AUSTIN — President Trump on March 25 issued a major disaster declaration for the state of Texas as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Trump’s action came at the request of Gov. Greg Abbott, who is seeking additional federal assistance to combat the disease. In recent days Abbott issued multiple waivers of state laws to remove barriers limiting the response to the pandemic. He also activated the Texas National Guard to be prepared to assist with response efforts.
Abbott said the president’s declaration “opens up new sources of funding for individual and public assistance that will help Texas respond to this public health emergency and protect public health and safety.”
Federal aid is earmarked to overcome current and prospective shortages of personal protective gear, medical equipment, testing supplies, hospital beds and medical personnel.
Meanwhile, Abbott has ordered the temporary closure of in-person school operations and prohibited non-critical visits to nursing homes, retirement or long-term care facilities. He also has mandated that Texans avoid:
— Social gatherings of more than 10 people;
— Dine-in eating and drinking at bars or restaurants; and
— Gyms or massage establishments.
On March 28, the Texas Department of State Health Services reported 25,483 people had been tested so far for COVID-19 in Texas. Of those, 2,552 tests were reported as positive and there had been 34 deaths.
Quarantine orders issued
Gov. Abbott on March 26 issued an executive order mandating a self-quarantine for individuals traveling to Texas as their final destination through an airport from the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut area or from the city of New Orleans.
Abbott said the order, consistent with the guidance of Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, would be enforced by the Texas Department of Public Safety. Self-quarantines will last 14 days or for the duration of a person’s presence in Texas, whichever is shorter.
Abbott said the executive order does not apply to people traveling in connection with military service, emergency response, health response or critical-infrastructure functions, as may be determined by the Texas Division of Emergency Management.
The executive order would remain in force until he modifies, amends, rescinds or supersedes it, Abbott said.
On March 29, Abbott issued another executive order that expands the quarantine mandate to include air travelers arriving from the states of California, Louisiana and Washington and the cities of Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit and Miami.
A person in quarantine is prohibited from allowing visitors into or out of the designated quarantine location — other than a physician or healthcare provider — and is prohibited from visiting any public spaces.
The following are few of many announcements posted last week by the governor’s office relating to actions to combat COVID-19:
— Texas received a $16.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Community Living to provide meals for older adults. The grant was part of a $250 million outlay authorized by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act signed into law by President Trump on March 18.
— Texas received $36.9 million from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as part of the state's initial allotment of funding from the first emergency coronavirus bill passed by Congress. The Texas Department of State Health Services will distribute $19.5 million to 43 local health departments to aid in their COVID-19 response, including $1.75 million for Dallas County, Tarrant County and the San Antonio Metro Health District. Remaining funds will be used by DSHS to support operations in areas of the state not covered by local health departments and for statewide response activities.
— Gov. Abbott and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission on March 25 requested permission from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow Texas Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program recipients to use their benefits at take out and drive-thru restaurants throughout the state. If approved, this action would open up another food source for 3.2 million Texans as the effort to combat COVID-19 continues.
— Gov. Abbott on March 24 directed the Texas Department of State Health Services to issue guidance allowing restaurants to sell bulk retail products from restaurant supply chain distributors directly to consumers for home consumption, provided that such foods are in their original condition, packaging, or presented as received by the restaurant.
Agencies to stay on job
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on March 25 issued a letter explaining that political subdivisions may not restrict state agency personnel, agents and contractors from providing governmental services, including travel to and from work.
Paxton said the authoritative document is Gov. Abbott’s Executive Order GA-08, which says, “all critical infrastructure will remain operational, and government entities and businesses will continue providing essential services.”
Local government regulations must remain consistent with the state constitution and laws, Paxton added.
Ed Sterling is director of member services for the Texas Press Association.