Mar 19, 2020
Greg Abbott Texas Coronavirus Briefing Transcript March 19
Texas governor Greg Abbott did a news briefing today on COVID-19 and Texas’ efforts to combat the virus. Read the full transcript right here on Rev.com.
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Greg Abbott: (00:00)
The state’s response to the coronavirus. I’m very proud that the state response is being led by the Texas state health services commissioner, Dr. John Hellerstedt. He and his team work very closely with the Texas division of emergency management and led by chief Nim Kidd to coordinate the state’s response to COVID-19. Going back from our very beginning, I first began working on this in mid January when I first talked to the Vice President Pence and then the day after that when I talked to President Trump on the day that the very first person who contracted COVID-19 in the United States was identified. A couple of days later on January the 24th the Department of State Health Services began leading daily calls with public health authorities, healthcare providers, city and county officials, as well as school districts across the state of Texas.
Greg Abbott: (01:03)
The next week on January 31st the Department of State Health Services activated the state medical operations center that was followed by the DSHS opening 10 public health labs to perform COVID-19 testing throughout the state of Texas. We’re proud to say that the state of Texas is filled with outstanding leaders at the local level. Leaders who have done a remarkable job of safeguarding their communities and responding to the early stages of the coronavirus. We’re also fortunate to have some of the premier local health officials in America who are advising their local officials.
Greg Abbott: (01:49)
The first Texan tested positive for COVID-19 who was not one of the people who was repatriated from the cruise ships. Tested positive on March the fourth. A week later, I received the first request for a disaster declaration from a local official. The next day I declared a state disaster in response to the coronavirus. Later that day, which was last Friday, the president declared a national emergency concerning the coronavirus. That same day, last Friday in the afternoon, the CDC issued heightened standards for public health. To show you how swiftly moving this entire process is. What I just told you happened last Friday, the following Monday being the Monday of this week, things began to change even more rapidly.
Greg Abbott: (02:48)
The CDC further heightened public health standards. Beginning this past Monday, the health standards, including limiting gatherings of people to know more than 10 people. Putting certain restrictions on entities like restaurants, bars, gyms, et cetera. It’s important to know that since I made my disaster declaration last Friday, the facts in the state of Texas have also changed. When I declared a disaster last Friday, there were 39 cases of Texans who tested positive for COVID-19. Today that number has grown by more than 300%. Today we have more than 140 people in the state of Texas who have tested positive for COVID-19. When I declared a disaster last Friday, there were zero deaths related to COVID-19 in the state of Texas. As of today, there are at least three deaths related to COVID-19.
Greg Abbott: (03:51)
When I declared the disaster just last Friday, six days ago, there were 10 counties in the state of Texas where COVID-19 had been identified. As we gathered today, there are at least 27 counties where COVID-19 has been identified. Texas historically has a proven model and the way that we respond to natural disasters. A lot of people don’t know, but Texas actually leads the nation in natural disaster declarations and through the numerous disasters that we have worked our way through, we have a very effective system where the governor will make a disaster declaration and local officials with proven experience are able to respond knowing their communities better than anybody else. And doing so, what happens is the governor empowers the local officials to be able to take the action swiftly in order to help their communities.
Greg Abbott: (04:53)
This works well when we’re dealing with the regional disasters where local officials know more about what’s going on the ground. It helped us respond more swiftly and more effectively to enormous natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey. What we’re dealing with now in Texas is not a local disaster or a regional disaster. It’s far more than a nation-wide disaster. In fact, it is an international pandemic. The traditional model that we have employed in the state of Texas for such a long time, so effectively does not apply to an invisible disease that knows no geographic and no jurisdictional boundaries. It threatens the lives of our fellow Americans across the entire country.
Greg Abbott: (05:47)
The appropriate response to this threat has been very well articulated by Dr. Fauci and Dr. Burkes, two doctors who are leading the response for the United States of America. They have been emphatic that we as a country must swiftly elevate a response to COVID-19. They say it is essential that all Americans comply with the CDC articulated standards. All jurisdictions must work to contain the spread of COVID-19 for at least the next two weeks. That standard is echoed by Dr. Hellerstedt, the doctor who is in charge of this response for the state of Texas.
