Mar 26, 2020

Governor Greg Abbott Texas Coronavirus Briefing Transcript March 26: Orders Travelers from NY and NO to Self Quarantine

Governor Greg Abbott Texas Update March 26
RevBlogTranscriptsPress Conference TranscriptsGovernor Greg Abbott Texas Coronavirus Briefing Transcript March 26: Orders Travelers from NY and NO to Self Quarantine

Governor Greg Abbott of Texas gave a press conference on COVID-19 in the state on March 26, 2020. He ordered air travelers from New Orleans and around New York to self-quarantine, and confirmed 18 deaths in Texas so far. Read the full transcript here.

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Governor Greg Abbott: (00:00)
Is should increase by at least 15,000 tests per week. The good news is that we are on course in just the last six days to exceed what I prognosticated. Last Friday, we had tested 2,335 people in the state of Texas. As of today, just six days later, we’ve now tested more than 21,000 people in the state of Texas. We are on a very good trajectory in the increase of the number of people we are testing and I expect that increase to continue. Now, one thing about testing more people; the more people we test, the more people who test positive. This is what we want to achieve. Last Friday, there were 97 people in the state of Texas who had tested positive for COVID-19. Today, in the aftermath of the increased testing that we have administered, there are 1,424 people who have tested positive. Understand this: that’s the most recent number I have. With the additional testing that is taking place every single day, that means during the course of the day, there will be more people added to those numbers. As a result, there very likely could be even more people than this testing positive by the end of the business day today.

Governor Greg Abbott: (01:29)
A very important fact, and that is: less than 10% of the people who were tested for COVID-19 test positive. Now last Friday, we had five deaths in Texas that had been reported connected to COVID-19. As of right now, there are now 18 deaths that have been reported that are connected to COVID-19. Last Friday, there were 39 counties in the state of Texas where COVID-19 had been identified. Today, there are 90… nine-zero… counties in Texas where COVID-19 has been identified.

Governor Greg Abbott: (02:14)
A new number that we are now reporting, and that is we have, as of today, 100 patients in hospitals in Texas with COVID-19. But this is a very important fact that people need to understand: Remember I told you that there were more than 1,400 people that had been tested, but only a hundred patients in hospitals, meaning, obviously, that less than 10% of the people who test positive need to be in a hospital as of this time.

Governor Greg Abbott: (02:47)
Now, our goal in this whole testing process is to test as many people as possible to see those numbers grow, and then to see a leveling off of the increase in those numbers in Texas. So as we continue to increase testing, the fact of the matter is those who test positive will continue to increase, but just as important… as we continue the practice in the state of Texas of distancing ourselves from others to reduce the spread, the numbers of those testing positive will level off.

Governor Greg Abbott: (03:27)
In that regard, I’m very proud of county and local officials for working so aggressively to improve testing strategies, especially by the multitude of drive-through testing facilities that I’ve seen, and with the increased testing materials that we will be receiving, I anticipate even more either drive-through or easy-access testing locations across the state of Texas.

Governor Greg Abbott: (03:56)
Also, we are very grateful for private sector medical centers that are ramping up testing facilities, making sure that we are testing as many people as possible in Texas for COVID-19. Additionally, I’m extremely proud of how the people across our state are stepping up to help out. They’re helping out, in part, by demonstrating how well they are complying with all of the requests, whether it be through my executive order or local executive orders, to ensure that Texans are practicing self-distancing from others to make sure that we slow the spread in Texas. All of us have a collective responsibility to live up to the national standard to do all we can to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Texas.

Governor Greg Abbott: (04:43)
Additionally, we’re so proud of the way that the people of the state, in quintessential Texas fashion, are stepping up to help out and volunteer. They’re offering donations. We have doctors and nurses, some of them either retired or from out of state, who are volunteering their time and expertise to help this fight against COVID-19. We are incredibly grateful to our medical personnel who are on the front lines of this war against the spread of this disease, and I want to emphasize that there are so many people calling in all the time, that if there’s anybody in the state who wants to sell or donate supplies, or if you want to offer your own medical professional services, or you would like to volunteer, go to www.texas.gov/COVID19.

Governor Greg Abbott: (05:38)
Now, one of our top priorities that we’ve been focused on in this week is making a good assessment of how our hospitals stack up with regard to their availability in the event that there is greater need placed upon our hospitals. So, we did a good job of setting standards to ensure that we would open up more bed capacity, as well as setting standards to make sure we have access to information about what bed capacity is. If you recall, one thing that I issued by executive order was an executive order postponing elective non-essential medical surgery, waiving some licensing regulations to allow recently closed hospitals to come back online, as well as an executive order that would double the number of beds in some hospital rooms. And since those executive orders, I’m proud to tell you that in the aftermath of those executive orders, more than 3,000 beds have become available in hospitals across the state of Texas.

