Jun 22, 2020
Gov. Greg Abbott Texas Press Conference Transcript June 22 on Coronavirus
Governor Greg Abbott of Texas held a coronavirus press conference on June 22. Abbott said COVID-19 is spreading at an “unacceptable rate” in Texas and “tougher actions” will be required if it continues. Read his full news briefing speech here.
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Greg Abbott: (17:42)
Thank you all for being with us. We’re here today to discuss the recent increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in Texas. As well as to discuss the ways that Texans can, and frankly need to step up and work collaboratively to make sure that we respond to this increase. Now, from the beginning of our response to COVID-19, I have repeated several guidelines. First, decisions about how to respond to COVID-19 will be based upon data as well as advice from doctors. Second, COVID-19 remains a very fast spreading virus that will remain in Texas, the United States and across the entire world until treatments are available to mitigate it. As a result, we must find ways to return to our daily routines while also learning ways to coexist with COVID-19
Greg Abbott: (18:48)
Third, our early goal was to slow the spread of the coronavirus to prevent our hospitals from becoming overrun. We succeeded in that early goal by following the best practices, to make sure that we did slow the spread. And as a result, we did prevent our hospitals from getting overrun. And as we gather today, hospitals continue to have abundant capacity to treat patients with COVID-19. Fourth, as we opened up from stay at home policies, we established safety protocols to minimize the increase of the spread of COVID-19. These protocols, which are contained in this booklet right here, they provide guidance for all Texans and all Texas businesses.
Greg Abbott: (19:45)
If these guidelines are followed, they help to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The protocols have several core principles. If you are at risk, or if you’re sick, you should stay at home. You should frequently sanitize your hands. You should maintain safe distances from others when you do go out. And when you do go out, you should wear a face covering or a face mask. These strategies have proven to be effective in stopping the spread of COVID-19. Fifth, I’ve said all along that if the positivity rate or the hospitalization rate increased too much, we have strategies to reduce the spread of COVID-19 without having to return to stay at home policies.
Greg Abbott: (20:41)
Sixth, closing down Texas again will always be the last option. Now, with that context, I want to review several key data points. They are shown in three graphs that I am providing today. First, is a graph showing the daily number of people testing positive. In the last half of May, Texas averaged about 1,500 positive cases a day. In the past five days in June, we’ve averaged more than 3,500 cases a day. Second, is a graph showing the rise in the positivity rate. The positivity rate has gone from about 4.5% in late May to almost 9% today. Last, is a graph showing the rise in hospitalizations. Hospitalizations for COVID-19 averaged just over 1,600 a day in the latter part of May. In the last four or five days, hospitalizations have averaged more than 3,200 a day. To state the obvious, COVID-19 is now spreading at an unacceptable rate in Texas.
Greg Abbott: (22:03)
And it must be corralled. We have several strategies to reduce the spread without having to shut Texas back down. First, we need to have all Texans follow the safe protocols that we’ve all come to learn. Stay at home, if you can. Sanitize your hands. Try to stay six feet away from others that you’re not traveling with. And if you cannot stay a safe distance, wear a face mask or a face covering. Second, appropriate authorities are increasing enforcement. For example, TABC is shutting down over crowded bars that are not in compliance. Counties are closing things like river park operations that have grown too crowded. Some authorities are requiring masks in congregated areas. Third, we are surging testing in areas that may be hotspots. We are working with the CDC on this effort. Also working with us on this effort, as well as the entirety of our strategies in responding to COVID-19 are citizens from Texas who are serving in the Texas National Guard. About 3,500 of them remain in active duty service across the state of Texas, helping our state respond to the spread of COVID-19. And I thank them for their service.
