AUSTIN (Nexstar) — On Wednesday, Gov. Greg Abbott, during his almost-every-other-day press briefings, announced Walgreens will add drive-thru testing for COVID-19, among other updates on the state’s efforts to combat the pandemic.
The press conference took place in the Capitol’s auditorium, where the Governor was joined by a familiar trio: Dr. John Hellerstedt, Commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services; Chief Nim Kidd, who heads the Texas Division of Emergency Management; and Dr. John Zerwas, the lawmaker-turned University of Texas administrator who is a member of Abbott’s supply chain strike force.
During his press conference, Abbott announced that Walgreens in Texas will soon be able to provide drive-thru testing for COVID-19. The pharmacies will be utilize the Abbott Labs 15-minute response test kits and will potentially be able to perform about 3,000 tests per day.
Abbott said at some point either Wednesday or Thursday Texas will pass the 100,000 mark of people tested for the coronavirus. He said 9,107 Texans have tested positive, 1,491 are hospitalized and 175 have died. Abbott also made it clear that if not for social distancing those numbers would be much higher.
A consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic has been an increase in unemployment in Texas. Abbott said that the Texas Workforce Commission reported a record-setting spike ever in calls to its benefits claims line. This spike happened on March 26, with about 1.7 million calls received in one day. The average number of calls in a day for TWC is 120,000.
Abbott also went into to detail about the large focus on the supply chain during the COVID-19 pandemic. “We are very proud about the success the Supply Chain Strike Force has been able to achieve, and the stats are amazing.” Abbott said this week the team assembled and distributed around 5 million masks across the state. Additionally, he said 21,066 beds, 2,225 ICU beds and 7,686 ventilators available in Texas hospitals.
Abbott also discussed two businesses here in Texas that will be helping contribute to the state’s stockpile of PPE.
Prestige Ameritech will be running a 24-hour operation at its headquarters near Fort Worth. The Governor said it will be staffed in part by members of the Texas National Guard, and will produce 2 million masks per week.
In San Antonio, Abbott said Reyes Automotive, a supplier for Toyota, will start producing 5,000 face shields per day for healthcare workers in Texas.
Dr. Zerwas said there is one encouraging point of information the state is seeing: the rate at which coronavirus cases are doubling.
“In mid-March, about the time that the Governor was executing his orders, that was three days. And today in mid-April, it’s about six days. And so you’ve seen that number increased two-fold,” Dr. Zerwas said.
Dr. Hellerstedt said the numbers are good signs, but not enough to predict when Texas could see its peak number of cases.
“These are signs that we are, again, not accelerating as quickly as we had before, but we really want to gather more data so that we’re confident in the trends,” Dr. Hellerstedt explained.
Dr. Hellerstedt also answered a question about how the state is tracking data like ethnicity. “The ethnicity type of data in the reporting that we get. And the truth is that that doesn’t always feel that it’s included in the data that we received,” he explained, “So the data we have that relates to ethnicity is incomplete. But we are trying to make that better and refine it and hope that we will have something that is reflective of the truth that we could report in the future.”
Some local entities are tracking that data, like in Houston, where the city reported seven of the 11 people who died from COVID-19 in the city were African-American.
When asked if the Governor would consider mandating local governments and health authorities report that information to the state, Aboott said, “If it is a recommendation to me, by Dr. Hellerstedt, then I will do it.”
Dr. Hellerstedt said some fields in the forms filled out might be missing, which could include ethnicity, because the important part is just knowing there is a postitive case of COVID-19.
“Remember that all of our folks out in the field are epidemiologists and people who are getting this are working full speed. They’re working around the clock to do it. And they’re doing the very best that they can, in some cases those fields are missing. But we have a confirmation that there is a case of COVID-19,” Hellerstedt said.
The Governor’s office announced additional moves on Tuesday, including temporary closure of state parks. His team also announced flexibility for dialysis patients through the adoption of a rule by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and shared that Abbott had waived some pharmacy rules. Pharmacy technicians can now accept prescription drug orders over the phone, which according to Abbott’s office, is a responsibility typically reserved for pharmacists. Under the Governor’s waiver, pharmacy technicians can also “transfer or receive a transfer of original prescription information on behalf of patients.”
In his Monday briefing, Abbott said he felt “more confident now than I ever have” about personal protective equipment supply numbers in the state, which he added was “more than enough right now.”
On Monday afternoon, Abbott teased a future announcement relating to additional personal protective equipment.
“I don’t want to get ahead of things, because I don’t want to announce it until I have it in hand,” he said. “But knowing the information I have, and the visibility of what’s coming in, Texas looks to be very well-supplied.”
Abbott, Hellerstedt, Kidd and Zerwas held a press conference April 3 to update Texans on hospital bed capacity
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the Republican leader of the Texas Senate, who has been an outspoken advocate of returning Texans back to work as soon as possible, established a business task force to make recommendations on kickstarting the state economy once Abbott and President Donald Trump announce businesses can begin to re-open. Patrick also announced more than 200 senate staffers would assist the Texas Workforce Commission in fielding calls from Texans filing unemployment claims.
As Texas students continue online learning, the Texas Education Agency has launched a website with resources for parents, students, teachers and school districts. The Texas State Teachers Association has asked Abbott to keep schools closed for the rest of the school year.
Tuesday also brought a lawsuit from the Texas Democratic Party against the Governor, Texas Secretary of State, Travis County Clerk and Bexar County Elections Administrator, arguing state law allows for any voter to cast a mail-in ballot under the circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic.
Governor Abbott said he had not seen the lawsuit, but said his executive order already in place should be enough, and does not want to take away Texans’ legal right to vote in person.
“There is a state law in the state of Texas that allows people to vote in person,” Abbott explained, “And we need to try to conduct elections consistent with that. Hence, the superior strategy is exactly what I ordered in an executive order. And that is to move elections that were scheduled for May to July, hoping that by the time we get to July, they’ll be more accommodating for people that have the option to have a person.”
Watch the full press conference below: