May 18, 2020
Gov. Greg Abbott Texas Coronavirus Press Conference Transcript May 18: Governor Allowing Daycares & Bars to Open, Expands Restaurant Opening
Governor Greg Abbott of Texas held a press conference on coronavirus Monday, May 18. Abbott said daycares can open immediately, and bars can open at 25% capacity on Friday. Restaurants that opened in the previous phase will be allowed to expand capacity from 25% to 50%, pro sports can resume May 31. Read all details of the reopenings here.
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Ashley Goudeau: (00:01)
Well, good afternoon to you. I’m Ashley Goudeau. Governor Greg Abbott is about to give an update on the state’s COVID-19 response and the process of reopening Texas. He’s at the state capital. Let’s listen in now.
Governor Greg Abbott: (00:14)
And every day going forward is one day closer to medical discoveries that will help treat and protect people from getting COVID-19. Until that day comes, our focus is to keep you safe while also restoring your ability to get back to work, to open your businesses, to pay your bills, to put food on your tables. But let’s be clear, COVID-19 still exists in Texas. Our goal is to find ways to coexist with COVID-19 as safely as possible.
Governor Greg Abbott: (00:59)
That includes continuing the safe practices that you’ve already adopted: maintaining safe distances, wearing a mask, sanitizing your hands. It is a fact that these safe practices, they save lives. Another safe practice that must be emphasized is protecting our most vulnerable Texans, those who are 65 and older who may have other types of health conditions, they represent most of the COVID-19 deaths in Texas. As we move into phase two, the safest strategy for seniors is to continue to stay at home if at all possible.
Governor Greg Abbott: (01:51)
Additionally, in the three weeks since I announced at phase one that Texas was opening up for business, we’ve also substantially boosted our capabilities to respond to and to contain COVID-19. For example, we now have ample supplies of PPE. Get this, we distribute well more than 1 million face mask per day. Our testing has also increased. I told you all three weeks ago that testing would increase as Texas is opening up for business. And that’s exactly what has happened. In just the first half of May, we more than doubled the number of tests that were given in all of March and April combined. We are now averaging more than 25,000 tests per day. And we now have more than 600 testing sites all across Texas. But most importantly to our ability to open up was strengthened by the ability to identify and to respond to COVID-19 hotspots.
Governor Greg Abbott: (03:08)
We have found that most of the areas that have sudden increases in COVID-19 positive cases fall into three categories, nursing homes, jails, and meat packing plants. When hotspots like this arise, we send in surge response teams to quickly provide COVID-19 tests and to separate the sick from the healthy and to ensure that the outbreak is contained.
Governor Greg Abbott: (03:37)
We also help to sanitize the area to protect people from getting infected in the future. An example of this is our program to test 100% of all of the residents and staff at all nursing homes in Texas. Another example is our effort to test thousands of workers at meat packing plants, as well as residents in the Amarillo area.
Governor Greg Abbott: (04:05)
Now, when we increase testing in hotspots, the number of people testing positive is going to spike. Then what we find is that usually within a week or two, the flare up is contained. The number of people testing positive is reduced as is the number of people who are hospitalized. Now, these service teams, they’re led by the Texas Division of Emergency Management. They work with the help of the Texas Department of State Health Services, the Health and Human Services commission, the Texas Emergency Medical Taskforce and the National Guard. Already these teams have tested more than 35,000 Texans across the state. We also want to thank the thousands of local firefighters who are supporting the effort to test at nursing homes across Texas.
Governor Greg Abbott: (05:09)
Another strategy to contain COVID-19 is already in place. It is the voluntary test and trace system that contains a spread of COVID-19. Systems like this have been used in Texas for decades now. And I will ensure that this system protects your privacy and your personal liberty.
Governor Greg Abbott: (05:35)
As we have advanced toward phase two of opening business in Texas, we have focused on several key metrics. One is the positivity rate. That is the percentage of the people tested who test positive for COVID-19. To state the obvious, as testing increases, so will the raw number of people testing positive. What matters the most is the percentage of the people who test positive.
