Mar 31, 2020
Texas Governor Greg Abbott COVID-19 Briefing Transcript March 31: Closes Schools Until May 4
Greg Abbott: (21:00)
Well, thank you all for joining… thank you for joining with us here today. Let me start out by expressing my gratitude to all of our fellow Texans for your tremendous efforts that you’ve made over the past few weeks to slow the spread of the coronavirus. By staying at home, by reducing personal interactions, you are saving lives and you are improving the health of people across our entire state. Let me give you some updated information and then go into more detail.
Greg Abbott: (21:35)
One thing that we continue to do, we continue to administer more tests to determine whether or not someone has COVID-19. As of noon today 42,922 Texans have been tested for COVID-19. Of those tested, 3,266 have confirmed positive for COVID- 19. Now there are 122 counties in the state of Texas that have a least one reported case of COVID-19. Very importantly, if you look at the number of people who are hospitalized, we still have only 2.4% of the hospital beds available in the state of Texas for COVID-19 patients are occupied, meaning that 97.6 of those available beds still remain vacant available for anybody who may contract COVID-19. With a heavy heart share with you that we have now lost 41 Texans to fatality connected with COVID-19.
Greg Abbott: (22:44)
Importantly as you look at the numbers that we’re talking about, it still remains true that less than 10% of the people who were tested test positive for COVID-19. And just over 11% of those who test positive need to go to the hospital. Most of these numbers, very importantly, were the results of personal interactions of people in the state of Texas before the distancing practices that have gone into place the last couple of weeks. So it is one thing that is clear, when you look around your community like I have here in Austin or as I have seen either videos or photographs from so many different regions across the entire state of Texas, one thing that is clear and that is distancing practices that you all are doing, they’re working.
Greg Abbott: (23:38)
There are fewer people out who can transmit the disease from one person to another, but as President Trump said just two days ago, now is not the time for us to let up in these distancing efforts. Now is the time instead to redouble our efforts to make sure that we do more to rid ourselves of the coronavirus. Two days ago, the president extended the nation’s effort to stop the spread. He extended the deadline until April the 30th and he reiterated the need for social distancing strategies that have proven to be effective. So consistent with the guidelines offered by the president, by the CDC and based upon advice by Dr. Hellerstedt of the Texas State Health Services Department here in Texas as well as Dr. Burke and Dr. Fauci, who advise the president and the United States operation to combat the coronavirus. I am also modifying my previous executive order about social distancing protocols in Texas.
Greg Abbott: (24:52)
To further reduce the spread of COVID-19, to maximize the number of lives that we can save, I’m issuing an executive order GA-14 that establishes or that maximizes the number of lives we can save, I’m establishing essential services and activities protocols. In short, what this provides is that Texans are expected to limit personal interactions that can lead to the spread of COVID-19 while also still having the freedom to conduct daily activities such as going to the grocery store, so long as you are following the presidential standard of good distance practices. This decision that I’m announcing today is based upon data and based upon recommendations by state and federal healthcare authorities. The essential services and activities guidelines, or, I’m sorry, the essential services guidelines are taken from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security guidance on the essential critical infrastructure…
Greg Abbott: (26:03)
… security guidance on the essential, critical infrastructure workforce. The essential activity guidelines are connected to the essential services guidelines. The list of allowed services can be found at www.tdem.texas.gov/essentialservices. I’ll repeat that, but you can find it online also. The list of allowed essential services can be found at W-W-W dot T-D-E-M dot T-E-X-A-S dot G-O-V, backslash essential services.
Greg Abbott: (26:43)
Now, as I mentioned, essential activities are activities that the everyday Texan would be involved in. And the essential activities are kind of obvious, based upon the essential services that are provided. But I want to give you some examples. Essential activities include any activity to access essential services, like going to a grocery store, going to a bank, going to a gas station, getting supplies from a hardware store. Importantly, it includes maintaining physical activity, which is so important at this particular time. Activities like jogging or biking, and hunting and fishing, are permissible, so long as precautions are maintained to reduce the transmission of COVID- 19 and to minimize in-person contact with others.
