Governor Abbott Issues Disaster Declaration for State

  • Drive-through testing will come to Dallas soon
  • Will be available to high-risk patients and first-responders first
  • Uninsured could be tested for free if they meet strict guidelines

Although San Antonio is the first to get drive-through COVID-19 testing, Dallas will be next – likely next week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told reporters Friday after issuing a statewide disaster declaration.

Abbott said there are 39 cases of novel coronavirus in the state currently, not including the people transferred to Lackland Air Force Base last month. The governor said that 220 have been tested by either state labs or the Centers for Disease Control, and about 75 are currently being tested. The governor said that the state was going to see an uptick of testing availability.

People without health insurance could be tested for free if they meet strict criteria for testing, or they could opt to pay for private testing.

But that does come with a caveat – there is still a finite amount of testing capability statewide, which means that public health officials still need to be judicious with their use until supply catches up with demand. The current capacity is about 270 individuals per day.

“We aren’t able to test people who do not have symptoms,” Hellerstedt said.

Now that Abbott has issued the declaration, it will be in effect for at least 30 days, according to state law. In addition to setting up drive-through testing centers, the governor can also direct supplies, equipment, and even facilities to help address public health needs. It will also allow the state to begin the work of potentially recouping state and local costs for addressing the outbreak from the federal government.

“During a state of disaster and the following recovery period, the governor is the commander in chief of state agencies, boards, and commissions having emergency responsibilities. To the greatest extent possible, the governor shall delegate or assign command authority by prior arrangement embodied in appropriate executive orders or plans, but this chapter does not restrict the governor’s authority to do so by orders issued at the time of the disaster,” state law reads.

The governor was joined by Texas Division of Emergency Management Nim Kidd and Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner John Hellerstedt. All three stressed that adopting a social-distancing policy and frequent handwashing would do much to cut down on the transmission of the virus.

“If folks do what we are asking them to do, absolutely we will flatten that curve,” Hellerstedt said.

Abbott said that the disaster declaration also asked that visitors be restricted at nursing homes and state prisons. He asked that companies allow as many of their employees as possible work from home.

“I’m also directing state agencies to restrict visitation at prisons, jails and juvenile justice facilities,” Abbott said. “My staff remains in constant contact with all of those facilities as they work on establishing best practice protocols.”

Abbott said that because so many will be working – and in the case of students, learning – from home, he also knows that internet bandwidth may be an issue. He said the state is working with providers to improve connectivity and address this, and applauded AT&T. The company already announced it would waive data usage caps during this time.

All three officials stressed that while it was concerning, and they did hope that people take the precautions recommended seriously, calm was still needed.

“There is absolutely no need to go out and stockpile supplies,” Abbott said, adding that grocery stores are able to restock shelves. “This isn’t the type of situation like where we see with an oncoming hurricane … There will be plenty available.”

“This is not a death sentence,” he added. “Working together, we will make it through this.”

Texas is among more than 20 states that have declared an emergency because of COVID-19. Late Thursday night, both Dallas County and the City of Dallas each issued their own declarations, and prohibited gatherings of more than 500 people.

For our ongoing coverage of the coronavirus, click here.

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, deputy editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at bethany.erickson@peoplenewspapers.com.

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