Gov. Abbott expands quarantine for travelers to Texas, announces back-up housing plans for COVID-19 patients

State & Regional

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Gov. Greg Abbott expanded quarantine orders for travelers heading into Texas on Sunday.

Any air traveler entering Texas from Miami, Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago, and the states of California and Washington must self-quarantine for 14 days, Abbott said.

His original order, which included air travel from New Orleans, now includes any road travel from people entering Texas from Louisiana.

On Thursday, he announced an executive order requiring a mandatory self-quarantine for air travelers arriving to Texas from airports in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and New Orleans.

The Texas Department of Public Safety began administering the program Saturday at noon. Travelers must fill out DPS forms and be subject to follow-up check-ins from troopers. The quarantines are for 14 days, or the duration of the stay in Texas, whichever is shorter, Abbott said.

Violators face fines up to $1,000, up to 180 days in jail, “or both,” Abbott said.

“The New York tri-state area is the center of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States,” Abbott said Thursday, explaining the reasoning behind the order.

According to a spokesperson for the Transportation Security Administration, officers screened a total of 184,027 passengers at TSA security checkpoints around the country. “It’s the lowest number screened by TSA in the last 10 years,” spokesperson Lisa Farbstein shared. Farbstein said exactly one year ago, 2,172,920 people were screened at checkpoints nationwide.

Abbott was joined by Major General Tracy R. Norris, the adjutant general of Texas and commander of the Texas National Guard, as well as Brig. Gen. Paul Owen Commander of the Southwestern Division of the Army Corps of Engineers. Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt, and Chief Nim Kidd of the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) also participated.

Norris and Owen spoke to the expansion of military response in Texas, explaining that Texans may see uniformed Guardsmen in their communities.

The Army Corps of Engineers has identified the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas as a back-up location that could temporarily house patients.

“Our job is to make sure that we’re looking 1, 2, 3… weeks ahead to make sure state can meet needs of communities,” Abbott said, explaining that existing hospitals are to remain the primary location for treating.

The Army Corps of Engineers is also looking at other regions like Houston, San Antonio, Austin, the Rio Grande Valley, El Paso, or any part of state where this need may be called upon, Abbott said. He also urged local leaders to contact the state if there’s a known place that could be a temporary healthcare facility.

Owen said the Corps has eyes on three different types of facilities: hospitals and clinics not in use, arenas and convention centers, and hotels. Those locations could be used for COVID-19 patients, or others.

“We must prepare for worst-case challenges as they arise,” Abbott said.

Asked how many ventilators there are in Texas, Abbott said, “we’re continuing to aggregate” all the information.

“We don’t know right now how many ventilators we will need,” he said.

Abbott also issued an executive order to “stop the release of dangerous felons from prisons and jails in Texas.”

“Releasing dangerous criminals from jails into the streets is not the right solution. Doing so is now prohibited by law,” Abbott said.

Abbott announced that President Donald Trump contacted the nation’s Governors to inform them that updated information would be forthcoming sometime this week about expanding federal standards on social distancing guidance and other important details. Abbott said he would wait until that new guidance was released before making a decision on the timeline to reopen schools and businesses.

In a Sunday afternoon update, Texas DSHS reported that Texas had 2,552 statewide cases across 118 counties, including 34 deaths. 25,483 people had been tested statewide. Abbott said 176 Texans were hospitalized thus far.

Abbott announced Friday the mobilization of three National Guard Joint Task Force Brigades to assist communities in operation of drive-thru testing sites and help healthcare workers access needed supplies.

The Governor also approved a request from the Texas Workforce Commission that temporarily suspends certain state laws to make child care services easier for frontline workers.

With the start of the weekend came additional announcements from Abbott’s office, including a notice that he waived certain licensing rules for Texas pharmacists and for Advance Practice Registered Nurses.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission announced over the weekend that the agency temporarily waived renewal requirements for Texans on Medicaid and those who receive food stamps through the Texas Supplemental Nutritian Assistance Program (SNAP).

U.S. Senator John Cornyn, Texas’ senior senator, announced Sunday morning that the state will receive $327 million from a federal grant to help respond to COVID-19. The money will be distributed to TDEM from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

A spokesperson for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton reported the office received more than 2,500 complaints related price-gouging, stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. The most common items complained about included toilet paper, bottled water, and hand sanitizer.

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