By Bethany Blankley
The state and counties are taking extra measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus after Gov. Greg Abbott extended the state emergency order by another 30 days.
As of April 13, Texas prisons are no longer taking county inmates, Brian Collier, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), told Texas sheriffs in an April 11 letter. The letter was posted online by the Texas Tribune.
“Since the beginning of the outbreak, the TDCJ has implemented a multitude of agency-wide policies, protocols, and preventative measures to prepare and respond to the outbreak of COVID-19 in Texas,” Collier said. “Despite these robust efforts, the virus has entered the TDCJ system. To date, there are 69 employees, medical providers, or contractors who have tested positive. Another 130 inmates have been diagnosed. These numbers go up each day, and we must do more to deny this virus the opportunity to spread.”
The Tribune reports as of Monday the number increased to 85 employees and 193 offenders who have tested positive for COVID-19. According to TDCJ, 11,283 offenders are on medical restriction, who might have come in contact with an employee or offender who might have tested positive for the virus or whose test was pending.
As of April 13, Travis County officials also extended the county’s stay-at-home order until May 8, adding a requirement for all residents over age 10 to wear some kind of facial covering over their nose and mouth. This includes when entering a public building, using public transportation or ride shares, while pumping gas and when six feet of physical distancing cannot be consistently maintained.
“Face coverings are another key piece in flattening the curve,” said Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott. “It is critical that the public understand that this will not only help in slowing the spread of the disease, but face coverings are also part of our foreseeable future to safely reopen our society.”
The new requirement calls for fabric coverings, not medical-grade masks or N-95 masks.
Exceptions to wearing a mask or facial covering include when an individual over age 10 is alone in a separate single space, either indoors or outside, or in the presence of immediate family.
Exceptions also allow an individual not to wear a facial covering when doing so might pose a greater mental or physical health, safety or security risk, when engaged in outdoor activity like running or hiking, when eating and when riding inside a personal vehicle.
“Our extended orders carry a very simple message, cover your nose and mouth when out in public to save lives,” Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said. “Wearing a face covering in addition to the other steps the public has been taking are essential to support our community and keep everyone healthy.”
In Harris County, two new Harris County Public Health (HCPH) mobile units will provide drive-through testing for COVID-19, adding up to 100 tests per day per unit to the county’s current testing capacity. HCPH’s two existing stationary sites will increase to 500 tests per location, per day, starting Wednesday, Judge Linda Hidalgo said.
“Until we make testing accessible to everyone who needs it, we will not be able to fully tackle this disease in Harris County,” Hidalgo said in a prepared statement. “These efforts are a key step forward, but they’re not enough. We have to be nimble. We have to reach underserved communities and expand our ability to help folks identify if they are sick, and isolate immediately.”
In order to be tested, residents must first complete an online screening test at ReadyHarris.org and obtain an authorization code. If they meet the criteria for testing, they will be given an appointment time and directed to a testing site. All walk-ins will be turned away.
Individuals without access to a computer or Internet can call the Harris County Public Health COVID-19 resource line at 832-927-7575.