May 27, 2020
Gov. Greg Abbott Texas Press Conference Transcript May 27
Governor Greg Abbott of Texas held a press conference on coronavirus May 27 in Amarillo. Abbott said Amarillo & the Texas panhandle has turned a corner in coronavirus cases, and can reopen with the rest of the state.
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Greg Abbott: (47:40)
You guys all set?
Greg Abbott: (47:50)
Everybody else all set? Good to go? Okay. Well, listen, it’s an honor to be back in Amarillo. I’m honored to join together with Mayor Ginger Nelson, as well as my colleagues and the Texas Capitol, Senator Seliger, Representatives Four Price, Representative Smithee, as well as representative Ken King. The reason I’m in Amarillo today is because Amarillo is an example of how Texas is going about the process of responding to COVID-19 at this particular stage of COVID-19’s life in Texas. What happens is that we had the first month or two of challenges with regard to COVID-19 in March and April, that required us to get a feel for how the virus was going to be spreading in the state of Texas, and be able to amass all of the PPE, the medical equipment, the testing that were needed in order for the state of Texas to be able to assist local communities in responding to COVID-19.
Greg Abbott: (48:58)
Now that we have gone through that initial stage, we are now at the level where we are opening up the state of Texas economically. And is important that we be able to open up while maintaining the safety and lives of our fellow Texans. And there is a strategy that we use to go about that process. And that strategy involves what we call surge response teams. What surge response teams do is, they identify hotspots in Texas where there is an increase in the number of people who are testing positive.
Greg Abbott: (49:39)
What we have found is that those hotspots typically relate to three different categories. One is an increase in people testing positive in nursing homes. Another is an increase in those testing positive in meat packing plants, and a third is those testing positive in jails or prisons. Amarillo has gone through the challenge of facing all three of those hotspots, overlapping. Nursing homes, several nursing homes, a jail, and then of course dealing with the consequences of meat packing plants. That led to an increase and the number of people testing positive in this region. And that led to concerns on our part about making sure that Amarillo was going to be able to have everything that it needed.
Greg Abbott: (50:33)
And when I say Amarillo, I’m talking about Randall and Potter County, as well as all of the surrounding counties. We want to make sure they had everything they needed. And so the mayor and I had a phone conversation, and that led to a conversation that I had with the Vice President, where I explained the challenges that existed on the ground in the Amarillo region to the Vice President, and the Vice President just immediately said, “Okay, here’s what we will send.” It included CDC team, it included more testing supplies, it included other additional types of supplies to make sure that we would be able to robustly respond to the challenges on the ground in the greater Amarillo area.
Greg Abbott: (51:17)
And the results are astounding. The results are on this graph over here, but I want to walk you through what has happened in the Amarillo area. Going back to… You can see on May the 13th, at that time, there had been a total… Let me first explain what this graph shows. This graph is the aggregation of data for Potter and Randall counties. So every number you see includes the addition for all of these different information segments for both Potter and Randall counties. So for Potter and Randall County, on May the 13th, there had been a total of 5,674 people who’d been tested in the region. And we had to cut it off effective yesterday, or on the 25th. And so from May the 13th until May the 25th, they almost doubled the number of people who had been tested in Potter and Randall counties.
Greg Abbott: (52:16)
And then you can see the new positive cases, the people who tested positive, it was 182 on the 13th. It spiked up to 734 on May the 16th. And then you could see a slow trickle down, until you got to May 25th, where you had zero people test positive. And if I recall correctly, the same was true yesterday, where I think there were zero who tested positive yesterday. This is exactly what we have seen when we have deployed these surge response teams to the other hotspot areas like this. You see an early spike in the number of people testing positive, and then you see a slow decline in those testing positive, that demonstrates that the hot spot area has been contained. One thing particularly good in this particular case, in Amarillo you did see an unfortunate increase in daily fatalities on May the 14th. But after that, the fatality rate has been extremely low.
