Aug 11, 2020

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Press Conference Transcript August 11: Coronavirus Update

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Press Conference Transcript August 11: Coronavirus Update
RevBlogTranscriptsPress Conference TranscriptsTexas Gov. Greg Abbott Press Conference Transcript August 11: Coronavirus Update

Governor Greg Abbott of Texas held a coronavirus press conference on August 11. He encouraged people to continue wearing masks and practice social distancing. Read his full news briefing speech here.

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Governor Greg Abbott: (01:13)
I want to thank everybody for being here. And I want to thank the leaders of this region for taking the time to provide a briefing to me and my staff about the status of the response to COVID-19 as well as letting us know what their needs are here.

Governor Greg Abbott: (01:28)
I’m proud to be joined today by State Representative, Dade Phelan, and State Representative Joe Deshotel. Also proud to join along with County Judge Branick, and Mayor Becky Ames, Mayor Bartie and Orange County Judge Gathia, as well as I do want to emphasize my gratitude to a couple of categories of people.

Governor Greg Abbott: (01:50)
I want to express the gratitude that I and everybody up here share for all the nurses and the doctors and those who are on the front lines of responding to the challenges posed by COVID-19 as well as the law enforcement officers who literally put their lives on the line. And unfortunately, there was another one lost just yesterday because of exposure to COVID-19.

Governor Greg Abbott: (02:13)
We need to embrace and support everyone who has stepped up to help their communities respond to COVID-19. I learned a lot about what’s going on in this region. First in general, the region and especially the residents who live here are to be applauded for the way that they have collectively responded to the challenge of COVID-19.

Governor Greg Abbott: (02:40)
As everyone knows, there was a spike or substantial increase in the number of people who were testing positive, the hospitalizations, the people in ICUs, and unfortunately an increase in the number of fatalities because of people losing their lives to COVID-19.

Governor Greg Abbott: (02:58)
In response, generally the people across this region, as well as across the state of Texas, have embraced the necessity to make sure that they have better practices that reduce the spread of COVID-19, such as wearing a mask, such as maintaining your distance from others, such as staying at home if at all possible, especially for those who are age 65 and older who are the most vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 as well as losing their life to COVID 19.

Governor Greg Abbott: (03:35)
I was very impressed to learn some of the strategies that were being used in this region to reduce fatalities, to heal patients faster and get them out of the hospital room. I was particularly impressed by the use of blood plasma in the region. So important for everybody to understand this because everybody who has tested positive for COVID-19, who has recovered, which is a very large number both in Jefferson County, Orange County, as well as the State of Texas, but everyone who’s tested positive for COVID-19 who has recovered, they have blood plasma. They can help others overcome the challenge of COVID-19.

Governor Greg Abbott: (04:17)
Many of those people have already been treated and recovered here in Jefferson County. If anybody in the region has been positive for COVID-19 and has recovered, we urge you to provide your blood through a local agency. Also through the use of Remdesivir, as well as steroid treatments, the medical leaders in the region have been able to reduce the length of stay in hospitals as well as to reduce the number of people who otherwise would have lost their life because of COVID-19.

Governor Greg Abbott: (04:52)
So the numbers are moving in the right direction, but it is fair to say that hospital capacity by those who are positive for COVID-19 still remains too high. And so one of our collective goals here today is to continue to work on strategies to reduce the number of people who are hospitalized in the Jefferson County region, because of COVID-19.

Governor Greg Abbott: (05:17)
Now part of that strategy are these medications, but the lead strategy is this. And that is the way to reduce hospitalizations is to reduce the number of people who test positive. As a result, I want to double down on the necessity of emphasizing one key point, the most important thing I could convey today, and that is even though the numbers of COVID-19 have improved, COVID-19 has not left Jefferson County. It’s not left Orange County, it’s not left the state of Texas.

Governor Greg Abbott: (05:48)
COVID-19 still spreads across this region and across the country, just as fast as it did in July when you hit high numbers in deaths, high numbers in hospitalizations.

