Apr 8, 2020
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript April 8
Governor Greg Abbott of Texas held his press briefing today on coronavirus. Abbott says Texas will increase coronavirus testing soon, and raised some concerns about the number of cases in the Houston area and Harris County.
Transcribe Your Own Content
Try Rev for free and save time transcribing, captioning, and subtitling.
Governor Greg Abbott: (01:06)
(silence) Well good afternoon. We want to update you on a lot of different information. I do, however, want to start out with an issue that is unrelated to the coronavirus in Texas. It’s an issue about whether storms that will be crisscrossing much of the state over the course of the remainder of the day. And this weather could involve things such as hail, maybe as much as two inch hail. It could involve all flooding, high winds, maybe even tornadoes as a result with Nim Kidd who will be talking more about this later. The chief of the Texas division of emergency management has begun the readying for the deployment of all personnel as well as resources to all areas across the state of Texas that may be impacted by these storms. We would want to once again remind everybody and that is that your lives mean more than anything else and so you’re encountering rising waters. Just remember the old saying, turn around, don’t drown.
Governor Greg Abbott: (02:10)
Obviously very important for you to listen to and heed the advice of local officials because the weather situation in your local area will be unique and you’ll need to be prepared to respond to whatever that situation may be. Now onto the issue about the coronavirus, a lot of different things. One, we had an opportunity yesterday to have a conference call with mayors and county judges as well as other local officials across the entire state of Texas. On that conference call, were about 1100 local officials that we had the opportunity to visit with and let them know what is going on with the state response about the coronavirus as well as what we can do to help local officials in their response to COVID- 19. In addition to that, we were able to receive and answer dozens of questions of issues that were on their minds. Questions involving interpretation [to 00:03:11] application of the statewide executive order that I issued for stay at home. Issues about testing. Issues about all different concerns or complications or questions they may have had is something that we were very, very pleased to have with us Congressman Kevin Brady.
Governor Greg Abbott: (03:34)
One of the issues that we all face is our ability at the local and state level is to make sure that we are being able to respond very aggressively from the economic perspective, to help these local communities and local businesses and individuals be able to economically rebuild as a consequence of everything that has happened related to the coronavirus. Fortunately, Kevin Brady who was heavily involved in formulating the legislation that passed and understands it inside out was able to provide keen advice concerning the economic recovery program, concerning the paycheck protection program as well as a discussion about the ability for local governments to be reimbursed for COVID-19 related expenses.
Governor Greg Abbott: (04:22)
So let me use this as a reminder to all officials, whether they be state or local. The federal government has provided an unprecedented amount of financial resources for governments at all levels to be able to fully and robustly respond to COVID-19. It is essential as you encounter expenses that you retain receipts for those expenses to ensure that your jurisdiction is going to be able to be reimbursed as fully as possible. With regard to these phone calls that we’re having with local officials, these phone calls will continue on a weekly basis.
Governor Greg Abbott: (05:03)
Next is testing and one thing that we want to continue to do in the state of Texas is to increase the amount of testing that is taking place. And one thing I want to remind people about and that is as it concerns the way that testing is being utilized today, it’s a little bit different than it was from the early stages of our response to the coronavirus. In the early stages, a lot of the testing collection material or testing equipment itself was provided by the federal government. It could be sent to us through FEMA or sent through a state health authorities. Now I would say that the majority of the testing that we see taking places, is testing that’s done at the private level, whether it be private drive through testing facilities or hospital oriented facilities or private healthcare related facilities. Bottom line is that whatever the source may be, we are seeing more testing achieved in the state of Texas and I’m very proud about something that will be happening very soon in Texas and that is an announcement by Walgreens in Texas to provide drive through testing for the coronavirus.
Governor Greg Abbott: (06:18)
The sites will be using the Abbott labs 15 minute testing equipment so you can get a quick response, positive or negative about whether or not you have the coronavirus and each of these sites, it may be able to be built up to administer as many as 3000 tests per day and so this will just be another way in which our testing capacity will increase. With regard to testing and numbers like that, we continue to see at least a 10% increase per day and the amount of testing that we’re doing compounded daily, over the past week. As of earlier today, there had been 96,258 Texans tested for the coronavirus. That means either later today or tomorrow we will cross the 100,000 mark of the number of people who have been tested. Of those more than 96,000 people who had been tested, 9,107 have tested positive for COVID-19. Again, it seems like from the earliest days until today, the percentage of Texans who test positive for COVID-19 remains just under 10% of the total number of tests administered.
Governor Greg Abbott: (07:40)
As of today, there are 1,491 Texans who are hospitalized as a result of their connection with COVID-19 and unfortunately there are now 175 fatalities of situations related to COVID-19. Yesterday was the high water mark in the state of Texas for both the number of people who tested positive as well as the number of fatalities, so we see both of these numbers continue to increase. Now, one of the areas that’s getting hit the hardest is the Harris County area. One thing that we are seeing is that people continue to test positive and the number of people testing positive in the Harris County area is increasing very rapidly. Similarly, deaths continue to rise in Harris County. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to have a private phone call conversation with Vice President Pence where among other things we spoke about the situation in Harris County. In fact, he raised the issue with me because he wanted to make sure that Harris County was receiving everything that it needs to respond to COVID-19.