Greg Abbott: (06:37)
He insists that Texas needs a unified, robust response to contain COVID-19. To achieve that goal. Dr. Hellerstedt earlier today declared a public health disaster in the state of Texas. Here is his declaration. My recollection is the last time this was declared in the state of Texas was 1901. His public health disaster declaration gives state and local officials important tools to ensure that we’re going to be able to more and most effectively respond to this challenge. Well, to achieve the goals established by the president, by the CDC to fulfill the public health disaster issued by Dr. Hellerstedt, to ensure that we maximize safety and health for all Texans. I am issuing an executive order authorized by chapter 4-18. This executive order adopts for Texas the standards that had been set out by the president and by the CDC.
Greg Abbott: (07:51)
It provides the following, number one, every person in Texas shall avoid social gatherings in groups of more than 10. Number two, people shall avoid eating or drinking at bars, restaurants, and food courts or visiting gyms. Simply put, there will be no dining in at bars and restaurants and gyms will be closed. Provided however, and this is very important, that the use of drive through pickup or delivery options is allowed and in fact highly encouraged throughout the limited duration of this executive order. Importantly, we want to emphasize that one thing important for all Texans to be able to access right now obviously is food. If any Texans are having challenges getting food at grocery stores. Always remember the availability of getting access for your food at restaurants along different types of processes.
Greg Abbott: (08:52)
Number three, people shall not visit nursing homes or retirement centers or longterm care facilities unless to provide critical assistance. And number four, all schools in the state of Texas shall be temporarily closed, but this does not mean education stops. Instead, superintendents should continue to work with the Texas Education Agency to continue online or additional educational options. This order is effective at midnight tomorrow and it continues through midnight on April the third. It may be extended after that depending upon the status of COVID-19 in Texas. As well as the recommendations of the CDC.
Greg Abbott: (09:42)
Very important for people to understand what I am about to say, this executive order is not a shelter in place order. It does not prohibit people from doing things like going to the grocery store or gas stations or parks or banks. All critical infrastructure will remain open and operational. Domestic travel will be unrestricted. Government entities and businesses will continue providing essential services. Offices and workplaces they remain open, but should only ask for essential employees to report to the place of work and where feasible, allow and encourage employees to work from home or other remote sites.
Greg Abbott: (10:29)
Also, employees who do go to work should also practice both good hygiene as well as best practices in order to minimize exposure to and transmission of COVID-19. The more that people do to reduce their public contact, the sooner the COVID-19 disease will be contained and the sooner this executive order will expire. Working together, we must defeat COVID-19 with the only tool that we have available …
Governor Abbott: (11:03)
… Beat COVIN-19 with the only tool that we have available to us. We must strangle this expansion by reducing the ways that we are currently transmitting it. The executive order applies the CDC standards to achieve that goal. We are doing this now today so that we can get back to business as usual more quickly.
Governor Abbott: (11:28)
Lastly, Texans have always united in times of challenges. We saw this very prolifically in the way that Texas responded to Hurricane Harvey. There were people around the city of Houston and Harris County area whose homes had been flooded. Hundreds of thousands of people had their homes flooded and it at a time where when streets had turned into rivers, the way Texans responded they got out their bass boats and went into those water streams in order to rescue and help others. For several weeks at a time business as usual had been completely disrupted in the Harris County area region, but that did not stop or deter our fellow Texans and the way that they stepped up and responded. No one responds to challenges better than Texas. So let’s muster our traditional Texas spirit and together defeat COVID-19. Next, I’d like to have Dr. [Hellerstedt 00:12:35] speak.
Dr. Hellerstedt: (12:35)
Thank you Governor Abbott. The Governor’s executive order as well as the declaration of a public health disaster contains many details about exactly the kind of steps that we’re asking people to take. I want to speak a little bit about why it’s necessary. It’s necessary because we can clearly see the trajectory that COVID-19 will follow if not affectively combated. There is now sound evidence that community-based spread of COVID-19 has begun in Texas. COVID-19 is the greatest public health challenge in living memory.