Governor Greg Abbott: (06:01)
And the only way to reduce the spread is by everyone continuing to do the best practices of wearing a mask, keeping your distance from others, staying at home if at all possible, using frequent hand sanitizing to make sure that you are reducing the spread of COVID-19. I’m pleased to hear that all of the needs are currently being met for the needs of the local governments to respond to COVID-19.

Governor Greg Abbott: (06:28)
I want to thank Chief Nim Kidd, the Chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, who is here with us today for all that he has done to help meet those needs. As Judge Branick knows, I would call him on occasion over the past month or two, whenever I would see the numbers increase in Jefferson County, and every single time that I called him, he responded with the same sense of calm resolve, helping me understand that he and the leaders in Jefferson County were fully on top of the situation. They knew exactly what they needed to do to try to move the needle, to make sure that they would be able to reduce the spread of COVID-19, to make sure they wouldn’t be able to reduce the number of people who were hospitalized. And that’s exactly what they have been able to achieve here. So I applaud the local leadership and their collective response to the challenge posed by COVID-19.

Governor Greg Abbott: (07:24)
Now one thing that we all know, and that is at schools are opening and will continue to open over the coming days and weeks. And they’re opening in different ways because the way that they are opening is based upon decisions made by local school boards, as well as local school districts. Knowing that those local school districts will know what is the best solution for that particular district, some will be opening up in person, others will be opening up remotely. Some may continue remote education all the way until time periods in October and whatever is the best determined strategy by a school district is exactly the pathway that school district should follow.

Governor Greg Abbott: (08:05)
That said, I want everybody to know, and that is that the State of Texas, working through Chief Nim Kidd is doing everything possible to make sure that the schools have all the tools they need to be able to open up safely. That includes making sure that all PPE supplies that are needed by our schools are provided by the State of Texas. That includes masks, that includes hand sanitizing material. Already distributed to ISDs in Jefferson County are about 150,000 masks. And I can’t… On hand sanitizer, it says four, four, zero, eight. Is that gallons?

Speaker 5: (08:45)
Yes, sir.

Governor Greg Abbott: (08:45)
So more than 4,000 gallons of hand sanitizer. And then overall, the State of Texas has shipped more than 755,000 masks to Jefferson County, more than 62,000 gowns, more than 118,000 gloves, more than 10,000 face shields, and we will continue to provide whatever PPE is needed, whether it be through local governments or whether it be through local school districts to make sure that every tool that can be used to contain the spread of COVID-19 will be used to make sure that the people of this region will be kept as safe as possible from this infectious disease until we have the time when additional treatments and eventually vaccines will become available. That will eventually end all the challenges that we’re facing because of COVID-19.

Governor Greg Abbott: (09:46)
With that I’d like to pass things over to Mayor Becky Ames, and have you follow up and then followed by the County Judge.

Mayor Becky Ames : (09:53)
Okay. Thank you, Governor. And we want to thank you for coming today and thanks to you and Chief Kidd for all the support that we’ve been given throughout this pandemic. As you said, we just have to remember, I think we saw, I know we saw a spike in July and we believe that that’s because of some of the openings and people let their guard down. And I just would like to say that we need to keep that in mind. We really have to try very hard to get our numbers down in our hospitals so if someone is sick, we have space for them. And I know you support that.

Mayor Becky Ames : (10:28)
And so I thank y’all for coming today. And I won’t take a lot of your time but it means a lot that you came to Beaumont to talk to the citizens of Beaumont, along with our press and those in our surrounding areas. And that you’re giving us the support. I have to say that the support that was asked through our medical staffs and even our sheriff’s department with our loss of an officer, you’ve been very responsive and we want to thank you so much for that.

Governor Greg Abbott: (10:57)
Sure. Thank you, Mayor.

Mayor Becky Ames : (10:57)
You’re welcome.

Governor Greg Abbott: (10:58)
Judge?

