National guard troops help with Food distribution during the coronavirus outbreak in New Rochelle, New York on March 12, 2020. Photo credit: REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday that he is activating the Texas National Guard in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak in the state, which had at least 76 positive cases as of Tuesday. While there is no need to deploy troops yet, he said, Guard members will be standing ready.
“I am grateful to the men and women of the National Guard for their dedication to serving their fellow Texans, and want to assure the public that this is a precautionary measure to make sure the Texas National Guard has the capability to serve at a moment’s notice where they are needed most,” Abbott said in a statement.
Abbott announced the activation ahead of a video conference with Texas hospitals at the State Operations Center in Austin. First responders and health care workers will be excluded from the activation, he said.
Abbott said later Tuesday that National Guard troops, if deployed, could do things like help with traffic at drive-through testing sites. He also said hospital CEOs told him on their video conference that troops could help with “organizing a few things around their hospitals.” The troops’ potential workload “just depends on who makes a request for their assistance,” Abbott said in an interview with KVUE, an Austin TV station.
In public and private labs, 1,264 Texans have been tested for COVID-19 so far, Abbott said. That’s a significant jump from the state’s Monday report that roughly 400 people had been tested in public labs. By the end of the week, he expects the state to be able to test 10,000 people weekly.
“This week, Texas will be receiving 15,000 test kits from FEMA [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] alone. Testing will be conducted in part by FEMA, in part by hospitals, in part by public health authorities, in part by these private” operators, Abbott said.
Abbott’s announcement follows recently discovered instances of possible community spread in Webb, Tarrant, Matagorda and Brazoria counties, in addition to community spread identified earlier in Montgomery and Dallas counties. On Sunday, Texas saw it’s first coronavirus-related death when a resident in his late 90s died in Matagorda County with a pending test result, which later came back positive.
In recent days, public schools and universities have shuttered classrooms and transitioned to online learning, some for the remainder of the semester, and Dallas and Harris County have closed bars and ended seated restaurant dining in the interest of social distancing.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the last time the National Guard was deployed.
Authors: PATRICK SVITEK AND NAOMI ANDU – The Texas Tribune
The latest updates on coronavirus in Texas: At least one Texan’s death has been linked to COVID-19 as the state experiences a public health disaster. Community spread has been discovered, at least 69 cases have been disclosed and the number of positive tests are expected to increase exponentially. A patchwork of school cancellations, calls for social distancing and businesses closures are disrupting the economy and Texans’ daily lives.