Aug 13, 2020

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Press Conference Transcript August 13: Coronavirus Update

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Press Conference Transcript August 13: Coronavirus Update
RevBlogTranscriptsPress Conference TranscriptsTexas Gov. Greg Abbott Press Conference Transcript August 13: Coronavirus Update

Governor Greg Abbott of Texas held a press conference on August 13. He provided an update on coronavirus in Lubbock and discussed high positivity rates and bars. Read his full news briefing speech here.

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Governor Greg Abbott: (00:26)
Well, good afternoon. I want to thank everybody for being here, but most importantly, I want to thank the mayor, the judge, and everybody else that we had the opportunity to have a very long discussion with to find out the details about exactly what is going on, both in Lubbock County, the city of Lubbock, as well as the entire region, and get to see the ways in which they’ve been able to respond so effectively to COVID-19 in this region. And I appreciate, not only the briefing, but also appreciate tremendously the way that they have faced challenge after challenge after challenge by using strategies that have been able to contain and reduce the spread of COVID-19. A couple of things in particular that were pointed out, one is that contact tracing helped to slow the spread by identifying outbreaks and then by containing them, first with the way that strategy was used in the nursing home outbreak and then in further instances, to make sure that wherever you did see outbreaks in the Lubbock region, that contact tracing program was used effectively to curtail those outbreaks.

Governor Greg Abbott: (01:36)
Second, the testing capacity has continued to expand in the Lubbock region. But something that was pointed out here is something that also exists in every region of the state of Texas and candidly, every state in the United States, and it’s something that we need to come to grips with and understand. And that’s what is called COVID fatigue. Listen, there’s a reality. People have had an altered state of life for the past few months. One that requires wearing a mask, one that requires staying at home if at all possible, one that reduces your level of interactivity with others. And that’s a challenge, a once in a lifetime challenge. And it’s easy to get a sense of fatigue, it’s easy to want to stop having to comply with those standards. If there’s one message I could convey today, and that is the ongoing necessity, the ongoing reality that COVID-19 still exists in Lubbock, it still exists in Texas, it still exists globally.

Governor Greg Abbott: (02:44)
And if people do not continue to, in a very disciplined way, maintain the highest level of standards, what you will see is an acceleration of the expansion of COVID-19. This is especially true when you consider the timing of when we gathered today. As we gather today, we are on the precipice of schools opening up, whether they be public schools or higher education. We all know what’s going to happen and that is there’s going to be thousands of students gathering together in these school settings with teachers, with parents, et cetera. And it is especially important that a time when schools are opening, that everyone in the entire school setting is extra vigilant, making sure they do maintain the safe practices so they can reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Governor Greg Abbott: (03:39)
But I must emphasize this also because what I do know, especially from listening to Dr. Rollo, the superintendent of the Lubbock Independent School District, the strategies they have in place are effective strategies to contain the spread of COVID-19. The ways in which COVID-19 would be most likely to spread when schools open is actually in gatherings that would take place after the school day is over. People will go home. They may go home with friends, they may hang out together in a backyard or whatever the case may be. One thing that we’ve found in other parts of the state of Texas that may be true also in Lubbock, and that is one of the settings in which COVID spreads the most rapidly right now is these gatherings. Sometimes it’s just gatherings of family members, sometimes it’s gatherings of friends. Sometimes it’s in a backyard, sometimes it’s some type of social event.

Governor Greg Abbott: (04:35)
People need to understand that until we have better medications that can treat COVID-19, until we have the vaccines that will end COVID-19, people must maintain vigilance. Even when just gathering with family members, to make sure you do continue to wear masks. I must emphasize that Dr. Mitchell today repeated what doctors in Houston said yesterday, and what doctors in Dallas said before, and what doctors across the entire state of Texas have repeated, and that is the best strategy we have to slow the spread of COVID-19 before we have medications is the practice of people wearing masks. It’s been reported repeatedly by doctors in Texas that the wearing of masks is one of the leading reasons why we have had a reduction in the spread of COVID-19 in the state. A couple of other things that we must understand that we’re dealing with as we open up schools, we are also at the beginning stages of flu season.

Governor Greg Abbott: (05:38)
That means that there will be more people contracting viruses. It means there will be more people needing access to hospitals because of that. And as a result, we must exercise the same extra sense of vigilance of the best practices, not only as we continue to combat COVID-19, but also as we add on top of that the requirement of combating the flu. Some other things I want to mention, obviously, also we have Labor Day coming up. So Texas began to open up in the early part of May and then we opened up more as we continued through the course of May. And then we had Memorial Day at the end of May. And I think there was a feeling at that particular time that we really didn’t have to worry about COVID, that people could go out and they could have Memorial Day parties, they could socialize, they could gather and things like that. And that was one of these spreading events that led to the increase of COVID-19.