Governor Greg Abbott: (06:06)
The White House Coronavirus Taskforce uses this standard as the criteria for opening up. It requires, and I quote, “A downward trajectory of positive tests as a percent of total tests within a 14 day period.” And that is exactly what we have seen in Texas. The past month has shown a downward trajectory in the positivity rate. For example, on April the 13th, the seven day rolling average was about 13.8%. Since then that rate has steadily declined to now about 5%.
Governor Greg Abbott: (06:54)
Another key metric is hospitalizations and hospital capacity. We want to avoid situations like what people saw in New York, where hospitals were overrun and they lacked desperately-needed capacity. Because Texans have helped to contain the spread, we have plenty of ventilators and hospital and ICU beds. In fact, get this, as of yesterday, we had fewer people hospitalized for COVID-19 than any day since April the 21st. If our hospital capacity ever gets compromised, we will take swift corrective action to ensure that we will be able to take care of our fellow Texans.
Governor Greg Abbott: (07:44)
That brings me to today’s announcement for phase two. Informed by the data that I just outlined, and with surge response testing strategies in place, Texas is prepared to move into phase two for further opening up for business. Very importantly, every decision I have made, as well as every decision that I will announce today, is unanimously supported by our team of medical experts.
Governor Greg Abbott: (08:19)
From day one, our mission has been to use data and doctors to open Texas in a safe and responsible way that contains the spread of COVID-19. That commitment to data, to doctors, it underpins today’s announcement. Those doctors have provided safe standards, safe standards for businesses, for employees, as well as for customers. And those standards are contained in this book and they apply to all business operations that open up in Texas during the course of this pandemic. Well, based on the advice of the best medical doctors, as well as a team of outstanding business leaders, I am proud to announce that businesses that can open up today. As you know, barber shops and hair salons, as well as gyms are already open. Effective today, other personal service businesses will also be able to open. A list of these businesses, as well as their safety guidelines, can be found at gov.texas.gov/openTexas.
Governor Greg Abbott: (09:42)
Additionally, beginning today, businesses located in office buildings, they are able to open. They can open to the greater of 10 employees, or 25% of the workforce, provided that the employees maintain safe social discussing. Listen, one thing that we all know, an important part of reopening is access to childcare. So starting immediately, childcare services are able to open. That also includes programs like Boys and Girls Clubs, as well as YMCA programs. Then, beginning this Friday, May the 22nd, a long list of businesses can now reopen or expand capacity. Restaurants can open to a 50% capacity. Bars, wine tasting rooms, craft breweries, and similar businesses can open at a 25% capacity. Like with restaurants, those capacity limits do not apply to outdoor areas that maintain safe distancing. In addition to that, a wide range of businesses ranging from drive-in
Governor Greg Abbott: (11:03)
Wide range of businesses, ranging from drive-in concerts to bowling alleys, can open up at a 25% capacity. The list of these businesses can be found at the Open Texas website. Then, on May the 31st, youth sports camps and programs like Little League, will also be able to open. I want you to know that parents will be allowed to spectate so long as social distancing is followed. Also, on May 31st, other youth camps can open, including all summer camps and other daytime and overnight camps. This includes programs like scouting, Vacation Bible School camps, and 4H camps. Also, some professional sports can return on May the 31st. That includes pro golf, [inaudible 00:12:06] racing, baseball, softball, tennis, football, and basketball. For all sporting and camp activities, special safety standards apply to prevent the spread of COVID-19. These can be found at the Open Texas website.
Governor Greg Abbott: (12:26)
Next is summer school. School districts have the option to provide summer school, so long as they follow safe distancing practices, as well as all other health protocols. These classes can begin as soon as June the 1st. Now, let me give you this perspective. As we open up, we must continue to place health and safety first and foremost. There may be times when a county or a region is facing COVID-19 challenges, challenges that prevent it from opening at the same pace as other parts of the state. Now is one of those times. As many people know, the area around Amarillo is suffering the fastest growth of COVID-19 in Texas. Now, this problem is largely the result of meat packing plants in the area. That COVID-19 spread, as well as the challenges that it poses to the region, is something that impacts the regional healthcare system and it requires a temporary pause in the opening process.
