8. 15 years of work comes to a head for San Antonio musician in massive mariachi competition

Compiled by Beth Mati-Losee, Kathleen Creedon and Bri Kirkham

TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.