Governor Greg Abbott: (08:55)
After that I called and spoke with a staff for the county judge in Harris County to ask what they need to, to make sure they would be receiving what they need. One of which is testing, which we’re working to get their way. Another was a request for more masks and we overnighted to them 125,000 mask to help them respond to the situation they’re dealing with right now with more to come after that. One thing that we need to emphasize with regard to what’s going on in Harris County as well as elsewhere, but particularly in Harris County at this time and that is, it’s more important now than ever for people in Harris County to maintain these distancing practices, to stay at home. As I mentioned, we are seeing a rise in the people testing positive at Harris County as well as elsewhere in the state of Texas. But remember this, these numbers are lower than they would be if it were not for the distancing practices that people are employing right now. It is essential that we do more to reduce the number of people that test positive as well as do more to reduce the number of deaths and we can really do that by only one way right now and that is by everyone doing more to ensure that we are applying these stay at home policies. If you are not involved and providing essential services is so important for your health, for your safety, for the safety and health of your family members as well as even for your own life that you simply stay at home. It will be frustrating, I realize. I know this is something that no one really cherishes to do except if you step back and think about it and that is by you staying home you are ensuring that you are doing your part to make sure that you are not contracting COVID-19, that your family is not going to be exposed to COVID-19, that you will not be involved in any type of process of spreading the coronavirus in the state of Texas. Working together to make sure we continue these distancing practices for just a short time more.
Governor Greg Abbott: (11:10)
We will ensure that we do all we can to reduce the spread of the coronavirus in Texas. Now one thing that I continue to do to help the state and local response to the coronavirus is to continue to issue executive orders that make that response even stronger. Yesterday, I issued an executive order to help those who work at pharmacies because pharmacies just like other healthcare related workers are being inundated with requests for their services and one way that we were able to assist that is to help pharmacies who are under this increasing demand respond by expanding their forces. To do that, I temporarily waived some regulations to allow pharmacy technicians and pharmacy interns to be force multipliers to help licensed pharmacists do even more. An issue that a lot of people in that state of Texas are interested in is what is going on at the Texas workforce commission and what is happening with regard to the incredible volume of unemployment benefit claims that have been filed.
Governor Greg Abbott: (12:24)
There has been an extremely high volume. In fact, a record setting volume, let me give you some numbers. The workforce commission reported its largest spike in calls ever to its benefit claims line on March the 26th with about 1.7 million calls received in one day. The line averages about 120,000 calls a day. Well, the workforce commission has taken in more than 600,000 claims already in a two week period, since the coronavirus fuel spike occurred and they will likely process even more claims in the five week period that started in March than it did in all of 2019. Well to help the process with the claims, the workforce commission has hired and brought in hundreds of additional staff to make the turn around a whole lot quicker in the processing of these claims. I’m proud to announce also that with the leadership of the lieutenant governor as well as the speaker, about 250 members of House and Senate staffers are pitching in to help with the processing of unemployment benefits claims.
Governor Greg Abbott: (13:42)
Now the workforce commission wants to do even more to ensure that everyone who may be eligible for unemployment benefits will receive those benefits. As a result, one thing that the workforce commission has done is they are urging workers whose claims were previously denied to reapply because many that were denied may now qualify as the state and federal labor departments have expanded programs to help ease the fallout because of the record job losses. Another area that we are keenly focused on is the Supply Chain. We’re very proud about the success that the Supply Chain Strike Force has been able to achieve and the stats are amazing and I don’t have the stats with me but know this and that is over the course of this week that we are assembling and disseminating almost 5 million masks across the state of Texas to ensure that those in high demand be able to continue to have access to the masks that they need.
Governor Greg Abbott: (14:59)
Another thing that we want to provide you information about is the number of hospital care facilities that are available to people in the state of Texas to be able to respond to COVID-19. As of yesterday, there were 20,066 beds available across the state of Texas as well as 2,225 ICU beds that were available and 7, 686 ventilators that were available. Going back to supplies, let me say something in this context. One thing that we always say, whenever Texas faces challenges, we see heroes surface to help respond to those challenges. We saw it in the aftermath of hurricane Harvey when we saw the Cajun Navy or we saw just individuals from homes in and around the Harris County area take out their bass boat or their canoe, or sometimes even a kayak.
Governor Greg Abbott: (16:03)
-take out their bass boat or their canoe or sometimes even a kayak to go try to rescue and help others. And just like we saw so many Texans helping others in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, we’re seeing the exact same thing take place today as we see Texans respond to the coronavirus in our state.
Governor Greg Abbott: (16:20)
Many businesses and individuals are helping Texas, especially with the increase and the number of supplies that we can provide to those who need it the most. Let me highlight two today. As you know, there’s great demand for what’s called PPE or personal protection equipment, especially face masks.
Governor Greg Abbott: (16:43)
A Texas company has stepped forward to ramp up production that will create a pipeline of supply on an ongoing basis for the State of Texas. The company’s name is Prestige Ameritech. They’re located in North Richland Hills and Tarrant County. The founder and CEO is Dan Reese. The executive vice president is Mike Bowen and had a chance to visit with both of them to thank them for what they are doing. Because at a time in need, especially for the face masks that are in such high demand, we needed an automatic supply that we would be able to rely upon both immediately but in an ongoing way, and they are capable of providing exactly that.
