Gov. Abbott activates National Guard, considers plans to help hospitals

 As of Tuesday afternoon, state officials reported 64 confirmed cases of the virus in Texas and one death in Matagorda County. Almost 1,300 people in Texas have been tested so far, according to Gov. Greg Abbott. However, with Texas cases expected to increase, getting the Guard ready is a big move.

Texas Guard members have been deployed to protect the border and for rescues during natural disasters. Now they are being activated by Abbott for the possibility of a different kind of mission response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

"No National Guard need to be deployed at this time. We just want to make sure we have activated them, they know they are going to be activated,” said Abbott.

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Unlike in past events, this time not every guard member will be called away from their family and community. Those who are healthcare workers and first responders are excluded from the activation.

"They need to be on the front lines in making sure we are providing all of the health care that is needed for those who may contract COVID 19,” said Abbott.

The governor also made another call Tuesday a teleconference with hospital administrators.

"I think we have CEOs from every or almost every major hospital system in the State of Texas,” said Abbott.

He got an update on what the medical community needs in order to prevent them from being overwhelmed by the outbreak. Abbott said he is considering strategies like trying to bring in more doctors and nurses to work extra temporary care facilities. He suggested some recently closed hospitals could be even used if the outbreak spikes.

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Abbott also announced a temporary waiver for hospitals to increase unused bed capacity without submitting an application or associated fees. This precautionary measure will help ensure Texas hospitals across the state have adequate care capacity for patients.

"We want to make sure our fellow Texans understand the State of Texas has been prepared, we continue to be prepared, we are having this meeting today to ensure we remain ahead of the curve, as it concerns, putting together everything that must be done for us to be able to robustly respond to ensure that your health and safety is going to be fully protected,” said Abbott.

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Providing that protection could involve some heavy lifting, which is where the National Guard units factor in, with hauling equipment and deliveries of supplies to clinics, as well as setting up triage tents, like those used during the swine flu outbreak 11 years ago. The tents are where screenings can be done, outside of hospitals to reduce exposure risks.

The governor didn’t say what would trigger a deployment order from him.

Abbott also announced that Texas this week will receive an initial 15,000 testing kits from FEMA that will be disbursed throughout the state to public and private entities providing testing. This allotment of tests is in addition to the robust testing capabilities already announced Monday. By Friday, the state estimates that Texas will be able to perform 10,000 COVID-19 tests per week.