Greg Abbott: (23:39)
Fourth, we’re working with hospitals to ensure that they have the ability to treat anyone who tests positive from COVID-19. And fifth, I know that some people feel that wearing a mask is inconvenient, or that it’s like an infringement of freedom. But I also know that wearing a mask will help us to keep-
Greg Abbott: (24:03)
… so know that wearing a mask will help us to keep Texas open because not taking action to slow the spread will cause COVID to spread even worse, risking people’s lives, and ultimately, leading to the closure of more businesses. I encourage Texans to learn more about how you can get involved to help slow the spread of COVID-19, and you can do that online by going to open. texas.gov. Our goal is to keep Texans out of hospitals and to reduce the number of Texans who test positive.
Greg Abbott: (24:44)
COVID hasn’t suddenly gone away, but neither has our ability to slow the spread of it. Texans have already shown that we don’t have to choose between jobs and health. We can have both. We can protect Texans’ lives while also restoring their livelihoods. Together, we can keep Texans safe. Together, we will keep Texas wide open for business. Now I will turn it over to Dr. Hellerstedt.
Dr. Hellerstedt: (25:22)
Thank you, governor. Please, Texas. Let’s see the wise guidance that the governor has laid out. You’ve heard it many times before. We are at a very crucial point in time. As you can see that the data, the trends are going up in a way that we really need to get control of. We can get control of those by using the kind of guidance that we have laid out before. The governor gave a great summary of them. It’s all about hygiene, if you can, in an area, wear a face covering, that’s a really great idea. It helps to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Dr. Hellerstedt: (25:59)
We really are at a point where we need to recover what I feel was a sense of community that we had early on in the outbreak of COVID-19. We are still all in this together, Texas, and we need to act not just to protect ourselves, but to protect the entire community. The things that we’re asking you to do will be effective. We must do them now. We must curb these trends so that we can go forward. Thank you.
Greg Abbott: (26:28)
Thank you. Now, Dr. Zerwas.
Dr. Zerwas: (26:29)
Thank you, governor, and thank you for your continued leadership on this. I think the commissioner and the governor have spoke very eloquently about what the key things are that we need to do in order to stay safe and to really rein in the spread of COVID-19, which I have spend a lot of my time on it. The governor’s direction is to ensure that we have the hospital capacity to meet the increasing demand that people might have as we see the spread of the disease.
Dr. Zerwas: (26:59)
We are seeing that now, and we’re seeing that capacity being tested; however, we continue to have good, strong capacity within our healthcare system. You may recall that we laid out a one through five level in terms of capacity, five being the typical capacity within the staff, number of beds, and we continue to be in that place. We continue to see a number of patients driving the census as far as COVID goes fairly low. Now, that has continued to rise. In fact, it’s risen over last week since the last time I had a chance to speak on this, but it’s still a minority of the patients that are in our ICU and in our beds, and so they aren’t driving the census right now, but should we not be able to accomplish what needs to be accomplished, we will see this census increase within our hospitals, and then that will drive some additional efforts that need to be made.
Dr. Zerwas: (27:53)
Those efforts are well in place. We laid out a very, very good plan in terms of meeting what those demands are out there. One thing I would remind everybody of that the governor reminded people of not too long ago, and that was the Texas Disaster Volunteer Registry that can be found on the Department of State Health Services website. That’s a place where if you’re anybody that’s in the healthcare field that would like to put their name in there so in the event that we need to start drawing on volunteers for additional efforts, this is the time to do that is to put your name in there and show where you would prefer to work and where you would be. That’s, I think, governor, I think a thing that we should look at. It’s not a demand right now, but it’s always good to be ahead of the curve.
Greg Abbott: (28:41)
Thank you. Now Chief Nim Kidd the Texas Division of Emergency Management.
Chief Nim Kidd: (28:46)
Thank you, governor. Just a quick update on PPE and testing. We’ve pushed out over 62 million masks to healthcare workers and first responders across the state. We have about 24 million in our warehouse and inventory, with another 96 million en route. For PPE shortages or concerns that are out there, we need to make sure that we’re sharing those [inaudible 00:29:05] there’s plenty of PPE in our inventory at this time, one of the few times you’ve heard me say that.
