Gov. Abbott declares state of disaster for all Texas counties

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Photo Credit: Amna Ijaz | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s note: This story is part of The Daily Texan’s coverage of how coronavirus concerns are affecting UT-Austin. Read the rest of our coverage here.

Gov. Greg Abbott has made a declaration of state disaster at a conference today for all counties in Texas due to the novel coronavirus. 

Abbott also announced the opening of Texas’ first drive-through testing facility in San Antonio. He said his team is working on opening these facilities in Dallas, Houston and Austin. First responders, health care workers, certain high-risk patients and operators of critical infrastructure and key resources will be prioritized at these facilities, Abbott said. 

“This (declaration) will authorize the use of all available and necessary state government resources to help prepare and respond to COVID-19,” Abbott said. “A key focus in our response is to prioritize protecting of the most vulnerable populations who would be most likely to contract COVID-19.”

President Donald Trump later declared a national emergency over the coronavirus pandemic at a 3 p.m. press conference on Friday. At the conference, Trump announced he would be waiving all interest on student loan debt held by the federal government.  

Texas has 51 confirmed cases of the virus, according to The New York Times. With public health laboratory and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention testing, 220 Texans have been tested and 75 are currently being tested, Abbott said. There have been 2,110 confirmed cases nationally and 143,700 cases globally, according to The New York Times.

“Texas is no stranger to preparing for, responding to and recovering from disaster,” said Nim Kidd, chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management. “While it may be a new virus, ‘novel’ if you will, it’s the same people, policies and procedures that we have used for decades to serve and protect Texans.”

To help protect vulnerable populations, Abbott has ordered state agencies to restrict visits at nursing homes, state-sponsored living centers, hospitals and daycares. Abbott has also ordered restricted visitation at prisons, jails and juvenile justice facilities.

“We want to make sure that we do all we can to prevent this vulnerable senior population or others in hospitals from being contracted with COVID-19,” Abbott said.

The two ways Texans can get tested are through the public health system and through the private laboratory system, said Dr. John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services. Texas has 10 public health laboratories equipped to perform COVID-19 testing, Abbott said. 

“We have several public health labs in the state that are online and able to do testing,” Hellerstedt said. “Currently, we believe the capacity to do that testing is somewhere around 270 individuals per day.”

Hellerstedt said he wants people to contact their doctors, who can contact the public health system to determine if testing is suitable for them. Next week, Clinical Pathology Laboratories will be ready to test several thousand individuals per week, Abbott said. 

“Texas is prepared for this,” Hellerstedt said. “Texas prepares for many disasters all of the time, and this is no exception. We know that we have the capacity to be successful in meeting the challenge of COVID-19.”

The state has asked health insurers in Texas to waive costs for testing and telemedicine visits related to the diagnosis of COVID-19, Abbott said. In addition, the state is seeking federal waivers for the public school lunch program to provide students with food during school shutdowns.

Uninsured individuals who need testing can use public health testing and private laboratory testing, Abbott said. People can call 211 to find a local provider of no-cost or low-cost testing, he said. 

“Anybody who thinks or feels or believes that they are ill in any way … need to stay home and work from home,” Abbott said. “You may have the flu, you may havwe some other infectious disease, or you may have COVID-19. We don’t need people who are sick coming into work.”

Due to more employees and students working from home, the demands of internet bandwidth will increase, Abbott said. He said this demand must be met and applauded companies like AT&T who are waiving internet data usages for customers without unlimited home internet access.

Noting the various closings in Texas, Hellerstedt said many of the closings were for leisure activities. He said Texans can afford to close these activities during this serious situation. Abbott also said Texans do not need to worry about stocking up on supplies or supplies not being replenished at stores.

“We need all Texans to do their part to help the state respond to the situation,” Abbott said. “Texas is in the best position to handle a situation like this … Texas must remain calm and understand that hoarding (supplies) is neither necessary nor productive.”

Texans should take preventative measures such as being more vigilant about washing one’s hands, disinfecting and avoid shaking hands with others.

“We have been through situations like this before,” Abbott said. “We made it through SARS, … ebola (and) H1N1. And we are going to make it through this together as well.”

This story has been updated to include additional information.