Apr 6, 2020

Texas Governor Greg Abbott COVID-19 Briefing Transcript April 6

Governor Greg Abbott Texas Briefing April 6
RevBlogTranscriptsPolitical TranscriptsTexas Governor Greg Abbott COVID-19 Briefing Transcript April 6

Texas Governor Greg Abbott held a coronavirus press conference on April 6. He said direct deposit checks are coming soon to Texans, and over 1,000 Texans have been hospitalized by COVID-19. Full transcript here:

 

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Greg Abbott: (00:12)
Well, I thank everybody for being with us here today and I want to provide you an update on several things, and especially get to a point that a lot of people are interested in, and that is what Texas is doing to provide either more PPE, also known as some protection equipment. Before I get into that, however, let me give you an update on some things that have taken place today. Earlier today, I had a telephone conference with all the governors, along with Vice President Pence, with HHS, CMS director Seema Verma, with the head of the FEMA, Gaynor, with Secretary Treasurer Mnuchin, as well as with Dr. Deborah Birx, who is the White House doctor in charge of the coronavirus response.

Greg Abbott: (01:04)
First, some information provided by Dr. Birx. After looking at data and information that had been compiled over the past few days, she said this. She said that it was clear from the data that mitigation efforts are working. She said that we are getting close to beginning to bend the curve, but also she made clear that if we let up now, all of our efforts that have led us to this point will have been for nothing. As a result, we must continue the distancing [inaudible 00:01:45] led to this early [inaudible 00:01:48] effort.

Greg Abbott: (01:50)
Also in presentation by Treasury Secretary Mnuchin. He said that states should begin receiving funds from the federal government around April the 24th, that will help the States respond to the challenges posed by COVID 19. He also added that direct deposits of money to our fellow Americans should begin next week. This is the money that goes to individuals who earn $75,000 or less per year, who will be available to receive up to $1,200 for a married couple or family. It would include those who make $150,000 or less who could receive $2,400. He also added that they are working to get money to the states for the increase in amount of unemployment benefits that will be able to be deployed to those who need those benefits. He also talked about the economic recovery program. This is a program that provides $2 million of loans for small businesses here in Texas, as well as the paycheck protection program that helps businesses maintain payroll through loans of up to $10 million.

Greg Abbott: (03:16)
There are certain qualifying specifics about each of those loan programs. One of the aspects about them as if they are handled correctly, it’s possible that they are able to convert from a loan into a grant, meaning that the amount would not have to be repaid. A point has been made that these loans are available as we speak right now, primarily through banks in your community. It’s important to go apply as quickly as possible, because there’s a certain amount of money that’s available, and you need to make sure that you get in line, so that you will be able to access this money. The money that we’re talking about is money that will very quickly reinvigorate our economy, start to continue economic growth, as well as to increase employment here in Texas.

Greg Abbott: (04:13)
Additional information. In the past, you’ve heard me talk about travel restrictions. Let me update you on travel restrictions here in Texas. We maintain the travel restrictions about people being able to fly into Texas from what are considered to be hotspot zones for COVID 19. That includes New Orleans, Miami, Atlanta, the Tri-state area around New York City, as well as Detroit and Chicago. In addition to that, we announced last week that the Texas Department of Public Safety was going to begin to pull over vehicles that have crossed the border from Louisiana into Texas, and to provide them information where anybody coming from Louisiana who is not exempted must self quarantine for 14 days. Beginning yesterday, the Texas Department of Public Safety has now altered that policy to increase enforcement by establishing checkpoints at all border crossings from Louisiana into the state of Texas.

Greg Abbott: (05:22)
This is just a notice, if you would, to our friends from Louisiana. We know you are neighbors, we know that you are friends. We know that we both share the same approach, and that is we want to do all we can together to make sure that we mitigate the expansion of the COVID 19 in our collective states. This is a temporary situation where we will be working more aggressively to reduce the number of people who are traveling from Louisiana into state of Texas. So unless you are exempted by the items that were in my executive order, that you will be pulled over to a checkpoint by the Texas Department of Public Safety, and you will be required to quarantine for 14 days in the state of Texas if you come across the border.

