AUSTIN, Texas - Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state disaster for all Texas counties on Friday due to the growing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Abbott made the announcement as there were 39 confirmed cases in the state, as of Friday morning. This authorizes the state to use all government resources to combat COVID-19.
One of the unsettling details he revealed is how low the state's testing capability is right now.
“Texas public health labs have the capacity to test 273 people per day currently, with that ability to increase also with private labs coming online,” Gov. Abbott explained.
Abbott said the first drive-thru testing center will open in the next few days in San Antonio. He said that other locations are expected to open as soon as next week in Dallas, Houston and Austin. The goal, he said, is to have people tested there instead of having to go to their healthcare provider.
But he cautioned against a mass rush.
“It will initially be for first responders, healthcare workers, certain high risk patients,” he added.
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Texans looking to get tested should avoid going to the hospital or calling 911, unless it is an emergency.
Texas health officials said people who feel like they need to be tested should contact their doctor, then the doctor should contact the health system. The patient is more likely to be tested if the person has COVID-19 symptoms, has traveled recently to area with outbreak, or has underlying conditions.
Abbott said 220 Texans have been tested for COVID-19, so far, by either a state lab or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Another 75 Texans are currently being tested.
“We have essentially two mechanisms for people to get tested. One is through public health, and private lab system,” Commissioner of DSHS Dr. John Hellerstedt said.
Gov. Abbott said COVID-19 testing fees should be waived to the public.
The declaration also limits visitation hours and access at a variety of locations, from jails to nursing homes.
“I am directing state agencies to restrict visitation at nursing home, state sponsored living centers, hospitals, and daycares,” he said.
Abbott also urged people to remain calm and avoid overpurchasing of items at stores. Toilet paper and cleaning supplies have become increasingly difficult to find.
“There is absolutely no need to go out and stock up on supplies," Abbott said.
Abbott also said AT&T would waive its data caps on internet service so people who have plans with limits or penalties can work from home without financial burden. Abbott ordered state agencies to allow people to work from home as needed during the pandemic.
Earlier in the day, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson issued his own local state of emergency.
It forbids any public gathering of 500 people or more for the next week. That’s similar to the countywide declaration, and makes exceptions for workplaces, malls, and other venues where groups can be divided up.
“Given that we now have evidence of community spread of the coronavirus in the city of Dallas, we must act now,” Mayor Johnson said.
Venues, like the Myerson and Perot Museum, quickly canceled scheduled events.
The city's master emergency operations plan is now in effect.
City of Dallas Director of Emergency Management Rocky Vaz said the city can operate with up to 40-percent of its workforce, if need be.
The message from leaders at the state and local level: Stay home and stay calm.
“Get the questions that can be answered on the phone, take responsibility and not potentially expose others,” said Dr. Marshal Isaacs, emergency medical director for the city of Dallas.
The Dallas City Council will hold a special meeting on Wednesday.
They'll receive a joint briefing from city and county leaders.
Councilmembers will then decide whether to extend the mayor's declaration.
The public is asked not to attend.
Councilmembers are encouraged to teleconference.
Denton County Judge Andy Eads also issued a local disaster declaration, along with officials in Tarrant County and Fort Worth.
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