Statewide NewsGov. Abbott Declares State of Emergency as Coronavirus Spreads to Austin and Dallas

As Texas ramps up efforts to fight the coronavirus, Gov. Abbott declares a state of emergency enhancing the state's ability to direct resources to hard-hit areas.
March 13, 2020
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Gov. Abbott Declares State of Disaster as Texas Continues to Fight COVID-19

At a press conference on Friday, Gov. Greg Abbott, joined by Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) Chief Nim Kidd and Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt, declared a state of emergency as the coronavirus continues to spread.

“I am at this moment, declaring a state disaster for all counties in the state of Texas,” Gov. Abbott said.

According to Abbott, the state of disaster declaration authorizes the use of all available and necessary state resources to prepare and respond as needed.

Among other provisions, the declaration also gives TDEM the authority to utilize personnel, grants Attorney General Ken Paxton the authority to take action as necessary to prevent so-called “price-gouging,” and waives any law that prohibits the state’s ability to respond to COVID-19.

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Additionally, Gov. Abbott announced restricted access to nursing homes, daycares, and other facilities with vulnerable populations.

Prisons, jails, and juvenile justice facilities will also have restricted access for the time being. 

According to Gov. Abbott, state agencies have been preparing to fight the coronavirus since January by building on previously established contingency plans.

“From the very start, the state of Texas anticipated the possibility of community spread of COVID-19,” Gov. Abbott said.

He continued by saying that many health providers have agreed to waive healthcare costs associated with coronavirus testing and treatment with options for individuals who are uninsured.

Regarding public education, Gov. Abbott said state agencies have been working closely with local school districts to prepare appropriate response plans that include providing food provision for children who require it should the districts be forced to shut down.

To date, Texas has 39 confirmed cases, and 220 individuals have been tested in public health labs or by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

According to Abbott, Texas public health labs have the capacity to test 273 people per day with plans to increase these capabilities. 

Private labs are also stepping in and bolstering the ability to test individuals.

Gov. Abbott announced a breakthrough by San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and other officials in establishing the first drive-thru testing facility in Texas.

Plans are currently underway to implement these drive-thru facilities in Dallas as well with an anticipated time frame of completion at next week or the week after.

Citing empty shelves seen at grocery stores across the state, Gov. Abbott said, “There is absolutely no need to go out and stockpile supplies.”

“We’re going to make it through this… We made it through SARS, we made it through Ebola, We made it through H1N1,” Gov. Abbott said.

Two Confirmed Cases of COVID-19 in Austin, Austin ISD and UT joining growing list of Texas schools to cancel or suspend classes.

On Friday, public health officials in Austin announced the first two confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Central Texas.

Both cases are reportedly not community spread by way of an unknown infected individual, and the two confirmed cases do not appear to be connected to one another. 

One patient, a male in his 60s, is reportedly in critical condition after being transferred to the Austin metropolitan area from a rural area of Texas.

The second patient is reportedly a woman in her 30s who is believed to have contracted the virus from an infected individual in the Houston-area. She is in stable condition and currently in isolation at her home.

Additionally, the Austin Independent School District (ISD) and the University of Texas at Austin announced their decision to cancel class on Friday, March 13.

Houston ISD, Fort Bend ISD, Allen ISD, and Plano ISD are among other major school districts in the Houston and Dallas areas that have announced their decision to suspend classes. 

Rice University in Houston and Trinity University in San Antonio have canceled in-person classes for the remainder of the year, opting instead for online teaching.

Other Texas universities, including Baylor University, Texas Tech, and Texas Christian University among others, have extended spring break as a result of the virus.

Last Friday, Mayor Steve Adler declared a local state of disaster for the city of Austin and announced the cancelation of South by Southwest, an annual tech, art, and film festival that generates an average of $350 million for the city.

Dallas County Declares Local State of Disaster

On Thursday evening, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins declared a local disaster for public health emergency after five more cases of the coronavirus were confirmed in the area. The total number of confirmed cases in Dallas County is now eight.

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson also issued a proclamation declaring a state of emergency for the City of Dallas. 

“Given the evidence of community spread of COVID-19, this was a necessary step that gives the City the authority to do what it needs to do to protect public health, safety, and welfare,” Mayor Johnson said.

Mayor Johnson moved to ban large public gatherings to 500 people with certain exceptions. The order is effective through March 20. 

According to public health officials, one of the five most recent cases in Dallas County was contracted by an individual who had not traveled recently, indicating that the virus is spreading in the community.

“It is community spread… it is incumbent on all of us… to do everything we can to keep that from accelerating,” Jenkins said at a press briefing. 

Jenkins continued by discouraging gatherings of 250 people or more when possible. 

On March 11, prior to the City of Dallas’ declaration, Southern Methodist University (SMU) issued a statement informing students of its decision to remain open, despite the decision of many major universities in Texas to cancel in-person classes or extend Spring Break.

“Many of you have asked why SMU has not chosen to move all classes online or extend Spring Break, as have some universities. You should know that SMU has many partners in our decision-making process, including the City of Dallas and Dallas County,” the statement reads.

“If Dallas County health officials were to recommend the University alter its operations to preserve community health, we would follow that recommendation. And should a member of the SMU population test positive… we would also need to reassess the University’s operations,” the statement then continues. 

The next day, the university reversed its decision after the city’s announcement saying, “Due to rapidly changing issues related to the spread of the Coronavirus, SMU will move students from classrooms to online instructions for the first two weeks following Spring Break, beginning Monday, March 23.”

SMU says that normal operations are expected to resume on April 6. 

As the community fights the spread of the coronavirus, Texas DSHS is encouraging everyone to:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water often
  • Avoid touching your face, including eyes, nose, and mouth
  • If you’re sick, stay home
  • Cover coughs and sneezes
  • Disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects, including phones and computers.

For more information, visit dshs.texas.gov/coronavirus.

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Sarah McConnell

Sarah McConnell

Sarah McConnell is a reporter for The Texan. Previously, she worked as a Cyber Security Consultant after serving as a Pathways Intern at the Department of Homeland Security – Citizenship and Immigration Services. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Texas A&M as well as her Master of Public Service and Administration degree from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M. In her free time, Sarah is an avid runner, jazz enthusiast, and lover of all things culinary.

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