Gov. Abbott addresses school, dine-in restaurant closures during virtual town hall

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The following story will contain updates throughout the day concerning Governor Abbott’s virtual town hall at 7:00 p.m. CT and any major announcements from the state. This story will feature the livestream of tonight’s event. If you’d live to ask a question of the governor, use the hashtag #AskAbbott on your social media platform of choice.

8:09 p.m. CT

Q: When can Texans expect widely available COVID-19 testing?
Nim Kidd, Chief for Disaster and Emergency Services: COVID-19 testing isn’t like a pregnancy testing. It’s not like taking the test and you’re done if you don’t have it. You’d need to keep getting tested and performing recommended practices to prevent exposure and contraction. Prevention — hand washing, not touching your face — is the first step, not testing.

Q: Would state consider eliminate all toll fees to help drivers during this crisis?

Bonnen: “We need to consider all things…if it’s something that would help us respond to this quicker” it would be a possibility.

8:06 p.m. CT

Q: Will the state allow all Texans to vote by mail in elections?

Bonnen: “I don’t have a problem… but I don’t believe we should be holding elections purely by mail.”

“It’s not only about making sure people can vote” but that Texans have an opportunity to talk to candidates, debate and participate in democracy as normal.

8:03 p.m. CT

Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen: Gov. Abbott made the right decision on STAAR testing.

7:56 p.m. CT

Abbott: “We’re dealing with a silent killer out there… you need to limit the amount of people you come into contact with for a few weeks.”

“Your public health and safety is at risk. Working together, we’re going to help Texas be the best state in the United States.”

7:54 p.m. CT

Q: Does warmer weather help stop communicability of diseases like COVID-19?

Dr. Hellerstedt: “I wouldn’t necessarily rely on the fact that summer, warmer weather is going to curtail it.”

7:52 p.m. CT

Abbott on COVID-19 in jail/prisons: There are strategies in the event that inmates or prison staff members contract COVID-19. Recommends everyone should be tested if one person comes down with the disease.

The Governor says he can’t foresee tax raises to deal with the crisis. “There are a lot of federal funds [through FEMA]” to help address the issue. “There’s not a money problem, it’s a public safety issue.”

7:46 p.m. CT

Q: Are funerals exempt from the 10-person rule?

Abbott: “Anybody who loses a loved one, they need to be able to celebrate a life the way that’s most meaningful to them… Try to limit it as best as you can to limit it to 10 people.”

If you can’t, try to use separation accommodations. Consider virtual funerals. There are currently no rules on funerals.

Also no mandates regarding church services, but churches should consider keep distance and not congregating large groups of people.

7:41 p.m. CT

Q: Will there be any mandates for medical care facilities to close?

Abbott: There will be no mandate for health care providers to close. It will ultimately be up to employers to determine if facilities will close.

Q: What’s being done to help medical professionals during this crisis?

Abbott: “They are on the frontlines…We are extra vigilant in making sure they’re tested… If we lose our health care workers, we lose” our ability to fight the disease.

7:38 p.m. CT

Dr. Hellerstedt: If you think you have symptoms, ask yourself about the risk factors: have you been around someone who had it?

Abbott: “If you think you may have COVID-19, the worst thing you could possibly do is go to an emergency room and expose people to it.”

7:31 p.m. CT

On COVID-19 testing

Abbott: “There is a difference between everyone who wants a COVID-19 test and everyone who needs a COVID-19 test.”

Abbott: “The only people who need a COVID test are those who are experiencing COVID symptoms… We will be successful only by limiting” the testing supplies.

Doctor Hellerstedt: Certain symptoms need to be present to warrant testing. Other risk factors will warrant it, including age, exposure to others who have or possibly have it, or symptoms/illness that can’t be pinpointed.

Abbott says

7:30 p.m. CT

Q: What’s being done by the Attorney General’s Office to stop price gauging?

Abbott: AG’s Office has been doing a good job of prosecuting, as they have during other disasters, such as Hurricane Harvey.

“Make sure if you’re donating money, make sure it’s a valid organization,” Abbott says of possible scams circulating.

7:27 p.m. CT

Q: What can the state do to combat job loss in the oil industry?

Abbott: Oil prices are at the same place they were in 2016. If the state stepped in every time the industry fluctuated, they’d be stepping in constantly. When the “contours” of the issue are known, steps will be taken to address it.

In reference to retailers, Abbott’s Office has been in constant contact with retailers to ensure shelves are being replenished and that best practices are being performed.

7:25 p.m. CT

Q: Forecast for unemployment at its worst?

Abbott: Hopes unemployment downturn is short-lived, but ultimately it’s unknown how bad it will get.

7:22 p.m. CT

Q: What do hairstylists do for income? They don’t qualify for unemployment

Abbott: “Salons haven’t been shut down.” Hairstylists and similar tradespeople should be able to still operate and earn income.

Q: Will small businesses be forced to lay off employees?

Abbott: Says he can’t tell people how to run their businesses, but what he can control is trying to get things back on track so business owners don’t have to make this decision.

7:19 p.m. CT

Q: How long until things get back to normal?

Abbott: It depends how long long it takes to tackle the virus.

Q: How is Texas responding differently than the federal government?

States are more on implementation side of things, following rules and enforcing what experts recommend.

7:16 p.m. CT

Q: Can the virus be spread in restaurant food?

Dr. John Hellerstedt, Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner: If restaurants are doing what they should be doing, based on the current safety standards, there won’t be exposure.