Greg Abbott: (53:28)
And then we look at hospitalizations. And the important thing there is even with the increase, in fact, in a way a sudden and substantial increase in the number of people who tested positive just a few days earlier, there was no dramatic increase in the hospitalizations in Potter and Randall counties. They stayed relatively flat from May the 17th all the way to May 23rd. Or May the 17th, obviously, it was 24. Now on May 25th, it was 23 people who were hospitalized for COVID-19 related issues. And so if you look at the key metrics of what we look at on a statewide basis to see how a particular region is responding, and to see whether or not a particular region is challenged in dealing with COVID-19, you see the reason why there was a need to have a surge response team to assist this region respond to the challenge. But also you see extremely positive results that lead to the ability to say that Amarillo has turned the corner on its pathway toward a positive, effective resolution of this particular hotspot.
Greg Abbott: (54:57)
Now, one thing that this does, this makes Amarillo and the region of the panhandle be a part of the process of allowing Texas to open up our economy. While so many people in this state are suffering from the coronavirus, there are so many more people in the state who are suffering economically. Their businesses are being shuttered, their paychecks are being lost, their ability to feed their families is being compromised, and they need help. They need to get back to work. One thing about Texans is they’re not looking for a handout, they’re looking to get back to work. And so part of our collective responsibility is to create a structure where we can enable Texans to be able to get back to work while coexisting with COVID-19. As we are in this transition period from where we are today, until we get to that moment in time, just a few months from now, when there will be medications available to treat people who do test positive for COVID- 19.
Greg Abbott: (56:01)
Now at the Texas level, we’re seeing similarly positive numbers come out over the past few days. Now we have a two day ongoing average of testing, and we continue to test more than 20,000 people a day across the state of Texas. The positivity rate, which is a rate that we look to as one of our yardsticks that determine how well the state of Texas is responding to the spread of the coronavirus, the positivity rate remains low. The seven day positivity rate is 5.25%. Let’s go back in time to the middle part of April. The positivity rate at that time was 13%. Then 11%, then 10%, then 9%, making his way all the way down to 5%. And so with the positivity rate, which is the rate of the percentage of all the people who were tested, who test positive. With a positivity rate of only about 5%, as the White House Coronavirus Strike Force has said, that is an acceptable positivity rate to show that the state has adequately contained the spread of COVID-19.
Greg Abbott: (57:20)
Also, incredibly importantly, yesterday and the day before, and the day before that, we had three days in a row that had the lowest three day numbers of deaths in the state of Texas since the end of March. And so the fatality rate in the state of Texas, which has always been one of the lowest in the United States, continue to be extremely low. And that also shows that Texas has taken a positive turn in our battle against COVID-19. Similarly is the hospital rate. Go back two days ago, and we have one of the lowest hospitalization numbers in the state of Texas since the middle part of April. Percentage wise, if you want to do it mathematically as a rate, when you consider the number of people who test positive for COVID-19 and the hospitalizations as a result of it, the hospitalization rate is one of the lowest since the beginning of COVID-19 expanding in the state of Texas.
Greg Abbott: (58:25)
So all of the numbers are looking good. I do however, want to provide you one cautionary note. As many of you may know, there has been an extreme addition to the number of tests that have been conducted at the JBS facility nearby. But because of the massive increase in the number of tests, and because it is considered to be a hot zone, you can expect in the short run, meaning later on this week, that there will be what should be one last spike in the number of people testing positive. And co-related, one last spike in the positivity rate. So that is to be expected. We will not be surprised. In fact, I would be surprised if we did not see that spike.
Greg Abbott: (59:13)
But what I expect is after that spike, you will continue to see an ongoing downward trend in those testing positive in this region. And you will see this region having contained COVID-19. And so I’m proud of the leadership in the entire region, all of the counties around here, all of the healthcare providers around here, and of course the leadership of Potter and Randall County, and the fabulous mayor of Amarillo, Ginger Nelson. So at this time, I’d like to pass it off to Mayor Ginger Nelson.