Greg Abbott: (06:12)
Additionally, there’s some interesting events that are taking place in the state of Texas, with regard to the use of hydroxychloroquine. There’s been an unfortunate identification of a number of residents at a the medical resort, Texas City, which is a nursing home there. A meaningful number of the people who are at that nursing home tested positive for COVID 19. As of today, about 30 patients are being tested with the hydroxychloroquine, to determine whether or not it will be a successful treatment for those patients. They are for the most part in their second day of this testing regimen that will last several more days. We look forward to updating you as the week progresses about how this drug is aiding or not these patients at the medical resort, Texas City.

Greg Abbott: (07:21)
Some update with regard to numbers here in Texas. As of today, as of this hour, there have been 85,357 Texans who had been tested for COVID 19. That is a about a 20% increase over the number who had been tested yesterday. If you go back for about a week period of time, on average, we are increasing the number of people who are being tested by more than 10% per day, compounded daily.

Greg Abbott: (07:57)
Of the more than 85,000 people who have now been tested, there are 7,319 who have tested positive. Once again, the number of people who test positive continues to remain less than 10% of everyone who is tested. By the way, of the people who are tested, we should easily this week exceed 100,000 in the number of Texans who are being tested. Of the 7,319 who have tested positive, we have confirmed hospitalizations for 1,153 of those individuals. And as of today, unfortunately, there have been 140 fatalities. Now, one thing that people also need to have information about is availability of healthcare facilities. As of today, there are 21,000…

Greg Abbott: (09:00)
As of today, there are 21,033 available beds statewide, including 2,223 ICU unit beds that are available. When I spoke last week and made our presentation last week as of that day, there were 8,857 ventilators that were available. Today there are 6,080 ventilators that are available. That is not including 7,350 anesthesia machines with vents that could be used if needed. Now one area that we’ve been focused on, and I know is of keen interest for communities across the state, and that is the amount of personal protection equipment that is available for every location to be able to respond to the challenges posed by COVID19. So you can see on the screen behind me there are different types of PPE supplies. There are masks which include medical surgical masks as well as N95 masks. There are the face shields. There are gloves. There are gowns and there are coveralls.

Greg Abbott: (10:22)
Let me tell you what we did this past week. So this past week we distributed across the state of Texas 1,676,510 masks; 209,856 face shields, more than 2.7 million gloves; almost 170,000 gowns; and more than 7,500 coveralls. The good news is those numbers are continuing to increase. Additional masks, which is the part of the PPE that most people are asking for, they are on the way. Within the last 24 hours, we have received 2.5 million masks. In addition to that, later this week, we will be receiving an additional 3 million masks. So basically in this one week period that we’re in right now, we will be receiving more than 5 million masks that we will be distributing across the state of Texas. A couple of comments about how these come in and how they go out.

Greg Abbott: (11:42)
They come in primarily through entities that our new supply chain team is working to contract with. We do continue to receive some supplies from the federal government, especially through FEMA, but I will let Nim Kidd and Dr Hellerstedt weigh in more on this later. I think most of the supplies that we are now receiving are supplies that are being received as a result of the supply chain team that we put together. Now I see one member of that team here right now and that is Dr. Zerwas. I’m not seeing Keith, is Keith here? He’s working. He’s making purchases as we speak, which is exactly what we need him to do, but I do want Keith and the entire team that has been working on the supply chain, you have no idea the hours they are working. It seems like they are working for 24 hours a day and they are dealing with entities across the entire globe. And it’s so gratifying to see their hard work begin to bear fruit.

Greg Abbott: (12:57)
Importantly, as these items are distributed, we make sure as Dr. Hellerstedt will make clear here in a second, but we distribute them primarily to health care facilities across the state of Texas that need access to them. And this is in addition to the supplies that those healthcare facilities are already being able to get on their own through their preexisting supply chains that these hospitals know, that healthcare providers had in existence before the outbreak of COVID19. Very importantly, I want to emphasize a couple of things and that is one thing that has helped the supply chain strike force achieve these great results is a portal that exists where so many people across the state, across the nation, and across the entire globe have provided information that leads to access for more supplies. That portal is www.texas.gov. That’s www.texas.gov. If you have or know of supplies the state of Texas could use for us to distribute across the state, especially to our healthcare providers and first responders who need the personal protection equipment, please log in to that site. Let us know about the supplies that you have.

Greg Abbott: (14:20)
I will tell you this also, one thing that the state is benefiting from is volunteer nurses and doctors and healthcare providers that are needed to help respond to the challenge of COVID19. At that very same site, volunteers who want to assist, especially in providing healthcare services can find a link on there where you can click on and volunteer. Again, that is at www.texas.gov. And at that point I think with regard to additional explanations about how this supply chain works in more detail, I would like to turn things over to Dr. Hellerstedt.