Dr. Hellerstedt: (13:12)
We are seeing the true original meaning of the term viral being lived out around the world. COVID-19 is and will be lived out in Texas. It is moving quickly. We must change the course of COVID-19 before it impacts our state with maximum effect. As Texans, it is our duty to undertake the measures as specified in the public health disaster declaration.
Dr. Hellerstedt: (13:41)
We must all endure the sacrifices we know are necessary and effective to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our communities. The time to act is now. If we delay, we will not only pay a higher price than is necessary, but will rue the day that we, all of Texas did not choose to act decisively. Keeping your neighbor and your coworkers safe keeps us all safe. We are fighting back. We will win. Texas will show the world how it’s done.
Governor Abbott: (14:18)
Thank you. In Texas, we have a chief who is in charge of emergency management in the State of Texas. His name is Chief Nim Kidd, Chief?
Nim Kidd: (14:28)
Thank you Governor. I ask all of us to remember to be prepared and not panick, while this virus is novel or new, it is not any different than the disasters that we have responded to. It will be the same people, policies and procedures out there on the front lines and I need all of the citizens of Texas to listen to their local officials and follow the orders that are given. Together we will get through this. We’ve talked to many of the people in the supply chain. The chain is strong. We need to be very cautious not to induce panic buying so that we can keep our stores open and we urge you to follow the directions as best you can.
Governor Abbott: (15:03)
Thank you. This time. I like to have the Lieutenant Governor make some remarks.
Governor Patrick: (15:07)
Thank you Governor. We’re in touch with all of our senators and business people and citizens all over the state on a regular basis working with the governor on these proposals and I’m always asked the question, “When is this going to end?” The sooner all Texans come together to follow these executive orders to make the personal sacrifice that Dr. Hellerstedt talks about and Nim Kidd. The sooner we all collectively do that and follow these orders and make those sacrifices, the sooner we get to the other side, the sooner businesses, all businesses can reopen. The sooner normalcy returns. It really is up to 29 million Texans to really step up and be the front line in this fight. I’m asking all of you to join us and follow the lead of the governor and our two state health leaders.
Governor Abbott: (16:03)
Thank you Governor Patrick and now that the Speaker of the Texas House.
Speaker of the House: (16:07)
Thank you Governor. We’re here today to show complete support and unity of the state leadership of Texas. The reality of it is that we [inaudible 00:05:16], we’re asked daily, “When can we go back to normalcy?” At a time when we think we may not have as much control as we normally do we have more control, and the control’s with following these guidelines. The control’s with following the leadership, the governor is displayed throughout this situation. The reality of it is we are together and if Texans stick together and follow the CDC guidelines, respect the executive order of the governor and those that will continue to be out there, we will be to a normal life far sooner than later, if we come together and treat each other with respect and follow our guidelines. Thank you Governor.
Nim Kidd: (16:53)
Thank you Speaker. We’ll take a few questions.
Speaker 1: (16:56)
Governor, what kind of powers does this executive order and this declaration give to state? What does that mean for the average person? What can you do?
Governor Abbott: (17:03)
Well, this establishes the standards by which all Texans are required to operate their daily lives by. In other words, this is the expectation that people will not gather in groups of more than 10. As it concerns the enforcement ability one reason for the announcement of the public health disaster declaration by Dr. Hellerstedt, the state now has quarantine authority. We don’t want to exercise that authority right now, because we wanted to depend upon the responsibility that all Texas will show. If Texans are irresponsible in their behavior though, there are more tools where we can be more aggressive only if needed.
Speaker 1: (17:46)
In regards to the individuals who are out, nontraditional jobs, freelancers that are feeling the pitch right now that don’t have an employer who’s paying them, what can the state do to help those individuals?
Governor Abbott: (18:01)
Candidly, the most prolific thing the State of Texas can do to make sure that all unemployed people will be getting back to work as soon as possible, is for us to lead the way to bend the curve with regards to the expansion of COVID-19 in Texas. We have to get back to business as usual as quickly as possible. We can only do that by everybody joining with us and make sure we reduce the transmission of COVID-19.
