Governor expects “exponential” coronavirus jump; 2nd Texas death reported

Published 6:53 am Wednesday, March 18, 2020

AUSTIN (AP) — The number of Texans testing positive for the new coronavirus is likely to dramatically rise as the state’s testing capacity ramps up and cases of community spread continue to climb, Gov. Greg Abbott said.

“You’re going to see an exponential increase in the number of people testing positive on a daily basis,” Abbott said at a press conference.

By the end of this week, testing for the new coronavirus in Texas is expected to ramp up to 10,000 tests weekly, Abbott said.

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The second death in Texas related to COVID-19 was announced Tuesday, hours after Austin joined other major cities statewide in closing bars and restaurant dining rooms to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

The City of Port Arthur declared a public health emergency Tuesday, with city leaders prohibiting gatherings of 50 or more persons at public facilities in response to the coronavirus pandemic, mirroring an amended order from Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick.

The Texas Capitol in Austin is closed to the public starting today (March 18) according to a statement issued Tuesday by the State Preservation Board. The Capitol will remain open to elected officials, staff and state agency personnel. The Capitol Visitors Center, the Texas State Cemetery and the Capitol Visitors Parking Garage also will be closed for the duration of the coronavirus emergency.

The University of Texas System on Tuesday instructed its eight academic campuses to, effective immediately, move all classes online for the rest of the spring semester and postponed graduation ceremonies until the fall. With no classes held on campus, system officials are urging students to go home. Campus residence and dining halls will be limited to only those students who don’t have alternative housing. Graduating students will still receive their degrees.

Also Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott activated the Texas National Guard in response to the outbreak, describing it as a “preparative measure.” Abbott said there were no current plans for deployments.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover. On Monday, Dallas restricted public gatherings to 50 people.

In North Texas, Tarrant County health officials say test results on a 77-year-old man who died Sunday came back positive Tuesday for COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus. In a statement, county officials say the man was a resident of the Texas Masonic Retirement Center in Arlington. Tarrant County teams are working with retirement center administrators to assess other residents and staff as a search is mounted for the possible source of the infection

The announcement came after that late Monday night from Matagorda County health officials, along the Texas coast, that a man in his late 90s who died had tested positive for COVID-19. He was the first COVID-19-related death known in Texas.

Officials said they were reviewing a possible community link between that man and the county’s first COVID-19 case, a 60-year-old woman who is being treated at a hospital for pneumonia. The woman traveled around Texas but had not left the state, said Mitch Thames, a county spokesman.

First responders, healthcare workers, vulnerable populations and those with symptoms will be prioritized for testing, the governor said.

Abbott emphasized that aside from public testing, private health care providers will have access to the new coronavirus tests as well. The governor encouraged those with private insurance to see their current doctor.

“By end of week, everyone who needs a COVID-19 test will be able to get a COVID-19 test,” the governor said.

To get tested, individuals will need a doctor’s order, the governor said.

“You can’t just drive up like you would drive up to a Whataburger and order a cheeseburger. You can’t just walk up to this and order a COVID-19 test,” Abbott said of drive-through testing centers that will continue opening throughout the state.

Those who are asymptomatic will not be tested, the governor said — though public health officials have warned infected people without symptoms can also spread the virus.