John Hellerstedt: (15:09)
Thank you Governor Abbott. I’m John Hellerstedt. I’m the commissioner for the Texas Department of State Health Services and I want to talk a little bit about how we have prioritized the distribution of the personal protective equipment that we have obtained through the state through the various mechanisms that that governor related to. So we wanted to set out a set of priorities and the amounts that we had were not the amounts that had been available in the past. Clearly because of COVID19 the need, the demand for these supplies came up just at the same time that in many ways ordinary supply was curtailed. So we did come up with priorities and our priorities are listed here. The first sets, hospitals or healthcare professionals in contact or treating concerned COVID patients with potential for high loss of life. Those individuals who are taking care of those folks need to be protected against COVID19 because oftentimes they’re in a setting that is the most high risk setting for the spread of COVID19 and we did not want to lose hospital capacity due to essentially taking out the healthcare workforce.

John Hellerstedt: (16:22)
Also healthcare facilities that would include longterm care facilities where we saw an emerging outbreak, so in other words, a nursing home or a state supported living center where they were proven cases of COVID19. And we wanted to get personal protective equipment to those staff and also to help mass patients in order to curtail the spread of COVID19 to those vulnerable populations. And we know that those vulnerable populations are are at at the most risk for poor outcomes for COVID19.

John Hellerstedt: (16:55)
We also had as a priority facilities and EMS personnel that may encounter suspected cases or interface with vulnerable populations and that can be other healthcare settings and hospitals that may not yet have a proven case of COVID19. We supplied some to our emergency medical services personnel based on triage and the need that they might encounter someone with that had respiratory issues. We had hospital staff for in house testing and also for use in emergency departments. Both longterm care facilities with a history of COVID were among our priorities and then used for isolated step down areas. In other words, where people with who are recovering from COVID19 may be recovering, but the staff that are taking care of them would need to be protected against COVID19.

John Hellerstedt: (17:51)
Our next set of priorities were healthcare facilities providers and first responders that have general patient encounters and needs also included were other healthcare settings.

John Hellerstedt: (18:03)
… needs. Also included were other healthcare settings that were not necessarily caring for an inpatient need for COVID-19 or have an inpatient that had COVID-19. We also included other healthcare professionals who are collecting COVID-19 test specimens and our other first responders.

John Hellerstedt: (18:24)
So with the supplies that we had, we were able to get some level of supplies to each of those priorities. Although again, they are listed in a priority order and so we went first with what we viewed to be most critical needs. Thank you, Governor.

Governor Abbott: (18:40)
Thank you, Doctor. Next, I would like to have Chief Nim Kidd.

John Hellerstedt: (18:46)
Thank you, Governor.

Nim Kidd: (18:46)
I’ll quickly talk about how we are getting PPE distributed and first is as the donations or the purchases come into our central warehouse, they’re being split out in two formats. One is to go to the hospital preparedness programs, in the next few slides we’ll see maps of that. But the second, because we have such a large state and we want to be closer to need, we’re using our Texas military department armories.

Nim Kidd: (19:08)
From their local governments and healthcare providers can submit a state of Texas assistance for requests form, we call it a star, we will fill those stars as the materials come in. Go to the next slide, and I think this is probably one of the most important slides in the deck, and this is how we talk about our federal reimbursement. There are two tracks here, one that we deal with normally during disaster is the FEMA category B reimbursement. But the second is the larger pot of money, $2.12 trillion and has been made available by Congress.

Nim Kidd: (19:40)
I think it is important that we remind everybody, normally we remind our local governments, keep your receipts, keep your contracts, keep your invoices. In this case, every human that is spending money in response to COVID-19 needs to keep their invoices and the amounts of money that they’re spending, where they’re spending it and what they’re spending it on. As the federal government rolls out how their dollars will be distributed, it’ll be very important that we have those accurately able to report.

Nim Kidd: (20:06)
The next few slides actually to talk about the parts of Texas that we’re supplying, so you’ll see the North Central Texas Regional Advisory Council, the amount of mask, face shields, gloves, gowns and coveralls. Then from March 27th through yesterday they’ve distributed. Next slide will be for the Southeast Texas or the Houston area. Again, same numbers. Next slide. Pineywoods. Next slide. The border RAC and you can see how these RAC are so large and to closer to need, that’s what we’re enlisting to help of the Texas military department and their armories. Next slide. Then I think we have one more. There we go, that’s about them all.

