Gov. Abbott: Texas prepared, improving hospital capacity and PPE as demand increases

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AUSTIN (Nexstar) — “We start ahead of the curve, but we are sprinting to stay ahead of the curve,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in a Friday update on COVID-19 response from the Texas Capitol.

The Governor explained the state’s current situation in hospital capacity and stock of personal protective equipment — or PPE.

“As of today, this afternoon, more than 55,000 Texans have been tested for COVID-19. 5,478 have tested positive,” Abbott began. There have also been 91 COVID-19-related deaths statewide, the Governor said.

He elaborated on the state’s increase in testing ability, saying that testing in Texas increases by 10% each day. In addition to this, Abbott explained, officials are seeing that the same percentage of COVID-19-positive results remains “pretty constant.”

According to the Governor, only 10% or less of those tested test positive. More than 90% test negative.

Abbott was joined by Dr. John Hellerstedt, Commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, as well as Chief Nim Kidd, of the Texas Division of Emergency Management. Dr. John Zerwas, a former legislator who is now a member of the Governor’s Supply Chain Strike Force also participated.

The Governor next explained the state’s response to stocking up PPE for those who need it.

In past 6 days, Abbott says the Supply Chain Strike Force has provided more than 1.4 million face masks, more than 190,000 face shields, more than two million gloves and more than 160,000 gowns.

Abbott also attributed the state’s increasing preparedness in available hospital beds to previous moves taken by the state — which have resulted in a total of 19,695 available beds. Additionally, there are now 8,741 ventilators available, the Governor said.

During the conference, both doctors reiterated listening to safety and hygiene recommendations — which Abbott agreed with.

The current 19,695 beds available account for about 41% of the total reported beds across the state, which is 47,585.

In a presentation, Dr. Zerwas explained different areas have different availability rates.

Dallas-Fort Worth currently has 33% available, Houston also reporting 33% available, El Paso reporting 63% available, Tyler 37%, Amarillo 51%, Laredo/Rio Grande Valley reporting 38%, Abilene 64%, San Antonio 46% and Austin 53%,

All of these numbers can be found here.

Zerwas explained that all of these numbers are the beds available at Level 5 of the medical surge facilities categories, the lowest level, which is the level Texas is at right now.

  • Level 5: Maintain Staffed Beds. This means supporting hospital systems so they can maintain their current capacity.
  • Level 4: Surge to Physical Beds. This aims to enable hospitals to open all physical beds and double the occupancy, which is part of one of the governor’s executive orders.
  • Level 3: Surge Inside Facility: This signals a transition to non-traditional care areas within the hospital, such as an operating room or PACU to care for COVID-19 patients.
  • Level 2: Surge to Adjacent Building. This would mean opening additional capacity in adjacent medical offices or convalescent centers supported by the hospital.
  • Level 1: Surge to Building of Op. This stage would include beds in alternate care sites in remote areas, such as hotels, motels and pop-up hospitals.

One of these pop-up hospitals has already been set up in Dallas by the Army Corps of Engineers at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, equipped with 250 beds.

Zerwas said others are in the works in San Antonio and possibly Houston.

While the beds are important to have, so are the staff needed to treat these patients.

Zerwas said they are working on a “pipeline” of manpower in order to help with staffing issues, especially in rural areas.

This would help fill in the gaps in case a nurse or doctor tests positive for COVID-19, and need to quarantine themselves, taking them off the front line.

Abbott said volunteers are encouraged to apply to help fill those gaps at www.texas.gov.

Earlier this week, Abbott added to his historic chain of executive orders with a mandate that showed all signs of a statewide stay-at-home order, but he pushed back at calling it that.

“Bottom line is that it achieves the same concept, that is unless you have to be outdoors for any reason whatsoever to survive, like getting groceries, you need to stay home,” he said in a live interview on KXAN Thursday.

“This is not a stay-at-home strategy. A stay-at-home strategy would mean you have to stay at home, you cannot leave home for any circumstances, that obviously is not what we have articulated here,” Abbott said Tuesday. “This is a standard based upon essential services and essential activities.”

In his order, he expanded social distancing guidelines through April 30, closed Texas public schools until at least May 4, and defined “essential” businesses.

Abbott released a public service announcement Wednesday on his latest order. In the video, he said it requires all Texans to stay at home, except to provide essential services or do essential things like going to the grocery store.

To address the backlog of unemployment claims due to coronavirus, the Texas Workforce Commission launched a chat bot to assist Texans in signing up for unemployment insurance.

“We understand your need for speed, we have hired people to help out in this crunch time to accelerate the timetable,” Abbott said Tuesday. His office released additional information Wednesday providing clarity resources for furloughed or terminated employees and workers whose hours have been reduced.

“Just keep calling, keep trying to get in, and you’ll get your benefits,” Abbott said in Thursday’s live interview.

Abbott suspended certain testing requirements for emergency personnel as well as certain licensing regulation, his office announced Thursday.

The state also took action regarding housing assistance for Texans experiencing hardships related to COVID-19, Abbott’s office announced Wednesday.

During the conference on Friday, Abbott commended Texan residents and organizations for their response and help — and asked to keep it coming. “Keep your offers coming, keep your supplies coming. Keep your volunteers coming.”

Abbott encouraged volunteers — specifically doctors and nurses — to apply to help the cause by offering services at the state’s COVID-19 site, which you can find here.

Abbott added, “This is how Texans respond.”

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