Judge : (10:59)
Well, Governor, I’m deeply appreciative of your visit here today, but more appreciative over the last several months of the fact that you kept in constant contact with us, have been very responsive to our needs. You and Chief Kidd have kept the lines of communication open, you’ve met our request for pharmaceuticals and PPE and other things. And it’s been a wonderful partnership that you don’t often see in government, but I thank you for that communication and for your constant support.

Judge : (11:38)
We have seen a significant decrease in our 14 day moving average of new infections. We’re hopeful that that is a trend that will continue. I want to thank the members of the medical community and our first responders and nurses that have been so diligent in assisting our community through all these trying times.

Judge : (12:01)
I understand that it’s been a difficult time, that humans are by nature, social animals, and we are hopeful that we can persevere because as the Governor mentioned, the disease has not suddenly gone away. And we’re seeing that a lot of the infections coming online are coming from backyard parties and weddings and large social gatherings.

Judge : (12:25)
And we want people to continue to be diligent in their efforts to do what the Governor has asked of our citizenry and that is to wear their masks, to social distance and to maintain appropriate hygiene. And I think we’ll get out of this much sooner and hopefully can return to some normalcy more quickly as many of the pharmaceutical makers, which the Governor reminded us of in our earlier meetings, are coming up with therapeutics that maybe can assist us if we move forward to make that return to normalcy much more quickly.

Judge : (13:04)
Thank you, Governor.

Governor Greg Abbott: (13:04)
Thank you Judge. Chief Kidd?

Chief Nim Kidd: (13:06)
Thank you, Governor. I want to echo your appreciation and mine as well for all the healthcare workers and first responders on the streets every day. It’s a dangerous job, not just for COVID, but for everything that we respond to. We will continue to push personal protective equipment to our local partners, including our school districts. Our warehouses are full. We have 46 warehouses across the state right now that are busting with PPE. We continue to order. We continue to push.

Chief Nim Kidd: (13:30)
If we hear isolated pockets of needs of PPE, it’s a phone call or a text, and it’s usually a link in communication, it’s not a resource that we need. And then finally, Governor, continue to push the funding that’s been allocated by Congress, and that you’ve pushed out for all of the local governments. Our organization is ready to continue to backfill those needs.

Governor Greg Abbott: (13:47)
Great. Thank you, Chief. We’ll take some questions.

Speaker 8: (13:49)
Governor, [inaudible 00:13:49] concerned citizens of [inaudible 00:13:49] wineries, bars. What’s the time table on that? Maybe [inaudible 00:14:02]?

Governor Greg Abbott: (14:02)
First, we’re very concerned about any type of business. It could be wineries, it could be bars, it could be other businesses that have been required to shut down because of COVID-19 due to no fault of their own. And so they are lacking the income they need to pay their bills, to keep their business open, to pay the rent, to put food on their table.

Governor Greg Abbott: (14:23)
And we want to assist them as much as possible. One of the things we can do to assist them would be to try to get their businesses back up and running. And one of the best things we can do to achieve that is by everybody working collaboratively to slow the spread of COVID-19. Go back in time to the time when bars and other businesses were allowed to be open more than they are now, it was after they were open that we saw an increase in the spread of COVID-19 that led to the necessity of closing them.

Governor Greg Abbott: (14:58)
We have to be vigilant right now to make sure that we continue to slow the spread of COVID-19. If we were able to get to a positivity rate of well below 10% and maintain that positivity rate, if we were able to get to a situation where we were back in the May timeframe of low hospitalizations because of COVID-19, and sustain those rights for a prolonged period of time, and if all operators of bars and restaurants and similar establishments were to follow the same protocols that were put into place from the very beginning, in that required patrons of bars to not stand up, not walk around, not converse without masks, not go to the bar itself, but to remain seated at a table in small gatherings and be in situations where they were avoiding transmitting COVID-19, that could lead to the reopening of those bars.