Greg Abbott: (27:34)
Also importantly, religious activities may continue, but should either be conducted by remote services, or if conducted in person, should be consistent with the guidelines from the president and the CDC that describe appropriate social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. An example of a type of service I’ve heard about that some churches are interested in having, especially at the time of Easter, will be what’s called drive-up services, where a family unit would remain contained in a car that they drive in and would not expose themselves to others. That seems like it would satisfy the criteria that we’re talking about.
Greg Abbott: (28:15)
Importantly, all critical infrastructural will remain operational. Domestic travel is still allowed, so long as it minimizes personal interaction. Governmental entities and businesses will continue providing essential services. Businesses not categorized as essential can continue to operate from home through the use of technology. This order will remain in place through April 30th, 2020. The order provides that schools will continue to remain closed until Monday, May the 4th, unless otherwise extended.
Greg Abbott: (28:56)
As the coronavirus has spread across the land, at a time when lives are literally at risk, Texans continue to rise to the occasion. The efforts of Texans across the entire state have slowed the spread of the coronavirus. But, as the president has made clear, we are not yet done with our response. We cannot forfeit the gains that we have already made by cutting short our task. We’ve come too far to falter now. We have made tremendous strides, but we have not yet reached our destination. We have more to do for Texas to reach its determined destiny. Together, we will persevere through this for another month. Together, we are going to heal our state. Together, we will ensure that the Lone Star State continues to shine.
Greg Abbott: (29:54)
I’m going to pass it over to Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick.
Dan Patrick: (29:59)
Thank you, Governor. A few weeks ago when we were in this room, I talked about 29 million Texans being really on the front line with our healthcare workers, our first responders, the folks that work in the grocery stores. But you’re on the front lines, 29 million Texans, and because you follow the governor’s orders and these guidelines over the last several weeks, per capita, if you look at the death rate in Texas per capita of 29 million people, we’re one of the lowest in the country. But we need to continue that for the rest of April and even be better at that so that we prayerfully and hopefully can keep our numbers low as all of us want. So as the governor said, follow these guidelines, be very smart in all of your travels when you leave home. If you do not have to leave home, do not do so. But this balance that we have struck in Texas and that the governor’s led on has worked to date because 29 million Texans have taken it to heart and we are standing and working together. And so please continue to do that.
Greg Abbott: (31:02)
Thank you. And now speaker Dennis Bonnett.
Dennis Bonnett: (31:06)
Thank you. I’ll begin with a quote from Winston Churchill. He said, “It is not enough that we do our best. Sometimes we have to do what is requested.” We’re requesting Texans to continue to social distance, to continue to stay at home if you are not essential to the infrastructure of Texas. We’re asking you to stick together like all of us and continue this process for 30 more days so that Texas can continue to be the leader in defeating COVID-19. Social distance. Stay home if you’re not essential. Go out and enjoy a walk, enjoy a jog, but be conscious of your friends and your neighbors because we’re all in this together. And the better we do this together, the sooner we will be out of this together. And I appreciate the governor’s leadership in this executive order, and we support him in getting Texas to the other side of this effort. Thank you.
Greg Abbott: (32:11)
Thank you speaker. And now Dr. Hellerstedt.
Dr. Hellerstedt: (32:14)
Thank you governor Abbott. The executive order that the governor has announced is based on very sound public health policies and principles, and this will only increase our ability to slow down the spread of COVID-19 throughout Texas. And that is absolutely the goal. When we look around, we see people are responding. We should have great confidence in that. We should feel a great sense of our own community pride because we are doing the things that we know are going to work, and we should have confidence in that. And I believe that over time we’re going to be able to measure the fact that we’ve had an impact on the rate of spread of COVID-19 in our state. And that’s what everybody wants. We want to stay safe and the measures that are outlined in the executive order are absolutely intended to make that happen. Thank you governor.
Greg Abbott: (33:07)
Thank you doctor. And now chief Nim Kidd.