Governor Greg Abbott: (06:47)
To give you just a sampling of the availability of beds in one particular region, in the Dallas area, there are more than 1,700 beds that are available today in the event that they were needed for COVID-19. In the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, there are more than 2,300 beds that are available in the event that they are needed for COVID-19. That said, our job is not to deal with the situation where we are, but to be constantly looking forward to the worst case scenario of where we may be. We don’t want to be in a situation like what New York is in right now. As a result, we work every single day to make sure that we are coming up with new strategies to either free up more beds or to add additional bed capacity. I’m pleased to see our team members here, as well as others, who are working on those strategies that will allow us to increase and add more beds in the state of Texas.

Governor Greg Abbott: (07:53)
Also, I’m very pleased to announce what happened yesterday, and that is the President granted a major disaster declaration for the state of Texas. What this does is it frees up a tremendous amount of resources that the state will be able to need and use to respond to COVID-19. It also ensures that local jurisdictions, whether it be cities or counties, are also going to have their needs responded to more robustly and more quickly. Additionally, it provides help for nonprofit organizations, and especially for emergency protective measures and crisis counseling that will be needed as we work our way through these challenges.

Governor Greg Abbott: (08:38)
Now, our response right now is keenly focused on doing everything that we can to slow the spread of COVID-19 across the state, especially in the next few weeks. We’ve seen some model numbers showing that Texas is doing a very good job of this, and I want to applaud everybody at home for you practicing safe distancing practices to make sure that you are not putting yourself in a situation where you could contract COVID-19, and to make sure that others are not spreading COVID-19. It is essential that you continue those practices. Along those lines, I want to let you know that when we make our decisions about what strategies we’re going to employ, I look first to Dr. Hellerstedt, who is the commissioner for the Texas Department of State Health Services. He is the lead doctor and lead official in the state of Texas in our response to COVID-19.

Governor Greg Abbott: (09:47)
In addition to that, as a governor, I participate in once or twice a week conference calls with the President, with the Vice President, with Dr. Birx and sometimes with Dr. Fauci; both of these doctors I just mentioned are doctors that you’ve seen on TV, that are up there on the podium in the White House talking about how the United States is responding to COVID-19, the Coronavirus. I was on a phone call earlier today with Dr. Birx and I was on a phone call last week with Dr. Birx, and based upon information provided by Dr. Birx, in consultation with Dr. Hellerstedt, I am going to be issuing another executive order today.

Governor Greg Abbott: (10:33)
The New York Tri-state area is the center of the Coronavirus pandemic in the United States. Dr. Birx urged everyone who is traveling from the New York metro area to self-quarantine for 14 days before exposing themselves to the public to make sure that they prevent the spread of COVID-19. Dr Fauci also called for this measure to ensure that New York does not act, and I quote, “as a seeding point to the rest of the country.”

Governor Greg Abbott: (11:08)
So to achieve that goal, today I’m issuing an executive order consistent with the guidance from Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci, as it relates to people traveling from the New York Tri-state area. Those entering the state of Texas through an airport, either in New York, New Jersey or Connecticut, will be subject to a mandatory self-quarantine for 14 days, or for the duration of their stay in Texas, whichever is shorter. In our conversation today with Dr. Birx, we also discussed the dramatic increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in Louisiana, and especially New Orleans. At that time. Dr Birx mentioned it would also be helpful to have a similar quarantine advisory for people traveling from New Orleans. So, this executive order that applies to the Tri-state area around metro New York also applies to the city of New Orleans and people flying from the city of New Orleans into the state of Texas.

Governor Greg Abbott: (12:21)
The process works this way. It’ll be run and enforced by the Texas Department of Public Safety. Those entering Texas from the areas designated in the executive order will use a form from the Department of Public Safety to designate their quarantine location, whether it’s in a hotel or a residence or some other location, and they will also have to provide some other specific identifying information that is on the form provided by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Governor Greg Abbott: (12:55)
Department of Public Safety troopers will conduct visits to those designated quarantine locations to verify compliance with this executive order. Failure to comply with this order is considered to be a criminal offense that is punishable by up to a $1,000 fine or 180 days in jail, or both. During the quarantine period, the persons shall not allow visitors into or out of the designated quarantine location, other than a physician or healthcare provider, and shall not visit public spaces.