Governor Greg Abbott: (17:28)
Because I understand the history of this facility, what they did is they bought a location that had been previously used by Kimberly Clark, that Kim Kimberly Clark abandoned in order to move those manufacturing operations to Mexico and Prestige Ameritech really wanted to focus on doing manufacturing in America, showing our own manufacturing capability. And so they used this facility that had been abandoned by Kimberly Clark to make products right here in the lone star state.
Governor Greg Abbott: (18:04)
What they’re doing is they are adding a shift manned in part by the Texas National Guard wrapping up to be able to supply about 2 million face masks per week to be utilized by those who need them in Texas. We have a video to show you how this process is working.
Speaker 2: (18:34)
Prestige Ameritech is a very different company.
Speaker 2: (18:36)
Governor Greg Abbott: (20:41)
It is, and we’ll come back to that in a second. We’ll worry about the video later guys. Let’s continue on because again what Prestige Ameritech and has done is fabulous, but they’re not the only ones who are stepping up. Because the same is true for Toyota and some of its suppliers. Reyes Automotive in San Antonio is a supplier to Toyota and they will start producing up to 5,000 face shields a day for healthcare workers in Texas for local and healthcare needs.
Governor Greg Abbott: (21:20)
So once again, we come back to Texans helping Texans and that is how we’ve gotten through challenges in the past and that’s exactly how we will get through this challenge. And that is by our fellow Texans stepping up to help out, helping out individually in your own capacity or to make sure that for the remainder of this month you will help reduce the spread of the coronavirus in Texas by following these stay at home practices, by others helping out any way they can, whether it be producing PPE, creating face masks, or doing whatever they can to do to help our fellow fella Texans.
Governor Greg Abbott: (21:57)
Fellow Texans, we come together, we respond in the very prolific way that we did in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. We’re going to do the exact same thing, as a concern, as a response to the coronavirus in Texas. And at this time I will pass it over to Dr. Hellerstedt to fill it in from his perspective.
Dr. John Hellerstedt: (22:14)
Perfect. Thank you, Governor Abbott. It really is great news to have a production facility here in Texas that’s manufacturing both face shields and masks. As we know the personal protective equipment is a really essential part of being able to respond to COVID-19. It enables our medical workforce, our doctors and nurses and all the folks who work in hospitals or clinic settings to protect themselves and stay healthy so they can continue to help us.
Dr. John Hellerstedt: (22:44)
So it’s one more strengthening if you will, of the various layers of protection that we have. The first layer of protection is social distancing. It’s people staying home and interacting with each other less. That means there’s less opportunities to spread the virus and we see the evidence of that all around and I know that before very long we’re going to be able to measure in fact that we have had an effect on the curve, if you will.
Dr. John Hellerstedt: (23:13)
The next layer of protection are the things that we can do ourselves. As you know, the CDC has recommended people wear cloth face coverings and public and that really is a way for folks to keep from spreading the virus perhaps unknowingly. Other folks are using gloves as well. Any of those kind of barriers will help. And then of course there’s the layer of your environment, of keeping that environment clean and disinfecting it and keeping the germs away.
Dr. John Hellerstedt: (23:43)
We know that although coronavirus is what we call a novel virus, meaning it hasn’t circulated in the human population before. That means that it can spread very quickly and very rapidly and we’ve seen that happen in other parts of the world and other parts of the United States now. But the steps that we’ve taken and the things that I’ve outlined, those various layers of protection aren’t effective against every single germ including the novel coronavirus. So it’s really great news again that we have here in Texas some facilities that can help with that personal protective equipment and add to the protection that we enjoy here in the state. Thank you, governor.
Governor Greg Abbott: (24:23)
Thank you very much. Dr. Zerwas.
Dr. John Zerwas: (24:26)
Thank you governor. As all of you all know, the governor appointed a strike force to specifically look at this area of the supply chain and the various pieces of protective equipment that we need as well as other types of equipment. What you’re hearing today that the governor has presented as well as other things are a reflection of the leadership that Keith Meyers and Clint Harp are providing in terms of leading that effort. They are tireless in their efforts in terms of finding opportunities to enhance our ability to confront the virus and I think what you’re seeing is some of the examples of that today. It’s not a stopping point at all, but along this journey we’re making good progress in that area, and so I’m very pleased with that side of it.
Dr. John Zerwas: (25:10)
My side of it tends to be the mixture. We have the facilities and the capacity in order to absorb any kind of a surge activity that we might see. We’ve been fortunate in Texas that we’re not seeing quite the ramp up that other places are. And I think a great deal of that is because of the governor’s executive orders, which have allowed us not only to preserve PPE, which has been accomplished by shutting down elective surgery, but as a consequence of that, we’ve also generated a significant capacity, and the governor has shared with you what some of those numbers are on a percent basis in terms of available beds, available ventilators available ICU beds. We continue to have a very, very comfortable capacity in that regard. We watch it daily. We’re still adding cases clearly, but we’re not on any kind of an exponential rise in the number of cases.