Governor Greg Abbott: (06:43)
People recognized that in Texas, and as a result, they were a lot more responsible during the 4th of July holiday time period. My point is this, we’re just a couple of weeks away from Labor Day weekend. So as we return to school, as we are on the precipice of flu season, as we’re coming upon Labor Day, it’s so important for people to not let their guard down during the Labor Day holiday like they did during Memorial Day. If Texans and people in Lubbock refuse to let their guard down, especially on holidays, they will be able to contain the spread of COVID-19. They will be able to prevent hospitals from becoming overrun with patients. A few last things. One is some strategies that we talked about that are being used in Lubbock, but I am saying being used even more prolifically elsewhere in the state of Texas, and that is the effectiveness of convalescent blood plasma treatment.

Governor Greg Abbott: (07:53)
This is blood plasma by people who have had COVID, who have developed the antibodies to defeat COVID and were able to provide a blood supply-

Governor Greg Abbott: (08:03)
… bodies to defeat COVID and we’re able to provide a blood supply. I would highly recommend for anybody who has had COVID especially recently to consider donating blood, whether you be in Lubbock or Amarillo or wherever you may be. This can be an effective way in which you have developed the ability to save your own life overcoming COVID. You have the ability to share that ability with somebody else by sharing your blood.

Governor Greg Abbott: (08:29)
Also, I wanted to thank Texas Tech University for playing a very pivotal role in Texas’ capability of responding to COVID-19 by their very robust production of viral transport media made by Texas Tech University and shipped across the entire state of Texas. It immediately and very substantially increased our ability to increase testing across the state of Texas that would not have been capable without what they have done.

Governor Greg Abbott: (09:02)
The last thing I’ll say is I want to express my gratitude to all of the nurses, to the doctors, to the first responders, to all of the healthcare providers who have done so much by putting their lives on the line every single day to make sure that the people of Lubbock and the people of Texas were having their lives addressed in ways that are almost incomprehensible for most of us. We all know there’s no way that we would have gotten through the storm of COVID-19 that we’ve already experienced without those people working tirelessly around the clock.

Governor Greg Abbott: (09:35)
And I know when it comes to COVID fatigue, there may be nobody who has more fatigue than those involved in the healthcare profession. But we need to let them know the depth of our gratitude for what they have done to step up and be the true first responders in this healthcare pandemic. We know that our need for them is not over, but we want them to know our gratitude for what they have done is endless.

Governor Greg Abbott: (10:03)
Lastly, I want to thank everybody in this entire region for their collaboration. The region of Lubbock is far more successful in dealing with COVID-19 because of that level of collaboration. And that includes the leadership of your mayor, Mayor Pope. Mayor, thank you for what you’ve done. Let me pass it off to you.

Mayor Dan Pope: (10:23)
Thanks governor. Thank you so much for making the trip to Lubbock to come see the great people of West Texas. I have two thoughts I want to convey. First, I want to thank you for the team that day in and day out is leading our response effort to COVID-19. Some of them are represented behind us today. Some are with us, but our city team under the leadership of our city manager, Jared Atkinson, which would be our public health, certainly Dr. Cook.

Mayor Dan Pope: (10:54)
Our partnership with emergency management, our partnership with Lubbock County and Judge Parrish. But we’re fortunate to have two great health systems as you saw today, have partnered with the community, with the region to deliver fabulous healthcare. Our relationships with our K12 and with higher education certainly led by Texas Tech allows us to be on the same page. And I believe safely reopening our economy and I think the numbers that we talked about prove that out.

Mayor Dan Pope: (11:32)
The second thing I have to say is that the people of West Texas are, if nothing else, creative and resilient. The people that settled this part of the world were not soft. They were tough people. They found a way to make it happen. And that spirit persists today. And we see it as you talked about the creativity of the lab at Texas Tech, where they’re making the media that helps us with testing. What we’ve in our local businesses and even hospitals taking folks that were not busy because their clinic might’ve been closed and making PPE that when we so sorely needed that.

Mayor Dan Pope: (12:14)
And so that’s what will let us continue to be successful. We can’t let our guard down. Football’s important to us. It’s important to a college town. Having our businesses reopened is important to men and women who worked, who want to put food on the table for their families. And that’s why safely reopening our economy and our schools makes so much sense.