Governor Greg Abbott: (13:42)
The same is true for El Paso, where the hospital capacity is too close for comfort at this particular time. Now, we have surge response teams that are actively working to increase testing and to maintain hospital capacity in these regions. To ensure these rages can safely move into phase two, their beginning date for phase two is being pushed back just one week. Everything in today’s order that is slated to open later this week, will also open in those regions one week from this Friday, on May the 29th. These will give those communities and our surge team response the time needed to slow the spread and maintain hospital capacity. It will ensure those communities safely move into phase two. The counties that are part of this delay are El Paso, Randall, Potter, Moore, and [inaudible 00:14:45] Smith.
Governor Greg Abbott: (14:50)
Texans, Texans have always faced adversity and Texans have always prevailed. By using safe practices, we are slowing the spread. By protecting our most vulnerable, our fatality rate is one of the lowest in America. With the help of our hospitals, our recovery rate is one of the best in the country. We are getting through this, but now, more than ever, we need to work together as one Texas. So as we move into phase two, be a good neighbor. Be a Texan. With that, I’m going to pass it off to Dr. [Hellerstat 00:04:40].
Dr. Hellerstat: (15:36)
Thank you, Governor Abbott. This is a great opportunity for Texas to continue to practice the things that have been successful all along. Those are the things that we’ve been recommending that you can do to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We started with, if you will, social distancing, we stayed very far out of range of the germ. We’re going to come back closer together now, but the things that we’re recommending, like face coverings and hand sanitization and sanitizing surfaces and personal hygiene, those will work because they work against every germ there is, including COVID-19, but this is a test of us as Texans to make sure that we do care about not only ourselves, but about each other, and we take those steps that we are confident are going to allow us to open Texas and remain safe at the same time.
Governor Greg Abbott: (16:30)
Thank you. Now, James.
Thank you, Governor. We all appreciate your thoughtful leadership throughout this crisis. It was a little more than a month ago today that you announced to the people of Texas that we would begin to reopen our state in a safe and methodical manner, based, as you said, on hard data and medical expertise, and that’s exactly what you’ve done today. Well, today is one step forward in that measured process of getting Texans back to work. The strategies that you continue to put forth are protecting our most vulnerable citizens while, at the same time, aggressively responding to the hotspots in Texas that may arise. We are grateful that the health and safety of our citizens remained your absolute highest priority. Throughout this process, this has been a team approach, so I would like to thank Lieutenant Governor Patrick and his team for their support, input, and thank you, Speaker Bonnen, for your continued support and input, but I would also like to thank our volunteer strike force members and our doctors. They have given an incredible amount of time to make sure that this was a success.
During this challenging period of the last two months, it really has been inspiring to see Texans helping Texans. Every single day, we see examples of Texans sacrificing for the benefit of others. Now, this compassion and genuine concern is a perfect example of what many would call the Texas spirit. It is that spirit, as the governor mentioned, that has enabled our great state to navigate the many adversities successfully over the past 175 years. It is this spirit that our strike force feels will unite the state, and therefore, we will be able to defeat COVID-19.
Now, we know that Texans are hurting. We feel the heartbreak of our citizens that are out of work and struggling. So, ever more a reason to get the Texas economy back on track. However, we know that if this is to be done, we must contain the spread of the virus and keep Texas safe. So, as we go forward and take another step forward, it is essential to realize that each Texan must do their part. Each of us has a profound responsibility, not only for our health, but the health of our employees, the health of our customers, the health of our friends and our family. That personal responsibility includes maintaining social distancing, following the guidelines on sanitation, and wearing a mask in public. Over the last couple of months, many Texans have sacrificed to get us to this point today. Therefore, our strike force believes that the entire business community will strictly follow these guidelines so that we can go forward because we don’t want to take one step forward and then two steps backwards. The next two weeks will be critical in our fight against this virus. However, if we all uncompromisingly hold our strong commitment to personal responsibility and embrace the Texan spirit of Texans helping Texans, I’m confident we will get through this unprecedented challenge together. Again, I want to thank Governor Abbott for his unwavering dedication to opening Texas in a safe and responsible manner.
Governor Greg Abbott: (20:21)
Thank you, James. Now to Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick.
Lt. Governor Patrick: (20:25)
Thank you, Governor. Each time we’ve been at this press conference over the last several months, I pointed out the most important member of the team is you, 29 million Texans, that have allowed us to get to this position. It’s those of you who have been responsible, as the governor said, have been good neighbors and good Texans, and the business community I’m so proud of. I’ve been out the last couple of weeks since we’ve opened up and I’m so proud of the businesses and their employees that are working so hard to make you feel safe when you enter their business. It takes more than just opening up. It takes customers, so that those restaurants can thrive and our retailers can thrive.
