Mar 24, 2020
Greg Abbott Texas Coronavirus Briefing March 24
Texas Governor Greg Abbott gave an update on COVID-19 for the state today. Read the full transcript of his press conference speech here.
Greg Abbott: (00:28)
First, I want to thank everybody for being here today as I provide you an update on where we are as of today, as well as some new additional information. First, I want to let you know that as of today, the Texas State Health Department says that the State of Texas now has tested positive 715 Texans, testing positive for COVID-19. Once again, the number that the State Health Department provides differs a little bit from the figures that are provided by Johns Hopkins. The reason for that is because Johns Hopkins provides some additional cases that may not yet be confirmed. The two numbers are working close in parallel, so the State Department pronounced that 715 people have tested positive; Johns Hopkins counts 810. It’s my understanding that Johns Hopkins also includes in their numbers those who have been brought into the state of Texas from those cruise ships.
Greg Abbott: (01:31)
The number of deaths as of today is now 11, and the number of counties affected by this is now 65, and the total number of tests that have been conducted in the state of Texas now exceed 11,000. To put that in context, when what I made my disaster declaration, we had tested 220 people. As of Friday, on March the 20th, which is just last Friday, we had tested just over 2300 people. As of today, we have now tested more than 11,000 people. You can expect the number of tests to continue to go up every single day.
Greg Abbott: (02:12)
We are doing a great job with our local communities to make sure that more and more tests are getting out, understanding that our collective goal is to be able to test as many people as possible. I’m very proud of both the counties working in collaboration with the state, working with FEMA, to create all these additional drive through locations where people can be tested. In addition, very proud of the private sector, especially the private sector medical centers that are providing testing locations across the entire state of Texas. And then, of course our public health authorities also are providing testing.
Greg Abbott: (02:48)
Altogether, we will be testing as many people as possible. Understanding this also, and that is, I was on a telephone conference yesterday with the Vice President as well as other federal officials and they were talking about a dramatic increase in the amount of testing capabilities that will be provided to all of the states including the State of Texas.
Greg Abbott: (03:11)
Now one thing that we have a high demand for, and that is more supplies. More supplies of masks, of gloves, of gowns, of everything that would be categorized as personal protection equipment. The people who are administering the COVID-19 test to the patients must be wearing this personal protection equipment. Those who are treating them in hospitals, those who are first responders who may be responding to them, they need this type of equipment. And I am proud to say that we are loaded with a lot of equipment.
Greg Abbott: (03:45)
I’m going to turn around here. Where’s the equipment? So all of this, everything you see behind me, these pallets are loaded with different, the pallets behind me are loaded with different types of equipment that I want to tell you more about in a second. But before I tell you about that, this is just today’s supply. There was a supply load in yesterday that was shipped out yesterday evening and is being distributed across the state of Texas as we speak. That included 10,000 masks and included those personal protection equipment type suits as well as tents.
Greg Abbott: (04:31)
Now, as I informed you at the last press conference I had, in order to accelerate our ability to both assemble and then disperse all of the supplies that are needed, we created a supply chain strike force so we can more rapidly address these needs. Yesterday, that strike force placed an order for more than $80 million worth of supplies.
Greg Abbott: (04:59)
By the end of this week, the Texas Division of Emergency Management will be receiving approximately 100,000 masks per day. Next week, in addition to that, the strike force, separate from the Texas Division of Emergency Management should get an additional 100,000 masks per day. Altogether, next week, Texas should be getting more than a million masks per week.
Greg Abbott: (05:30)
One thing that we’re very proud of is that there are so many people and so many organizations across the state of Texas who see the need for the masks, for the personal protection equipment, for the gloves, for all the different types of supplies that are so desperately needed. As a result, there has been an outpouring of support from medical groups, from other types of groups across the state of Texas who have offered up supplies like those that are behind me today. They include Dr. Luis Rios, President of the Texas Society of Plastic Surgeons. Today. He delivered 1000 masks, 1000 gloves and hundreds of gowns.
Greg Abbott: (06:09)
Others who are stepping up to help out to meet our needs include Raymond Rios, CEO and President of the Texas Construction Association; Dr. Fleeger, the President of the Texas Medical Association; Dr. Kerr, the President of the Austin Society of Plastic Surgeons; Dr. Shaffer, Governor of the Texas chapter of American College of Cardiology; and Dr. Yu, with the Texas Society of Periodontists. In addition to that, the Texas Department of Transportation has provided 3,500 N95 masks to be distributed.