Chief Nim Kidd: (29:10)
The second is testing. We continue to do our seven-day rolling averages, about 32,000 tests a day in Texas now. We know that number may go down, governor, because of the Houston area, we closed all of the outdoor testing sites due to severe weather there, but testing sites remain available. There are over 840 testing sites still open in the state today.
Greg Abbott: (29:30)
Thank you. With that, we’ll take a few questions.
Thanks, governor. You continue to encourage people to wear masks in public, and at the same time, you talk about personal freedoms, but you and I are both old enough to remember a Texas where we were free to get behind the wheel of an uninsured vehicle, pop up in a cold beer, leave our seatbelt off, and drive wherever we want. Then like the leader said, “Wait a minute, public safety is far more important than your personal freedoms. We’re going to make it mandatory that you can no longer have those freedoms.” Are you even considering likening that situation with the present one?
Greg Abbott: (30:21)
Well, where we are in this pandemic is if you look at the growth or even the decline in the number of people who were testing positive as well as the positivity rate all the way through the early part of May, Texas was moving in a very productive position. Then around the time of Memorial Day, there was an increase, and that increase has maintained for several weeks now, necessitating that next steps be taken. The best next steps are the ones that I articulated earlier with regard to different levels of enforcement, understanding this very important principle, and that is there is a differentiation about the level of spread in different parts of the state of Texas.
Greg Abbott: (31:08)
What may be true in Austin, Texas is different in Austin County in the state of Texas, and we need to have latitude for that differentiation. As a result, you are seeing in some of the larger settings that have a more massive spread of COVID-19, there is an increase use of requiring masks whereas in other areas of the state, there was no requirement of wearing mask because there is either no COVID cases or very few COVID cases. I think maintaining a level of flexibility is important in a state the size of Texas with 254 counties, but with an emphasis, wherever possible, to make sure that the right strategies are in place to make sure that we are slowing the spread of COVID-19.
Greg Abbott: (32:00)
There’s been a big increase in San Antonio. Are you surging to help the San Antonio hospitals right now? If so, how?
Greg Abbott: (32:07)
Sure. Just so I can make sure I understand the question, are we surging to help San Antonio hospitals? Yes. I think the best person to answer that question would be Dr. Zerwas.
Dr. Zerwas: (32:16)
Thank you, governor. Thanks for the question. We’re following all of our counties very closely in terms of what might need to be the surge requirements. All of our hospitals at this time identified to us that they’re still in a pre-surge state, which, again, is in that number five category that I’ve shared with you before. Different facilities will be in different levels of need out there, just depending on the census, that’s driving the particular type of patient, but all the areas have surge capacity plans out there and to the extent that they need to move into other areas or they need certain things that the state should provide, the state stands ready to do that.
Greg Abbott: (33:06)
While we’re waiting the next question, to explain why Dr. Zerwas answered that question, as a reminder, among other things, Dr. Zerwas is in charge of what’s called the supply chain operations for healthcare. That includes supply chain, making sure that hospitals have all the needed equipment and supplies, including personnel and beds that are needed to respond to COVID-19. Next question.
Speaker 11: (33:29)
Thank you, governor. This might be another question kind of more with either Dr. Hellerstedt or Dr. Zerwas, but we’re hearing some concerns about hospital capacity both here in Austin, San Antonio, like John just mentioned, and also in Houston. We’re wondering which state department, if any, is collecting hospital bed availability and hospital census numbers, and do the hospitals provide those directly, and is that provided on a daily basis?
Greg Abbott: (33:54)
You were correct. I will allow either Dr. Hellerstedt or Dr. Zerwas to answer that, whichever one knows the most about it.
