Shared from the 3/19/2020 Houston Chronicle eEdition

Abbott nearly doubles test kits for Texas

Tom Fox / Tribune News Service

Gov. Greg Abbott announces an increased supply of COVID-19 test kits by the end of the week during a news conference Wednesday about the death of Patrick James at the Texas Masonic Retirement Center in Arlington. At right is Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley.

The state’s coronavirus testing capacity should rise to 15,000 to 20,000 kits per week by the end of this week, Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday.

Abbott spoke at a news conference in Arlington on Wednesday, just moments after the state recorded its third death from the virus. The increased capacity projection was up from Monday when Abbott had said the number of tests available would ramp up to 10,000 weekly.

As of Wednesday afternoon, 1,907 people had been tested in Texas, comprising 697 at public labs and 1,210 at private labs. The state’s official count is 83 confirmed cases of COVID-19, but Hearst Newspapers, which is tracking cases based on federal, state and local data and its own reporting, has identified 174 confirmed cases.

Department of State Health Services Commissioner and Dr. John Hellerstedt reiterated Wednesday that the state does not have the ability to test patients without COVID-19 symptoms.

“It’s not a good use of that resource, no matter how plentiful that resource might be,” Hellerstedt said, adding that the state still expects an increase in the thousands from private labs that are in the process of coming online.

In deciding who gets tested, Hellerstedt said the two main considerations are whether a person has symptoms and whether he or she has some other risk factor, such as recent travel, exposure to a known case or serious illness with an undetermined cause. He said he hopes to eventually add the elderly and people with underlying medical conditions to that list.

Abbott, who has for days declined to mandate statewide bar and restaurant restrictions that have been implemented by governors in more than 20 states, also indicated Wednesday that he may be changing his tune. He said he would have an announcement Thursday once he has consulted with local officials, though he has previously said it was a decision that needed to be made on a case-by-case basis by cities and counties.

“I'm telling every local elected official in the state of Texas today, we need to hear from you today about your needs, your strategies, your thoughts and your input,” Abbott said, “and that will shape what I announce tomorrow.”

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