Greg Abbott: (06:46)
Now, we’re so pleased and proud and grateful for everyone who is offering donations, and we get so many calls, every day and we have that strike force team who is responsive to those calls. If you are interested and donating anything, it could be masks, it could be personal protection equipment, it could be gloves, it could be any type of supply that is needed to help anybody respond to the COVID-19 challenge, we have a website for you. Go to www.texas.gov. That’s W-W-W dot T-E-X-A-S dot G-O-V. You can go there if you want to donate this personal protection equipment, any type of medical supply.
Greg Abbott: (07:34)
We know that we’re getting many requests by people to volunteer. And we want any type of volunteer we can get. There is a special qualification type of volunteer that we are looking for, that we know. Some of you are looking to get involved. It could be doctors or nurses. We are looking to expand our capacity of medical professionals who can help current medical facilities or future medical facilities that we will be setting up to staff those facilities. So if you were involved in the medical profession in any way whatsoever, go to www.texas.gov and you’ll find it at the top of the page, a site that you can click on where you can either volunteer your time or volunteer to provide supplies.
Greg Abbott: (08:28)
Another issue that we are keenly focused on is making sure that these [inaudible 00:08:33] and every community in the state is going to have available all the beds that are needed in order to take care of the medical needs of anybody who is infected with COVID-19 who may need a bed. And so we, in the aftermath of the telephone conference that we had with the Vice President yesterday, I am issuing two executive orders to ensure that the Vice President’s request is going to be satisfied. One is an order that has already been made, and that is to postpone all surgeries and procedures that are not medically necessary and and order that increases the number of beds that we have at our hospitals by, wherever possible, having two beds as opposed to one. These two strategies alone will dramatically increase the number of beds that will be available to take care of people who become infected with COVID-19.
Greg Abbott: (09:34)
And then on top of that, I’m issuing an executive order today, consistent with the instructions by the Vice President yesterday. The purpose of this is to ensure that the State of Texas, every agency in the state of Texas and very importantly every private sector tester of COVID-19 is fully and quickly submitting information to the State of Texas and the State of Texas will in turn submit the information to CDC. What this executive order requires is hospitals submit daily reports on hospital bed capacity to the State Health Department. It also requires all healthcare providers submit daily reports of COVID-19 tests.
Greg Abbott: (10:23)
A couple of other comments and then I’m going to pass the mic. One is, let me go back over the standards that are expected to be in compliance with the executive order that I issued. Those standards are, we have a goal in this state, and that is to ensure that everyone is doing everything possible to mitigate and reduce the spread of COVID-19. The best way to do that is for the State of Texas to implement the standards established by the CDC.
Greg Abbott: (10:59)
The standards that I established in my executive order, they copy pretty much word for word the standards that the CDC articulated and that the presidential commission articulated. And they include these concepts: one, no gathering of more than 10 people in any type of group. Two, bars and restaurants are closed with the exception that restaurants can be open for delivery of food or food to be picked up, understanding how important it is in these times that all sources of food availability be available, so that anybody who needs access to food will be able to get it.
Greg Abbott: (11:37)
It also includes, and this is hugely important, and that is limiting the ability of any non-essential person to go into any senior living facility. We must do all that we can in the state of Texas to safeguard the health and safety of our seniors in nursing homes or senior living centers. And then of course, was the component of the executive order that closed all schools in the state of Texas. The State of Texas is following the CDC mandate of standards to ensure that we as a state are doing our part to slow the spread. We have a countrywide goal, and that is over the next 15 days, we want to slow the spread of the Coronavirus in our country.
Greg Abbott: (12:25)
Now let me just say that we want to emphasize that as Texans, we’re all in this together. We have certain simple things that we all can and we all must do. One is to maintain this practice of social distancing. If at all possible, stay home. Now, if you’re out and about, regardless of what you may be doing, you need to understand that you are compromising your health. You’re potentially exposing yourself to contracting COVID-19. As a result, the best thing that you can do to ensure that we are not spreading COVID-19 in the state of Texas is stay home unless you need to be out.
Greg Abbott: (13:11)
Second, we are working daily to ensure that we expand our hospital capacity in every region of the state of Texas to ensure that if there comes a time for a need for more hospital beds, those beds will be available.
Greg Abbott: (13:29)
Third thing that we’re doing is to ensure that we are increasing medical capacity. The doctors and nurses and other medical personnel we have in this state, they are the soldiers on the front line of this war against COVID-19. We need more soldiers on that front line. As a result, we are enlisting every doctor, every nurse, every medical personnel that we can find. There may be some who are retired. There may be some who are still in nursing school who qualify under my executive order expanding the scope of the nurses who can be involved in helping out in responding to COVID-19. There may be some who are from another state. You can come into the state of Texas and provide your services here. If you are someone, or if you know of someone, in the medical sector who can help us out in ensuring that we’re doing all we can to respond to COVID-19, be sure and let us know.