Dr. John Zerwas: (26:02)
And as the commissioner has shared with you, in order to keep that going in the right direction is all dependent upon all of us to individually comply with the stay at home orders to the extent that we can, to avoid congregations, any place that we can, and to practice all the good hygiene and things that are important that we know in any viral illness will be very, very successful.
Dr. John Zerwas: (26:27)
There’s kind of a point of information that’s encouraging to us. It’s one that I sort of stayed tuned into is how quickly does the number of cases double related to coronavirus. In mid-March, about the time that the governor was executing his orders, that was three days, and today in mid-April it’s about six days. And so you’ve seen that number increased two fold, as a consequence, I believe of the things that we have been able to accomplish through protecting ourselves.
Dr. John Zerwas: (26:57)
But we’re in a good place as far as our capacity and ability to absorb any number of increasing cases at this time. We’re not stopping with that though. I continue to work with my team to not only enhance the number of facilities that we have to absorb any surge in the viral illness, but also to provide for the manpower. And so we’re working very hard with our folks at Department of State Health Services to improve the functioning of our volunteer registry. We’re testing that this week to make sure that it functions the way that it should and I’m very pleased that even with just what we’ve done so far, we’ve seen a pretty good number of volunteers step up. We look forward to that number continuing to go up. Thank you governor.
Governor Greg Abbott: (27:41)
Thank you doctor and now for Chief Nim Kidd.
Nim Kidd: (27:43)
Thank you governor. I asked our team to bring some displays that will allow available for pictures for you guys and then we want to get them back into inventory and get them out the door as soon as possible. But governor, to reiterate, Toyota and Reyes is working together on these face masks. And while it looks simple, this is a life saving device right now and the fact that they’re putting these in production today, not their normal scope of business, the Texans helping Texans.
Nim Kidd: (28:06)
Also again I want to reiterate Prestige Ameritech and the Texas Military Department, the staff that they’ve had. We’ll get the video fixed and get it out to you, but able to produce 2 million a week of these types of masks that are out there, made in Texas for Texans today. I think that’s going to be a great partnership even going forward.
Nim Kidd: (28:23)
And what we haven’t talked about yet that we will continue to work on is the engineering feat that we will put into even increased productivity there. We’ve got engineers from A&M that are working there with them right now to keep increasing that capacity. And then finally governor to thank the volunteers. I mean, whether it’s the Guard that volunteered, the people at Toyota and Reyes that volunteered, all of the doctors and nurses that have signed up for Dr. Zerwas’s volunteer status that we’re putting out there. It’s the Texans helping Texans. We’ve got to keep doing that.
Nim Kidd: (28:51)
So we need Texans to follow the orders that are out there, limit your exposure, continue to listen, and then come up with the creative ways to help make this easier for all of us going forward. Thank you.
Governor Greg Abbott: (29:00)
Thank you. Do you want to say anything about the weather?
Nim Kidd: (29:03)
Quickly on the weather. As you know, forecasts change. Yesterday we were predicting two inch hail tornadoes, up to 2% chance of tornadoes in the central Texas area. And while the tornado threat may be diminishing, I still need everybody to pay attention. Most of us are home now. Most of us are trying to find things to do in the middle of the day to take away our time. But please get the message out to the community. They need to pay attention to their weather radios and they need to pay attention to their TV broadcast journalist.
Nim Kidd: (29:27)
If a tornado warning is issued for your area, take shelter immediately. Weather service is still predicting up to two inch hail and strong winds coming from central Texas, Waco down past San Antonio. It could be life threatening for us. We just want to make sure nobody’s paying attention and following the directions.
Governor Greg Abbott: (29:42)
Thank you. Let me close it down by picking up on a point and basically repeating it of what Dr. Zerwas said because this is incredibly important. He said today it takes twice as long for the number of positive cases of COVID-19 to double than it did two weeks ago. What that means is that the sacrifices you are making right now to distance yourself from others, to stay at home, they’re paying off. They’re leading to better results. So you should be proud of knowing that your contribution is making Texas a safer place, and in fact a place where we will reduce the number of deaths that will be connected to COVID-19.
Governor Greg Abbott: (30:26)
And so please just continue the success that you’ve already been providing to our state for the remainder of this month so we can ensure we continue to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Now we’ll take some questions.
Speaker 3: (30:40)
One at a time, please at the microphones there so they can hear the questions. Please ask your question and then sit down.
Speaker 4: (30:47)
Yes, governor, can you talk about nursing homes right. It appears that in San Antonio we’ve had more deaths associated with COVID-19 than we first thought and obviously we’ve had other nursing homes in Texas City in Lubbock report large numbers of infected. Is there something that we can do as a state to address those and your task force looking at what we can do to curb what we’re seeing in those areas?
Governor Greg Abbott: (31:12)
Two things in response to your question. One is that we know nursing homes use loosely as a phrase that would encapsulate much broader categories. Senior living facilities, retirement facilities, nursing homes, even say supportive living centers. All of these we look at in the same perspective and that is we’re dealing with what we view as a very vulnerable population. A population that would be more susceptible to contracting COVID-19 and a setting where if somebody does contract COVID-19 is more likely to spread. Because whenever you’re one of these living centers, it usually involves a decent sized population of at least dozens, if not maybe hundreds of people as opposed to a single home setting that could involve just a few people.
