These COVID-19 updates consists of press releases from The White House, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Attorney General Ken Paxton and other state administration offices, as well as pool reports. The full press releases can be read on Governor Abbott’s state website gov.texas.gov. These releases cover the week of March 23rd to March 27th.


Providing Services to Students with Disabilities During COVID-19


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued interim guidance to help administrators of K–12 schools and childcare programs create mitigation strategies to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. By helping childcare programs, schools, and their partners understand how to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 within their communities and facilities, administrators can help flatten the curve. In addition to mitigation planning, this guidance includes considerations to help administrators plan for the continuity of teaching and learning. Finally, this guidance includes a decision tree to help schools and facilities determine which mitigation plan is best in three scenarios: all schools regardless of community spread, no community spread, and minimal to moderate or substantial community spread.


Governor Abbott Announces Increased PPE Supply, Issues Executive Order To Strengthen Reporting Capabilities


Governor Greg Abbott today held a press conference to provide an update on incoming supplies of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other resources to aid Texas’ response to COVID-19. The Governor announced that the newly established Supply Chain Strike Force has already secured more than $83 million of purchase orders for essential supplies. Additionally, the Governor announced that the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) will begin receiving 100,000 masks per day by the end of this week and the Supply Chain Strike Force will begin receiving an additional 100,000 masks per day by the end of next week—meaning the State of Texas will soon be receiving more than one million masks per week.


Governor Abbott Authorizes Restaurants To Sell Bulk Retail Product From Distributors To The Public


AUSTIN - Governor Greg Abbott has directed the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) to issue guidance allowing restaurants to sell bulk retail products from restaurant supply chain distributors directly to consumers provided that such foods are in their original condition, packaging, or presented as received by the restaurant. Under this guidance, restaurants will be able to sell items like packaged meat, fruit and vegetables, and dry goods directly to the public to prepare and consume at home.


This guidance will allow distributors and restaurants to provide Texans another source of food outside of grocery stores and prepared food from restaurants. These bulk food items would be available for purchase through restaurants offering drive-thru, delivery, pick-up, and curbside service.


Governor Abbott, HHSC Send Letter Seeking Permission For SNAP Recipients To Use Their Benefits At Take Out And Drive-Thru Restaurants


AUSTIN – Governor Greg Abbott and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission sent a letter yesterday to the United States Department of Agriculture seeking permission to allow Texas Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients to use their benefits at take out and drive-thru restaurants throughout the state as Texas continues to combat COVID-19. If approved, it would open up another food source for 3.2 million Texans.


Governor Abbott Announces Approval Of Major Disaster Declaration


Governor Greg Abbott today released a statement thanking President Trump for issuing a Major Disaster Declaration for the State of Texas. This announcement comes after the Governor requested the declaration—citing the need for additional federal assistance to save lives, to protect property, public health, and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of COVID-19.


“Texas is aggressively pursuing and implementing all necessary strategies to limit the impact of COVID-19, and I thank President Trump for his swift action to issue a Major Disaster Declaration for the State of Texas,” said Governor Abbott. “The President’s declaration opens up new sources of funding for individual and public assistance that will help Texas respond to this public health emergency and protect public health and safety.”


Governor Abbott Takes Action To Expand Texas Hospital Capacity


AUSTIN – Governor Greg Abbott today has temporarily waived certain hospital licensing rules and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) has adopted an emergency rule to meet Texas’ need for additional hospital capacity while the state responds to COVID-19. These actions allow for certain facilities that have pending licenses or facilities that have been closed for no more than 36 months to come online under existing hospital building licenses. These facilities will be administered and operated by hospitals with existing licenses. The waivers also remove certain mileage restrictions, which will allow hospitals to operate additional facilities that are more than 30 miles away from the main licensed hospital.


Attorney General Paxton: State Government Offices and Agencies Should Remain Fully Operational During COVID-19 Disaster Declaration


Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton today issued a letter explaining that political subdivisions may not restrict the ability of State agencies, agents and contractors from providing governmental services, including travel to and from their places of employment. As declared in Executive Order GA-08, which holds the full force and effect of the law, “All critical infrastructure will remain operational, and government entities and businesses will continue providing essential services. Our State government offices provide services that are essential to the public. Governor Abbott’s executive order makes the need for continued, unburdened operation of state offices clear, said Attorney General Paxton. “It is our duty to protect and provide for Texans, and we are committed to serving our citizens during this health crisis.”


