BEAUMONT, Texas (KXAN) — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said during a press conference Tuesday in Beaumont the state will increase its testing capabilities by utilizing more rapid tests, but the state will categorize positive results from those differently than tests sent to a lab.
He said nursing homes will use rapid testing more, but he also said that labs in Texas have pledged to provide “more robust, quicker” test result turnaround times.
Gov. Abbott said those who test positive to a rapid test, known as an antigen test which show results in 15 minutes, won’t be labeled as COVID-19 positive in the state’s eye. They’ll be considered COVID-19 probable. He said only people who take the PCR test, what the state has used from the start with the long cotton swabs given nasally, and test positive will be labeled as such.
“Only someone who goes through a viral COVID-19 test, and tests positive, will be categorized as a person who tests positive for COVID-19,” Gov. Abbott said. It was unclear how people who tested positive in rapid testing situations would then be considered positive without having to take another test.
Another way to increase testing capabilities, the Governor mentioned, is to get results from the PCR tests back quicker. At the local level, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said his agency has been able to shrink lag times from a week or longer in some cases to around a couple days, thanks to a decrease in people getting tested through the public health system.
Officials with the Department of State Health Services say the typical turnaround time for test results is 3-4 days.
When asked about reopening bars, Gov. Abbott reiterated that when the state opened bars the first time in May and June, the state saw a spike in active cases. He said everyone has to do their part to get those business back open.
“We want to assist them as much as possible,” Gov. Abbott said. “Everyone needs to work collaboratively to slow the spread of COVID-19. We have to be vigilant right now.”
He said if the state was able to get to a positivity rate of less than 10%, and sustain it, along with a low hospitalization rate like the state saw in May, that would make it possible to potentially reopen bars.
He also said, however, that the state needs “all operators of bars and restaurants and similar establishments were to follow the safe protocols that were put into place from the very beginning,” then reopening those business would be an option.
“The fact of the matter is the way bars are structured, they are structured for people to come together, close together, without face masks,” Gov. Abbott said, “in situations were people become intoxicated and lose the discipline they need to maintain the practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
He said the onus is on owners and operators to be “extra vigilant,” and not allow people to stand up, walk around or converse without masks, and remain seated at a table in small gatherings.
Gov. Abbott said from a general standpoint, the residents of Beaumont and the surrounding Jefferson County are to be applauded with how they’ve handled limiting the spread of COVID-19.
He said the residents, along with Texans in general, have “embraced the necessity” by wearing masks, social distancing and staying at home if possible — especially those age 65 and older.
He also said the use of convalescent plasma, the drug remdesivir and other steroid treatments have helped reduce length of hospital stays by COVID-19 patients. He stressed that people who have recovered from COVID-19 need to donate their convalescent plasma that contains antibodies to help others currently infected by COVID-19 fight the disease.
“The most important thing I can convey today, even though the numbers have improved,” Gov. Abbott said, “is that COVID-19 hasn’t left Jefferson County, it hasn’t left Orange County and it hasn’t left the state of Texas. It still spreads across this region and country just as fast as it did in July … and the only way to reduce the spread is to do the best practices of wearing a mask, keeping your distance from others, staying at home if possible and using hand sanitizer.”