AUSTIN (Nexstar) – As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases rises in Texas, so do concerns about the impact of the virus. People have questions about the risk to their health, but also about how the evolving situation could affect their jobs, their finances, their day-to-day lives.
In recent days, Texans have seen long lines and empty shelves at grocery stores, school closings, and scores of canceled events. Friday, with that backdrop, Gov. Greg Abbott declared a statewide disaster in Texas.
“This will authorize the use of all available and necessary state government resources to prepare and respond to COVID-19,” Abbott said during a Friday news conference.
The governor directed state agencies to restrict visitation at nursing homes, hospitals, and state-sponsored living centers. “We want to make sure that we do all we can to prevent this vulnerable senior population or others in hospitals from being contracted with COVID-19,” Abbott said.
Abbott also ordered state agencies to provide “flexible work and telework policies” to employees. He praised AT&T for “waiving internet data usages” for customers who do not have unlimited home internet access.
The governor also called on Texans to stop hoarding essential items. “There is absolutely no need to go out and stockpile supplies,” Abbott said. He said the state has been working with grocers and retailers to make sure Texans have access to the supplies that they need.
“I want to assure Texans that we’re going to make it through this,” Abbott said.
“We made it through SARS. We made it through Ebola. We made it through H1N1,” the governor continued. “We’re going to make it through this together as well.
Texas researchers work to develop vaccine
While public health officials work to contain and mitigate coronavirus cases, researchers in Texas are racing to create a vaccine to prevent the virus.
“We have three candidates in development,” Dr. James Le Duc told state lawmakers last week at a hearing. Le Duc is the director of the Galveston National Laboratory. His teams are working with other researchers in the state, including those at the University of Texas at Austin.
“Our ultimate goal is to try and create a pan-coronavirus vaccine,” said Dr. Jason McLellan, a molecular bioscientist at UT Austin. He’s been studying coronaviruses since the SARS outbreak in 2002.
He’s aiming to create a vaccine with a broad effect. “That would protect you not just from SARS or MERS, but could work broadly and perhaps even protect people from coronaviruses that haven’t even emerged into the population yet.” McLellan said.
Le Duc says the Galveston laboratory has the tools to test any vaccine researchers like McLellan develop. “This kind of partnership is critical,” Le Duc said. “Texas is incredibly well-positioned.”
But it will take time. The earliest researchers expect a vaccine to be ready for public trials is in 12 to 18 months.
Task force helps Texas doctors face COVID-19
The coronavirus threat puts new pressure on Texas doctors to protect and treat their patients. The Texas Medical Association formed a COVID-19 task force to help doctors meet the challenge.
“There is a lot of information out there, from CDC, universities, from the health department,” said Dr. David Fleeger, President of the Texas Medical Association. He said the goal of the task force is to go through all of that information, then condense it for doctors to use in their practices.
Fleeger says the TMA is also answering questions Texas doctors have about treating the new coronavirus. Early on, questions focused on where to get testing done and how offices should handle patients who may have the virus.
“As we get further into it, the questions become more sophisticated,” Fleeger said. “What about pregnant women? What is their risk?” He said doctors also have questions about their own health.
“What is my responsibility as a physician if I’m feeling ill? The responsibility is for you to stay home,” Fleeger said. “Take care of yourself.”
Fleeger said doctors in Texas stand ready to take care of patients facing COVID-19.
“This is something we can handle,” Fleeger said.
One vote separates candidates aiming for runoff
The race for Texas House District 47 couldn’t get much closer.
Republicans running for their party’s nomination in the district covering south and western Travis County are headed to a runoff. Just one vote separates two candidates trying to earn a spot in that runoff.
After election night, former Austin City Council member Don Zimmerman had a one-vote lead over Austin Police Officer Justin Berry. But the race for the runoff flipped after provisional and overseas ballots were counted. Now, Berry has a one-vote lead.
Barring a recount, Berry is set to face attorney Jennifer Fleck in the May 26 runoff election. The winner will face incumbent Democrat Vikki Goodwin in the November general election.