AUSTIN (KXAN) — In a Thursday virtual town hall hosted by Nexstar Media Group, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott addressed concerns and questions about the COVID-19 crisis.
Abbott began the event by speaking directly to Texans, acknowledging fears, especially given the five Texas deaths from the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
“I know that many of you are concerned,” Abbott said. “Maybe scared. Maybe confused…It’s [COVID-19] rapid, but we are ready to respond. We are working with federal and local officials to respond to this. We were ready in January. “
The governor explained that lawmakers are dealing with an invisible danger but that they are responding and it’s important that residents listen to recommendations from officials.
Abbott said that Texans have weathered many hard times together and that Texas will make it through, with cooperation and small sacrifices now.
During the town hall, the Governor explained that the spread of COVID-19 isn’t a possibility, but an inevitability, saying that residents must take steps now to slow and stop the disease’s outreach.
“This time next week, there will be thousands of people who have tested positive,” Abbott said. “In two weeks, possibly tens of thousands.”
Abbott fielded a question about when COVID-19 tests will be more widely available to Texans — to which the Governor had strong advice, saying, “There is a difference between everyone who wants a COVID-19 test and everyone who needs a COVID-19 test.”
He explained that testing supplies need to be reserved for those who need them and that the only way the disease can be properly combated is by finding it in those who actually have it.
Abbott was joined by Dr. John Hellerstedt, Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner, who elaborated.
According to Hellerstedt, certain symptoms need to be present in patients to warrant testing. Considerations when deciding who gets tested would include symptoms, in addition to certain risk factors like age, exposure to people who have or may have COVID-19, or pervasive symptoms that can’t be pinpointed.
The governor also urged those who think they may have symptoms or even believe they do in fact have COVID-19 not to rush to the emergency room, saying:
“If you think you may have COVID-19, the worst thing you could possibly do is go to an emergency room and expose people to it.”
Fleshing out his response about testing, Abbott explained that he himself had been tested for the disease after about a month of heavy exposure to other people, during which the coronavirus was making its way through Texas.
“I have shaken hands with or hugged or encountered thousands of Texans. I owed it to my staff, to the people of Texas, as I lead this effort to make sure I was tested,” Abbott said. “And I tested negative, which means I don’t have it.”
Abbott elaborated, saying that he projects more testing is in Texas’ near future.
The governor said that through conversations with President Donald Trump and the federal government, he believes Texas is on track to be able to carry out more than 10 million tests a month soon.
Abbott was asked a question about how those who can’t afford childcare should handle the closures of schools, which is ordered to go into effect beginning Friday at midnight. He answered that there are lots of different strategies to address this problem, saying that there are federally funded programs in the works to address this but until then, he’s urging child care facilities to stay open.
He said that the state wants to ensure that there are heightened standards when it comes to how these child care centers are operated from now on, however. These changes include drop-off/pick-up locations or limitations on visitors, Abbott said.
“We’re going to be working to create additional child care centers that will be in close proximity to where these people are working,” the governor said. “So it’s going to be easier for them to adjust to the shift the lifestyle with their children being home.”
Abbott also explained that with the closures of schools, students who rely on school for their meals aren’t being forgotten. Parents and students can visit TexasSchools.gov to find meal locations, where food will be available for students in need.
This week, several Texas cities ordered restaurants and bars to stop dine-in services and transition to carry-out or delivery only. Abbott explained that the enforcement of these regulations shouldn’t be all that hard to enforce.
Abbott said that bars and restaurants already have to follow guidelines in order to operate and that the current rules are no different.
“Whether a restaurant or bar, they have official authorized certificates to operate,” Abbott said.
He illustrated this point with an example, saying, “So TABC, which enforces bars’ compliance. A bar can lose its license to serve beverages if they violate this executive order. So their life as an ongoing business is on the line if they violate the order.”
When asked how rules against gatherings of more than 10 people factor into situations like funerals or church services, Abbott offered some clarity on these situations.
He explained that while there are currently no rules on funerals, caution is recommended.
“Anybody who loses a loved one, they need to be able to celebrate a life the way that’s most meaningful to them … Try to limit it as best as you can to limit it to 10 people.”
Abbott said possible suggestions — aside from 10-guest funerals — are considerable spacing with seating and/or virtual funerals.
Church services also fall under this umbrella, according to Abbott. There are currently no rules about their operation, but distance should be kept in mind.
Hair salons and similar facilities are also under no current orders, either, Abbott explained. When asked about how workers like hairstylists — who can’t collect unemployment due to the nature of their industry — can still earn money, Abbott said that places like hair salons aren’t beholden to 10-people limits yet and stylists and other such employees can still make a living.
Abbott reassured Texans that tax increases weren’t likely to combat the COVID-19 crisis, saying that the problem is one of money, but one of public safety. According to Abbott, devoted federal funds already exist through FEMA.
When asked about his opinion on passage in and out of the Texas-Mexico border and whether it should be shut down — just as the U.S.-Canada border was closed this week — Abbott said that something similar to the mutual decision between Pres. Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may be happening.
“Tomorrow [Friday] there may be an announcement about Mexico,” said Abbott.
Overall, Abbott’s message was that Texans should follow recommendations from health and government officials to stop the reach of COVID-19.
“We’re dealing with a silent killer out there… you need to limit the amount of people you come into contact with for a few weeks… Your public health and safety is at risk. Working together, we’re going to help Texas be the best state in the United States.”