Nim Kidd: (33:09)
Thank you governor. I’d like to reiterate the directions you’ve given to us. And one is to maintain the health and safety of Texans at the utmost priority. The second is to make sure that our health care workers and first responders have the necessary materials and supplies that they need. And the third is to ensure that our critical infrastructure safely stays up and running. The order today and the tools that we have give us that capability.
Greg Abbott: (33:30)
Thank you. And now the commissioner for the Texas Education Agency, Mike Morath.
Mike Morath: (33:38)
Thank you governor. Our system of public education in Texas serves five and a half million souls, little bundles of energy trying to become the best versions of themselves. And like many parents in Texas, I’m a parent with two young children, and we are wrestling with a new reality. For the parents listening at home, we will work through this. We will get through this together. For a little bit more time, we all must remain apart so that we can come back together. Our educators all over the state of Texas working with love and diligence are doing everything in their power to support parents all over the state of Texas. And we will continue to do so for the duration of this executive order and beyond.
Greg Abbott: (34:22)
Thank you. And let me just close with this. I want to say something to each one of you. Every single one of our fellow Texans is important to our state. We care about your health. We want you to stay healthy. Please do everything you can over the next days, throughout the remainder of April, to make sure that you stay healthy, that when we come out of this cloud of uncertainty or this time period when we are minimizing our contact, that you’ll be healthy, your family will be intact and that we will be reinvigorated once again as the premier state in the United States. With that, we’ll take some questions.
Speaker 3: (35:05)
Sir, you’ve been adamant [inaudible 00:35:11]. Would you classify it as that?
Greg Abbott: (35:17)
Would you repeat the last part of the question?
Speaker 3: (35:19)
Increased restrictions on businesses [inaudible 00:09:25].
Greg Abbott: (35:29)
Well, candidly, when people talk in terms of shelter in place, what shelter in place really means as a term of art, would mean that wherever you may be at a particular time, you need to take shelter immediately right there. Whether you are at your home or some other location or in a roadside ditch, wherever you may be, you’re supposed to take shelter because of something like a tornado would be coming. So shelter in place is not a good term to use for any of these strategies that have been articulated by anybody. Similarly, this is not a stay at home strategy. A stay at home strategy would mean that you have to stay at home. You cannot leave at home under any circumstances. That obviously is not we’ve articulated here. This is a standard that’s based upon essential services and essential activities. Those who are involved in essential services as defined by the United States Homeland Security will be able to continue to provide those essential services.
Greg Abbott: (36:32)
Similarly, those who want to access those essential services like grocery stores or hardware stores or financial facilities have the ability to access them. In order to access them on occasion, that may mean leaving your house, going to wherever it is you need to go. Similarly, as I indicated, personal health and physical activity are important always, but particularly at this point in time. Going for a jog, going biking, other forms of outdoor exercise are very important. However, doing so in groups would be potentially hazardous to your health, so we encourage people to continue to maintain active lifestyles but do so in ways that maintain the distancing practices that have been articulated by the president, by CDC and make sure that you are not exposing yourself to anybody who may have COVID-19.
Speaker 4: (37:34)
How can you enforce an order like this?
Greg Abbott: (37:41)
What the executive order does, it empowers any law enforcement officer in the state of Texas to enforce it. It’s enforceable by either a fine or jail up to 180 days. And once again, any law enforcement officer in the state of Texas can oppose it. And I can say this, if this executive order is violated, commissioner Hellerstedt already has issued his own executive order that exists such that anybody who violates this can be subject to a quarantine order.
Speaker 5: (38:14)
You mentioned that right now, you have enough hospital beds for the patients that we’re seeing. What about when it comes to PPE equipment? We have heard some stories that in Dallas people are being asked to reuse that equipment, things like that.
Greg Abbott: (38:28)
Well, first, I will tell you that we’re so proud of our fellow Texans for stepping up and offering things such as PPE, whether it be masks, whether it be gloves, whether it be gowns or whatever the case may be. Also, I’m proud that a team that’s working with chief Nim Kidd has been doing a terrific job to access all channels to increase our supply of PPE and other items. And I’ll let chief Nim Kidd explain more about that.