Governor Greg Abbott: (16:02)
The fact of the matter is the way that bars are structured, they’re a structure for people to come together, close together without face masks in situations where people frequently become intoxicated. And when they become intoxicated, they lose the discipline that they need to maintain the practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19. As a result is requires extra vigilance on the part of owners of those types of establishments, to make sure they prevent their establishment from becoming spreading events of COVID-19.

Speaker 9: (16:36)
Governor, [inaudible 00:16:44]?

Governor Greg Abbott: (16:55)
One thing that we wanted to do, knowing how different the regions of the state of Texas are, some are populous, some are not very populous, some have certain desires and goals they want to achieve, others have different goals they want to achieve. And hence the conclusion was it was best to leave the decision making process to local school districts and school boards about when to open and how to open.

Governor Greg Abbott: (17:25)
What all school districts have the flexibility to do is to decide, do they want to open in August or September or sometime later? And when they open, do they want to open all in person, or no one person with only remote education, or a blend of the two? And then the last thing is to provide those local school districts the flexibility they will need in dealing a novel Coronavirus, to make sure that if there is an outbreak of COVID in their school, they will have the flexibility to close down the school either totally or a particular class to make sure they can contain COVID-19.

Governor Greg Abbott: (18:06)
And we will find out from this particular school district, as they open up, is there going to be people testing positive for COVID-19 or not? And if so, what strategies they’re going to employ to make sure they prevent the spread. A lot of people have talked about pictures that were observed about high schools in Georgia with crowded hallways, et cetera.

Governor Greg Abbott: (18:31)
Texas education agency has provided strategies that should avoid things like that, such as students wearing masks, such as having staggered openings so you don’t have all students coming into a hallway at any particular time. And we expect school districts to follow those strategies. I have seen other school districts that are opening up also this week that do have staggard openings, they do have greater spacing in a classroom than what they did last school year.

Governor Greg Abbott: (19:05)
And similarly, they have greater spacing in cafeterias than what they had in the last school year. It’s important for schools to adopt those best protocols if they’re going to be able to contain the spread and transmission of COVID-19 in a school setting.

Speaker 10: (19:23)
What do you say to the teachers who may have concerns about their employers essentially having them go back [inaudible 00:19:33] they’re not comfortable?

Governor Greg Abbott: (19:33)
Several things. One is, one of the ways to empower teachers the most is to have the decision making process at the local school district level, because that is the level at which teacher input as most heard and most available. And what I have observed across the State is that superintendents and principals are listening to teachers and their concerns and responding to those concerns by employing strategies that will ensure the safety of those teachers.

Governor Greg Abbott: (20:08)
But then in addition to that, let’s go back to that flexibility. And that is, if any student or teacher tests positive in a school setting, schools retain the flexibility to be able to shut down the school for a period of time to ensure that the school will be sanitized and stabilized before people return, ensuring better health and safety for faculty, as well as for students.

Governor Greg Abbott: (20:34)
In addition to that, local public health authorities retain the authority to be able to shut down schools if there is an outbreak in a school setting that would compromise the health and safety of teachers, as well as of students and/or parents or others visiting a school. So there do remain multiple strategies to ensure the best health and safety of everybody in a school environment.

Speaker 11: (20:57)
How close have you been in contact with the Presidents and the Athletic Directors of the University of Texas and basically the biggest universities here in Texas regarding their athletic football seasons and whether the football season should be [inaudible 00:00:21:16]?

Governor Greg Abbott: (21:15)
So I’ve had several conversations with the Athletic Directors of the major colleges and universities’ sports programs. And this was about a month ago, and maintain some level of communication with them. And this was at a time when we were talking about issues such as seating capacity, such as best safe protocols for universities to use for their student athletes. And it was before these decisions that we have seen arise across the entire country of conference after conference after conference closing down their football programs for this upcoming season.

Governor Greg Abbott: (21:57)
And so I haven’t had an opportunity to speak with colleges and universities and their, whether it be their sports staff or the Presidents about what their decision making process is right now.