Governor Abbott Waives Certain Licensing Renewal Regulations, Fees For Nurses


AUSTIN - Governor Greg Abbott has waived certain regulations from the Texas Board of Nursing regarding licensing renewal and subsequent fees for nurses in Texas. The Governor's waiver authorizes a six-month grace period for nurses with expired licenses. This grace period will allow nurses who are otherwise in good standing to continue practicing and will give them additional time to renew their license without added fees and penalties.


Governor Abbott Requests Release of Federal Unemployment Funds


AUSTIN - Governor Greg Abbott today announced his request for access to interest-free federal loans (known as Title XII funds) to pay unemployment claims and the accelerated release of funds from the Texas account of the federal Unemployment Trust Fund. Title XII is a federal process that allows states to receives advances (loans) from the federal government to continue to cover Unemployment Benefit payments without disruption.


In a request letter to Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia, Governor Abbott authorized the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) to officially request access to these additional funds.


“As job loss and other economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic grow, we are committed to drawing upon all available resources to help Texas hardest hit by the crisis,” said Governor Abbott. “With claims on the rise, our current balance of unemployment funds is projected to run out by the end of next month, so we must accelerate the delivery of necessary dollars.”


Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Shares Resources on Accessible Televised Emergency Information


On March 13, 2020, a national emergency was declared concerning the coronavirus pandemic. FCC rules require televised emergency information to be accessible. In addition to the information previously provided by the Governor's Committee on People with Disabilities (GCPD), the FCC has provided some helpful resources about accessible televised emergency information.


What is Emergency Information?


Emergency information is intended to help protect life, health, safety or property. Examples include:


•Community situations such as: pandemics, widespread power failures, industrial explosions, civil disorders, discharge of toxic gases, school closings and changes in school bus schedules resulting from such conditions.


•Immediate weather situations: tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, tidal waves, earthquakes, icing conditions, heavy snows, widespread fires, warnings and watches of impending weather changes, and


Information about a current emergency that is intended to further the protection of life, health, safety and property must be provided visually and aurally, such as:


•Specific details regarding the areas that may be affected by the emergency


•Evacuation orders, detailed descriptions of areas to be evacuated and specific evacuation routes


•Approved shelters or the way to take shelter in one's home


•Instructions on how to secure personal property


•Road closures


•How to obtain relief assistance


The FCC's consumer guide to emergency information provides further detail on what qualifies as emergency information and ways to make this information accessible for people who have functional and access needs.


Governor Abbott Announces HHSC Request Of 1135 Medicaid Waiver


AUSTIN - Governor Greg Abbott today announced that the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) has submitted a Section 1135 Medicaid Waiver to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS). If approved, this would grant Texas flexibility in administering Medicaid while the state continues to respond to COVID-19.


"The flexibilities we are requesting will help ensure Texans on Medicaid continue to have their routine needs met, even as the state responds to COVID-19," said Governor Abbott. "I ask CMS to grant this waiver so that we can expand care capacity for Texans who utilize services through Medicaid."


ČIf approved, the federal flexibilities would include:


•Temporarily extending existing prior authorizations for services so that Texans can get the care they need without delay.


•Extending deadlines for state fair hearings and appeals.


•Allowing services to be performed by telehealth, telemedicine, or telephonic contact.


•Extending current medical necessity, service authorizations, and level of care authorizations for Medicaid programs.


•Allowing the state to waive any requirements that require the signature of a physician, durable medical equipment provider, or Medicaid recipient.


•Streamlining provider enrollment for out-of-state and new providers to increase the number of providers in Texas, which will ensure continued access to care.


•Waiving requirements that health care professionals be licensed in the state in which they are providing services, so long as they have equivalent licensing in another state.


HHSC will also be seeking additional regulatory flexibilities through the Section 1135 Medicaid waiver related to federal requirements for long-term care providers, intermediate care facilities, home and community-based services programs, and hospitals.