Greg Abbott: (14:23)
And the last thing is, of course, that we are, and we will continue, to be very aggressive in aggregating as much personal protection equipment, medical supplies and testing capacity as we possibly can.
Greg Abbott: (14:38)
And then just remember this. It’s a reminder about who we are as a people. We’re Texans. Texans are always resilient .and we will once again, as we always do, show the world how Texas respond when we come together. And when we come together, nothing can defeat us. Instead, when we come together, together we will defeat COVID-19 in the state of Texas. Now this time I’m proud to introduce Luis Rios for him to talk about his presentation.
Luis Rios: (15:15)
Thank you Governor.
Greg Abbott: (15:16)
Luis Rios: (15:17)
As the president of the Texas Society of Plastic Surgeons and a proud citizen of the Rio Grande Valley, I want to thank you for having us here during these discussions of COVID-19. I also want to thank the fellow plastic surgeons who came out, mostly from Austin, Dr. Kerr and the Synergy Group and the Austin of Plastic Surgeons. And we actually have some standing over here and we’re practicing social distancing. They couldn’t be here behind us, but they’re here supporting us. Governor, typically plastic surgeons are not in the front lines of treating people with COVID-19. however, there are things that we can do that can actually help this pandemic crisis. And so with that in mind, I reached out to all the members of the Texas of Plastic Surgeons and asked them to provide as much PPE as possible to the Governor’s office.
Luis Rios: (16:12)
And you can see back here, some of this is from the response of the Texas Society of Plastic Surgeons and more is on the way. I’m being assured by a lot of my members that they will be sending more. In addition to that, last weekend we aligned with your Governor’s executive order and the guidance of the Texas Medical Board to encourage and prohibit our members from stopping any non-urgent or elective procedures. We do believe in the concepts and the benefits of doing this. We want to be a part of the solution. We don’t want to be a part of the problem. We want to be a part of the solution.
Luis Rios: (16:53)
So again, I want to thank you for having us here, for this discussion. We really appreciate your leadership and guidance and if there’s anything else that we can do for you, please reach out to us and we’ll be there for you.
Greg Abbott: (17:07)
Thank you so much for that. Thank you for what you’re doing to show how Texans will come together and respond to COVID-19.
Luis Rios: (17:13)
Greg Abbott: (17:13)
Sure. Next, I’ll call up Dr. Hellerstedt.
Dr. Hellerstedt: (17:22)
Good afternoon. I’m John Hellerstedt. I’m the Commissioner for the Texas Department of State Health Services and I think I just want to echo the messages that the Governor has put out. I think when we look around us, we see that people are eager and are practicing the very things we’re asking them to do. We can look around us and see that we’re taking it very seriously in our communities. The social distancing, the aspects of personal hygiene and cleanliness. I can absolutely guarantee you that those are the steps that will prevent the spread of the disease and those are the things that are going to make us safer.
Dr. Hellerstedt: (17:56)
And I’d also like to mention also, my fellow physicians, the medical community. And you can see how eager they are to step up and be part of the solution. So together, as the governor has said, we will defeat COVID-19. The things we need to do are simple, but they’re also things that we all need to do together to be successful. Thank you Governor.
Greg Abbott: (18:16)
Thank you Doctor. And next, Nim Kidd, the Chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management.
Nim Kidd: (18:22)
Thank you, Governor. First, I want to thank all of the Texans that are heeding the orders of the Governor and of their local elected officials and their public health authorities. Listening to that message is the number one thing that you can do to safeguard your family.
Nim Kidd: (18:34)
Second, I want to thank those that have donated generously. The physicians behind us are not making a dollar on this. And so the work that they’re doing, bringing their supplies and their PPE forward is very good and I keep encouraging those donations. Please go to texas.gov, look at that website. There are several places. I just checked it on my phone. It’s up and running. Please, let’s try to fill that thing with the donations as much as we can today.
Nim Kidd: (18:57)
And third, Governor, this is an unprecedented event, as we have said all along. But our state and our nation has a way of dealing with unprecedented events. It’s the National Incident Management System. It’s the tried and true methods that we’ve been using for every hurricane, every wildfire, every flood, every disaster, and every terror attack on this nation. And together, working in the system, we will get through this. Thank you.
Greg Abbott: (19:18)
Thank you, Chief. We’ll take a few questions.
Speaker 5: (19:38)
Governor, the President is considering reopening the economy. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick talked about how he’s willing to risk his health to spur the economy again. Is this the right approach? And what does that mean for your executive orders that would try to keep [inaudible 00:19:38] the White House and [inaudible 00:19:40]?