Lt. Governor Patrick: (21:04)
Just because we have been locked down for nearly two and a half months doesn’t mean that we have eliminated the virus, nor does it mean that we’re now going out in a bigger way, but it means it’s behind us. We’re doing two things at once, and that is protecting life, protecting the healthcare of citizens, as the governor said, sending in our teams where we have hotspots, and at the same time, trying to return to a sense of normalcy and revive this economy so that you can go back to work so that our businesses can flourish and that Texas can, once again, lead this nation. We are today, we will in the future, and we’re going to do that because of 29 million Texans. We’re all going to work together as partners. Texans, one strong state, going to lead this nation again out of this pandemic. So thank you for everything you’ve done. Thank the business community. As we always say, thank our healthcare workers, our first-
Speaker 2: (22:03)
… John, thank the business community and, as we always say, thank our healthcare workers, our first responders and those grocery workers who have been there since day one, never locked down, serving us and taking great risks. We thank you on behalf of all Texans for being there for us.
Governor Greg Abbott: (22:15)
Speaker 3: (22:15)
Governor Greg Abbott: (22:16)
Speaker Dennis Bonnen: (22:17)
Thank you, Governor. Again, I want to thank the governor for his leadership, his team, all of those in state government, Nim Kidd, Dr. Hellerstedt have done a tremendous job. It’s been mentioned today, we can open Texas and the governor has given us a great map and his opened up more and more of Texas today and in the future. But the reality of it is, Texans have to feel safe and confident for those businesses to flourish in the way the governor and the rest of us desire. It is important that we continue to follow these health guidelines. We continue to take face coverings and social distancing and hand sanitation into mind because Texans have to feel confident in being a part of this economy for us to restore our businesses to the flourishing that they had pre-COVID-19. It’s vital that we continue to be responsible and respectful and compassionate to each other so that the dream of a vibrant Texas comes back even sooner than possible.
Speaker Dennis Bonnen: (23:16)
Again, I want to thank everyone who has worked at making this effort. It is one that we were all very connected in. Without each other, we will not succeed in restoring our economy and defeating COVID-19. Thank you, Governor.
Governor Greg Abbott: (23:30)
Thank you. Now Chief Nim Kidd.
Chief Nim Kidd: (23:34)
Thank you, Governor. I want to reiterate a few facts that you said about the over 600 testing sites that are open in Texas today. I ask all Texans that are symptomatic, please go and get a test at any one of these sites. Governor, we’re also proud to say Texas Military Department, we’ll be adding another 14 teams by the end of this week, so 64 Texas Military Department teams will be out doing drive-through testing. I want to thank the firefighters across the state who have risen to the challenge to go out and help us get nursing homes tested by next Monday, and the thanks for all that they do.
Chief Nim Kidd: (24:04)
Our supply chain is getting stronger, Governor. Our testing capability is getting greater. I want to take just a moment to thank all the lab technicians in the public labs, the university labs, and the private labs. They’ve been working around the clock to deliver those results, much needed. Thank you.
Governor Greg Abbott: (24:20)
Thank you, Chief. Now, we’ll take a few questions.
Speaker 4: (24:22)
Governor, will theme parks, like Six Flags, SeaWorld and Schlitterbahn be able to reopen? You mentioned some other types of …
Governor Greg Abbott: (24:29)
Sure. We are closely looking at organizations and theme parks like that. We see what Disney is doing at a national level, as well as an international level. We’re monitoring the ability and strategies for parks like this to be able to open up. We understand how critically important they are to the tourism industry and for the entertainment industry in the state of Texas, as well as a place for children to be able to go to. Once again, it’s an area that we want to open as, as possible. However, there are unique challenges in making sure that they can open in ways that contain COVID-19, and just know that some of the best professionals in America and the world are working on those strategies as we speak.
Speaker 5: (25:15)
Governor, is the state health department commingling the numbers with antibody testing and live-virus testing? If so, how is that impacting, you think, the confidence of Texans in the numbers that we’re providing as you make these decisions to reopen?