“The situation as we see it right now, doesn’t call for [closure of drive-thrus/carryouts at restaurants].”

7:14 p.m. CT

Abbott: Child care centers are being urged to stay open to help families/parents. But higher standards are recommended, included fewer visitors.

Q: What’s being done for those who can’t afford daycare?

Abbott: “Federally funded programs being created literally as we speak.”

Q: How will ban on bars/restaurants be enforced?

Compliance can already be enforced because of permits they’re required to have — entities like TABC help make sure they do what they need to do. “Their [bars/restaurants] lifeline is on the line,” because they can lose their ability to operate if they don’t comply.

7:10 p.m. CT

STAAR testing has essentially been removed in consideration for students to graduate to their next grades — including graduating seniors.

Q: How will children who depend on school lunches be fed during the closure?

TexasSchools.gov — Parents and students can find meal locations, where food will be available for students in need.

7:08 p.m. CT

Abbott says his office is in contact with colleges and universities to see what will and will not be open on campuses, but non-higher education public and private schools are closed.

7:06 p.m. CT

Abbott says he’s been tested for COVID-19, saying he owed it to his team and people he comes into contact with. His test was negative.

7:04 p.m. CT

Abbott on the inevitability of spread: “This time next week, there will be thousands of people who have tested positive. In two weeks, possibly tens of thousands.”

The Governor says the state has been in contact with the President to ensure testing ability is expanded soon.

Abbott to Texans: “Together, we will make it through the coronavirus.”

7:02 p.m. CT

The 10-person rule is being employed during tonight’s Town Hall. Gov. Abbott is joined by KXAN News’ Robert Hadlock for a one-hour event to answer questions.

Abbott: “I know that many of you are concerned. Maybe scared. Maybe confused.” He assures Texans that lawmakers are dealing with an invisible danger but that lawmakers are responding and it’s important that residents listen to recommendations.

In his introduction, Abbott confirmed the five COVID-19 deaths in Texas.

6:40 p.m. CT

4:00 p.m. CT

Governor Greg Abbot says while he’s ordered schools closed and gatherings limited, he’s not mandating people stay locked down in their homes.

“This executive order is not a shelter in place order,” Abbott said. “It does not prohibit people from doing things like going to the grocery story, gas stations, parks or banks.”

Abbott said government remains open. Businesses are allowed to remain open but Abbott urged them to limit who is required to report to an office and to allow employees to work from home if they can.

The order also does not restrict domestic travel, Abbott said.

Texas has more than 140 cases and five deaths related to the virus that causes COVID-19.

12:45 p.m. CT

Governor Greg Abbott issued a declaration of public health disaster Thursday, saying the orders issued under that declaration are intended to help contain the spread of COVID-19.

Abbott issued an executive order prohibiting social gatherings of more than 10 people, shutting down inside-dining in restaurants and bars, closing gyms, and prohibiting visits to hospitals, nursing homes or long-term care facilities except to provide care for patients.

The order allows for drive-through and delivery of food from restaurants.

The governor also announced all schools in Texas are ordered closed. He’s encouraging online and other alternative education methods.

10:45 a.m. CT

Gov. Greg Abbott announced he may take new action Thursday that would limit public gatherings across Texas because of the growing COVID-19 outbreak.

The governor shared his intent to take further action during a news conference Wednesday in Tarrant County, where the second death related to COVID-19 was reported earlier this week. He asked every elected official in the state to contact his office by the end of the day so that he could get their feedback on possibly closing all bars and restaurants statewide.

Abbott has scheduled a news conference today for noon CT.

9:15 a.m. CT

Tonight’s virtual town hall will also include a 30-minute digital-only stream following the television broadcast where you’ll be able to ask questions live on Facebook of the state’s top emergency response officials.

Texas Capitol Bureau reporter Wes Rapaport will be monitoring your questions on Facebook Live on the KXAN Facebook page. The interactive stream will be featured on Nexstar websites across Texas.

9:00 a.m. CT

Nexstar Broadcasting will host a live virtual town hall meeting with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday, March 19, 2020 at 7 p.m. CT.  The governor will address the statewide response to the current coronavirus outbreak and will be joined by top state government officials from the departments of health, infectious diseases, education and emergency management. 

Due to restrictions on large gatherings, the one-hour virtual town hall will take place at the studios of KXAN-TV in Austin, Texas, and bring viewers in communities across the state together via live television broadcast and livestream video.  

The television broadcast will be hosted by KXAN-TV anchor Robert Hadlock and will air exclusively on 14 Nexstar stations across the state.

The town hall will open with Gov. Abbott providing the latest information the state’s response to the coronavirus crisis, followed by a 15-minute question and answer session between Gov. Abbott, the other state officials and Mr. Hadlock.  The broadcast will then allow approximately 45 minutes of questions submitted by viewers around the state.

Viewers can pose a question to Governor Abbott or any of the show’s guests via a variety of social media platforms using the hashtag #AskAbbott.  Preference will be given to those questions submitted as videos rather than texts.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott Virtual Town Hall Television Broadcast and Livestream

Thursday, March 17, 2020

7 p.m. to 8 p.m. CT

KXAN-TV studios

Host: Robert Hadlock, KXAN-TV

Guests:

  • Gov. Greg Abbott
  • Dr. John Hellerstedt, Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner
  • Nim Kidd, Chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management
  • Stephanie Muth, Deputy Executive Commissioner Medicaid
  • Mike Morath, Texas Education Agency Commissioner 

Town Hall will be carried on the following stations and websites:

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

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