Governor Greg Abbott: (13:35)
This is intended simply to achieve the goals that have been articulated by the CDC and by the White House organization focused on reducing the spread of the Coronavirus in the United States, and that is using every strategy possible to reduce the spread.

Governor Greg Abbott: (13:54)
So in addition to all this, we know we have more work ahead of us as we combat the spread of COVID-19 in Texas, and we know that everybody in the state of Texas is up to that task. We are ramping up and increasing the amount of testing that we are conducting. We are maximizing our hospital space, as well as staffing for medical facilities, as well as working to increase supply capabilities. We have a tremendous supply chain operation underway right now that is reaching out every single day to increase the amount of supplies that we desperately need, such as accessing personal protection equipment, mass gloves and other medical equipment, and also we are working every single day to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Texas.

Governor Greg Abbott: (14:45)
In typical Texas fashion, Texans are always prepared to deal with whatever challenge may come our way, and we do it with both a sense of resiliency, as well as a sense of compassion, and I am incredibly proud to see the way that my fellow Texans are responding to this challenge. I know that this is difficult for so many of us, whether it be economically or medically, or in any other way, but I also know that with each day, we get closer and closer to eventually being able to put this behind us. Let’s continue working together to make sure we keep Texas a safe place for everybody, and working together, put this COVID-19 behind us as quickly as possible. With that, I will now turn it over to Dr. Hellerstedt.

Dr. Hellerstedt: (15:34)
Thank you, Governor Abbott. I would just want to comment that the basis, the public health basis for this quarantine, is very sound, and it’s really asking the folks who are coming from those areas where there is now, if you will, an accelerated and widespread community spread of COVID-19 to help protect everyone here in Texas by quarantining themselves for a period of 14 days. That is really exactly the same thing we would ask of anyone who we know would have a high risk factor of acquiring the disease and therefore spreading it. So, we’re not asking them to do anything other than what we’ve asked many people who are similarly situated to do, including the folks who reside here in Texas, where we know that they’ve had contact with a known case or they’re in circumstances that, again, were high risk. So, this is really just an extension of many of the kinds of principles and practices and policies that have been in place to combat COVID-19 for many weeks now, but now we see that even within our own country, there are areas of the country where it is very widespread and that spread is accelerating, and we need to take appropriate measures and those appropriate measures are part of this executive order.

Governor Greg Abbott: (16:53)
Thank you. Now for Nim Kidd, Chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

Nim Kidd: (16:59)
Thank you governor. I’d like to highlight a few of the points. The major disaster declaration granted will go a long way in helping provide the resources to our local partners. And Governor, I want to thank the local partners that are out there on the front line; the work that they’re doing, the tireless efforts, the wisdom that they’re employing is really what’s making this work. So, hats off to them and thank you very much.

Nim Kidd: (17:17)
And the links in the supply chain… while that supply chain has had a couple of snaps, there are folks who are working around the clock 24 hours a day all over the world to rebuild that chain, and we are seeing the fruits of that right now.

Governor Greg Abbott: (17:29)
That’s great. Good news.

Nim Kidd: (17:31)
Thank you.

Governor Greg Abbott: (17:31)
Thank you. We’ll take a few questions.

Speaker 4: (17:34)
Can you tell us how many hospital beds for Texas currently has, and how much we might need [inaudible 00:17:41] when it comes to the state of Texas?

Governor Greg Abbott: (17:43)
We’re working on… so, first with regard to the total number of beds that exist, those would not be the ones that we would be using to address the worst case scenario. We need to maintain certain hospital beds in the state of Texas for ongoing needs. You never know when someone may have a heart attack, someone may be in a car wreck, or someone may have whatever type of situation where they may need access to medical care that would need one of those hospital beds. So, the total number of beds is not what’s relevant; what’s relevant is the total number of beds that are available to be able to address COVID-19. And so, we’re constantly working on identifying those numbers across the entire state of Texas, and then, once we know what those numbers are, we model for what is considered to be a mid-level case scenario or worst case scenario, and then we have several different strategies that we’re working on as we speak to increase the bed capacity so that we can model whichever strategy may occur.

Speaker 4: (18:48)
What about ventilators? Do you have enough ventilators in the state of Texas [inaudible 00:18:48]?

Governor Greg Abbott: (18:48)
So, we’ve put out a request for information from all hospitals in the state of Texas with regard to ventilator capacity, and we’re getting that information as we speak. Some early information show that we have some supply to make sure that we will be able to respond to immediate needs. We are working on multiple strategies as we speak to make sure that we will have supply capacity for the worst case scenario.

