This is a developing story and will be updated.
AUSTIN — A North Texas company will make 2 million face masks a week for use within the state, helping to address a shortage of personal protective gear amid the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Greg Abbott said.
Prestige Ameritech will add a shift manned in part by roughly 50 members of the Texas National Guard, Abbott announced Wednesday.
“At a time in need, especially for the face masks that are in such high demand, we needed an automatic supply that we would be able to rely upon, both immediately, but in an ongoing way,” Abbott said. “And they are capable of providing exactly that.”
The North Richland Hills company is America’s No. 1 maker of hospital surgical masks. Earlier this month, Prestige Ameritech was operating only weekday shifts and producing up to 600,000 masks daily, The Dallas Morning News previously reported. A request for comment from the owner was not immediately returned.
The announcement comes as medical professionals nationwide have struggled to get access to supplies, such as masks, gowns, and face shields, that protect against COVID-19.
Tom Banning, CEO of the Texas Academy of Family Physicians, applauded the news, but pointed out the state last year used 1.5 billion masks.
“Based on the speed at which COVID-19 spreads and how virulent the disease is, we will likely need significantly more than the 1.5 billion Texas used last year, some have estimated Texas will need 3.2 billion masks through this pandemic,” he said in a statement.
It’s not clear whether the state will buy the masks directly from the company or make the supplies available for purchase to Texas hospitals, nursing homes and other medical facilities. The cost is also unknown. A spokesman for Abbott did not immediately respond to questions.
Abbott also announced Wednesday there are signs the virus’s spread in Texas may be slowing, and he said testing will continue to expand.
Walgreens will be rolling out drive-through coronavirus testing in the state that can see up to 3,000 people each day, he said. It’s not clear where sites will be located.
The state’s social distancing efforts are working to slow the spread of the disease, Abbott said. It now takes twice as long for the number of positive coronavirus cases in Texas to double, compared to two weeks ago.
Still, it’s too early to predict when the state may experience a peak, said John Hellerstedt, the Commissioner of the Department of State Health Services.
“We’re headed in the right direction… but we really want to gather more data so that we are confident in the trends,” he said. “I don’t think anyone wants us to act rashly or prematurely and have a resurgence of new cases.”
The state has tested nearly 100,000 people for COVID-19 to date and over 9,300 came back positive. Almost 1,500 Texans have been hospitalized with the disease, which had claimed the lives of 175 people by Wednesday afternoon, said Abbott, a two-term Republican.
Abbott offered few indications about when the state’s economy may reopen. A statewide stay at home order — that allows only “essential businesses” to remain open — is in effect for the rest of the month.
In making any decision, Abbott said he will rely on standards issued by President Trump and the U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, but cautioned they are not “one size fits all.”
“I would like to see the recharging of the business sector to happen as quickly as possible for as many businesses as possible in alignment with the standards set by the CDC and the president,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Texas Workforce Commission has received more calls in the past five weeks than in all of 2019, Abbott said. To help with the volume, roughly 250 House and Senate staffers are helping to process unemployment benefits claims.
On Tuesday Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced a task force to begin coming up with recommendations for restarting the economy, once stay at home orders are lifted. The group will be led by Brint Ryan, CEO of the Dallas-based tax consulting firm Ryan.