Governor Greg Abbott: (32:03)
… as opposed to a single home setting that could involve just a few people. As a result, that is exactly why. From my very first executive order, I put the order in place ensuring that nobody can enter into any of these types of facilities other than workers or staff for those facilities. We’re eliminating anybody else from entering because we want to do everything we can to create a barrier that would prevent COVID-19 from entering into that location. That said, what we have is, we have what I would categorize as immediate response teams that deal with the unique circumstances of each of these types of situation.
Governor Greg Abbott: (32:44)
Let me give you four examples. One you may recall was the Masonic retirement center in Arlington, Texas, where it involved a large retirement facility. Someone tested positive who eventually passed away, and as a result there was great concern about the extent to which COVID-19 was present. Immediately, we went there as a team, and I personally went to Arlington, which is where it was located, to make sure that everything was being done. The hour that I heard about it, I got on the phone to talk with the heads of CDC and Federal HHS to make sure that in Texas, for a center like this, that we were employing the best practices that we’re learning in the aftermath of what happened in Washington state. To make sure that we would be able to fully be able to address and contain and reduce the spread of COVID-19, and maintain the health and safety of people there.
Governor Greg Abbott: (33:44)
I was pleased to see a story yesterday showing that this Masonic retirement center has now been cleared. Everybody there was tested and has been cleared from the public safety standard that was placed upon it immediately when the problem arose. It shows good leadership and involvement by Tarrant County Judge Whitley, by Mayor Williams in Arlington, the entire team on the ground as well as the healthcare and first responders dealing with that. As far as I know, the only person who lost her life because of it was the initial person who tested positive, and there was no other loss of life that I am aware of. And there’s been a satisfactory conclusion for many of the people there who tested positive for COVID-19.
Governor Greg Abbott: (34:36)
Another one that we dealt with concerns the state supporting living center in Denton. And here again, the very day that we learned about it, the entire team up here got engaged, got involved and made sure that in Denton County they had all the resources that they need to respond to it. Their situation was different, more unique than the situation in Arlington and it required a little bit different response. But the same result has been achieved and that is we were able to go in and make sure we provided all the needed testing, contain the problem, reduce the problem and prevent a situation like what occurred in Washington state.
Governor Greg Abbott: (35:19)
More recently, just a couple of days ago, we got a phone call about an outbreak in a rehab center in Victoria, and what they wanted immediately was testing kits to make sure everybody could get tested. And we immediately sent down the required number of testing kits to make sure that they were going to be able to test everybody affiliated with that rehab center to make sure that they were able to identify and isolate anybody who tested positive.
Governor Greg Abbott: (35:46)
And then there was the medical resort, Texas City, a situation that we are working on monitoring. This is the one that involves the treatment of certain people with the unique drug to find out whether or not it’s going to help them. We checked in early today to find out how that was progressing, and they said that it’ll be a couple of more days before they have any type of response to it that they can provide publicly. We’ll see how it goes.
Governor Greg Abbott: (36:18)
But my point is this, and that is in every situation there’s going to be unique needs that must be met and we are prepared to act swiftly to address the unique needs of each of these situations.
Speaker 5: (36:35)
Yes, I have a quick question. I’m sorry for sounding skeptical. The gentleman there said you’ve lowered the number of cases from doubling from three to six days, but a quick math shows that we’re still way behind the testing per population to New York. We’re 400 per 100,000 people versus New York, which is 1400 people per that number. We’re basically way behind in testing as a ratio to New York. How can you possibly say that we’re doing a better job of knowing how many people we have who are infected when we’re five times less than the ratio for New York? And I speak from personal experience. I can tell you I know three people who tried to be tested and the answer was, “You can’t be tested because you have a cough, but you don’t have difficulty breathing.” What is the criteria for being tested. Because people are going to try and be tested and they’re told, “You don’t have difficulty breathing, therefore you can’t be tested.”
Governor Greg Abbott: (37:32)
Sure. I’ll answer most of those with regard to the criteria. I will have Dr. Hellerstedt answer that. Let me answer your multifaceted question.
Speaker 5: (37:42)
I’m sorry. I got carried away.
Governor Greg Abbott: (37:43)
That’s all right. A couple of things. One, very importantly, remember the numbers I gave you earlier, which have remained true from the beginning of our testing until today, and that is that more than 90% of the people who were tested in Texas test negative, which means they don’t have COVID-19. Very importantly and this is something everybody must need to begin to comprehend and that is, receiving a negative test really does you not any good. The only good that it does is it means you don’t need to isolate at that moment in time. Because remember this, a negative test is good for that moment in time only. If you test negative right now, later on today you could contract COVID-19. And so the important role that testing plays is to identify those who test positive, isolate them so they don’t expose that disease to anybody else; and as a result, be able to reduce the spread.
Governor Greg Abbott: (38:43)
Second thing is that with regard to forming models, and I’ll let Dr. Hellerstedt talk from his perspective, all I can do is convey to you what I’ve been told from Dr. Birx, who is the medical doctor in charge of the White House Task Force Response Team to Coronavirus, who has told me the amount of testing that we have is adequate for us to form the data models that we need to make all the different types of determinations that are needed.