Mayor Dan Pope: (12:40)
We appreciate your support in that regard. We’re so thankful to wake up every morning in Lubbock, Texas and may God continue to bless Lubbock, Texas and the great state of Texas. Thank you, governor.

Governor Greg Abbott: (12:52)
Thank you, mayor. Judge.

Speaker 1: (12:54)
Well, thank you governor so much for coming in and seeing what I would consider to be a very unique place and that is Lubbock, Texas. We talked about urban issues and we’ve talked about rural issues and in Lubbock County, you truly get both. We are an urban city in a rural county and it’s pointed out we’re really more rurban than we are anything. But at the beginning of this COVID virus, we made a decision very early on that we would make reasonable and sensible decisions going forward, listening to our local, mental and our medical health authorities and making those decisions that are reasonable and sensible.

Speaker 1: (13:42)
The first thing we saw going in was our nursing homes were in trouble. We had a surge in our nursing homes and that was affecting our most vulnerable population with the guidance of Katherine Wells and Dr. Ron Cook and Dr. Doug Klepper. We made a decision to close our nursing homes to visitors, and that was the right thing to do. Now, that’s been very troubling now that we’re into the fifth month of this virus. We’ve got our most vulnerable population isolated and that’s affected me personally, but I’ll also say it was the right thing to do.

Speaker 1: (14:25)
And we will continue to watch over and care for the most vulnerable of us and as Lubbock County and as the schools reopen, as the tech students return, I want you all to know that we are doing everything in our power to make sure that we continue to operate safely, that we protect the most vulnerable of us. To make sure that when we do have a little outbreaks and we know we’re going to have those, that’s just inevitable with this vile disease that we’re dealing with, that we’re able to respond immediately sensibly, reasonably, and know that our top priority here is to keep the citizens safe. Not just the citizens of Lubbock County. But governor as you found out, we serve much more than just this community in this county.

Speaker 1: (15:20)
With our medical community, we serve an area approximately a million and a half people depend on Lubbock for their medical care. And so we want to make sure that we are doing everything in our power to keep Lubbock safe, keep Lubbock County safe, keep West Texas safe, keep all of us safe. It is our top priority and governor I want to thank you. Chief Nim want to thank you for all your hard work in and helping us out here in West Texas do our job and take care of our people. Thank you, governor.

Governor Greg Abbott: (15:59)
Great. Now, Chief Nim Kidd, Chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

Governor Greg Abbott: (16:03)
Now Chief Nim Kidd, Chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

Nim Kidd: (16:04)
Thank you, Governor. As we travel a lot after disaster, we generally come in and offer support to communities. I got to tell you, Mayor, judge, manager, it’s refreshing to come into a community and hear about the innovation, about the work that’s been done here that didn’t require additional outside assistance. You guys have knocked it out of the park. And so thank you for taking care of your Texans. Our job will be to continue to add personal protective equipment to your stockpile, to continue to add testing capability, reduce turnaround times. And then I’m really excited about the future plans that you have put together. We’re going to have our folks model your plans and look at other communities to share those with. So thank you for allowing us to be here with you.

Speaker 2: (16:39)
Thanks, Chief.

Governor Greg Abbott: (16:40)
Great. With that, we’ll take some questions.

Governor Greg Abbott: (16:40)
Sure.

Speaker 3: (16:40)
I’ll start. I’m [inaudible 00:00:16:51]. The testing positivity rate has increased across the state. It’s now over 20%. Are you concerned about that? And what is happening with testing across the state right now?

Governor Greg Abbott: (17:01)
Sure. A couple of things. First with regard to the positivity rate, this is something that the Department of State Health Services is investigating and they brought in a data team to dig deep into it, to find out exactly what the reason is for the increase in the positivity rate. That said, we have identified a couple of things that contribute to it, as well as, a related issue. We have seen fewer people being tested the past few weeks than we were last month. And we have been able to identify a reason for that. First, during the month of July, there were several surge testing operations where we dramatically increased the amount of testing in different regions at different periods of time. And that led to a very abundant number of tests that were done.

Governor Greg Abbott: (17:54)
At the same time however, we saw a lot of people, a lot of residents, in different regions, step forward, wanting to get tested. We have observed for the past couple of weeks a decline in the number of people stepping forward to get tested. We do have abundant testing capacity. We have far more daily testing capacity than there are tests being undertaken, because we’re not having enough people step forward to be tested as we did before. We’re working on strategies as we speak that will be easy pathways to increase more people being tested. So you can expect to see those test numbers go up here in the coming days. And then one reason for that also is because this week we have one of those test surging operations taking place in Houston, Texas, in Harris County, Texas, where there’s an additional 5,000 people being tested per day for 10 days. And that’s 50,000 tests right there.