Governor Abbott: (20:50)
Well first I want to thank a Chief Kidd and Dr. Hellerstedt for their tireless work. I know you all are working around the clock and thank you for your efforts in organizing things like this in addition to all your other duties.

Governor Abbott: (21:02)
Also, one thing I want to make clear and that is these boxes that you see behind me are not just a haphazard grouping of boxes. The first row of boxes on those three pallets are our boxes of gloves and gowns. The larger boxes behind that, there are four pallets of larger boxes that are wrapped in plastic. Those are the masks that have come in that we will be distributing beginning today across the entire state of Texas, in addition to those that will be coming in later on this week. With all of that, we’ll be happy to take a few questions.

Journalist: (21:41)
Governor, do you think that the federal government should take over this supply chain process or are you satisfied with the state has been [inaudible 00:03:54]?

Governor Abbott: (21:52)
Listen, the federal government during the beginning stages played a very important role, especially in setting up the drive through testing lanes. As we have seen the process evolve over the past few weeks, the private sector has been able to provide a very robust response. First with regard to testing, this massive new amount of testing capability is being provided largely through the private sector as one reason why we are able to increase the amount of test so much. That includes these rapid 15 minute tests provided by Abbott Labs that Texas continues to receive a large portion of.

Governor Abbott: (22:36)
In addition to that, the same thing goes with regard to access to PPE or personal protection equipment, and that is there were supplies that preexisted the onset of COVID-19 some of it was in the national stockpile, some of it was available in the private sector. A lot of it was quickly exhausted. Now that we have an effective supply chain organization working for the state of Texas, we’ve opened up a lot of new avenues through the private sector across the globe now dramatically increasing our ability to acquire and disseminate PPE across the entire state of Texas.

Journalist: (23:28)
So will Texas be lending ventilators or any other medical equipment [inaudible 00:23:29] from New York as the virus peaks and [inaudible 00:23:28]?

Governor Abbott: (23:29)
Texas is always ready to step up and help out others, especially with regard to doing things like providing ventilators. Where Texas is on the rise in the number of people who test positive as well as the increase in the number of people who have been hospitalized, we are a week or two behind states like California and New York. They had a more significant onset earlier than the state of Texas.

Governor Abbott: (23:59)
What we are preparing for in the state of Texas is increased numbers over the coming weeks of the people who are testing positive and of the people who are being hospitalized. As you might imagine, our first obligation is to make sure that our fellow Texans are going to have access to the ventilators that may be needed. So we continue to model, to make assessments, to be in contact with hospitals and doctors across the entire state of Texas as well as talking to the national medical advisors like Dr. Burks, about what they think we may need here in the state of Texas. So if we make the assessment that we have 100% capability of meeting the healthcare needs for the people in the state of Texas, at that point in time we would be able to help out other states.

Journalist: (24:49)
Governor, this state has launched a mental health hotline for folks who are needing additional help. Is there anything else that the state can do to focus on the mental health of Texans during this hard time?

Governor Abbott: (25:01)
Well there is a lot, and I’ll answer that in part, but someone who knows a whole lot about it is Dr. Hellerstedt. I’d like to have Dr. Hellerstedt address it first, obviously from the medical and DSHS perspective.

John Hellerstedt: (25:15)
Absolutely, thank you, Governor. I think one of the things that is most important is for people to realize that they have things that they can do, that they already have been doing, that we believe there’s evidence already that we are bending the curve, if you will. So we are making the disease less severe than it would have been had we not taken the steps that the governor has had the state put in place as well as local leadership.

John Hellerstedt: (25:40)
So to me, one of the most fundamental things of mental health is to have hope, for people to see that there are things that they can be doing that will work. I know that the HHSC, which has a lot of the behavioral health services has made these hotlines available. I think they’re great, but as far as for all of us, including everyone I think here in this room, we are experiencing the stress of having to deal with COVID-19. But the way we can successfully deal with it, is to take the concern that we have and turn it into useful action and that is exactly what we’ve been doing.

John Hellerstedt: (26:16)
That is exactly what social distancing is all about. That is exactly what now the recommendation to have face face coverings, that you people should wear in public so that they’re not exhaling the germs and they’re helping to protect other people and the messages that we’ve had about personal hygiene and sanitation and cleanliness of the environment, that’s all working.

