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Gov. Abbott Issues Disaster Declaration Amid COVID-19 Outbreak

Gabriel C. Pérez

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott formally declared a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

"I am at this moment declaring a state disaster for all counties in the state of Texas," he said at a news conference Friday. 

Texas currently has 39 confirmed cases of the disease caused by the new coronavirus, Abbott said. Public health officials announced this morning that there are two presumed cases of COVID-19 in the Austin area; those cases are awaiting confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

"We made it through SARS. We made it through Ebola. We made it through H1N1," Abbott said. "And we're going to make it through this together, as well."

The governor said the state currently has the capacity to test 270 people daily, but he expects a disaster declaration could boost that capacity to test "thousands" by next week.

State health officials announced the opening of a drive-through testing facility in San Antonio on Friday, and Abbott said the state is working with officials in Austin and Dallas to open similar facilities by next week. Those drive-through testing locations will, at least initially, prioritize first-responders and high-risk patients, the governor said.

The state currently has 10 centers with the ability to test patients for COVID-19. So far, 220 Texans have been tested for the disease.

The governor said low-income Texans who may not be able to afford testing can call 2-1-1 to find a low- or no-cost option for testing. Earlier this week, the Texas Department of Insurance urged health care providers to waive fees associated with testing and treatment related to COVID-19.

The governor also urged Texans to work from home, to avoid going out if they feel sick and to not hoard supplies as retailers grapple with the wave of customers buying supplies to prepare for the prospect of sheltering in place.

"Hoarding is neither necessary nor productive," Abbott said.

State Health Services Director Dr. John Hellerstedt said health officials hope preemptive measures like working from home, extending breaks for public schools and practicing good hygiene will help "flatten the curve" of the outbreak and avoid a spike in cases statewide.

"The basic strategy is to make sure that we slow down the progression of that infection as much as we possibly can in absolutely every community in Texas," he said. "And so that's why the things that we're talking about are so important."

This post has been updated. 

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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