HOUSTON – As the coronavirus cases in Houston and Texas continue to surge, many are wondering if Gov. Greg Abbott will issue new lockdown orders and stop schools from reopening with on-campus classes.
As of Wednesday, Texas again set a new high with nearly 10,800 new cases, along with a record 110 deaths. The rising toll includes 35 deaths that officials on the Texas-Mexico border said happened Wednesday morning alone in Hidalgo County.
Abbott answered questions live on KPRC 2 Wednesday evening. Here are the questions we asked him and his answers:
Question: Are you thinking about shutting down our state again?
Abbott: I get this question, it seems like, a thousand times a day. People are panicking thinking I’m about to shut down Texas again. The answer is no. That is not the goal. I’ve been abundantly clear. I’ve been saying exactly what the head of (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) said today and that is if everyone can adopt the practice of wearing a face mask for the next four weeks, we will be able to get COVID-19 under control.
That is my message when I issued my executive order. I said that what I want to do is make sure everyone begins to wear a mask so that we will be able to get COVID-19 under control so that we will not have to shut Texas back down.
Question: COVID-19 is a physical pandemic. But it’s also becoming a mental health one. How can people continue to handle this burden?
Abbott: I don’t want to get too deep and philosophical with you but the reason why we still exist as a species is our inherent adaptability. What we need to do is put that adaptability, that flexibility, our ingenuity, our innovative sense to work here as we go through the process of just navigating the next few months. Understanding that we’re only a few months away from getting medical treatments that will be able to treat COVID-19 and then a few months after that, before we have vaccines. This is a very short period of time.
I’ll put this in personal context for you. Beginning this day, 36 years ago, I was in an ICU, in a hospital bed, in a rehab center, for a two to three month time period in Houston, Texas, because of the accident that broke my back. That’s all we need is that two-month time period — the same amount of time I was in a hospital bed. I was able to rise from that bed and become governor.
All of your viewers, they’re going to be getting back to normal, succeeding in their lives, just like they were, before this pandemic ever broke out.
Question: What are your thoughts on the Houston Independent School District’s decision to delay the reopening of school and to have an online-only period at the start of the year?
Abbott: First... it is important for children to be in classrooms and it’s pediatricians who say that, it’s parents who understand that and teachers also understand that. We all want children to get back in a classroom as quickly as possible. It’s good for them and good for their parents.
But, we obviously don’t want to inject children or teachers or parents into an unsafe situation. Hence, that’s why the Texas Education Agency is providing flexibility to school districts, to let school boards and school districts to make decisions about are they going to begin the school year, learning distance-wise or in the classroom.
Because what’s happening in Houston, Texas may be completely different from what’s happening in Houston County, Texas, that’s why local school boards need to have that flexibility.
Question: Knowing what you know now, what would you change about the way our state reopened?
Abbott: As I’ve said before, if you track what happened in the aftermath of the reopening, the positivity rate declined all the way down to about 4.5% after Memorial Day. But it was the opening up of bars, the celebration of Memorial Day, graduations — all those things taking place at the same time. And I’ll add another thing and that is if you look at all the messaging that came from across the nation, as well as locally, and that is that if you’re young, it seemed like you were immune to it. And that turned out to be incorrect because now we’re seeing about 50% of the people who are testing positive are categorized as being under the age of 35.
As we’ve learned what we’ve been through, we’ve realized that perhaps we opened up bars too soon and maybe we should not have opened them up at all because a bar, as a setting just leads to a transmission of COVID-19. So, it’s just a matter of learning these best, safe strategies to make sure we get things under control.
Question: So we just have to take precautions but no lockdown?
Abbott: All we need is for people to wear a mask. If everyone wears a mask, nothing will be locked down.