Texas Pool Reporter
Governor Greg Abbott activated the Texas National Guard on Tuesday to be prepared to assist with response efforts for COVID-19. This preparative measure will ensure that the Texas National Guard can assist in various forms throughout the state when needed. Healthcare workers and first responders who are members of the Texas National Guard are excluded from this activation so that they can continue serving the people of Texas in their respective fields.
“By activating the Texas National Guard, we are ensuring Texas is prepared as we continue to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” said Governor Abbott. “I am grateful to the men and women of the National Guard for their dedication to serving their fellow Texans, and want to assure the public that this is a precautionary measure to make sure the Texas National Guard has the capability to serve at a moment’s notice where they are needed most.”
In other updates, Abbott said as of Tuesday, Texas is up to 64 confirmed cases of coronavirus across 19 counties. He also mentioned the state’s first coronavirus-related death, involving a man in his 90s in Matagorda County.
‘As of this moment,’ Abbott said, 1,264 Texans have been tested. ‘That number will continue to increase dramatically,’ he added.
Abbott reiterated that he’s confident Texas will be able to test 10,000 people per week by the end of this week.
Addresses elections, hospitals
Gov. Abbott also held a video conference with Texas hospitals. Afterwards he addressed a few topics. He says ‘everything’s on the table’ in regard to potential changes to the May 26 runoff elections due to coronavirus:
Q: Are you considering any changes to the May 2 or May 26 elections due to coronavirus, such as postponing them or expanding vote-by-mail?
ABBOTT: ‘For the municipal ones, we are still evaluating that and we know we need to make a decision very swiftly. One thing that we are looking at, and that is whether or not the governor has the authority to make a decision on that. … It may only be the municipalities have the power to make that decision, and so there’s that legal issue that we are making a determination on. That said, if I don’t have the legal authority, we may provide suggested guidelines.’
Q: Just to be clear, what exactly are you evaluating?
ABBOTT: ‘Under my 418 authority, I have the ability to waive and alter state laws, state rules and regulations. I don’t have the authority to alter municipal ordinances or waive them, et cetera. That pertains in hurricanes, that pertains to this also. So this is going to be up to the municipalities to make their own decisions, but we may be offering guidelines on it.’
Q: What about the May 26 runoff specifically?
ABBOTT: ‘We are also focused on that runoff and we will be making decisions about that shortly. So on that runoff, those are state elections, which I oversee in my emergency capacity, and so I will be able to make decisions about that.’
Q: Is expanding vote-by-mail on the table?
ABBOTT: ‘Everything’s on the table.’
Abbott was asked if he plans to issue any statewide mandate or guidance to close restaurants or bars or to suspend evictions and utility shutoffs. He began his answer by pointing to the guidance that the president issued yesterday limiting gatherings to 10 people. Abbott then said: “The president if you would, set a standard … for the United States of America. There may be additional recommendations that will be coming from the president, but we’ve seen very swift and very effective standards issued by local authorities based upon consultation with local health authorities, which is the way the structure works in the state of Texas, and that is for all local authorities, the most important person they can be working with right now is their local health authority, so they can make the right decision that is best for their community.”
Abbott was asked if he was confident Texas hospitals have the equipment they need (i.e., ventilators). “We feel comfortable with … the information that we received with regard to ventilators. Some had numbers larger than what I anticipated, and so there is no great urgency about that right now, but we want to be prepared and make sure we have as many as we could possibly need.”
Abbott was asked if he’d consider closing beaches in light of the Spring Break crowds that are still gathering along the Texas coast. Abbott said: “Again, in local entities like cities or counties, those decisions are made by the county judge and the mayor in consultation with local health care authorities. However, from what you are suggesting, it seems like those types of gatherings contradict what the president was advocating both yesterday and today. In today’s press conference, both the president, Dr. Burx, as well as others, were asking the general public — but in particular the younger generation — to comply with those standards to make sure that everybody is doing their share, everybody is doing their part, to make sure that we are mitigating the expansion of the coronavirus.”
Abbott said home quarantine and home health-care services would be best for those ‘who don’t test with any particular critical needs.’ For those who need advanced care, Abbott said they’re exploring options to provide that care even if every hospital bed is taken. He mentioned three strategies: using medical tents, opening recently closed hospitals or other health-care facilities, and using medical rehabilitation centers.
‘For people who test positive who need to be in isolation but don’t need critical care, we are looking at the possibility of using hotels and motels in various regions across the entire state of Texas,’ Abbott said.
Abbott said the discussion about additional health-care facilities comes with new considerations about staffing — and child care for workers — and they discussed strategies for those issues as well.
‘As usual, in pretty much any conversation I had with anybody, there was a high demand for what’s called personal protection equipment’ like masks ‘for those who are administering the coronavirus test,’ Abbott said.
‘Bottom line is we are concluding this telephone conference … far more informed with far more detailed strategies,’ Abbott said.