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Texas governor declares statewide public health disaster over coronavirus

This comes after two people in the Austin area tested positive for COVID-19.

AUSTIN, Texas — Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday declared coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, a statewide public health disaster as the virus continues to spread. This declaration will authorize the use of all resources needed to respond to COVID-19. The Department of State and Public Health is leading this response, the governor added.

Texas currently has 39 confirmed cases of COVID-19, Abbott said. About 220 Texans have been tested for the virus, and 75 are currently being tested.

"From the very beginning, our number one objective has been to implement preventative strategies that build on our state’s existing public health capabilities so that no matter how this situation unfolds, Texas will be ready," said Governor Abbott. "That is exactly what our state agencies have done. The State of Texas is prepared, and we continue to take proactive measures along with the support of our federal and local partners to contain this virus and keep Texans safe. Declaring a State of Disaster is a key component of these efforts because it allows the state to effectively serve the people of Texas without hindrance or delay. When Texans come together, there is nothing we can't overcome – and it is up to all of us to work proactively and collaboratively to respond to this challenge and protect public health." 

The governor also announced San Antonio has opened the state's first drive-thru coronavirus testing facility. Abbott also said other major Texas cities are working to implement drive-through testing sites that will be run and managed at the local level.

Coronavirus testing costs

In addition, the governor said the state is waiving costs for people who need to be tested for COVID-19. According to Abbott, if an uninsured person needs testing for coronavirus, there are two options: public health testing and private laboratory testing.

Public health testing requires a consultation with local health departments. If the person meets public health criteria, then the person is eligible for testing through public health testing with no costs.

"Private testing can also occur, but there could be a cost to the individual," Abbott explained. 

If you need to find a local provider, you can call 211, which can direct you to low or no-cost providers in your area.

WATCH: Governor Abbott gives updates on state’s coronavirus efforts

Actions taken in response to coronavirus

With Abbott declaring a state of disaster, these actions were implemented:

  • Authorizing the use of all available and necessary state government resources to help manage this situation.
  • Activating the state emergency management plan and the State Operations Center to enhance the state’s planning and response capabilities.
  • Giving TDEM the ability to reassign & fully utilize appropriate personnel where they are needed most.
  • Providing the immediate ability to move resources around the state, including resources obtained through the Strategic National Stockpile.
  • Empowering the Office of the Texas Attorney General (OAG) to pursue cases of price-gouging and ensure that offenders are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Facilities with restricted visitation 

To protect the most vulnerable population, the governor also directed state agencies to restrict visitations at certain facilities. This directive allows limited exceptions for situations like end-of-life visitations and requires all individuals to go through proper screening.

Agencies will be restricting visitation at the following facilities:

  • Nursing homes
  • State-supported living centers
  • Hospitals
  • Daycare facilities
  • Prisons, jails, and juvenile justice facilities

Texas school coronavirus response

When it comes to schools in Texas, the governor said school officials are working daily to prepare for the appropriate response. Texas is seeking waivers for the school lunch programs so districts can provide students food if their school is not opened for a period of time due to the coronavirus.

The Texas governor added that he has no doubt the state is going to get past this virus.

"We’re going to make it through this," Abbott said.

Austin Public Health (APH) announced Friday that three people in Travis County have tested presumptively positive for coronavirus. Hours later, San Antonio confirmed its first COVID-19 case outside of the JBSA-Lackland quarantine. In North Texas, 13 people so far have been infected with the virus.

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On Thursday, the City of Austin extended its local disaster declaration through April 5. The declaration cleared the way for overtime pay for public health employees and opens funding for additional resources if needed, such as 24-hour operations.

APH said the public is encouraged to limit the spread of the disease by following these practices:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. 
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. 
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick. 
  • Stay home when you are sick. 
  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow or use a tissue to cover it, then throw the tissue in the trash. 
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces

There's a growing list of Austin-area events that have been canceled over coronavirus concerns.

For up to date on coronavirus news in Texas, go here.

WATCH: Flatten the curve: Slowing the spread of coronavirus

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