While stating that the number of hospital beds that could be used for coronavirus patients in the state has doubled over the past week to more than 16,000, Gov. Abbott said at his Sunday press conference that state has also been busy identifying locations for possible use as health care facilities in case those beds aren't enough.
The news came on a day when President Trump extended his social distancing guidelines through April 30, reversing his earlier comments that he wanted the country to be up and running by Easter.
In a joint effort with the Texas Military Department and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the state has already identified the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas as one of the new sites that could be employed for beds. The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers will take the lead, assisted by the Texas National Guard, the governor said. The convention center is already being used as a homeless shelter and officials said the plans are to keep the two groups separate.
The state will also be looking to set pop-up sites in Houston, as well as San Antonio, Austin , the Rio Grand Valley and El Paso.
"While hospitals will remain the primary location to treat and care for those in need, we are ensuring that Texas is prepared for any possible scenario in which current hospital capacity is exhausted," said Abbott. Right now Dallas County has more positive COVID-19 cases than any other county in Txas with 488 recorded as of Sunday. Plans are to set up 250 beds with the possibility of expanding to 1,400 beds if needed.
Abbott said Texas now has reported cases of the coronavirus in 118 of its 254 counties. A total of 25,483 Texans have been tested for the coronavirus and of them, 2,552 tested positive. There have been 34 deaths “that have a connection to COVID-19” in Texas, he said.
The Houston area has several signs that the coronavirus is far from dormant as the city's health department reported 54 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday.
That brought the city's total to 286 and the death count remained at two. Meanwhile Harris County has reported two deaths due to the coronavirus and 240 positive tests, Fort Bend County reported its first death last week with 105 confirmed cases, and Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough finally decided to issue a stay at home order.
On Sunday the shoe finally dropped at the Harris County Jail as the sheriff's office reported the first inmate to test positive there. The statement from the sheriff's office:
The inmate was booked into the jail on March 17 after being arrested by the Houston Police Department for a parole violation. The inmate was placed in quarantine on March 26, after jail medical staff conducting a standard health assessment detected an elevated temperature and a high pulse rate. He is in stable condition in the medical unit at the 1200 Baker Street jail facility.
There are currently about 30 inmates in the Harris County Jail with symptoms consistent with COVID-19. About 500 inmates who were potentially exposed to the virus, but who do not have symptoms, are in quarantine for observation. So far, five inmate tests have come back negative for the virus.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and her staff have been working on ways that at least some of the 8,000 inmates in the county jail could be released. Sunday, Abbott issued an order that prohibited "the release of individuals in custody for or with a history of offenses involving physical violence or the threat of physical violence. This Executive Order comes in response to concerns of the release or anticipated release of individuals because of COVID-19 who are deemed a danger to society." Hidalgo had always said they were looking at the release of non-violent offenders.
Asked if he planned to close public schools for the rest of the year, Abbot said he will meet with Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath and “then I will make a decision based on consultation with Dr. Hellerstedt.”
Abbott also mandated a 14-day quarantine for road travelers arriving in Texas from any location in Louisiana. This is in addition to his earlier order mandating self-quarantine for air air travelers from the New York Tri-State Area and New Orleans. "This mandated quarantine will not apply to travel related to commercial activity, military service, emergency response, health response, or critical infrastructure functions."
Pool reporting for this article from the governor's press conference was provided by Robert T. Garrett of the Dallas Morning News.