Launching a week when he hopes to pivot toward economic recovery, Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday revealed that recent numbers provide a "glimmer of hope" that the spread of the coronavirus may be slowing in Texas.
But Abbott said the numbers — which showed slower growth in deaths and confirmed COVID-19 cases, as well as a decline in overall hospitalizations, over the past three days — came with "a whole bunch of red flags attached."
"If those trends continue, it truly will mean that Texas is moving in the right direction," Abbott said, quickly adding: "It's too early to decisively make that call."
Abbott’s tentative prognosis came at a late-morning news conference at which he announced that Goldman Sachs and the LiftFund, along with other community development financial institutions, are partnering to provide $50 million in partially or wholly forgivable loans to help small businesses in Texas that have been affected by COVID-19.
The governor was joined by Janie Barrera, president and CEO of LiftFund, a nonprofit lender, and John Waldron, president and COO of Goldman Sachs, via Zoom to announce the initiative, which will make the loans through the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, to enable small businesses to stay intact and continue to pay their employees for what Abbott described as "the remaining few weeks until these businesses can be opened back up."
To that end, Abbott said he would issue a new executive order in the next few days outlining his plan for reviving a Texas economy that, like that across the country and around the world, has been laid low by encompassing efforts to limit the spread and death toll of the pandemic.
Abbott said he would also be announcing this week whether Texas classrooms, which are closed at least through May 4, will reopen at all this spring.
"Later this week I will outline both safe and healthy strategies where we can go about reopening businesses in Texas and revitalizing our economy," the governor said.
It will be, Abbott emphasized repeatedly, a slow process.
"This isn’t going to be a rushing the gates, everyone is able to suddenly reopen all at once," he said.
Abbott said the process will include a team that will compile a comprehensive plan, with input from medical professionals, on a strategy for "what must be done for Texas to open back up."
But, he asserted, "Our primary goal in the state of Texas right now to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, contain it, make sure the state is a safe place for all Texans."
On Sunday, Trump tweeted that it was up to governors to get their "testing programs & apparatus perfected. Be ready, big things are happening. No excuses!"
Meanwhile, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, who has been at Trump’s side during many of his news conferences on the pandemic, said Sunday that the economy in parts of the country could have a "rolling reentry" as early as May, if health authorities are prepared to quickly identify and isolate infected individuals.
"So, importantly, because of the medical advice that we will be getting for the team that will be involved in the slow process of reopening Texas back up for business, we will ensure that a component of that will include adequate testing," Abbott said.
"Right before I came in here today. I was on an hour-long conference call with the vice president, with Dr. (Deborah) Birx (the Trump administration’s coronavirus response coordinator) going over the very issue you are talking about, which is the strategic and necessary testing that is needed to safely reopen the state for doing business" Trump said.
Abbott said he had spoken with President Donald Trump over the weekend, "talking about the way in which we will all be working in collaboration to ensure that we will be able to slowly, strategically, smartly and safely begin to open up the expansion of economic development in the United States."
Abbott said the White House understands that, "the states are so varied in the United States, look what may work for Nebraska may be different than what works for New York ... and so I think that there will be a level of flexibility for states and maybe even within a state about what type of strategy may work best, knowing that even in the state of Texas, there are certainly areas that are harder hit by the coronavirus than are others."
The positive trends in coronavirus transmission that Abbott highlighted include:
• The number of known infections, 13,827 to date, rose by 422 in Monday’s report, the lowest increase since late March.
• Although 287 people have died in Texas, the one-day increase of 16 was the lowest since April 4.
• With 1,176 people hospitalized for COVID-19, that number fallen every day since Friday’s total of 1,532.
Abbott, who also noted that 2,269 Texans have recovered after testing positive for coronavirus infections, said the trends will not be significant unless the declines continue over time.
One red flag, he said, is that the trend included Sunday’s numbers, which tend to be the lowest of the week, perhaps due to declines in testing or reporting over the weekend.