AUSTIN, Texas (KETK) – Texas Governor Greg Abbott is answering questions from Texans about COVID-19 and its impact on families, businesses, and the state in a virtual town hall from Austin.
Abbott is joined on stage by Dr. John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the Texas department of State Health Services; Chief Nim Kidd of the Texas Department of Emergency Management; Stephanie Muth, Deputy Executive Commissioner overseeing Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program services across Texas; and Mike Morath, who heads the Texas Education Agency, which oversees pre-kindergarten through high school education for more than five million students.
If you’re on Twitter, you can ask a question using the #AskAbbott hashtag.
7:02 p.m. – “Part of the danger of this is that we’re dealing with an invisible disease.”
The first reported case in Texas of COVID-19 was on March 4.
The tests are ramping up quickly, but right now the only thing we can do to protect your health is to contain the disease.
Of the 91 people who were evacuated to Texas from cruise ships, all 91 are home now with their families.
In Harvey, we say Texans stepping up to help their neighbors. If we do that again, we will make it through.
“The coronavirus has been in Texas for a month. In that time I have shaken hands with, met and hugged thousands of people. I owed it to my staff and my family to get tested. At this point I am negative.”
7:08 p.m. – Mike Morath, TEA: We have ensured that our local schooldistricts are empowered to make the best decisions for their students.
Students will progress to the next grade level and without testing, and seniors will graduate without taking the STAAR test.
We have a number of families around the state who may not have access to reliable internet service, but school districts are equipped. (Parents should contact their local school district.)
Our school systems have responded to this crisis with compassion and organizational excellence. More than 1,000 feeding places have been stood up so students can eat. Parents can go on texasschools.gov to find feeding locations.
7:12 p.m., Abbott: We will be working in the state to establish child care centers. There will be multiple pathways as we navigate this so that parents will be able to work.
If a bar violates the executive order closing inside service, it could lose its license.
If there’s a large congregation of a group of people, witnesses should report it. That’s a potential health risk. Anybody who violates that (no more than 10 people) standard is risking the health and safety of all of us.
Dr. John Hellerstedt: If a restaurant is doing the things it should in terms of food preparation safety, that food should pose no threat to our safety.
7:18 p.m. “Bend the Curve”
Abbott: You will know we are getting to where we need to be when you see thhe curve of infection begin to bend down.
This is gonna be tough economic times, not just across Texas and the U.S.m but across the world. The only thing that will be worse is if we don’t take these precautions and see here the situation what we’re seeing now in Italy.
Small business should be able to apply for loans and grants as early as tomorrow through the Small Business Administration.
7:27 p.m., Oil and gas industry woes
Abbott: The price of oil is exactly where it was in 2016. There are many sectors of our economy that are completely obliterated right now. We will be able to address this when we know more.
I’ve talked to all the major (food) retailers in the state, and these stores have both the flexibility and the supply chains to keep their shelves stocked.
The State Attorney General’s Office will prosecute people for price gouging. Consumers should make complaints to the AG office. The attorney general has been very aggressive about prosecuting this. He was in Harvey, he will be now.
Be aware of scams. make sure when you’re donating money, you know it’s a valid agency you’re donating to.
7:30 p.m., COVID-19 testing
There’s a difference between people who want a COVID test and those who need a COVID test. The reason we test is to find out who has the disease so we can treat and isolate them.
Hellerstedt: If you are symptomatic, have a high-risk factor (age or underlying medical condition), have been traveling, or are ill and everything else has been ruled out, you should be tested.
If someone is ill, one of the things we recommend is that they stay home. If they don’t need to access medical care, then we recommend that they don’t. But if they need help, if they get worse, if they need oxygen, then they need to seek care.
Call your doctor, visit with your doctor about what the best course of action is for you.
The tests are free to all who qualify.
Right now, as private labs come on board, compiling the testing numbers is something that we are working on.
7:38 p.m. Texas has the highest number of uninsured individuals in the country and has repeatedly refused to expand Medicaid.
Muth: Medicaid program today covers 15% of Texans. Texas Medicaid has one of the most expansive uses of telemedicine in the country.
Abbott: Regardless of whether you have Medicaid or insurance, if you contract COVID-19, you will be able to get tested and get treated.
Heath service workers and personal protective equipment: One thing that we do every single day is to work on the medical supply issue.
Hellerstedt: We are leaving no stone unturned in trying to find equipment for our health care workers.
MUTH: We have our local mental health authorities across the state, and we are working with them to make sure that mental health resources are available. We know this is a very traumatic time for many people, and we want to make certain these services are there when people need them.
Abbott: One of the things we want to be extra vigilant about is to protect the health and safety of our health care workers.
I have visited with the CEOs of every major hospital group in Texas to do basically an inventory check. How many beds are available? We want to make sure we have facilities where people can isolate. We’re looking at hotels as an option.
7:47 p.m., The U.S. and Canada are mutually agreeing to close the border to non-essential, non-commercial activity, still allowing commercial travel to take place.
Abbott: It’s my understanding that an announcement could be coming from the White House tomorrow, if not tomorrow, then soon, probably articulating a similar standard, that is, closing down traffic of people who could be transmitting COVID-19 but allowing commercial travel to continue.
7:50 p.m., Elections
Both parties are working on this together. We may have an announcement as early as tomorrow from the governor’s office about this.
Prisons: “It is not my recommendation” that some offenders are released early to relieve crowding and fears of COVID-19 spreading through Texas prison populations.
Money is not the problem. The problem is public health and safety.
I have the impulse to shake someone’s hand. But I have to do my part as everyone has to do their part to reduce exposure.
Hellerstedt: I wouldn’t rely on (warmer weather) to curtail this.
Abbott: isolate. You can have fun in so many ways, but you need to limit the ways you come in contact with others. We’re dealing with a silent killer here.
Your public health and safety is at risk. We need your cooperation and collaboration to get this behind us. If we work together, we can keep Texas the best state in the United States.