Gov. Greg Abbott will provide an update on the state’s response to COVID-19 in the Capitol auditorium at 2 p.m.
You can watch it here:
It is the first news conference by the governor since Friday, when he announced executive orders to ease some of the most severe restrictions imposed to combat the spread of the coronavirus, and named a Strike Force to Open Texas to advise him on the best steps to restart the economy.
The Strike Force Is being chaired by Austin banker James Huffines, a former University of Texas regent, with Mike Toomey as its chief operating officer. Toomey, a former chief of staff to Govs. Rick Perry and Bill Clements, has taken a leave of absence from Texas Lobby Group to assume the new position.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, Attorney General Ken Paxton and Comptroller Glenn Hegar will serve as consulting members of the strike force.
Abbott named four medical doctors to the group, led by Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner John Hellerstedt, who will develop COVID-19 testing and tracing practices. Abbott also named 39 business leaders, mostly titans of business and industry, to a special advisory council to the task force.
The governor said he would announce more moves to reopen Texas on April 27 and that “one of the things that we will consider is the elimination of the stay-at-home policy,” contained in a March 31 executive order, which only permitted Texans to leave home to perform essential services or activities, such as exercising and buying groceries.
“Together, we can bend the curve. Together we can overcome this pandemic. We can get folks back to work. We can adopt safe strategies that prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Abbott said. “And, step by step, we will open Texas.”
“Now, in opening Texas, we must be guided by data and by doctors,” Abbott said. “We must put health and safety first.”
But, in an interview with Tucker Carlson on Fox Monday night, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has been supportive of the governor’s leadership, expressed the restiveness about the slow pace of getting back to normal expressed by more and more voices on the right.
“I’m thankful that we are now, finally, beginning to open up Texas and other states because it’s been long overdue,” Patrick said.
On Saturday, chanting, “Let us work!”, “Put this on TV!” and “Fire Fauci!” about 300 protesters swarmed together, defying health experts’ warnings about social proximity, at a “You Can’t Close America Rally” on the south steps of the Capitol.
The rally against stay-at-home orders was heavily promoted by InfoWars — Alex Jones’ Austin-based conspiracy website — and one of its hosts, Owen Shroyer.
Yet, even as Abbott eases restrictions meant to stymie the spread of the coronovirus, Texas is falling far short of what medical experts say are necessary benchmarks for testing, an American-Statesman analysis found.
In Travis County, for example, about 8,400 tests had been administered through April 13, or about 7 out of every 1,000 residents. In Hays County, the rate is 6 out of 1,000; and in Williamson County, it’s only 4 out of 1,000.
Some counties appear to have had few, if any, tests administered — suggesting that politicians may have little grasp on the movement of the virus through vast rural areas. At least 65 Texas counties, as of April 13, had five or fewer tests administered. At least 26 of those counties had zero tests administered.
In an April 7 paper titled “A National COVID-19 Surveillance System: Achieving Containment,” released by Duke University, a team of researchers — led by Mark McClellan, now a medical adviser on Abbott’s Strike Force To Open Texas — suggests the top criterion for achieving containment is a “widespread diagnostic testing system,” especially “those with exposures or at higher risk of contracting or transmitting the virus (health care workers, those in congregate settings).”
The paper also calls for ongoing surveillance and tracing mechanisms to track people who have coronavirus-related symptoms, as well as widespread testing to detect people who have built up immunity.