Greg Abbott: (19:40)
Well, my order is predicated on and will remain predicated on the advice of, first, Dr. Hellerstedt, the Chief Doctor for the State of Texas; second, these conferences that I’m involved in with the White House, they include Dr. Deborah Birx. You may have seen her on TV, Dr. Fauchi, and others. These conferences I participate in are conferences with all the governors of all the states. We have the ability to interact with people like Dr. Birx, ask her questions, get advice for best practices in our states. And so I will base my decision as Governor in the State of Texas on what physicians say, including Dr. Hellerstedt, Dr. Birx, Dr. Fauchi, to ensure that we’re maintaining the standards that are established by the CDC and by the lead doctors in response to COVID-19.
Speaker 6: (20:35)
Following up on that, do you agree with Lieutenant Governor’s comments, that is time to find a plan and a way to get back to work?
Greg Abbott: (20:44)
These are all stepping stones. Yeah, I will say this, that I candidly think everybody agrees with. And that is, the first step we all have, and the primary obligation we all have, is public health and safety. We must do all we can to ensure the health and safety of everyone, to save every life, to get everyone through COVID-19, minimizing the loss of life.
Greg Abbott: (21:06)
Second, is this reality. If the goal is to get the economy going, the best thing we can do to get the economy going is to get COVID-19 behind us. We must bend the curve on the growth of the coronavirus in Texas. As soon as we do that, the economy will come roaring back.
Speaker 7: (21:27)
I’m sure that you saw that State House Democrats, nearly all of them, signed on to a letter calling you to issue a statewide shelter in place order. At what time do you think that that’s necessary?
Greg Abbott: (21:39)
Again, the order that I issued last week, it was in line with what was requested of the states by the CDC and by the Presidential Commission. And so the orders that I will be issuing in the future will be based upon what the CDC says, what Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauchi say, as well as what Dr. Hellerstedt says.
Speaker 8: (22:01)
Governor, are we competing against other states for some of these medical supplies? Does that mean that maybe we’re paying more for them, if we end up getting some from overseas or other places?
Greg Abbott: (22:14)
The State of Texas is competing with other states for supplies and competing with the federal government for supplies. And there is more demand than there are available supplies. The good news is the federal government is racing to increase the supplies, and that’s why you’re seeing an increase in the number of testing kits, collection kits, as well as PPE, as well as ventilators. So you will see more supply of all of these different categories of medical supplies increase in the coming days and weeks.
Speaker 9: (22:51)
Two more [inaudible 00:22:52] questions.
Speaker 10: (22:52)
I think this Sunday, you said that more than two hundred Texas counties still had zero positive COVID-19 tests. How do you count the fact that maybe in some of these counties, testing is not available? I guess, how are you sure [crosstalk 00:23:13]?
Greg Abbott: (23:13)
Sure. The State Health Department, there are either, local Health Authorities in every county, or if there’s not a local Health Authority in that county, the State Health Department provides access and services in those counties. And so every County Health Authority, either that or the State Health Authority should be there to provide testing for the people who qualify for testing. Remember, the primary standard for testing, I’m going to tell you what doctors are telling me, not my standard, is in order to qualify, a person should present with the type of symptoms that would be consistent with COVID-19 and maybe some other qualifying factors. It depends on jurisdiction such as whether or not the person is over the age of 60 or some other age, whether or not they have been exposed in one way or another to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. There are different criteria that are looked at. And it may be that nobody in these counties present themselves with those criteria.
Speaker 9: (24:21)
Speaker 11: (24:21)
Governor, I’m understanding that the state and health officials are trying to get as many people to be socially distant and to isolate as much as possible. Do you really believe that these stay at home orders that are being implemented at the local level can, I guess, actually get people to isolate more, given that there are so many exceptions to all of those different [inaudible 00:24:38]?
Greg Abbott: (24:40)
You’re asking a very insightful question, and that is there has now been multiple stay at homes or shelter in place orders where there are a lot of exceptions to them. Candidly, if you look at the stay at home orders, they’re fairly consistent with my executive order, with one exception. My executive order allows people together in groups of no more than 10. But basically my executive order is one where people should be staying at home, practicing good distancing behavior and only essential type services in operation.
Greg Abbott: (25:13)
On my travel to this location today, I was surprised at how many vehicles I saw on the road. It was clear to me that we may not be achieving the level of compliance that is needed. That’s why I’ve said before, I remain flexible in my statewide standard and I look at data multiple times a day. I get advice from the medical profession multiple times a day. And we will continue to evaluate based upon all the data, whether or not there needs to be heightened standard and stricter enforcement.
Speaker 9: (25:47)
Greg Abbott: (25:49)
Speaker 12: (25:50)
Thank you very much, Governor.
Greg Abbott: (25:59)
Thank you guys.