On Friday, Governor Abbott signed an executive order creating his 49-member Strike Force to Open Texas “to advise the governor on safely and strategically restarting and revitalizing all aspects of the Lone Star State—work, school, entertainment, and culture.”
The first major announcement regarding the committee’s efforts will be made in less than a week — on Monday, April 27. In the days preceding, according to the order, the committee “will prepare a phased-in strategy to open Texas in a safe way.” We will have to wait and see what that means.
Ahead of the governor’s announcement on Thursday, the Texas House Democratic Caucus, which I chair, released the following recommendations focused on steps our state should immediately take to protect our neighbors and communities. These are also steps needed to understand the full scope of the impact of this pandemic in our state.
Increase COVID-19 Testing
- On Tuesday, April 14, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States’ top infectious disease expert, publicly warned that the nation was not ready to ease stay-at-home orders, in part due to a lack of testing.
- Currently, Texas ranks 49th nationwide in per capita testing. With estimates that as many as 25% of those infected are asymptomatic, testing is vital in order to contain and track the spread.
Following Governor Abbott’s announcement on Friday, I released the following statement in response and specific to the need for expanding testing:
Expand Medicaid to Secure Health Insurance for More Texans
- One-in-five Texans lack health care coverage; unfortunately, this is nothing new. We’ve been last in the number and rate of uninsured for years. That’s not due to lack of trying on the part of Democrats. In fact, last session, every House Democrat voted in favor of a measure to expand Medicaid.
- We don’t need the Legislature to be in session to make this happen. The governor has the power — if he chooses to exercise it — to reduce the number of uninsured overnight by expanding Medicaid.
Secure Adequate Personal Protection Equipment (PPE)
- Recently, the Texas Medical Association surveyed 2,000 physicians, and only 63% said they had a week’s worth of PPE. We have also heard that many hospitals are not regularly receiving the supplies they need from the state. Among those hospitals that are, some are only receiving enough supplies to last for a few days.
- To address the shortfall, medical providers and local governments are scrambling to find essential items — masks, gloves, gowns, and more. There’s inconsistent direction coming from the state regarding how this need will be fulfilled.
Increase Transparency in Long-term Care Facilities and Nursing Homes
- We’ve heard a lot of news from other states about the devastating impact COVID-19 has had in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Texas has not been immune to this. In fact, the first person to die from COVID-19 in Tarrant County was a nursing home resident.
- In Texas, 1 in 5 COVID-19 deaths are linked to nursing homes, and up to 1 in 3 deaths occurred in long-term care facilities. Without full reporting and/or adequate testing, that number may be even higher.
- Families are struggling with how to make decisions in order to keep their loved ones protected, which is why transparent, reliable information is so essential.
We all want businesses to reopen as soon as possible. Let’s make sure it is safe when we do so though.