Ginger Nelson: (59:48)
Thank you, Governor. Well, I would echo that how much we appreciate your leadership. It is true, and I’ll tell my grandkids the story someday that I sent the governor a letter on Wednesday, and within an hour, I was on a phone call with Chief Kidd. And by Friday-
Mayor Ginger Nelson: (01:00:03)
Within an hour, I was on a phone call with Chief Kidd, and by Friday, I was having phone calls with you personally. The next thing I know, both the state, government, and the federal government are sending strike forces to our city to work on this problem. So if that doesn’t make you proud to be an American and proud to be a Texan, then I don’t know what does because we needed help, we asked for help, and help came. As you said, we’re beginning to see the results of that partnership play out in our numbers. What’s numbers on a page? Our people in our hearts here in our community. So on behalf of the people of our community, I’m want to tell you, thank you. Thank you for your leadership, and Chief Kidd, thank you for your efforts on the ground here in addressing the problem that we had in the hotspots that we had.
Mayor Ginger Nelson: (01:00:50)
We have needs going forward, and we’re going to continue to work on those. This has brought forward the idea that we need more internet coverage here in the Panhandle, just watching our kids go inside for education, watching people try to do telemedicine in rural areas. So that’s something we want to start to work on and continue to work on it in expanding the internet access that we have here in the Panhandle. We want to watch for economic development opportunities. Yes, we need to recover in the economy. We need to be working where we can be working. So we appreciate that you’re opening our state, Governor, but we want to watch for economic development opportunities that can partner well with our Texas Tech Vet School, perhaps, pharmaceutical manufacturing, and all the jobs we can bring to Texas. We want to help you do that.
Mayor Ginger Nelson: (01:01:35)
So we’re excited about being out of this situation, but we recognize that we have challenges yet to be faced. So thank you for the partnership that you brought. We’re thankful for the local partners that were involved in this too. It’s been boots on the ground, for sure. I want to commend the city staff under the leadership of our city manager, Jared Milton, but also Casie Stoughton and Dr. Scott Milton, who have led us in this effort. We’ve had many community partners. Tyson has been a good community partner. They’ve made hard decisions. I believe that we, as a community, are going to see the benefit of those hard decisions. Even Texas Cattle Feeder’s Association and some of these folks who were on the ground trying to help us approach this problem, I appreciate the leadership of Ross Wilson. I appreciate the leadership of Mark Bivins, who served on the governor’s statewide task force.
Mayor Ginger Nelson: (01:02:35)
So it has been a large partnership, and a lot of people have put their hand to the plow in order to work on this situation in Amarillo. I’m very pleased to see the results. I hope that, Governor, next time you come back to visit us, we’re putting you down for a steak dinner and a more extended stay. We won’t have to talk about all this hotspot situation. So thank you for being here, Governor. We really appreciate you.
Greg Abbott: (01:03:04)
Thank you. Now I would like to introduce the person who spearheads our team that leads these surge response teams, as well as manages the state operations. He is the chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management. His name is Chief Nim Kidd.
Chief Nim Kidd: (01:03:21)
Thank you, Governor. I want to quickly thank all of the state agencies that have been a part of the support to the mayor and her team and the judges that have been here with us. The Texas Military Department’s been a tremendous asset, over 212 personnel surged into the area. 130 of those are still here now and will be here until the mayor and her team decide that it’s time for them to be released. We’ve also had the Texas Forest Service, the Engineering Extension Service, AgriLife, the Department of Public Safety, Parks and Wildlife, the Department of State Health Services, Health and Human Services Commission, Emergency Medical Task Force, and some of our private sector partners like DCFS. As you can see, it’s the Strike Force and the surge team the Governor’s directed. It’s a whole approach. It does take a team to get this done.