Speaker 3: (19:01)
Just a quick follow-up. How do you think that the return to the [inaudible 00:19:08] and colleges will affect testing rates?

Governor Greg Abbott: (19:08)
I believe it will increase testing rates because one of the strategies we’re working on, that we’re not yet capable of announcing, is additional strategies for testing in the education setting and especially on the K-12 setting. We do have additional test-based companies that are working to bring strategies online that could dramatically increase the number of tests that are run on a daily basis. And then we have additional test collection equipment suppliers that are coming online that will increase our test collection capability. One of those relates to nursing homes. We will have same-day turnaround test results in all nursing homes across the State of Texas that should begin this week, more fully next week. But we also do want to focus on the education setting knowing how important it is, in part because of the volume of people who will be in those settings, but also because of the importance of ensuring the safety in those settings, safety of the people in those settings.

Speaker 3: (20:15)
Thank you. Have a nice [inaudible 00:20:16].

Speaker 4: (20:16)
I have a question.

Governor Greg Abbott: (20:16)
Sure.

Speaker 4: (20:16)
Hi. I’m Sandy [inaudible 00:20:19]. I’m with [inaudible 00:20:21]. A little bit of [inaudible 00:20:23] this morning. You were greeted by protestors in [inaudible 00:20:26] today. Many of them are both bar owners or employees who say that the executive order is impacting their businesses and their livelihood. What’s your response to that?

Governor Greg Abbott: (20:38)
I’m extremely sympathetic to their cause. They have bills to pay. They have rent or mortgages to pay. They have food to put on the table. And they don’t have a paycheck that they once had. And so they are in the worst situation perhaps of anybody because of the economic fallout of this pandemic. And we want to see everybody to be back as fully employed as possible. We have learned through the course of the pandemic that one of the most prolific spreading event locations is bars. And there’s some very obvious reasons for it. When you go to bars, you don’t go in there and go to an isolated location way far separated from others. Instead, people come together. When you’re drinking, you’re not wearing a mask. You’re taking your mask off. After you’ve had several drinks, some people become fairly intoxicated and they become less likely to use the discipline that is needed to make sure that they are avoiding spreading COVID-19.

Governor Greg Abbott: (21:51)
And so every doctor that I’ve either talked to or I’ve read about in the United States of America that has studied infectious diseases has rated bars as the leading transmission zone. And it was in the aftermath of my order shutting down bars and in the aftermath of my requiring the mask mandate across the State of Texas, you could see two to three weeks after that, there was the reduction in the spread of COVID-19 across the state. There was a reduction in the positivity rate. There was a reduction in the number of people testing positive. And most importantly, there was a reduction in hospitalizations. And if we are going to keep our hospitals open and available for people who test positive for COVID-19, for people who test positive for the flu, for people with everyday maladies, whether it be heart conditions or cancer or strokes or car wrecks or whatever the case may be, we have to continue to contain COVID-19 until we do have the medications and vaccines that will be capable of treating it.

Speaker 4: (23:01)
So no date as of now as to when bars could reopen, because as long as these trends continue, they stay closed?

Governor Greg Abbott: (23:07)
So decisions for closure and decisions for opening are not done arbitrarily and just picking a date out of a hat. Instead, they’re based upon data. The data that led to the decision was, for one, going above 10% positivity rate, for another, the hospital availability becoming compromised in so many regions across the State of Texas. We do need to see the positivity rate go back below 10% for a sustained period of time. We do need to see more hospital rooms become available. And then we need to see that bar establishments have a strategy that can be enforced with discipline to maintain safe distancing practices so that they do not become a setting where COVID-19 can be spread.

Speaker 4: (24:02)
Thank you-

Governor Greg Abbott: (24:02)
… setting where COVID-19 can be spread.

Speaker 5: (24:02)
[inaudible 00:24:04].

Governor Greg Abbott: (24:02)
Yes?

Speaker 5: (24:02)
Hi, [inaudible 00:24:06]. Mayor [inaudible 00:24:09] mentioned football, and the Big 12 and the SEC are going to attempt their seasons. Are the orders currently in place for collegiate sports what we should except for the season, or will there be any changes?

Governor Greg Abbott: (24:21)
I’ve had the opportunity to speak with the athletic directors of all of the major football schools in the state of Texas, including the athletic director for Texas Tech University, as well as coaches and players.

