Abbott discusses closed schools, restaurants at virtual town hall

Hannah Williford

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 hosted a town hall Thursday to answer questions about the executive order made earlier that day, which will close restaurants and schools as well as prohibit gatherings larger than 10, effective Friday at midnight.

Abbott announced there had been five deaths in Texas from COVID-19 as of 7 p.m. Thursday. He said anyone who needs a COVID-19 test will be able to get one by Friday, and Texas is prepared to do between 15,000 and 20,000 tests this week.

“The COVID test is going to be provided for free to anybody who qualifies for it,” Abbott said. “The qualifier is a prescription by a doctor.”

Abbott was joined at the town hall by John Hellerstedt, Texas Department of State Health Services commissioner, Nim Kidd, chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, Imelda Garcia, associate commissioner of Laboratory and Infectious Disease Services at the Texas Department of State Health Services and Mike Morath, the Texas Education Agency commissioner.

Hellerstedt said a couple important factors used to determine the need for tests are possible exposure to confirmed COVID-19 cases, underlying medical conditions and recent travel from a region where COVID-19 had sustained community spread.

“It’s really a combination of symptoms and risk factors that need to be present … that should qualify people to get tested,” Hellerstedt said.

Although dine-in options restaurants will be closed, there will be exceptions to this for dining within universities, and people should look to their individual schools for how dining will change, Abbott said.

Abbot said he believes grocery stores have the flexibility and supply chain to sustain during COVID-19, so citizens should not stockpile supplies.

“I’ve been in constant contact with all the large retailers in the state of Texas, and they are stocked and ready to go,” Abbott said. “ I see stories every single day about people wanting to get whatever they want to get and it not being there, but also know that I’ve talked to that particular store chain, and I know they have it in their inventory.”

Abbott recommended college-age students limit the number of people they come in contact with.

“You don’t know that the person you are talking to right now does or does not have COVID-19,” Abbott said. “We’re dealing with a silent killer out there, and because you don’t know, you need to protect yourself by limiting the amount of public interaction you have for a few weeks.”