Nim Kidd: (38:57)
Thank you, governor. And we’re hearing the same thing. It’s a very valid question. There is no secret that the supply chain has taken quite a shot…
Nim Kidd: (39:03)
… economic question. There is no secret that the supply chain has taken quite a shock, but what we also, when the governor’s been talking to hospitals, CEOs, they’re on a rationing program right now so that they don’t completely run out. Where in a normal days, it might be one mask to one provider per each patient, CDC guidelines and the things that we’re asking all of our responders and healthcare workers to do is to at best as possible try to use one mask per one provider per one shift. Now if the mask gets compromised or gets wet, we want to change that out. I can tell you on the front end how we use it will help determine how much we have. On the back end, our team is working very hard at an international level to find the right personal protective equipment that’s going to come in and be distributed in a very rational and bed count and population-driven manner. We want the most need going to where the resource is needed so that we don’t have any waste at this critical point in time and make sure that we don’t have any shortages either. We’re working very hard around the clock to make that happen.
Greg Abbott: (39:59)
I’ll add also that the governors have once or twice a week conference calls with the president, the vice president, Dr. Birx, sometimes Dr. Fauci, who was on the phone call yesterday, and the point was made yesterday by both the president and the vice president about the additional investments made for additional supplies that are coming. They at the federal level are constantly working on increasing supplies and we are anticipating far greater supplies coming forward, just like what we’ve seen with regard to the massive percentage increase in the number of tests that have been administered.
Speaker 8: (40:37)
Have you seen on a local level [inaudible 00:40:40] stay-at-home orders on businesses that there are [inaudible 00:40:43] statewide and how [inaudible 00:40:47] essential services. Questions arise [inaudible 00:40:51]
Greg Abbott: (41:00)
This executive order has some specific paragraphs, I’m talking about what it does and what it does not do to override local ordinances or county rules. To the extent that any county or local jurisdiction has any rule that’s inconsistent with this executive order, it is overwritten in this executive order. To the extent, for example, that religious services are permitted as specified in this executive order, they cannot be denied by a local ordinance or local order. However, to the extent that there are things that are not mentioned in this executive order, it still gives local jurisdictions the latitude to establish their own rules.
Speaker 8: (41:46)
Local jurisdictions could be stricter in some areas?
Greg Abbott: (41:51)
Yeah. To the extent that it is not overwritten by this executive order, local jurisdictions do still have the flexibility to impose standards they may consider to be more strict.
Speaker 9: (42:02)
Reports today say the CDC is considering telling the public to wear face coverings, is that under consideration in Texas?
Greg Abbott: (42:08)
Would you repeat the first part of the question again?
Speaker 9: (42:10)
Yeah, so the CDC is now considering telling the public to better face coverings and masks, is that something that’s under consideration in Texas?
Greg Abbott: (42:21)
What I will consider is any order or any type of item that is offered up by the CDC as a possible standard to consider will be something we will consider. My prior executive order was based upon CDC-based standards. This current executive order is largely based upon CDC standards as well as some other federal standards. We want to stay connected to the standards that are established by the federal government. We will look into any standards that are established by the CDC for consideration.
Speaker 10: (42:57)
There have been reports that some local officials have not received the same data [inaudible 00:43:01] possible capacity and things like that and they’ve issued their own [inaudible 00:43:05] requirements to have that reported to them [inaudible 00:43:09], is there a plan to enter that data [inaudible 00:43:12] share that with local officials to collaborate on that response for healthcare locally or …
Greg Abbott: (43:18)
We want to achieve the highest level possible of collaboration and sharing of information and we know that’s a two way street. We’ve been mandated or required by the federal government to impose information-gathering standards for the local governments to provide certain information to the state health services for us to be able to, in turn, provide to the CDC. On top of that, I could understand what I’m hearing from you, there may be needs or desires from local governments to get access to certain information that we have. To the extent that’s possible, to the extent we can create information channels to accomplish that goal, I think we should do it. One thing that all of us do, it could be Dr. Hellerstedt, it could be [inaudible 00:05:05], it could be Mike Morath, or it could be any of us, we are constantly visiting with local officials to try to provide them either the resources that they need or the information they need and we want to maximize that to the extent possible.