Speaker 5: (19:19)
[inaudible]

Governor Greg Abbott: (19:24)
Well, two of the most obvious potential places, or other states where that quarantine scenario could apply to, would be California and Washington state. Interestingly, in our conversations today and our prior conversations with Dr. Birx or Dr. Fauci or the other leaders of the White House response team to Coronavirus, none of those states have been mentioned as a potential quarantine state. Those would be probably the next ones on the list if we were to expand it. There is language in the executive order saying that I can always add to the number of states or other locations that would be subject to quarantine. Right now, there hasn’t been any information provided by Dr. Birx, Dr. Fauci or Dr. Hellerstedt saying that now is the time to add any other state to the executive order list.

Speaker 4: (20:17)
How will travelers coming back from Louisiana on the highways be treated? Is there going to be some sort of checkpoint for them coming back into the state?

Governor Greg Abbott: (20:25)
There’s nothing in the executive order concerning travel by roadway. This is only travel by airway.

Speaker 5: (20:34)
What about schools? Obviously, the April 3rd deadline is fast approaching. Any more guidance on whether or not that will be continued?

Governor Greg Abbott: (20:43)
The guidance on that will be coming soon. We want to make an assessment of where we stand as a nation. There was a goal, 15 days to slow the spread, and there’s going to be a national reassessment here in the coming days to see where we are and see what next steps are.

Governor Greg Abbott: (21:04)
Next steps will be guided by multiple things. One is the advice of Dr. Hellerstedt. Two is the advice of CDC. Three would be the advice of Doctors Fauci and Birx, all working in collaboration with local health authorities in all the local jurisdictions across the state of Texas, as well as working in collaboration with Mike Morath, the commissioner of the Texas Education Agency in the state of Texas. So, we will make a quick assessment with one goal in mind, and that is to make sure we’re putting the safety of students, teachers, educators and communities first.

Speaker 5: (21:43)
So, do you see the potential of them opening back up [inaudible 00:21:44]?

Governor Greg Abbott: (21:44)
Right now, it’s impossible to make that decision. I would say I see the potential to extend the date when they can open.

Speaker 4: (21:53)
Couple more for you. With the testing, I know you say it’s starting to pick up, but our testing per capita is still way behind than a lot of the other larger states. Illinois and Louisiana and New York all have testing on a much higher rate per capita than us. What has been our issue? Why aren’t we testing as much as those states?

Governor Greg Abbott: (22:12)
So, we are administrating every test that we get. Understanding this… there’s two different concepts or two different aspects to testing. First, there’s collection, and then there’s testing; and so, as it concerns both the collection supplies and the testing supplies, we are using full capacity of all those supplies. Those supplies are provided by the federal government. The federal government has triaged this in a way that prioritized New York for obvious reasons; California, Washington for obvious reasons. There had been more severe cases in Illinois, in Louisiana and some other states. So, the good news is, if you were to look and see where Texas ranks in number of deaths, we rank like 11th or 12th in the country in number of deaths, and what the United States is doing is prioritizing the states with higher number of deaths before the state of Texas, as they go through the process of creating greater supplies for COVID-19 tests.

Governor Greg Abbott: (23:23)
That’s why those supplies have begun to reach Texas, which is why we’ve had such a dramatic increase in the number of tests, and you can expect that increase to continue because the country’s capability of creating and distributing more tests increases rapidly.

Speaker 6: (23:41)
Last question, Marina.

Speaker 7: (23:47)
[inaudible 00:23:47] health professionals.

Governor Greg Abbott: (23:52)
Well, on one hand, I think there is an urgent desire by a lot of Americans to get back to work, to get back to normal, and there’s this strong sentiment of not wanting to be constrained to our homes in isolation for too long of a time; so, it’s that inherent desire that people have. And then, of course, we are such a very powerful economy, the most powerful economy in the entire world; it’s important for the world, as well as the United States, that the United States get up and running as quickly as possible. That’s it. Everyone understands that we will all be working off of the best advice of medical professionals about what is the safest way to proceed. We wouldn’t want to suddenly open schools and open businesses only to have to shut them down again.

Governor Greg Abbott: (24:42)
And so, this is an evaluation that takes place on a constant basis to make best judgments about when and how we will begin to reopen the economy, as well as all of the other engines of our society, understanding that the greatest probable pathway is it won’t all be at one time. Maybe we can allow certain workers to go back to work, then other workers would go back to work, and measure, monitor the health status along the way, but it is way too early to tell right now.

Speaker 6: (25:18)
Thanks, guys.