Dr. Hellerstedt: (34:02)
We may tag-team this one. The hospitals do report the data in. We did not receive the data necessarily at the hospital level. We tend to have it more in an aggregated level. We do have the information in the hospitals by county, and we will have the information from trauma service areas, so we do keep a close eye on the number of people who are admitted that have confirmed COVID-19 both to the general what we would call medical surgical beds as well as to the ICUs. We keep a very close eye on that capacity. Of course, one of the things that is possible and is done all the time in times when there’s a lot of activity in hospitals and a lot of need for care is they can use that entire trauma service area as a way to fill to capacity to meet the needs of patients in those areas-
Speaker 11: (34:59)
To clarify really quick, does it go… the hospitals report to their local health departments, and then the health departments report to the state, or what’s the exact kind of order of how the information [crosstalk 00:35:08].
Dr. Hellerstedt: (35:08)
They basically come to us through the RAC system, through the regional advisory system.
Speaker 11: (35:13)
Okay. Thank you.
Dr. Zerwas: (35:18)
I might just also address as we start to get to a point where we realize that the census is starting to be driven more by the COVID-19 patients and concerns about that capacity with the commissioner’s direction and certainly with the involvement of governor, we host calls directly with healthcare CEOs on a regular basis, and there’s no better way to have a good understanding of where they are in terms of capacity and needs than to talk to them personally. We’ll do that on a very regular basis. I’ve done it here in the Austin area with people that predominantly serve this area, but I’ve done that at each of the regions out there, and the Texas Hospital Association has frequently been helpful to try to orchestrate some of these conference calls together. I have found that-
Dr. Zerwas: (36:03)
… orchestrate some of these conference calls together. I have found that very, very helpful. And just today, I’ve been on the call with a couple of big CEO or big healthcare systems in the Houston area to talk about where are you, what are your needs? Where do you think you’re going over the next few days? What does the state need to do the lineup behind you?
Greg Abbott: (36:21)
While awaiting the next question, let me just elaborate on that a little bit, and that is, last week, I had the opportunity to speak with hospital CEOs from across the entire state of Texas, including all of the large urban areas to get a more in-depth feel for their ability to maintain availability for anybody who tests positive for COVID-19. And I was assured and reassured consistently by all the CEOs from all regions in the entire state of Texas, they had the capability and the flexibility to ensure that anybody who tests positive with COVID-19 would have a bed available. They are professionals at maintaining hospitals and hospital bed utilization, and they know how to ratchet back on the number of people who are being admitted for nonessential surgical procedures, to make sure that beds are going to be available for anybody who tests positive for COVID-19.
The spikes that we see in the charts behind you all began around Memorial Day weekend. There’s another holiday coming up where people gather and do those sort of things. What if anything are you doing to kind of get the word out that this is the reason it went up and if you don’t modify your behavior, it’s going to go up again? Especially given, like a hospital administrator I talked to me today saying, he’s you see an inconsistent message from leaders at every level of government. Some say this, I’m saying that some, some politicize the mask, it’s a badge of honor not to wear one. But how can you kind of overcome the resistance and bring people …
Greg Abbott: (38:01)
So you asked several things in that. Let me try to answer at least two of the questions I heard. One thing that I think you were talking about is we have another holiday coming up, 4th of July. And if you go back to my executive orders, it does allow gatherings for 4th of July. What it also provides, however, is it provides local flexibility with regard to setting the standards for gatherings of 500 people or more that could show up to events like 4th of July events. Already, I’ve seen multiple stories from multiple counties across the state of Texas that are limiting the outdoor gatherings for 4th of July celebrations, limiting or canceling parades they have historically had, as well as some other activities. I think that many of them would like to have a firework show, but they want to structure it in ways that minimize the potential spread of COVID-19. So the good news is we’re already seeing responses from local officials.