Chief Nim Kidd: (01:04:01)
Amarillo has been the place where we launched it first, and we’ve seen great success. It’s the model that we’re pushing in other parts of the state as well. You don’t hear as much about personal protective equipment demands anymore, although we’re still hearing some, but that’s because the surge model has helped build this out. You will continue to hear less and less, I think, about testing as we get more people tested, more prevalence to a test. Today there’s over 600 locations across the state of Texas that you can go and get a Covid-19 test. They’re on our website, you can get them at texas. gov, and we encourage people to keep going to those sites if they’re sick or if they think they need a test. As the testing capabilities expand, so too will our understanding of this. I’m very proud of the work done here at the local level in our healthcare providers and first responders. Hats off to the fire department and the EMS around here as well. Great job in supporting their community. Thank you.
Greg Abbott: (01:04:49)
Thank you, Nim. Go ahead.
Casie Stoughton: (01:04:50)
Great, good afternoon. My name is Casie Stoughton. I’m the Director of Public Health for the Amarillo Area Public Health District in the city of Amarillo. Before the Covid pandemic, the mission of public health was prevent, promote, protect. During the Covid pandemic, the mission of public health is to prevent, promote, and protect. And after the pandemic, the mission of public health will be to prevent, promote, and protect. I’d like to take just a minute to talk about each of those pieces of the mission related to the Covid pandemic.
Casie Stoughton: (01:05:18)
So we’ll talk about prevention. In collaboration with the state of Texas Department of State Health Services, Amarillo Public Health has had a long standing public health emergency preparedness grant for all hazards, including pandemics. The processes and relationships established long ago are working well now. We appreciate the teamwork and rapid response when calling the state and when calling in the expertise for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I appreciate the great working relationship we have with Kelly Northcott, Deputy Regional Manager for this Public Health Region 1 as well as the team from CDC. With regard to promote, as the vice-president of the Texas Association of City and County Health Officials, I value relationships with local health directors across the state of Texas. The ability to speak quickly with the director of the city of Houston Health Department or ask questions of the director of Denton County or share resources with the city of Lubbock brings resources into each community quicker than ever.
Casie Stoughton: (01:06:23)
Protection, Northwest Texas Healthcare Systems and Baptist St. Anthony’s Health Systems along with community providers are coming together with the Amarillo Public Health Department to serve our community with collaborative testing efforts, communication, and surge plans. Amarillo Public Health and Texas Tech School of Medicine are providing drive-through testing free of charge to the community and have been doing so since March 27th, that’s two months to the day.
Casie Stoughton: (01:06:50)
When we were planning the drive-through testing effort, we knew that supplies would be the limiting factor. We were scouring Amazon, health supply vendors, and working with labs to maintain supplies of swabs. When we were working on the drive through testing, we knew that viral transport media would be an issue, so Dr. Todd Bell and I were talking about the opportunity to make viral transport media. So Texas Tech School of Pharmacy has made thousands of doses of viral transport media and has provided that statewide for testing. I could not be prouder of the team at the Amarillo Public Health Department alongside our Public Health Authority, Dr. Scott Milton. There’s a lot of great work still to be done, and we will hold true to that mission of prevent, promote, and protect.
Greg Abbott: (01:07:44)
Great. Thank you so much. We’ll be happy to take a few questions.
Speaker 1: (01:07:46)
[inaudible 01:07:49]. Thanks for your time. Thank you for [crosstalk 01:07:53].
Greg Abbott: (01:07:46)
Sure, you too.
Speaker 1: (01:07:55)
I’d like to ask you about a second-phase plan. I know that we were the first to send in the surge team. We’re all kind of building the airplane in the air. What are the plans for a secondary spike later in the summer or later in the fall, and what kind of resources will be available [inaudible 01:08:14]?