Speaker 10: (44:19)
With the executive order now saying school closures through early May, does that also apply then to your earlier instructions on going out to eat at restaurants [inaudible 00:44:29]?
Greg Abbott: (44:30)
Yeah, absolutely. Contained in this executive order is the extension of the prohibitions of certain types of businesses from operating altogether. Bars and restaurants, however, want to clarify, we strongly encourage people to utilize restaurants for food, whether it be for pickup or delivery or otherwise. Then we have also outlined some additional businesses in here to make sure that everyone understands they are closed. I’ll list what it says here and that is that people shall avoid eating or drinking at bars, restaurants and food courts or visiting gyms, massage establishments, tattoo studios, piercing studios or cosmetology salons provided, however, that the use of drive through pickup or delivery options for food and drink is allowed and highly encouraged throughout the limited duration of this executive order.
Speaker 11: (45:26)
[inaudible 00:45:26] reporting more cases. There also have been concerns, I guess, for testing and making sure that [inaudible 00:45:37]. Are you at all concerned about having it spread in these facilities across Texas? Can you share any more details on exactly how many tests have been done [inaudible 00:45:47]?
Greg Abbott: (45:50)
Right. First I will tell you is we also listen here. We emphasized the importance of making sure whether there’d be a state-supported living facilities or senior living facilities and we have several different categories in here. I would categorize that as a top priority. Obviously, they often involve what are categorizes as vulnerable populations and so we want to elevate our surveillance and our assessment of those populations as well as our protection of those populations, which is why in this order there are strict limitations on who can and cannot gain access to those facilities. But also, as you may have observed, we have increased testing at some of these facilities and we look to continue that because of the vulnerability. We want to do all we can to protect all lives in Texas, especially those that fall into the categories that you mentioned who are the most vulnerable.
Speaker 12: (46:57)
Are there any plans in place to help the Texas Workforce Commission at this time? Apparently, they are saying that they’re overwhelmed with calls, a lot of people aren’t able to access the website, can’t file claims.
Greg Abbott: (47:04)
I know many of you are seeking unemployment and unemployment insurance claims that you want to get filed. Know that we are adding people by the hundreds to help you respond to those claims. We are dealing with truly an unprecedented number of people who are applying for unemployment insurance. The good news is the money is there. The federal government has done a fabulous job of making sure that the funding will be available for those who are experiencing unemployment at this time, so just know that you’re not going to be denied your claim simply because you’re having a hard time getting through. But know this, and that is, we understand your need and you need for speed. As a result, we have both hired more people on a temporary basis to help respond to these claims as well as bringing in current employees from other agencies or other employment status to help out in this crunch time to accelerate the timetable of response to help you get your claim.
Speaker 13: (47:59)
Is a statewide stay- at-home order still be considered or on the table? What kind of [inaudible 00:48:03] would that require [inaudible 00:48:05]?
Greg Abbott: (48:09)
I will always remain flexible on whatever standard is going to be best for the people of all 254 counties in the state of Texas. Those decisions will always be based in part on what Dr. Hellerstedt says, in part on what [inaudible 00:48:24] says, in part upon what our federal advisers and counterparts say, whether it be the CDC or Dr. Birx, Dr. Fauci and the president, and the vice president, obviously, also. All of them together provide information about what the appropriate standards are and we look to them for that advice and we base our decisions on input from them.
Speaker 14: (48:47)
Greg Abbott: (48:50)
Thank you, all. Thank you, guys.
Speaker 15: (49:04)
Speaker 16: (49:04)
Good job, sir.
Greg Abbott: (49:06)
If I can just [inaudible 00:49:07] here.
Speaker 15: (49:08)
Schools out [inaudible 00:49:10]