Gov. Abbott talks COVID-19 testing and back to school in Lubbock
Governor Greg Abbott met with local officials in Lubbock and El Paso on Thursday. The two trips were to assess the ongoing COVID-19 response and needs in both communities.
At the start of his West Texas tour, Abbott and 16 Lubbock representatives gathered on the second floor of Citizens Tower. Everyone wore a mask, including the governor. His had the Texas flag on it.
This week, total COVID-19 cases in Texas surpassed 500,000, according to Texas Health and Human Services. The statewide seven-day positivity rate dipped to 16% Thursday after days of peaking at close to 25%. The goal is to be under 10 %.
Texas has seen a decrease in testing numbers compared to July. The governor said there is a reason.
"We dramatically increased testing in different regions at different times and that led to a very abundant number of tests that were done," he said. "We have observed for the past couple of weeks the decline in the number of people stepping forward to get tested."
Abbott said HHS is actively trying to figure out what’s contributing to the decline in people seeking tests. Availability is not the problem, he said. The state numbers do not include the thousands of rapid antigen test results, which are considered less accurate but are popular.
Abbott expects the testing rate to increase in the next few weeks for one reason – the return to school.
In-person classes start at Texas Tech on August 24. The campus is already buzzing with activity since students began moving back into the dorms. And as K-12 schools resume next week, the city has been monitoring cases within that age group—the 6 to17-year-olds.
"One of the strategies we’re working on," Abbott said, "we’re not yet capable of announcing, is additional strategies for testing in the education setting. Especially in the K-12 setting."
Lubbock County Judge Curtis Parrish said local leaders are doing everything they can for that return to be safe.
"To make sure that when we do have little outbreaks—and we know we’re going to have them, it’s just inevitable with this vile disease that we’re dealing with—that we’re able to respond immediately, sensibly, reasonably and know that our top priority here is to keep the citizens safe," Parrish said.
Abbott commended the City of Lubbock on their efforts containing the virus—especially in dealing with nursing home outbreaks at the onset of the pandemic. Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd was with the governor in Lubbock.
"It’s refreshing to come into a community and hear about the innovation," Kidd said. "The work that’s been done here, that didn’t require additional outside assistance, you guys have knocked it out of the park."
On Thursday, Lubbock reported a total of 6,429 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since mid-March. About a quarter of those cases are currently active. New diagnoses have leveled off since a surge in June. Eighty-five people have died from complications of the disease.
At the press conference in El Paso, Governor Abbott said people are feeling "COVID fatigue."
"They’re tired of wearing a face mask," he said. "They’re tired of leading more constricted lives. They’re tired of not being able to gather together with friends. And we get that. But the COVID disease doesn’t care about COVID fatigue."
He urged Texans to continue taking safety precautions, especially during Labor Day weekend, noting the state saw a spike in cases after Memorial Day.
Asked whether he felt comfortable sending children back to school during the pandemic, Abbott said local superintendents are best suited to make decisions about when and how to reopen schools.
"Because of the size of Texas, because some areas have different population density levels. It's important to have flexibility for each school district and its own unique setting," he said.
In Lubbock, leaders told him "they are fully prepared to open up for in-class education for students this coming Monday," Abbot said, whereas some other districts are located "where the spread of COVID is much higher, where they're opening up online and that's the safest strategy for them."
Abbott visited El Paso the same day county leaders announced 20 additional deaths from the virus, bringing the total to 330.