Speaker 1: (18:27)
I hear that, but is there something in regards to unemployment that those individuals to go and say, “I’m affected, I’m out of work.”
Governor Abbott: (18:34)
100% yes. So we have accelerated [inaudible 00:18:40] the issue we have accelerated the unemployment process so that people will be able to get their unemployment benefits faster. Also, there are many different packages that have been and are currently being worked on by the United States Congress that have some passed, some are in the works that will provide benefits to people across the country, including here in Texas.
Speaker 2: (19:00)
[crosstalk 00:08:03]. Governor, up until today, you had [inaudible 00:19:07]
Governor Abbott: (19:27)
So I’ve dealt with so many disasters as governor in so many regions, as I said, Texas leads the country in natural disaster declarations. Working with the tremendous experience and response of Nim Kidd, we’ve seen the profound and effective way that local leaders have expertise in responding to natural disasters. We begin working, this is very important. We as a team began working with these local officials back in January. So this isn’t anything where we began yesterday.
Governor Abbott: (20:06)
So we began having leadership meetings. It could be with County judges, it could be with Mirrors. Very importantly, Dr. Hellerstedt begin daily phone calls with local public health officials dating back to January. So we as a state knew exactly everything that was taking place at the local level up, up, all the way through this minute. Like I said earlier in my remarks, the local officials have done a fabulous job of leading their communities. It’s just that with the rapid spread of this, but also with the new mandates from Washington DC about not only what best practices are, but what expected practices are, I find it necessary to make sure that we as a state in unison are doing exactly what has been prescribed by the federal government.
Speaker 3: (21:01)
Dr. Hellerstedt in regards to the numbers that we’re seeing, you knew that they were going to be low early on last week, warned us that they were going to be going up. They are going up. Are you sensing that we’re reaching… getting close to that peak? What do you tell folks at home to keep them from panicking when they see these numbers going up, because we’re getting more people tested? What do you tell them? What’s your gut feeling in regards to how close are we to that peak of that wave?
Dr. Hellerstedt: (21:30)
So I think the best answer to that is the way to have the best possible outcome is for all of us to do the things that we’ve been talking about all along. So the hygiene practices, the social distancing practices, the cleaning surfaces, all those things, those are the measures that actually protect us as individuals and our loved ones and our coworkers and our entire community. That’s what protects us from the spread of this. So if we want to see this spread slow down and reverse at some point, then-
Dr. Hellerstedt: (22:03)
Down and reverse at some point, then we need to carry out those practices. When it occurs is completely a function of how effective we are as Texans in acting together to do the things that we are asking them to do.
Speaker 4: (22:18)
So what’s the interpretation of the numbers that you’re seeing right now?
Dr. Hellerstedt: (22:21)
The interpretation of the numbers we’re seeing right now is that this is exactly the time to, on a statewide level, ask people to say, ” Here’s the standard for behavior. Here’s the public health standards that we need at this point to prevent further spread and to bend that curve.”
Governor Abbott: (22:40)
Well, if I could add to that, the amount of tests that the state of Texas, and there will be multiple entities that will be doing testing now. The state of Texas as well as public health authorities will be doing testing. There are a multitude of private entities that will be doing testing. There are hospitals that will be doing testing. So all of this aggregated together, the amount of testing being done will be in the range of at least 15,000 to 20,000 per week, with the expectation that that will continue to increase.
Governor Abbott: (23:16)
So here’s the way it’s going to look, because more people are going to be tested because there are more people who currently have it who will be transmitting it to others. It means that the public should expect a spike to occur, a rise to occur in the number of people who test positive. It’ll take a little while, it could be a week or so, to see the thrust of that occur. Then our collective goal as a state is to make sure that that spike levels off. Once that spike begins to level off, we will then know that we have the challenge contained.
Speaker 4: (23:50)
I heard yesterday that you touched on the possibility of using hotels and other locations as holding facilities or even quarantine sites. Have you started identifying locations for that yet?
