Gov. Greg Abbott covered a lot of ground in his virtual town hall meeting Thursday night, but he had an overarching message about efforts to fight the new coronavirus in Texas: Do your part.
“Your public safety and health is at risk. We need your collaboration. If you do this with us for the next two weeks, we’ll make sure we get through this and continue to make Texas the best state in the U.S.,” he said at the event hosted by Nexstar Media Group.
Abbott offered information on the coronavirus pandemic and discussed his executive orders to close schools, limit gatherings to fewer than 10 people, and to ban dining in at restaurants for the next two weeks.
“This time next week, there will be thousands of people who will have tested positive. In two weeks, probably tens of thousands,” Abbott said.
Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt reminded viewers of the virus’ main symptoms: fever, cough and shortness of breath. He also said to avoid people who have tested positive, traveled recently to places with many cases or who have been hospitalized with a respiratory illness.
If you think you have COVID-19, call your doctor.
More public health testing sites will be added, and more private labs will process tests, Hellerstedt said.
Hellerstedt said his department is trying to get medical professionals all the supplies they need.
He also warned that warmer weather will not get rid of the coronavirus.
When or if needed, Abbott can call on the National Guard.
“The National Guard has not been deployed yet, just activated, they are prepared,” he said.
Everything seemed to be on the table during the town hall meeting. The schools, testing, mental health, hospital beds, funerals — Abbott answered an array of questions. RA News gathered a variety of questions asked via Twitter, and you can read them here.
Will students get to move on to the next grade level or graduate from high school?
“Yes. Local school systems are empowered to make those decisions,” said Mike Morath, Texas Education Agency Commissioner. “STAAR has been removed from consideration.”
He said parents and students can expect their teachers to check in regularly while they are away from school buildings.
“Our school systems are equipped with low-tech packages” for students without broadband access, Morath said.
Morath suggested Texans use MealFinder, a searchable online map, to help parents with students find meals being offered by their local school district while schools are temporarily closed.
Health and Hospital Beds
People who need a coronavirus test will get one, Abbott said.
“Regardless of your insurance status, you will get testing for it and treatment for it,” he said.
Abbott, though, is not interested in expanding Medicaid at this time.
Will Texas have enough hospitals after some have closed in recent years?
Abbott said he has spoken with CEOs about options for beds, medical tents, recently closed hospitals and hotel rooms.
“We’ll look at all options to see what is necessary,” Abbott said.
“We want to slow the rate of coronavirus growth so we have enough hospital beds for those who have it.” Hellerstedt said.
What about Texans’ mental health?
“People can find their local mental health authority by calling 211,” said Stephanie Muth, Deputy Executive Commissioner for Medicaid & CHIP services. “We’ve been working with those authorities to use telephonic services and telemedicine to safely get those services.”
Some industries are feeling the virus’ impact, and Abbott discussed possible government responses briefly.
“Unemployment insurance will be available.” He said he waived certain regulations to help expedite the process.
Small business loans will also be available.
Would he raise taxes? Abbott said no.
Would he use the rainy day fund?
“The appropriate time to tap into the rainy day fund is when we know the full extent of the coronavirus crisis,” Abbott said.
The governor would have to call a special session for that.
When asked about the incarcerated population’s vulnerability to coronavirus, Abbott stated the reason for a visitor restriction policy is to not expose inmates to the disease. Abbott said there are strategies in place for inmates and staff.
What if a loved one of yours dies?
Abbott suggests that you try to limit the number of on-site mourners, religious personnel and others to 10 or fewer people.
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is encouraging funeral homes to accommodate via video,” he said.
The governor himself was tested for COVID-19, and he said the results were negative. He tried to sound encouraging.
“Together we made it through Harvey. Together we’ll make it through the coronavirus.”