If granted, this Section 1135 Medicaid waiver flexibilities would remain in place for as long as necessary during the public health emergency.


Governor Abbott Issues Executive Order Mandating 14-Day Quarantine For Travelers Arriving From New York Tri-State Area, New Orleans


Governor Greg Abbott today held a press conference at the State Capitol where he issued an Executive Order mandating a self-quarantine of 14 days for individuals traveling to Texas as their final destination through an airport from the Tri-State Area of New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut as well as the city of New Orleans, Louisiana. This Executive Order is consistent with the guidance of Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House Coronavirus Task Force and will be enforced by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). During this period, a quarantined person shall not allow visitors into or out of the designated quarantine location, other than a physician or healthcare provider, and cannot visit any public spaces. These mandatory self-quarantines will last a period of 14 days or for the duration of a person’s presence in Texas, whichever is shorter.


"The State of Texas continues to act upon the recommendations of top state, federal, and local health experts as we implement a comprehensive strategy to limit the spread of COVID-19,” said Governor Abbott.


AG Paxton Files Lawsuit to Halt Price Gouging at Auctions Unlimited LLC


Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton today filed a lawsuit to stop Auctions Unlimited LLC from price gouging Texans for necessary, health-related supplies. Following Governor Abbott’s disaster declaration, Auctions Unlimited listed an auction on its website for “over 750,000 face masks,” and that listing included face masks, N95 particulate respirators, hand soap, all-purpose cleaner, and disinfectant wipes. On March 24, bidding on N95 respirator masks pushed listings as high as $180 for a package of just 16 masks. Auctions Unlimited owner Tim Worstell admitted to receiving warnings from both local police and the Texas Attorney General; however, he moved forward with the exorbitantly priced auctions.


“The Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act expressly prohibits anyone from selling necessary items at an excessive price when a disaster is declared and, despite repeated warnings from law enforcement, that is exactly what we’ve see Auctions Unlimited do,” said Attorney General Paxton. “My office will not tolerate anyone taking advantage of Texas in need and profiting from this health crisis.”


AG Paxton: Local Governments Must Allow the Sale of Firearms


AUSTIN – Texas Attorne General Ken Paxton today issued a legal opinion following a request from Representative Dustin Burrows regarding the sales of firearms in Texas municipalities and counties. The opinion concludes that municipal and county authorities may not use emergency powers to regulate or restrict the sale of firearms.


“State law provides several emergency powers to local government to control movement within their region during a disaster, which serves our communities well during public health events like the one we’re fighting now. However, local regulation of the sale, possession, and ownership of firearms is specifically prohibited under Texas law,” said Attorney General Paxton. “Under our laws, every Texan retains their right to purchase and possess firearms.”


Under the Texas Local Government Code, municipal governments possess the limited authority to regulate the use of firearms during a disaster; however, that authority does not extend to the regulation of transfer, possession, ownership or sale of firearms.


Governor Abbott Announces New Processes To Preserve And Extend Child Care Capacity For Front Line Workers


Governor Greg Abbott today waived certain Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) regulations to preserve and extend child care capacity for front line workers. These waivers will allow TWC the flexibility to respond to child care needs, and are part of the Governor's work through the Supply Chain Strike Force to strengthen child care infrastructure for critical workers during the COVID-19 response. These waivers ensure that families using child care subsidized through TWC will not lose their slots during this interim period while the state battles COVID-19, and it secures payment to child care providers throughout this time.


"Through these waivers, TWC will be able to better respond to the child care needs of our front line workers in Texas," said Governor Abbott. "We remain committed to working with TWC and other state entities to ensure Texans serving on the front lines of the COVID-19 response have the support they need."


Children within TWC's child care services program will be able to accrue absences due to COVID-19 without impacting ongoing eligibility or provider reimbursements. TWC will also be able to waive parent share of cost requirements and direct local workforce development boards to make supplemental emergency payments to child care programs to offset payments lost due to COVID-19. Additionally, these waivers will allow TWC to temporarily broaden the definition of "protective services" to include children of workers on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19.