On Friday, March 13, 2020, Governor Greg Abbott held a press conference at the State Capitol to update the public on the status of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in Texas and what the state is doing to protect public health. The Governor also announced several new actions Texas is taking to mitigate the spread of the virus, including declaring a State of Disaster in all Texas counties.
The Governor was joined by the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) Commissioner John Hellerstedt, MD, and Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) Chief Nim Kidd for the press conference.
“From the very beginning, our number one objective has been to implement preventative strategies that build on our state’s existing public health capabilities so that no matter how this situation unfolds, Texas will be ready,” said Governor Abbott. “That is exactly what our state agencies have done. The State of Texas is prepared, and we continue to take proactive measures along with the support of our federal and local partners to contain this virus and keep Texans safe. Declaring a State of Disaster is a key component of these efforts because it allows the state to effectively serve the people of Texas without hindrance or delay. When Texans come together, there is nothing we can’t overcome—and it is up to all of us to work proactively and collaboratively to respond to this challenge and protect public health.”
By declaring a State of Disaster, a number of actions are triggered by the Governor, including:
- Authorizing the use of all available and necessary state government resources to help manage this situation.
- Activating the state emergency management plan and the State Operations Center to enhance the state’s planning and response capabilities.
- Giving TDEM the ability to reassign & fully utilize appropriate personnel where they are needed most.
- Providing the immediate ability to move resources around the state, including resources obtained through the Strategic National Stockpile.
- Empowering the Office of the Texas Attorney General (OAG) to pursue cases of price-gouging and ensure that offenders are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
To protect the most vulnerable population, the Governor also directed state agencies to restrict visitations at certain facilities. This directive allows limited exceptions for situations like end-of-life visitations and requires all individuals to go through proper screening.
Agencies will be restricting visitation at the following facilities:
- Nursing homes
- State-supported living centers
- Daycare facilities
- Prisons, jails, and juvenile justice facilities
Governor Abbott is also directing state agencies to take any action necessary to facilitate telemedicine. In addition, he is directing state agencies to provide flexible work and tele-work policies to employees to give them the ability to care for their families, while ensuring the state government continues function at full capacity and provide all necessary services.
The Governor reassured the public that stockpiling supplies is not necessary. The State has been working closely with grocers and retailers to ensure shelves are replenished and that Texans have access to the goods and supplies they need.
Updates on testing capabilities were also announced during the press conference. Governor Abbott stated that Texas Public Health Labs now have the capacity to test over 270 people per day, with more private labs coming online every day. Additionally, the City of San Antonio has announced the opening of the first drive-through testing facility in Texas. This facility will serve first responders, healthcare workers, operators of critical infrastructure and key resources, and certain high-risk patients. Other major cities are working to implement drive-through testing sites that will be run and managed at the local level.
Governor Abbott addressed the actions being taken by the Texas Education Agency to prepare a proper response within school districts. Texas is pursuing waivers for federal regulations for the school lunch program to give districts flexibility to provide students food should districts shut down due to the coronavirus.
The Governor also reminded the public that the state has asked health insurers and health maintenance organizations operating in Texas to waive costs associated with testing and telemedicine visits for the coronavirus. Additionally, the Texas Department of Insurance is requesting that insurers report their actions related to consumer cost-sharing and access to services so that the department can ensure consumers are aware of their available benefits.
Texans who suspect a case of price-gouging in connection to the potential coronavirus threat should file a consumer complaint with the Consumer Protection Division of the Office of the OAG. Texans can also call the hotline at 1-800-621-0508.