Governor Greg Abbott: (39:11)
The last thing goes to the first thing that you mentioned and that is, has New York tested more? Yes. They’ve had a far more deadly situation than what Texas has had. As a result, they have received more early-on testing equipment from the federal government. Has Washington state tested more? Yes. They dealt with a far more deadly situation than Texas and they were either the first or second state to encounter this. Has California tested more? As a percentage, maybe not. In raw number, yeah, but they faced a far more deadly situation.
Governor Greg Abbott: (39:49)
The only states that have conducted more tests than Texas are states with far more deaths than what Texas has. The last I look, which was early this week, Texas ranked seventh in the United States in the number of tests conducted. Every state that had tested more faced far more deadly consequences. As a result, those states were, rightfully so, prioritized with testing. That said, remember what I said earlier, and that is for longer than a week now, for at least 10 days now if not longer than that, we’ve had a daily sequential day-over-day competitive rate of increasing our testing by more than 10% per day, compounded daily. And as a result of that and as a result of what we know is in the pipeline now as far as the available testing resources are concerned, we will have plenty of testing capability in the state of Texas.
Governor Greg Abbott: (40:48)
The main thing said, and I’m going to tell you what I know for a fact, Dr. Hellerstedt is going to tell you and it’s because I’ve heard him say it about that 40 times, that is that testing is helpful especially to isolate those who have it, but testing is not a solution. The solution is one thing and that is to follow the stay-at-home orders so that you reduce your chances of contracting COVID-19. If you don’t have a COVID-19 right now, you have total control to maintain your personal protection to ensure that you do not get COVID-19. All that said from all of the medical perspective, if you would, I would like to have Dr. Hellerstedt provide the remainder of the response.
Dr. John Hellerstedt: (41:36)
Thank you, Governor. The Governor gave you a very, very thorough response. I think to your exact point, you have to remember that the testing capacity has expanded steadily over time. And so when we began testing we had to use that testing in a way that was most beneficial for the purposes of public health surveillance and that meant not testing people who were free of symptoms. For looking for people, originally of course, the thing that we were looking for was travel related to coming from an area where there was a lot of COVID-19 activity. Now that COVID-19 has spread on other parts of the world and other parts of the United States, the travel piece of it isn’t as specific, but it can still be part of the criteria. And then the symptoms are also part of the criteria for doing testing.
Dr. John Hellerstedt: (42:31)
It is true that we have sufficient testing capacity for the purposes of public health surveillance. I’m very confident that those doubling numbers that we talked about are valid and do reflect a slowing of the rate at which it is spreading in the community. Don’t forget, it’s still spreading. We’re still going to see more cases. But if you look at what’s called the epidemiologic curve, there’s a point where it accelerates very rapidly if you’re not doing the right things, if you’re not taking the right precautions. We are taking the right precautions. Although we’re seeing more cases, it’s not accelerating as fast as it was.
Dr. John Hellerstedt: (43:14)
I guess it’s analogous to saying you’re in an automobile and you got your foot on the gas and you’ve got it to the floor, and it’s accelerating as fast as it possibly can. If you do something to let off that gas, the car is still going forward, but it’s not accelerating anymore. It’s beginning to slow down, and that is what the doubling time really means. It means that over time it takes more and more time for the cases to double. That is absolutely a function of the things that the Governor has put in place and the practices that people are observing.
Dr. John Hellerstedt: (43:50)
I think we need to understand that we as Texans deserve a lot of credit for understanding the importance of these things and following those recommendations. They are sacrifices, they are difficult, but they’re paying off. And I’m confident that that doubling time is a really solid figure. No, not everyone who necessarily ask for testing should be tested or can get tested. But for the purposes that we have in public health, it is perfectly adequate and does reflect the course of the illness in the state.
Dr. John Hellerstedt: (44:25)
And again, it goes back to the notion that the testing gives us an understanding of what’s happening to the disease across the population. But that means that what we should be doing is still again putting on the brakes, if you will, observing those things, social distancing and personal hygiene and environmental cleanliness and sanitation, that are the things that actually prevent the spread of the disease.
Dr. John Hellerstedt: (44:49)
And so that is the message, and all of those things I think are very good news. They show that the things we put in place are working and that we are very hopeful that as we continue to apply the brakes, if you will, we’re going to actually slow down and reverse at some point the trend of expansion of the disease in Texas.
Governor Greg Abbott: (45:11)
Speaker 6: (45:12)
One at a time, guys. Everyone’s going to get a chance to ask question, I promise.
Speaker 7: (45:16)
Governor, as you know, we’ve got not only the effect of the virus itself but also the economic impact. I know small business owners have written to you and expressing their concerns about having to close up shop or layoff employees. At the same time, we’ve seen these models, specifically the University of Washington model, show a brighter outlook for Texas. Showing not only projected less cases and deaths, but also moving up pretty significantly where they predict the peak to be. I think last I looked, it was April 19th. It used to be like May 6th. With the executive order and the social distancing restrictions right now in place until the end of the month, should small business owners and Texans expect their elected officials to also be looking at refreshing those restrictions?
Governor Greg Abbott: (46:05)
I’ve had the opportunity to visit with the Secretary of the Treasury Mnuchin as well as both the president and vice president on this very issue, and you may have seen public comments by all of them about what their focal point is right now. They want to be able to get certain portions of business up and running again. When I say certain portions, that they want to make sure they do so in a way that doesn’t increase or restart the spread of the coronavirus.
