Governor Abbott announces expanded testing, office openings, elimination of travel restrictions

By Bethany Blankley

Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday announced new COVID-19 testing site locations and resources, a new statewide driver license online system, and eliminated air travel restrictions for individuals traveling to and from certain states. Friday, the state begins its phase 2 reopening plan.

The governor announced that the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) is expanding COVID-19 testing to all patients, residents, and staff at all of Texas’ 23 state-operated inpatient psychiatric hospitals and living centers.

HHSC operates 13 state supported living centers (SSLCs) providing 24-hour residential care, medical services, and vocational training for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and 10 state hospitals for acute inpatient psychiatric care.

HHSC is expanding testing for its 4,700 patients and residents and 18,000 employees. Testing kits are already on their way to these facilities and several local health departments have offered their assistance, the governor’s office said.

The state is also partnering with CVS Health to open 44 new COVID-19 test sites at select CVS Pharmacy drive-thru locations across Texas. The new sites will have available self-swab tests to individuals who meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention criteria. Patients must register in advance at beginning Friday, May 22, to schedule an appointment.

In order to receive the test, individuals must stay in their cars and go to the drive-thru window where they will be given a test kit and instructions. A CVS Pharmacy team member will observe the individual administering the self-swab test to ensure it is done properly. Tests will be sent to an independent, third-party lab for processing. The results are expected to be available within three days.

CVS Health plans to have over 80 drive-thru testing locations in Texas by May 31. More information about CVS Health and their testing sites can be found at their COVID-19 resource center.

Additional resources for testing have been announced through the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) and the Texas National Guard.

Seven federally supported community-based testing sites will remain open in Texas through June 30, 2020. These sites are state-managed and locally executed, although federally funded. Extended openings include one in El Paso, two in Dallas, two in Houston, and two in Harris County.

The Texas National Guard’s Facilities Disinfection Teams have expanded testing in nursing homes.

The disinfection teams consist of Guardsmen from Joint Task Force 176 who are equipped with advanced personal protective equipment, ionized sprayers, and vital oxide. They’ve received training from the Texas Military Department 6th Civil Support Team, which specializes in man-made and natural disaster assessment and rapid response in hazardous environments.

The governor also issued another executive order (GA-24), this time terminating air travel restrictions related to the COVID-19. The order immediately terminates all restrictions outlined in a previous Executive Order (GA-20) mandating temporary quarantines for air travelers arriving from the states of California, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Washington, and the cities of Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit and Miami.

The Texas Department of Public Safety also announced it is opening its driver’s license offices May 26, operating under limited capacity. It has launched a statewide appointment system to enable individuals to book appointments online for up to six months in advance.

The following regions will reopen with limited services: Northwest and West Texas DPS locations beginning May 26; South and Central Texas locations beginning May 29; North and Southeast Texas locations beginning June 3.

By midsummer, all customers are expected to be able to schedule an appointment for all DL office transactions anywhere in the state.

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