Governor Greg Abbott: (24:36)
First I want to say this, and that is I’m proud of the Big 12. I think the Big 12 has taken the right step. But also, there’s a focal point the Big 12 has made, which also is the right step, and that is there is no college football, there are no college sports without the student-athletes, and so the health and safety of student-athletes needs to be put first and foremost.

Governor Greg Abbott: (25:01)
I talked to student athletes and I read about others where this was what they wanted. If it were not what they wanted, then it shouldn’t happen, but they wanted to play and they became comfortable and satisfied with the level of safety protocols that were being put in place in particular, by the Big 12, to make sure that the spread of COVID-19 would be sufficiently contained and the pulmonary systems and the cardiovascular systems of the players would be adequately addressed. So as so long as that remains the paramount focal point, then college sports can continue.

Governor Greg Abbott: (25:40)
Then you get to the point of the fans and stands, which we want to see and players would like to see also, but that is a healthcare issue onto itself that we need to work collaboratively with the universities on to make sure that when the players do play neither their safety, nor the safety of everybody attending the game, as well as the entire community becomes compromised because of conditions that could lead to a spread of COVID-19.

Speaker 5: (26:11)
[inaudible 00:26:11] institutional decision on whether [inaudible 00:26:15] fans can attend?

Governor Greg Abbott: (26:17)
Well, there are multiple layers there. The first layer is going to be what, if anything, the Big 12 establishes. We’re seeing the same thing, I’m hearing anyway, out of the SEC and maybe some other conferences. The leaders of the conferences will be the first decision-making layer, just like what you perhaps have seen in the NBA, what you’ve seen in Major League Baseball and the NFL. We will see standards set by the league-wide organization first, and then the state will work collaboratively with the schools, universities, and the local cities to make sure that standards can be set that will not lead to a COVID-19 spreading event.

Speaker 6: (26:59)
A couple more, guys. Two more questions.

Governor Greg Abbott: (27:01)
Sure.

Grace Morris: (27:01)
Grace Morris [inaudible 00:03:05]. We’re hearing from some districts including those in West Texas that there have been delays in receiving Chrome Books. Currently, they’re on back order for 4 to 10 weeks. Now the state’s allocated funding for devices for students, but what’s the devices that are facing shortages [inaudible 00:27:21]?

Governor Greg Abbott: (27:22)
First, and most importantly, and that is the state is working with school districts to make sure that there will be sufficient both hotspots as well as laptops and any type of technology that is needed to close the digital divide. Already there has been almost a half-a-billion dollars aggregated for that.

Governor Greg Abbott: (27:46)
In addition to that, there is additional funding that may be forthcoming really soon as the Trump administration negotiates with Congress. The information that I have is that there could be additional funding to make sure that the state will be able to work with the local school districts to ensure that everyone who needs access to any type of technology for education that their needs will be met.

Governor Greg Abbott: (28:14)
With regard to back orders, that is something that the Texas Education Agency is working on with the local school districts, working on the supply chain, just like what Chief Nim Kidd has worked on with the supply chain based issues for PPE. We’re working on the supply chain issues for the technology tools that are needed for the successful opening of school and education of our students.

Speaker 6: (28:40)
Last quick question. Real quick. Right here.

Matthew: (28:42)
Governor Abbott, quick question. Matthew [inaudible 00:28:44] News. There’s a few bars here in Lubbock that are starting to reopen. They’re adding more food to their menus so they can be considered more of a restaurant than a bar. Are you concerned about that? We have a nightclub here who’s having a bring your beer event coming up. Are you concerned about the bars opening and possibly some large crowds?

Governor Greg Abbott: (29:01)
There still remains certain requirements that are enforced by the TABC that must be met and then some other protocol requirements. Remember, if a bar, for example, converts itself into a restaurant, there are certain restaurant standards that are required, including by executive orders, that must be satisfied, such as no more than 50% occupancy, such as distancing standards that apply in restaurants that may not be existing in bar-type settings, where if those protocols are not followed, those now converted into restaurants can still lose their license to be able to sell alcohol, which makes it very difficult for them to be able to operate. TABC is still out in full enforcement. If anybody creating a setting that can lead to a transmission of COVID-19, they are subject to losing their license.

Speaker 6: (30:05)
Thanks, guys. We’ve got to get going. Appreciate it.

Governor Greg Abbott: (30:15)
Thank you. Just [crosstalk 00:30:19] for elections [inaudible 00:30:53]. I saw in San Antonio [crosstalk 00:30:56]