John Hellerstedt: (26:37)
As the governor said earlier, at a national level, there is some recognition that maybe, maybe we are getting to a point where we are slowing the acceleration of the disease, that’s very important to understand. We will still see some progression of it over time, but maybe much more slowly than we would have otherwise. That should give everyone hope. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and to me that is one of the most important mental health messages.

Speaker 5: (27:03)
… to me that is of the most important mental health messages.

Greg Abbott: (27:25)
I feel more confident now than I ever have with regard to access to PPE supplies. What we have, for example, is the approximate 5,000 that we’ve aggregated over the past few days of face masks that we are distributing, which is more than enough for right now. What I know is additional supplies are coming in. I know purchase orders that are out as we speak right now that could lead to a very substantial number coming in that I don’t want to get ahead of things because I don’t want to announce it until I have it in hand, but knowing the information that I have and the visibility of what is coming, in Texas looks to be very well-supplied.

Speaker 7: (28:13)
Governor, have you talked to the Dallas County judge at all today? If so, how were these conversations?

Greg Abbott: (28:20)
It’s very interesting because I’ve had multiple and very meaningful conversations with the Tarrant County judge, with the Denton County judge, with the Bear County judge, and I’ve had maintained contact with the Dallas mayor as well as mayors in the Dallas region as well as Mayor Nirenberg in San Antonio as well as maintaining whether it be myself or our team in communications with leadership in Harris County as well as the smaller communities around the state of Texas. I checked and according to my office we’ve had zero inquiries or phone calls from the Dallas County judge, ever, with regard to COVID-19. I have hosted multiple telephone town hall conferences for mayors and county judges. There have been often at least a thousand local elected officials on those calls. I don’t have any clarity whether or not the Dallas County judge was on there or not, but bottom line I’ve never heard of him, or from him.

Greg Abbott: (29:31)
He has attempted to communicate through social media. I communicated through form of a letter. I wanted to make clear that what happened with regard to that instant and that is, listen, a major general with the US Army Corps of Engineers indicated that Clay Jenkins indicated to him, to the major general, that he had no intention to use the Kay Bailey Hutchison facility in downtown Dallas. We needed to find out whether or not they actually were going to use the Kay Bailey Hutchison Center because other federal officials told me that if Dallas County is not going to use that, the people who would be manning that operation and those beds that are currently there right now would have to be located elsewhere. We needed to find out if Dallas County was in fact going to utilize this, if not other federal officials may be moving those supplies elsewhere and that was the reason behind why I sent that letter to Judge Jenkins.

Speaker 7: (30:32)
Can you identify other locations at this point based on this sort of back and forth with [inaudible 00:30:36]?

Greg Abbott: (30:38)
Identify other locations for what?

Speaker 7: (30:39)
For some of these supplies and resources to be sent.

Greg Abbott: (30:44)
Which supplies?

Speaker 7: (30:45)
Whether that’s PPE or [crosstalk 00:30:47].

Greg Abbott: (30:48)
Oh, the current supplies? Yeah.

Speaker 7: (30:49)
Or the convention center locations. I mean, are there other locations that have been identified?

Greg Abbott: (30:54)
What you’re asking about, are there other locations where what currently exists at Dallas County would be moved to? That would be a federal decision. In other words, it was the federal officials telling us that they would be required to move it elsewhere if Dallas County was not going to use it. They didn’t tell us where they would move it to.

Speaker 8: (31:13)
Hey, Governor, I know you had a phone call with Dr. Fauci [inaudible 00:31:17] all state should have strong stay-at-home orders in place. What impact do you think will the lack of having it early statewide, stay-at-home order in Texas, have on preventing the coronavirus infections [inaudible 00:31:37]

Greg Abbott: (31:39)
Right. Based upon Dr. Fauci’s comment about the importance of stay-at-home policies, I’m wanting to find out directly from him what his assessment was of the state of Texas and the standard that we have in place. He told me, “Governor, what you have in Texas is perfectly fine. The main thing is just to ensure compliance with it.” He says that, “It’s one thing having a standard, it’s another thing achieving compliance;” and that the important thing to achieve mitigation is to ensure that people do comply with the standard that the state of Texas has. But Dr. Fauci said that the standard Texas has is fine. So you will know, before that I talked separately, privately with Dr. Birx who also provided information about what the Texas standard should be. And, importantly, for all of these standards, the first person I talked to and a person I talk to pretty much on a daily basis is Dr. Hellerstedt.