Governor Greg Abbott: (25:28)
Sure. The answer is: No, they’re not commingling those numbers. Those numbers will be provided separately.
Speaker 6: (25:41)
Governor, everything you say is looking pretty good, but what would be this precise trigger for a retrenchment? Can you tell us now so we know what to expect?
Governor Greg Abbott: (25:53)
Well, very importantly, one thing that we announced today is something that is not a retrenchment. What we announced today for two regions of Texas is a temporary pause for one week of when they were able to reopen. What our primary goal will be is not to go to a point of retrenchment, but just slow the opening only in cases where needed. Candidly, what we’re dealing with in the panhandle, or certain counties in the panhandle in El Paso, would be either a meaningful outbreak that we are in the process of containing or concerns about hospital capacity. We feel, especially as it concerns hospital capacity, we have the strategy in place already where we can assist various counties in being able to quickly expand our hospital capacity if needed under two strategies.
Governor Greg Abbott: (26:52)
One is, as I previously announced, we are now allowing elective surgeries to proceed forward. The first response would be to halt elected procedures to make room for any necessary hospitalization. Second thing, you may recall our press conference we had about a month ago where Dr. Zerwas announced multiple surge capacities strategies in hospitals that would provide additional hospital capacity. Those would be the first two strategies we would go to in the event that particular areas were limited before even having to consider a retrenchment. We’ve seen no evidence, no signs that raise any concerns about the possibility of retrenchment in Texas.
Governor Greg Abbott: (27:43)
To the contrary, I will add to you this. We have seen outbreaks take place in some other regions in the state of Texas. I’ll mention Shelby County and Panola County in East Texas. I’ll mention Washington counties, three examples of where there were outbreaks for different reasons, but those outbreaks were contained, and even though they had a spike in people testing positive that spike soon receded and has returned to a normal rate. We think the same thing is going to happen in the Amarillo region and the El Paso region. My point is that we’ve seen spikes happen before. We’ve seen the containment of spikes take place, and so we know how to do this. As we move forward, we will be prepared to deal with spikes and expect a similar response in the future to the success that we’ve seen in the past.
Speaker 7: (28:32)
Governor, what sorts of delays are there in the state receiving notifications of COVID-19 deaths or new infections or testing numbers such that Texans can be confident there is a, they understand the current situation as opposed to maybe a picture from a week or two weeks ago?
Governor Greg Abbott: (28:50)
Sure. I’ll let Dr. Hellerstedt answer part of this. I’m unfamiliar with, if you would, I mean, so-called delays in deaths. I mean, here is a reality, and that is if a person loses their life, there may be a period of time, meaning a period of days, where there would be a determination, as there often is even outside of the pandemic, about identifying what is the cause of death. Sometimes that just takes a day or two before it is added to the system.
Governor Greg Abbott: (29:27)
I will tell you something that we experienced that happens from time to time that relates to the tests and that is there might be a private lab that is a day or two late in reporting all of the tests that they had, and so there could be a one or two day time lag. That’s exactly why we like to look at figures on a seven-day rolling basis. That way you’re not hinged to any one particular day, what any one particular day’s data may mean because it could be off by a day or two. More important is to look at one week averages. That gives you a better feel for what’s happening in the state of Texas.
Governor Greg Abbott: (30:11)
Do you want to add anything more about that?
Dr. Hellerstedt: (30:12)
Yes, Governor. I would just add, we do not want there to be any delay in the reporting of deaths. One of the things that we do is to keep up with that looking and scanning at all of the city and county health department data that they post. If they post it as a death, we include that in our daily counts. It may turn out that in some cases later on it might be that that death is not primarily attributed to COVID-19, so there are some things that that can be corrected later on. We want to, if you will, give the most current data that we can, and we rely on the city and county health departments to do that.
Dr. Hellerstedt: (30:53)
Then, as the governor mentioned, as far as test results, in some cases, keep in mind that normally for reportable diseases, labs and doctors are really only required to report the positive tests. In the case of COVID-19, obviously, we want both. We want the positive and negative tests so we can calculate percent positive rate. In some cases, the data feed on the total number of tests or the negative tests, we had to make corrections for that. Again, that’s a reason to use a seven-day rolling average, to even out those corrections.