Governor Greg Abbott: (22:11)
I will tell you my thought process and that is I support the student athletes and their decisions, but I think that the health and safety and the careers of the student athletes come first and I would defer first to the choice and decisions those athletes want to make. And then second, if they choose to continue to play this season, make sure that the universities are working with them on protocols to ensure their health and safety during the course of the season.

Speaker 12: (22:43)
Governor, has the State reviewed the President’s [inaudible 00:22:49] on extending unemployment benefits?

Governor Greg Abbott: (22:52)
So I have, but also yesterday I had the opportunity to speak with both the Vice President, as well as Treasury Secretary Mnuchin about unemployment benefits and what the plan is. And the reality is this, and that is the administration continues to negotiate with the Democrats, both in the US House as well as the US Senate on what the plan will look like.

Governor Greg Abbott: (23:15)
I have every reason to believe that when all the final deal is worked out, there will be a more robust deal that is struck between the administration and between Congress to make sure that unemployment benefits will be provided adequately for those who have lost a job because of no fault of their own.

Speaker 13: (23:35)
Last question.

Speaker 14: (23:37)
Governor, we have seen media coverage increase the past few days over rapid testing across the State. In Jefferson County, we have one health department that is counting those cases, and one that is not. Is the State working on[inaudible 00:23:53]?

Governor Greg Abbott: (23:51)
So I missed the part of your question. You said, you mentioned two different types of standards? Why don’t you just ask your question again.

Speaker 14: (23:58)
Yes. Regarding rapid Coronavirus testing-

Governor Greg Abbott: (24:00)
Right.

Speaker 14: (24:01)
… in Jefferson County we have one health department that is counting those cases, and one that is not. Is the State working on [inaudible 00:24:07] on how to best handle that?

Governor Greg Abbott: (24:09)
Sure. So I want to make sure, because it sounds like we may be talking about apples and oranges. I’m going to talk to you about several things about testing. I’m going to answer more than what your question’s asking, because I want to make sure everyone knows I’m about to say, and that is we are going to see more rapid testing occur in the State of Texas for several reasons.

Governor Greg Abbott: (24:31)
One is because we are getting additional testing supplies that will allow us to provide rapid testing in nursing homes across the entire State. In addition to that, we are in the process of working with labs in the State of Texas, labs in different locations in the State of Texas that will provide more robust, quicker turnaround of higher volume of tests. The bottom line results of both of those is we should see more testing capabilities with quicker turnaround in regions across the State of Texas.

Governor Greg Abbott: (25:08)
Separate from that to in part answer your question, there are different types of tests that are used. There are lab-based official COVID-19 viral tests that are conducted that are categorized by the State of Texas as either positive or negative.

Governor Greg Abbott: (25:29)
And the state will log those in as positive. Separate from the official lab-based COVID-19 tests, there are antigen tests, there are antibody tests, and those who through antibodies or through the antigen test reveal a level of positivity, they are separately categorized as testing probable, not testing positive for COVID-19. And I don’t know if that answers your question or not. I’m happy to take a follow up question if you need more clarification.

Speaker 14: (26:04)
Yes. I have seen, in my reporting, confusion from some health departments [inaudible 00:26:13]?

Governor Greg Abbott: (26:18)
Right. So let’s go back in time a couple of weeks, you may remember there were new instructions from federal Health and Human Services about how local health authorities and hospitals were to be able to obtain and categorize tests and test results. And there’s been an effort to make sure that new strategy is implemented effectively at the local and state level. That’s step one.

Governor Greg Abbott: (26:51)
Step two is for the State to be working with the local public health authorities, as well as the private providers, to make sure that the information is being segregated appropriately and provided to the State separately, separating COVID-19 tests from antigen tests that would be categorized as a probable test, as opposed to a positive test.

Governor Greg Abbott: (27:19)
And again, we will be as a State reporting all of those numbers separately. Only as someone who goes through a viral COVID-19 test and tests positive will be categorized as a person who is positive for COVID-19.