Texas National Guard activated, Abbott preps for "exponential increase" in cases

On Tuesday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott activated the state’s National Guard. This is a part of the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. As of now, deployment of the National Guard is not yet necessary. This means that members are being called to active duty but have not been given an assignment. Exemptions to this are first responders and health professionals.

More than 20 other states have made this decision, according to the National Governors Association.

“By activating the Texas National Guard, we are ensuring Texas is prepared as we continue to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Abbott said in a statement. “I am grateful to the men and women of the National Guard for their dedication to serving their fellow Texans, and want to assure the public that this is a precautionary measure to make sure the Texas National Guard has the capability to serve at a moment’s notice where they are needed most.”

In opening remarks during a teleconference with Texas hospitals Tuesday, Abbott also said the number of Texans tested so far has risen to 1,264, up from 439 as of late Monday. He added that Texas has confirmed 64 cases of COVID19 across 19 counties.

Abbott has increased updating Texans on efforts being done to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, as well as updates with assurances that the state’s supply chain is not endangered. He sees no problems with access to supplies and resources.

“Along with our local and federal partners, we are aggressively working to expand our COVID-19 testing capabilities, protect the most vulnerable populations, and ensure that health care professionals and all Texans have access to the supplies and resources they need,” Abbott said in a statement. “We are all in this together and this televised town hall is an opportunity to provide an update on the status of Texas’ response.”

On Monday, the governor said that by the end of the week, all Texans who need a COVID-19 test because of symptoms and with a doctor’s orders will be able to get a test. He estimates 10,000 people would be tested each week. With the increase in testing, Abbott told Texans to be prepared for the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 to exponentially increase. The announcement of increased testing was in response to complaints lodged by those who reported that they were denied testing even with a doctor’s orders. Commercial labs will mostly be used for testing because the state’s network of public health labs requires patients to meet stringent criteria for testing.

The state’s network of public health labs, that includes locations in Dallas County and Austin, does not charge for the tests. The network doubled its testing capacity this week and by automating equipment for a portion of the testing, should be able to test up to 500 people a day, said Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Still, the government labs prioritize patients for testing who show symptoms and have come into contact with an infected person, traveled recently to an area with an outbreak or are at risk of a severe case of the disease.

“Each circumstance is different,” Jennifer Shuford, Infectious Disease Medical Officer at Texas Department of State Health Services, told physicians during a conference call this week. “We do occasionally test outside of our testing criteria for those reasons.”

Officials could not say how many doctors’ requests for patient testing have been declined or directed to private labs.

On Wednesday, Governor Abbott issued a proclamation that would allow local elections to be postponed until November 3.

Abbott’s move allows local governments to move elections scheduled for May 2 to Nov. 3, the date of the presidential general election. Local governments are not mandated to follow the proclamation, but Abbott urged them to heed the advice.

“I strongly encourage local election officials to take advantage of these waivers and postpone their elections until November,” Abbott said in a statement. “Right now, the state’s focus is responding to COVID-19 — including social distancing and avoiding large gatherings. By delaying this election, our local election officials can assist in that effort.”

The Secretary of State said that candidate filings and mail-in ballots sent for the May 2 races will still apply if voting locales make the decision to postpone a local election. Governor Abbott already issued a disaster declaration in Texas so he is within his power to allow postponement of local elections. The Texas primary was not affected, as the state voted on Super Tuesday.

“We’ve dealt with SARS, N1H1, and Ebola. We’ll get through this”, said Abbott Wednesday afternoon at a press conference in Arlington. A second death from COVID-19 has been reported in Texas. The deceased man was 77 years old, living in a senior citizens community.