AUSTIN (Nexstar) — In his third press briefing of the week, Gov. Greg Abbott updated Texans on how state leaders are responding to the COVID-19 outbreak and said he wants to try getting Texans back to work as soon as possible..
Abbott was joined by his steadfast trio: Chief Nim Kidd, who heads the Texas Division of Emergency Management; Dr. John Hellerstedt, Commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services; and Dr. John Zerwas, the former lawmaker, now a University of Texas administrator and who serves on Abbott’s supply chain strike force.
During the press conference, Abbott praised the hard work and dedication of Texas’ frontline healthcare workers doing what they can everyday against the coronavirus. He said in an effort to honor their tireless work he will be lighting the governor’s mansion blue Saturday night.
“We want to express our deepest gratitude for every person in the healthcare area for everything they are doing,” said Abbott.
The Governor announced a new Frontline Childcare Website specifically for essential workers in Texas. The site helps essential workers find childcare facilities nearest to them, as wel as hours of operation and space available. It also includes links to HHSC’s inspection and compliance records for each facility. The site also provides users with basic information about child care including health and safety information and step-by-step instructions for applying for child care financial assistance.
Additionally, Abbott announced that next week he will unveil a new executive order aimed at reopening Texas businesses.
“We will focus on restoring lives while protecting livelihoods. We can and we must do this, we can do both. Expand and restore the livelihoods that Texans want to have by helping them return to work,” Abbott said. “One things about Texans is they so much enjoy working and I know they want to get back into the work force. But we have to articulate also the strategies about ways we can do this safely.”
Abbott also focused on the importance of revitalizing both the energy sector and the agricultural industry in Texas. The Governor said he has been in contact with officials in the White House about the specific challenges Texas faces in protecting these two industries that make up such a large portion of the Texas workforce.
“Knowing that even though our farmers and ranchers too are suffering right now, the response by the president will provide some level of relief,” Abbott said of President Trump and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s efforts to protect Texas farmers.
Abbott went through a series of slides showing 12 communities highly impacted by COVID-19.
“We are beginning to slow the growth of the coronavirus. We’ve not yet reached the peak,” Abbott said, shedding some good news, and crediting social distancing and other preventative measures.
Dr. Hellerstedt agreed that efforts to slow the spread are working, but it’s not over yet.
“The sacrifices that we’ve made are working the social distancing is working. We’re decreasing the rate at which the disease is growing in our state. But that doesn’t mean it’s over. That doesn’t mean that there still isn’t momentum behind it. And we can’t give up. We need to keep doing what we’re doing until we’re absolutely certain that we have COVID-19 under control in every part of our state,” Hellerstedt explained.
In some of the larger counties, including Bexar, Dallas and Travis Counties, Abbott said the rate at which the cases are increasing is beginning to slow. In Bexar County, for example, the most amount of cases reported in a single day was 88, which occurred at the beginning of April.
“Hopefully that 88, it looks like it occurred in the early days of April, will be the high watermark for Bexar County, if that is true. And if the red line continues to say below it, again and maybe doesn’t go much above where it is right now 51, that means that Bexar County truly will be past the peak on a downward trend,” Abbott explained.
The Governor said in Harris County, however, it’s too early to say if the rate is slowing down. The highest number of cases reported in a single day, 414, was recorded just two days ago. Abbott said he has spoken with Vice President Mike Pence and local leaders about ensuring Harris County will receive the support they need.
“Working alongside with the US Army Corps of Engineers, as well as FEMA, as well as the National Guard here in Texas, so they’re prepared medically, to be able to deal with the challenges and also work to make sure that Harris County would be receiving more testing capabilities,” Abbott said.
El Paso County is also seeing a continued increase.
“Their redline continues to go up with the most recent number 39 of the most recent day, being the high watermark, so that shows clearly, El Paso is still is in an uptrend right now,” Abbott said.
The Governor explained that could be because the outbreak started later in this area and other counties that are seeing an increase right now, including Lubbock and Webb Counties.
“But again, we will be doing everything we can to work with the county and with the city to make sure that they have the resources they need to be able to respond to any challenges they face,” Abbott added.
“We have a duty to support Texas health care workers and other essential employees as they work on the front lines of the COVID-19 response,” he said. “For essential workers with young children who don’t have other options, that means providing safe, regulated, and accessible child care. The Frontline Child Care Website will strengthen our child care capacity across the state, allowing our essential workers to continue their work to keep us safe and provide the critical services that Texans depend on. There is nothing more powerful than Texans helping Texans, and I want to thank child care workers across the state for stepping up to support our essential workers during these challenging times.”
Texas surpassed the 100,000 mark for tests administered, which have yielded more than 10,000 confirmed cases in 170 of the state’s 254 counties. Roughly 10% of Texas coronavirus patients have recovered, the state’s health department reported Thursday. Abbott said Texas has the second-most number of recoveries nationwide.
The Governor delivered his update a day after expanding telehealth options for Texans and their doctors. He also announced the adoption of an emergency rule by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission that temporarily allows more nurse aides to serve in long-term care facilities in the state without having to complete a full certification program in their first four months of employment. He also announced this week that the federal food stamp program will send $168 million in emergency benefits to Texans.
On Wednesday, Abbott suspended certain statutes to allow notarizing through videoconference and his office shared he made a one-time waiver of a federal match program for victim services grant recipients.
Abbott has said that he makes his decisions using doctors and data, in consultation with Dr. Hellerstedt and Drs. Birx and Fauci of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, and following guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended. While his executive orders largely mirror CDC guidelines for social distancing, he did not directly answer whether he himself would don a face covering as the agency has temporarily suggested for Americans nationwide, when asked Thursday morning.
During that interview, Abbott said the Texas Workforce Commission was “catching up” to the mountain of unemployment claims that have piled up statewide. The agency announced it would extend its call center hours to seven days per week. TWC received 1.7 million calls on March 26 alone.
Abbott said Thursday evening the benchmarks for “re-opening” the economy revolve around when the state hits the peak number of cases and deaths and begins to decline.
“What we anticipate is later on this month, maybe the next 10 days or so, we will have peaked and will be going on the downslope,” Abbott said in a Thursday evening television interview.
At his Wednesday press briefing, Abbott championed more of the public/private partnerships that have formed to deliver personal protective equipment and other supplies to frontline responders.
Dr. Zerwas said one data-point state leaders are closely watching is the rate at which coronavirus cases are doubling.
“In mid-March, about the time that the Governor was executing his orders, that was three days. And today in mid-April, it’s about six days. And so you’ve seen that number increased two-fold,” Dr. Zerwas said.
Dr. Hellerstedt said Wednesday that while he was encouraged by the numbers, he was not raedy to predict when Texas would hit its peak and begin to normalize.
“As time goes on and we see the trends, and we’re confident in the trends, that’s going to be the point in time when we can contemplate changes in policy that might might enable some of the activity that everybody wants to resume to occur,” Hellerstedt said.
Watch Friday’s press conference in its entirety here: