It’s mostly up to Texans right now to prevent widespread transmission of the coronavirus, the commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services told lawmakers Tuesday.
“Texas must fight back,” Dr. John Hellerstedt said during a meeting at the state Capitol. “[This] is a challenge everyone must take seriously. Texas must show the world how this is done.”
When asked how prepared the state is for the potential spread of the virus, Hellerdstedt said the preparedness “that really matters” is what people can do to prevent transmission in their own communities. For example, he said, people should wash their hands, cover their coughs with their arm and stay home when they are sick.
“If we take steps to protect ourselves, our loved ones, our neighbors and our co-workers, we will all benefit,” he said. “This plan will work if we just do it.”
State Rep. Senfronia Thompson, the chair of the House’s public health committee, asked Hellerstedt about the state’s capabilities in testing for the virus, which has been a growing concern nationwide.
Hellerstedt said his agency, the lead state agency in the matter, is “ramping up” the state’s capacity to do laboratory testing.
He said there are already several public health labs connected to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “up and running” in Austin, El Paso, Lubbock, Dallas and Houston.
“They are capable of performing the tests,” he said.
Hellerstedt said the state can process about 100 tests a day at this point. The lab in Austin alone can currently process about “10 to 20” people a day. He said private labs have also started being able to test for the virus.
When asked if he thought Texas currently has adequate testing available to deal with the potential spread, he said "yes, I do."
Hellerstedt said the health agency is holding daily calls with state health officials and is also frequently in communication with federal agencies like the CDC.
In terms of when certain large gatherings or schools would be closed to try to stop the spread of the virus, Hellerstedt said there'd still be local control – meaning, local health officials would make all the key decisions on what to close and when.
Nim Kidd, chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, said he also believes the state is ready to meet this challenge.
He said the method it will respond with “is not new” – it is the same protocols for natural disasters and terrorist attacks.