Governor Abbott: (24:03)
So, I had the opportunity to visit with the CEOs of all major hospital systems in the state of Texas to get information from them about what strategies would be best in order to expand the capability of healthcare to respond by providing additional beds as well as additional resources to the public, as there may be increased demands based upon increased number of people testing positive for COVID-19. In response, they gave me a list of ideas that would be good. Hotels was on there, but it was not the first choice. There are other choices that are easier and better responses that we also are working on. One is medical tents, and we have identified multiple facilities that already have access to medical tents. Medical tents are self-contained units that can provide complete care, and that’s the first choice that many hospitals already have access to and we have identified other availability of health tents to make sure we can provide more.
Governor Abbott: (25:08)
Second, there are several hospitals, medical facilities, could be emergency centers that have recently ended operation. They’re building and facility is in a perfect condition in order to be able to take care of patients who would test positive for COVID-19. That was their second choice. Then after that, for patients who test positive for COVID-19 but are not in need of critical care, which is the overwhelming majority of people who contract COVID-19, a hotel room is a perfectly acceptable place for people to isolate. It can have one individual per room with a bathroom while they go through the rehabilitation process, and we have identified hotels in various locations across the state of Texas. We continue to get calls from owners of hotels who are offering up their supply. And so this is something where I think we will see a very large supply that will meet the needs that we have in the state of Texas.
Speaker 4: (26:15)
One more question. One more question.
Governor Abbott: (26:18)
To him? Yep. Well, we kind of all coordinated it. I’ll let you speak on it if you want.
Speaker 5: (26:24)
We’ve had a lot of people reach out already. We’re collecting those lists, but we also want to make sure that they’re the right place to do that. I’m not ready to release that list yet because we want to inspect them and make sure that they will be available in the time of need. You don’t want to make them ready too soon. Certainly don’t want them to be ready too late.
Speaker 4: (26:39)
The last question.
Speaker 6: (26:43)
Well, I have a very quick question. Are we [inaudible 00:26:43]-
Governor Abbott: (26:43)
I can’t hear you.
Speaker 6: (26:45)
Beaches. [inaudible 00:04:46].
Governor Abbott: (26:47)
So, any place where anybody would gather, by this executive order, they’re prohibited from having more than 10 people together at any one particular time or location.
Speaker 6: (27:01)
And then a lot of the next big challenge for our states would be possible capacity assuming [inaudible 00:27:08]. Do you guys think in hospital capacity do we have [inaudible 00:27:12]?
Governor Abbott: (27:16)
In that meeting that I had with the CEOs of all the major hospitals in the state of Texas, we discussed hospital inventory and we got some information they shared with us about the availability at that particular time and we’ll be getting additional information from them. I can tell you this, based upon the input that I received from our hospital leaders, I feel very comfortable with where we are with the availability of facilities if we were to get to the worst case scenario.
Speaker 7: (27:50)
Governor, as part of being the scene in the disaster [inaudible 00:27:55] Is that wise for you to be [inaudible 00:27:58] exposing yourself as you are right now, and not six feet apart, is that the best way [inaudible 00:00:28:15].
Governor Abbott: (28:19)
Everyone loves the first dog as you point out, but you make an insightful point and it’s important that people understand that because of the potential transmission of COVID-19, I will be reducing the amount of time and situations in which I will travel. Considering the magnitude of what happened in Arlington, I thought it was important for me to be there. There will be situations like that where it’s better for me to be present if possible. However, if at all possible, I will be refraining from travel.
Speaker 8: (28:56)
Thanks guys. We got to go, I’m sorry.
Governor Abbott: (28:57)
I’m doing fine. Very healthy. No symptom.
Speaker 7: (29:00)
[inaudible 00:29:00] Whether it’s weighing on you, because this disaster is beyond anything. [inaudible 00:29:10]
Governor Abbott: (29:10)
I will tell you as the victim of an emergency tragedy myself, I have experienced the internal test of responding to unique, pressing emergent challenges. And this is a situation I feel very comfortable dealing with.
Speaker 8: (29:30)
Thanks guys. I’m sorry, we got to go.
Speaker 9: (29:31)
Speaker 9: (29:31)