Governor Greg Abbott: (46:36)
They are working on strategies, as we speak, to find unique and maybe limited initially ways of restarting business and getting it going as quickly possible. I’m working with Secretary Mnuchin, we’re working with his team, as well as with the president and vice president on those very strategies that we look forward to hopefully being able to announce very soon.
Speaker 6: (47:05)
Paul, you want to go?
Thank you. Governor, specifically, what models is the state using right now in looking at the trajectory of cases? Has the state engineered any models that it’s using on its own? How much confidence do you have in modeling and has it played a big role in informing your decisions you’re making as executive orders, those kinds of things?
Governor Greg Abbott: (47:31)
Sure. First, with regard to my executive orders, they’re based on two things: one is data, the other is doctors. And the doctor who knows the answers to all your questions as Dr. Hellerstedt.
Dr. John Hellerstedt: (47:44)
Thank you, Governor. As far as modeling, we’re looking across the board. We’re looking at many different models. We’re having conversations with the people who make the models. Remember, the models are essentially a mathematical equation, and that mathematical equation has many variables in it, and those variables in that equation is meant to-
Dr. John Hellerstedt: (48:03)
Variables in it. And those variables in that equation has meant to provide a prediction, if you will, or a model of what possibly could happen to the number of cases in the course of the disease. And it will predict things like the peak at which it will occur, the date at which that peak might occur. But again, it’s all based on mathematical equation as a number of variables. In the original way that people modeled a lot of the data that you would put in there where in other words you’d say, well, what’s the value for this particular variable? And a key one for instance, is that doubling time that we just talked about, that doubling time is probably one of the most sensitive indicators of how fast the disease is progressing, how high the peak is going to be and when it occurs. So you’ve seen that we have already changed that.
Dr. John Hellerstedt: (48:48)
So one of the things, why is this disaster not like a hurricane? It’s because we can actually change the course and we’re seeing that change take place. So we’re looking very broadly across many different models. We know that they have different assumptions. We know that they’re all working to refine their models and use the data that’s out there to plug in and as they do so the actual models change. So we think the wisest course is to be very cognizant of what is going on out there, understand what those models assume, understand what the input of the data is and do our very best to decide which of these models is useful for decision making in Texas.
Speaker 8: (49:30)
Is there one in particular?
Dr. John Hellerstedt: (49:32)
We look at all of them.
Governor Greg Abbott: (49:35)
Speaker 9: (49:42)
Yeah, I guess, what resources are available right now for the undocumented community and along those lines, kind of how high of a priority is enforcing this before right now?
Governor Greg Abbott: (49:51)
Well, of course with regards to any law, the goal is to enforce every law in the state of Texas. You talk about resources, it depends on which angle you want to take on this. It’s my understanding from the federal government that some of the resources from the federal government such as the direct payment to people that they will be receiving. Maybe as early as next week we’ll go only to those who are documented and those who are U.S. citizens. As it concerns, things such as access to COVID-19 testing, COVID-19 healthcare. As far as I’m aware, anybody in the state of Texas who goes up to a healthcare provider has access to both COVID-19 tests, COVID-19 healthcare.
Speaker 10: (50:52)
We know that individual cities are releasing their coronavirus cases by certain demographics. And you mentioned Harris County, and Houston is releasing those numbers based on race and that’s revealing some of the public health disparities among the African American communities. Is this something that you’ll be doing? Is the state will be doing, is that important? Why or why not?
Governor Greg Abbott: (51:14)
Sure. I’ll let Dr. Hellerstedt answer that.
Dr. John Hellerstedt: (51:17)
Well, it’s important. One of the things though is that those reports are based on whether or not we actually capture the data that you’re talking about. In other words, the ethnicity type of data in the reporting that we get. And the truth is that that isn’t always a field that is included in the data that we receive. So the data we have that relates to ethnicity is incomplete, but we are trying to make that better and refine it and hope that we will have something that is reflective of the truth that we could report in the future.
Governor Greg Abbott: (51:53)
Speaker 11: (51:54)
Governor, you touched on this a few moments ago, but I’d like to drill down a little bit more. What is the criteria for you or what are you looking at if the CDC does come out and says, “Here are the standards for businesses to start ramping back up.” For you, how soon would you like to see that happen and what type of businesses would you like to see that happen. And Dr. Hellerstedt, if you could also address the peak, are we close to it? What’s your timeline? What do you think where we’re going to hit that peak and start going down?
Governor Greg Abbott: (52:27)
I would like to see the recharging of the business sector to happen as quickly as possible for as many businesses as possible in alignment with the standards set by the CDC and by the president. And that has to be done in conjunction with the data that we have in a state. The perception I have from what the president has been talking about is that it probably … That the standards they come up with, probably will not be a one size fit all concerning every state as the president talked last night. That there would be one set for perhaps for New York City that would be far different from rural Nebraska and that would be in part based upon the number of cases of COVID-19 and the likelihood that somebody may contract it.