Greg Abbott: (39:03)
Second, we speak to local officials typically on a weekly basis, some questions like this typically come up, and as these numbers have and continue to increase, we will increasingly let them know that the more they are doing to reduce gatherings and the size of gatherings, the more they will be able to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Greg Abbott: (39:28)
The last thing you asked about was a level of consistency with regards to masks. And I think people could understand that if you look at these charts, it would have been one thing to talk about masks in the middle part of May when it looks like all the trends are going down. It’s a different thing talking about masks today in the middle part of June, with all of the numbers going up. As a result, you are seeing myself, both wear a mask and talk about masks that more than I did in the middle part of May, and similarly, you’re seeing an increased vocalization on the local side to make sure that people are wearing masks. And there’s a very important reason for that. And that’s because additional scientific and medical data have shown that wearing a mask is one of the most effective ways to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Greg Abbott: (40:21)
And so what my urging is is this, and I’ll just share with you a conversation that I had with a business person in the state of Texas who wasn’t all that excited about wearing a mask. This person is in the hospitality business and said that wearing a mask really doesn’t fit well with the hospitality business. And as we talked through it, as the understanding that began to coalesce that if we do not start wearing masks to slow the spread of COVID-19, it could result in that business actually having a close back down. And at that point in time, that business owner recognized that he embraces the utilization of masks because it ensured that he was going to be able to keep his business open. Our goal is to keep businesses open, to keep society engaged. And one of the most effective tools that we can do that is by people wearing masks. This is not going to be a permanent assignment. Hopefully, it will be a temporary requirement, one that will get us to that next level when we have treatments that will respond to COVID-19.
And, a follow-up if I may.
Greg Abbott: (41:26)
In their resistance was the recorded conversation we heard that was directed rather personally, offensive to you on a number of levels. Do you have a message back to the people who talk like that, whether it’s personal or as Governor of Texas,
Greg Abbott: (41:47)
It reveals a lot about an organization’s morals and character, that they would use vulgarity to talk about someone in a wheelchair. And I think the public should judge that organization and the positions it takes through the lens of the people who act that way.
Speaker 11: (42:10)
Thank you, Governor. You’re saying today, you’re recommending for Texans to stay at home as much as they can. And back in the spring, you had announced that you were going to be expanding early voting, thinking that the curve will have flattened by the time the primary came around. But now with early voting starting next week and we’re seeing these spikes, do you still think it’s safe for Texans to be voting in person?
Greg Abbott: (42:33)
I do for several reasons. One is I increased the length of time for early voting so the more people would have had a longer period of time together for the purpose of voting, meaning that they could go into voting sites with them being less crowded. Second, as we are talking about today, it is important for people to wear masks when they go out, especially in congregated areas like a potential voting location. And so we believe that if people take the time to vote early and when they do so wear a mask, it really shouldn’t pose much of a problem with regards to being exposed to COVID-19. Any more?
Speaker 11: (43:27)
Thank you, Governor. Depending on whether Texas can flatten its curve of infection rates, could you see yourself, you said that shutting down completely is a last resort, but would you consider maybe scaling back some of your phased reopenings or how close are we to having to do that?
Greg Abbott: (43:44)
Again, the important thing is to follow the data. And as we continue to monitor all of these three metrics that are on these charts behind me, we need to evaluate what is the effect of the additional wearing a mask, cracking down on places that are not following the protocols that have been established in here, making sure that everyone is following the best standards to reduce the spread of the COVID-19. I believe that if these protocols are followed, if people returned to the practices that we adopted a couple of months ago to slow the spread, I think we will be able to curtail us its expanse. That said, we remain flexible with regard to implementing additional strategies, if needed, to make sure that we do contain the coronavirus.
Greg Abbott: (44:32)
Let me emphasize this and that is, looking back at these charts, the way that hospitalizations are spiking, the way that daily new cases are spiking, surely the public can understand that if those spikes continue, additional measures are going to be necessary to make sure that we maintain the health and safety of the people of the state of Texas. There’s been in each of these three categories, there’s been pretty much a doubling of the numbers in those three categories. If we were to experience another doubling of those numbers over the next month, that would mean that we are in an urgent situation where tougher actions will be required to make sure that we do contain the spread of COVID-19.
Speaker 12: (45:22)