Greg Abbott: (01:08:16)
So we are prepared and preparing for second and third-level expansions of Covid-19. The second level would be, as we go about this opening up process, we realized there could be spikes like what we’ve seen in Amarillo. So with Nim Kidd and his team, and we’re prepared to send in these surge response teams to make sure that we will be able to tamp down any type of flare up using the model of what we’ve seen in Amarillo. Then there’s talk about a potential second flare-up or third flare-up in the fall or winter time when the regular flu occurs. Covid-19 could occur if we don’t have medicines to take care of it. So we’re preparing for that in part with what Chief Kidd talked about.
Greg Abbott: (01:09:04)
We have a very robust supply chain team that is aggregating masks, gowns, face guards, all the different types of PPE as we speak. Right now, we continue to distribute it across the state of Texas, but because we have Texas-based manufacturers of these materials, we should have ongoing supplies so that we will not be running out like we were in the original part of this process. In addition to that, we will be adding as many testing supplies as well as medicines, as possible, to make sure that we will be able to respond to this.
Greg Abbott: (01:09:42)
The last thing I’ll tell you is this: the key to our strategy is to make sure we always have a sufficient number of hospital beds, ICU units, and ventilators available to make sure that no Texan will go without healthcare. We do not want to see in Texas what happened in New York and New Jersey and other places. So we constantly monitor hospital capacity and hospital availability to make sure that we will have the beds available. Go back to one of my original orders, which was a requirement that hospitals stop non-essential surgical procedures. That could always be triggered if necessary to increase hospital capacity. Now it’s not needed. As a result, now it’s time for people who have those other healthcare needs to get those addressed. We want to make sure that people that have cancer concerns or heart concerns or other different types of concerns, they get fully addressed right now.
Speaker 2: (01:10:37)
Greg Abbott: (01:10:41)
Speaker 2: (01:10:41)
If we have to [inaudible 00:10:45], if we have to, can Texas go outside the United States to get the supplies they need?
Greg Abbott: (01:10:57)
For like for PPE and some other things like that?
Speaker 2: (01:10:58)
Greg Abbott: (01:10:59)
So we have leading our supply chain team, the former vice-president for International Supply Chain for Dell. They have, as part of their supply chain, sources in other countries. There have been occasions when it has been necessary early on in the process to go to other countries. Now, however, we do have adequate supply chain within the United States. One of the lessons that have been learned from dealing with this pandemic is that the United States, as a country, had offshored to other countries the production of PPE, the production of medicines, even the production of the plastic vials that medicines are transported in. As a result, one thing that’s taking place as we speak and one thing that will continue during the course of this year is the onshoring or reshoring of the manufacturing of all of those supplies so that the United States will never again be dependent upon other countries for the supplies that we need for medical care in this country.
Speaker 2: (01:12:07)
So we can get it back home then.
Greg Abbott: (01:12:08)
Yes. Well, keeping it at home, but expanding it at home.
Speaker 3: (01:12:11)
[inaudible 00:12:17]. You said there is a potentially going to be a spike regarding, not related to the JBS plant up in Moore County. So you perceive any spike regarding the inquiry testing in nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the area?
Greg Abbott: (01:12:28)
So, as you know, but let me explain, we are testing 100% of the nursing homes around the state of Texas, and that includes both the residents as well as the staff. Now, we have the National Guard going in working to sanitize the nursing homes. Nursing homes is one of the most vulnerable settings that we have in the state of Texas and a setting that leads to one of the highest levels of fatality rates. So we want to test and identify everybody in the nursing home who may test positive for Covid-19 and separate the sick from the well and make sure we’re able to treat the well. As we go through that testing process, we probably will see an increase in the number of people who test positive as well as an increase in the positivity rate, but because we have been through this exercise before in other regions in the state of Texas, just like with regards to a meatpacking facility, with a nursing home, we expect there to be an immediate increase in those who test positive and then an ensuing decline in that positivity test results.
Speaker 4: (01:13:35)
Greg Abbott: (01:13:38)
Speaker 4: (01:13:38)
Is there a possibility or do you perceive potential of testing people who live in group homes? [inaudible 01:13:47].