Governor Greg Abbott: (53:18)
There’s still are in the state of Texas about 80 to 90 counties that have zero cases of COVID-19. What I don’t know yet is whether or not those counties would be categorized as more likely than other others to be able to open up. It may be based upon the trajectory. Is the trend going down in a particular county or particular area? Hence, the importance of everybody right now, especially right now, to do all we can to slow the spread because as the president, as secretary of Mnuchin, as the team in Washington D.C. are working on the standards that they will articulate, that we will follow. The better your numbers can look at the local level by a result of your distancing practices that you’re employing right now. The better the chances are that in your particular area you’ll have a more likelihood of being able to open up more businesses. To the remainder of your question, I will let Dr, Hellerstedt answer it.
Dr. John Hellerstedt: (54:19)
Right? So the question was when is the peak? And I think the answer to that is we want to see more data. We want to know that we have confidence in the trends. So for example, we talked about the doubling time earlier. Early in the outbreak in Italy for example, the doubling time was as short as two days. So every two days they doubled the number of cases that they have. Now with the kind of measures that they’ve put in place and over time their doubling time is down to about 16 days. So it’s slowed down dramatically. The rate of acceleration is slowing down dramatically.
Dr. John Hellerstedt: (54:56)
We’re, as we said, at around five and a half to six days from starting out, closer to two to three days. So we’re making progress. But I’d like to see that progress continue before I think we could make any valid prediction about exactly when the peak would occur. So we’re headed in the right direction. These are good signs. These are signs that we are, again, not accelerating as quickly as we had been before, but we really want to gather more data so that we’re confident in the trends. I don’t think anybody wants us to act rashly or prematurely and have a resurgence in cases only to have to reapply, if you will, more stringent standards.
Dr. John Hellerstedt: (55:43)
So I think as time goes on and we see the trends, we’re confident in the trends. That’s going to be the point in time when we can contemplate changes in policy that might enable some of the activity that everybody wants to resume, to occur.
Speaker 11: (56:10)
So yesterday, Texas Democrats filed a lawsuit asking that everyone be allowed to vote by mail during the coronavirus outbreak. Governor, I wanted to get your reaction to that lawsuit and ask whether you support expanding voting by mail during the COVID-19 outbreak. To what extent and during what specific elections, if you do support that. Thank you.
Governor Greg Abbott: (56:31)
I haven’t seen the lawsuit. What I know is this and that is, there is a state law in the state of Texas that allows people to vote in person and that’s a state law that I don’t want to wave. I think that people have a legal right to vote in person and we need to try to conduct elections consistent with that. Hence, the superior strategy is exactly what I ordered in an executive order and that is to move the elections that were scheduled for May to July, hoping that by the time we get to July it’ll be a more accommodative for people to have the option to vote in person.
Speaker 11: (57:09)
Governor. On a personal level, as you’ve sort of tracked all of these different developments, what has struck you the most about what you’ve seen in some of these communities? We talk about the urban versus rural situation a lot and how communities respond differently to different types of situations. What has struck you as you’ve seen the different responses from different communities?
Governor Greg Abbott: (57:41)
It’s the same thing that I always see in Texas at times like this, and there’s a sense of resiliency. People understand that they must be resilient to overcome the challenges that we’re dealing with. And it doesn’t matter if you’re talking about a large urban area or a rural area. We got people in the state of Texas who are resilient. We’ve dealt with challenges bigger than this in the past. And just as we were able to overcome those challenges, we’ll be able to overcome this challenge in part due to the unique and profound resilience the Texans have.
Speaker 11: (58:13)
Speaker 12: (58:16)
You all had mentioned that some of the data that you are getting from local health departments is incomplete when it comes to the racial data and demographic data. Previously you have issued executive orders mandating hospital bed capacity being reported and testing results being reported to the state. Is that a step you would take to ensure that that racial data comes to the state in addition to maybe hospitals also reporting how the hydroxychloroquine is being used on patients? So that data is kind of making its way up to the state to inform those decisions.
Governor Greg Abbott: (58:46)
Sure, I will tell you this and that is, if it’s a recommendation to me by Dr. Hellerstedt, I would do it. So I don’t mind opening up the question to Dr. Hellerstedt.
Dr. John Hellerstedt: (58:53)
Well again, you need to remember that we’re trying to get very key data in, in terms of the people who test positive and understanding that. So in a certain sense we would rather look at a positive test and know that there’s an individual who’s tested positive but in some cases by no means all. The form where we ask for things like ethnicity and other sorts of demographic information is simply incomplete. And that is one example. That field may not be filled out. There may be other fields that aren’t necessarily filled out either.
Dr. John Hellerstedt: (59:31)
So remember that all of our folks out in the field, all of our epidemiologists and the people who are guiding this are working full speed. They’re working around the clock to do it and they’re doing the very best that they can. In some cases those fields are missing, but we have a confirmation that there is a case of COVID-19. So we want to use those cases so that we have an accurate picture of the truth, an accurate picture of the scope of the disease in Texas and in some cases that is incomplete. So I don’t think there’s necessarily anything about mandating it. We asked for it. It’s a part of the reporting that we have, that’s a typical type of reporting. And I think as we get more … If we get this under control better, we will be able to expect that our folks in the field who are providing the reporting and filling in those fields are going to have enough time in the day to get it done.
Governor Greg Abbott: (01:00:34)
Thanks guys. We got to run. Appreciate it.