Speaker 7: (31:31)
I just need to ask Dr. Hellerstedt a follow-up. Hospitals that were not reporting negatives, are your figures now corrected or is there a date we can point to that we just look at since then and we have the full picture?
Dr. Hellerstedt: (31:45)
We believe they’re now correct on a go-forward basis.
Speaker 7: (31:48)
Okay. Governor, contact tracing is today every new positive case being traced? If not, can you specify when you expect the state and its various local and university partners to be able to do that?
Governor Greg Abbott: (32:03)
Sure. I’ll let Dr. Hellerstedt answer that.
Dr. Hellerstedt: (32:05)
Again, at this point, we are ramping up on our case tracking, tracing is the term we’re using. I would not say that we are able to contact every single positive test at this point. We eventually believe we will need a workforce of somewhere around 4,000 in order to do that. Then, in addition to that, we have essentially a web-based application that’s going to cover the entire state and enable coordination of the case tracing across the entire state. That’s still being developed. It’s being developed at a very fast rate and it’s being perfected so that we understand what the users need and it becomes a very useful tool.
Dr. Hellerstedt: (32:46)
When we work with our city and county health department partners on this, we will give the option of them to either tie their data into that system or use that system directly to do their own case-tracing work. Right now, we are ramping that up as fast-
Speaker 8: (33:03)
Right now we are ramping that up as fast as we can, but it’s a fact that we are not able at this point to do tracing on every single positive case.
Speaker 9: (33:15)
Given the unemployment numbers, what do you say to Texans who are still without work and any efforts to state will continue to make to help them as they navigate through this?
Governor Greg Abbott: (33:29)
Unemployment numbers are too high and unacceptable. That said, I will tell you that according to the Dallas Federal Reserve, Texas has the lowest unemployment rate of any of the large states in the United States. What we intend to do to lower the unemployment rate even more is to continue this process of opening up Texas. The reason why the unemployment rate is where it is, is because of the businesses that were shut down. The best thing that we can do is to continue to open up. Our fellow Texans need to understand that one of the most important strategies that we can utilize to make sure that Texas can continue to open up is to have all Texans continue the process of distancing practices, hand sensitization, making sure you do everything possible to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The more we do that, the more we can safely open up. The more we can safely open up, the more Texans can get back to work, pay their bills, get off of the unemployment lines, and get back into the workforce.
Speaker 10: (34:35)
Governor, though some emergency benefits provided by Congress lately are not restricted to US citizens and legal residents, there’s been a chilling effect for undocumented immigrants, according to some news reports. They’re fearful of deportation and not taking advantage of some of these benefits that they are eligible for. Should the state do more to educate, say through PSAs, Texans about which programs are universally available, such as that pandemic electronic benefit transfer on school meal replacement you announced last week? Or that there’s pools of money for healthcare providers to administer COVID tests to the uninsured and noncitizens with no effect on public charge or immigration enforcement?
Governor Greg Abbott: (35:20)
So I’m on TV every day, multiple times a day, talking about all of these strategies that make available to anybody in the state of Texas whatever resources are available. And then as you know, and as your paper has published, we provide that information publicly that does get repeated multiple times a week. And so we will continue to make sure everybody in the state of Texas is aware of all of these different programs that make benefits available.
Speaker 11: (35:55)
Governor, I know you’ve asked people to be careful, to be respectful of others, at the same time, patronize businesses. But if you go to parks or bike thoroughfares, you see a lot of people not maintaining social distance, not wearing masks. How do you balance the idea of telling people they can go out, while at the same time being respectful of others or wearing masks if needed?
Governor Greg Abbott: (36:21)
Well, among other things you need to make sure you’re not jumping to conclusions. And that is some of the people who may not be distancing, but could be family members. And family members don’t need to distance themselves from others because they congregate within a family all the time anyway. But that said, one thing that we know for a fact with an infectious disease that does not yet have a cure, is that the more people do practice safe distancing, the more we will be able to reduce its spread. So that’s exactly why both today and every day I and everybody else with me, we strongly urge all Texans to continue safe distancing practices, to wear face masks, if at all possible, to sanitize your hands, do everything you possibly can to continue to slow the spread. If you do that, there will be more opportunities to open up the state even more.
Governor Greg Abbott: (37:15)
Thank you all.