AUSTIN (Nexstar) — On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott held a press conference updating the public on the state’s response to COVID-19.
Abbott began the conference explaining the situation in Texas currently with 715 cases of COVID-19, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. He elaborated that these cases span across 65 counties and include testing of over 11,000 people
There have also been 11 deaths as of Tuesday.
Abbott said that to go ahead with recommendations from Vice President Mike Pence — who Abbott says he just spoke with — Abbott explained that he’s issuing two orders.
The first order has already been issued, and directs Texas doctors to stop all non-essential surgeries. According to the Governor, not only does this help combat possible COVID-19 exposure, but helps ensure there are a greater number of beds in hospitals for patients in need.
Abbott issued his second order during the conference, saying:
“The purpose of this is to ensure that the State of Texas, every agency in the state of Texas, and — very importantly — every private tester of COVID-19, is fully and quickly submitting information to the State of Texas. And the state of Texas will in turn submit the information to the CDC.”
Abbott says the executive order requires:
- that hospitals submit daily reports on hospital bed capacity to the state health department
- requires all health care providers submit daily reports of COVID-19 tests
Abbott was joined by Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner John Hellerstedt, MD, and Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd.
The press conference was held at the Texas Department of Public Safety warehouse facility, where an abundance of medical supplies could be seen behind the Governor and the panel.
Abbott explained that there is now a call for donations of medical supplies for medical workers who are, as he said, “on the frontlines.”
“As a result,” Abbott said, “We are enlisting every doctor, every nurse, every medical personnel we can find. There may be some who are retired. There may be some who are still in nursing school who qualify under my executive order expanding the scope of the nurses who can be involved in helping out and responding to COVID-19. There may be some who are from another state. You can come into the state of Texas and provide your services here. If you are someone, or you know of someone in the medical sector who can help us out… be sure and let us know.”
Abbott has leaned on the federal government in recent days to increase the supply chain to provide healthcare workers and first-responders with the resources they need. On Monday, he wrote a letter to President Donald Trump asking him to issue a major disaster declaration that would unlock additional federal funding. Abbott’s office released information this week detailing how Texas would distribute the initial round of federal funding from the first coronavirus bill passed through Congress. Meanwhile, private companies and non-profit organizations have made donations of supplies to local, regional and state healthcare workers.
During the Tuesday conference, Abbott explained that the state of Texas would continue to be “aggressive” in getting as much medical supplies or PPE (personal protective equipment) to medical professionals in the state.
“The state of Texas is competing with other states and the federal government for supplies, and there is more demand than there are available supplies. The good news is the federal government is racing to increase the supplies, and that’s why you’re seeing an increase in the number of testing kits, collection kits as well as PPE as well as ventilators,” he added that this increase is expected to continue in the coming days and weeks.
The Governor also called for anyone in the state who would like to donate medical equipment to do so by visiting www.texas.gov.
Abbott’s Tuesday announcement came two days after he indicated he was not inclined to implement a statewide stay-at-home order, leaving the decision to local leaders. He echoed this sentiment during the Tuesday conference, saying it was still not the time.
Abbott said Sunday as additional cases emerge around the state, “what may be right for places like the large urban areas may not be right at this particular point in time for the more than 200 counties that have zero cases of COVID-19.”
Austin, Dallas, Waco and San Antonio are among the cities issuing stay-at-home orders, except to partake in essential activities. City leaders in Lubbock ordered all non-essential businesses to close. Counties including Cameron, Harris, Tarrant and Travis issued orders to keep residents at home.
Abbott said that many of these shelter-in-place, stay-at-home orders have a lot of exceptions, and follow similar standards outlined in his executive orders.
“Candidly, if you look at the stay at home orders..they’re fairly consistent with my executive order with one exception…my executive order allows people to gather in groups of no more than 10,” Abbott said, but he added that the situation remains fluid.
“On my travel to this location today, I was surprised at how many vehicles I saw on the road. It is clear to me, we may not be achieving the level of compliance that is needed. That’s why I’ve said before, I remain flexible in my statewide standard,” Abbott said.
Abbott explained he follows the data and consults with medical professionals daily on whether or not heightened standards and stricter enforcement are needed.
Tuesday morning, 65 members of the Texas House Democratic Caucus sent Abbott a letter asking him to implement a statewide stay-at-home order to close “all non-essential businesses, restricts travel to the greatest extent possible, and gives our health care providers, state and local governments and all Texans the greatest chance possible to suppress the imminent and unprecedented threat posed by the novel coronavirus and its resulting disease, COVID-19.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Monday his interpretation of Abbott’s executive order temporarily halting elective surgeries applies to abortion providers. Paxton said this would apply to all operations that are “not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.”
During the Tuesday conference, Abbott urged Texans to comply with previously issued health and safety guidelines, saying they were the best way to keep everyone safe — including social distancing and staying home.
The Governor added that by following orders and practicing safety, “We’re Texans. Texans are always resilient. And once again, we will show the world how Texans respond when we come together. And when we come together, nothing can defeat us. Together, we will defeat COVID-19 in the state of Texas.”
On Monday night, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick made comments suggesting the country, “get back to work,” and that people over the age of 70, who the Centers for Disease Control says are at higher risk for the coronavirus, will “take care of ourselves.”
“Let’s get back to work. Let’s get back to living. Let’s be smart about it. And those of us who are 70 plus, we’ll take care of ourselves. But don’t sacrifice the country,” Patrick said.
But Abbott said Tuesday, in order for the economy to recover, the first priority is public health and minimizing the loss of life.
“The best thing we can do to get the economy going is to get COVID-19 behind us,” Abbott said, “As soon as we do that, the economy will come roaring back.”