Greg Abbott: (01:13:50)
Well, it depends on what you mean by group home. I’ll answer this in part. That is there are other types of group home settings. It could be state-supported living facilities. It could be other, like a psychiatric hospital-type settings. So any type of a vulnerable setting like that, we are going in and doing testing. The first part of that process was all the nursing homes. Then there was another order on my part talking about the testing of these other locations also.
Speaker 5: (01:14:28)
[inaudible 01:14:28] and out of all of the positive cases, 25% of them are Hispanic. What are you doing for the Hispanic community to prevent the spread of Covid-19? What would you say to all of the Hispanic families who are watching you right now [inaudible 01:14:50]?
Greg Abbott: (01:14:52)
Sure, so they keep (silence) is identifying ( silence) would be one vulnerable population. Those living in state-supported living facilities would be another. The Hispanic community, as you point out, has had an over-representation in those who test positive and those who face the most serious consequences from Covid-19. As a result, we are providing resources targeting certain areas of the Hispanic community. One of those is to increase testing and testing sites in those locations that may be more predominant Hispanic so that we can better identify exactly what the reason is, why some are testing more positive. Is it because of where they are working, or is it because of where they’re living. So we need to learn more information about this so we can better address what the reasons are with this goal in mind. We want to reduce the Covid positivity rate among the Hispanic community, and as a result, reduce the healthcare challenges the Hispanic community is facing.
Speaker 6: (01:16:20)
Covid is a challenge for the black community also?
Greg Abbott: (01:16:23)
Of course. It sure does. Same thing, yeah.
Speaker 5: (01:16:25)
[inaudible 01:16:30]. On the topic of testing, will there be testing at… Will there be follow-up testing at [Inaudible 01:16:41].
Greg Abbott: (01:16:41)
Sure. I may follow up on that, but the person who will know most about that perhaps is Chief Nim Kidd.
Chief Nim Kidd: (01:16:49)
So as it relates to the nursing homes, the goal of this is to make sure that we’ve separated out those that are sick, those that are not sick, and help those get well. If we see a spike in that nursing home again, we will absolutely go back in and test. Work on the same with our meat packing plants and the partnership that we have there. Once that we know who has been sick and who is not sick and we get them separated and identified, it’s much easier for them to heal and stop the spread. If we see an indicator or a trigger, we’ll absolutely be working with local public health and come back in and test again.
Speaker 7: (01:17:17)
A couple of questions. We got two more.
Speaker 8: (01:17:25)
Governor, was a week long enough to delay [inaudible 01:17:25] in Amarillo?
Greg Abbott: (01:17:27)
In hindsight, the answer is yes. When you look at the numbers of where Amarillo is, the numbers played out exactly like I thought they would. It was easy for us to anticipate this because we’ve been through this scenario so many times before now. So it does look like a week is enough even including the fact that we do anticipate a spike in those testing positive later this week. I think Amarillo has turned the corner and they’re prepared to go to the increase of opening up this Friday.
Speaker 9: (01:17:58)
Just to follow up on that. Have you seen any more delays in reopening for Amarillo and the surrounding counties here in the future?
Greg Abbott: (01:18:05)
Well, I can’t tell you for the future. For right now, we all want them to open up as scheduled this Friday, and we’ll have to wait [inaudible 01:18:16] their positive test results in the future.
Speaker 10: (01:18:19)
Greg Abbott: (01:18:19)
Would you repeat please?
Speaker 10: (01:18:28)
Chief Nim Kidd: (01:18:36)
Well, that’s a question for the USDA, the ones that actually do the (silence) would be better to answer that question.
Greg Abbott: (01:18:43)
Right. Queue off. Sure. Hey, Mayor, thank you very much.
Mayor Ginger Nelson: (01:18:48)
Thank you, Governor. We appreciate you very much.
Speaker 11: (01:18:49)
Thank you, Governor. It was good to see you again.
Greg Abbott: (01:18:53)
Thank you. It was good to see you. (silence)