Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday ordered coronavirus testing for all Texas nursing home residents and staff after the White House urged the nation’s governors to do so as deaths mount nationwide.
The directive by Abbott, a Republican, to state health officials came hours after Vice President Mike Pence, who leads the White House coronavirus task force, told governors on a video conference call that it was the federal government’s strong recommendation to test all nursing home residents in the U.S. in the next two weeks.
It also came as San Antonio officials announced the first death of an employee at a nursing home that in April was struck by one of Texas’ first major outbreaks. More than 100 people tested positive for the virus at Southeast Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, and 18 residents have died.
The employee was a woman in her 60s with underlying medical conditions, said Laura Mayes, a spokeswoman for the city.
Johnson County has so far been spared, Emergency Management Director Jamie Moore said.
“To my knowledge we’ve had no nursing homes in the county with positive cases,” Moore said on Tuesday. “We’ve been fortunate in that respect and that’s news that we hope holds up.”
Tuesday brought the third round of free state sanctioned coronavirus testing in the county. Whether a fourth will be scheduled remains to be determined.
“Turnout is pretty low at the one today, only about 15 people so far,” Moore said. “Of course, we have several more hours to go so it depends on how many more people show up. If we have another testing day it will be at the county’s request and will be on Saturday. Depending on turnout today I’ll get with [Johnson County Judge Roger Harmon] and we’ll talk about whether we need to schedule another.”
Tuesday’s testing site staged out of Alvarado. The two before were in Cleburne.
“Turnout has been all right,” Moore said. “We had 65 the first time in Cleburne and 47 on the second. It comes down to a question of demand. We’re getting word out about the testing but it may be that a lot of people just don’t feel they need to get tested.”
The testing is done in conjunction with the Texas Department of State Health Services, Texas Division of Emergency Management, Texas Military Department and the participating counties.
“It may be out of our hands as to whether to have another testing day Saturday because the state may divert resources toward testing the nursing homes,” Moore said. “And I have not yet heard their plans on how the state plans to handle nursing home testing in the county.”
Cleburne Fire Chief Scott Lail agreed.
“That’s going to pretty much have to involve state help to get to and test all the nursing homes not just in the county but the whole state,” Lail said.
The city of Cleburne also offers free testing from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Cleburne Senior Center.
“We’ve kept busy and had good turnout,” Lail said. “Since we started [on May 4] we’ve tested well over 160 people. And we’ve gotten more tests in so we have more openings for people who still want to be tested. That’s why I say it will have to be the state to help out on that as far as the nursing home residents. We don’t have the time or manpower for that. We also stay at the senior center suited up until the day is over and don’t leave until we’ve showered and sanitized.”
More than 26,000 residents and staff have died from outbreaks of the virus at the nation’s nursing homes and long-term care facilities, according to an AP tally based on state health departments and media reports. That is about a third of all 76,000 deaths in the U.S. that have been attributed to the virus.
Texas has more than 39,000 cases and at least 1,100 deaths related to the virus. State health officials Monday announced there had been an additional 10,000 cases and 12 new deaths. The true numbers are likely higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.
Gov. Greg Abbott has said he is focused on hospitalization rates that remain steady and infection rates that have dropped since mid-April.
Barbershops and hair salons were allowed to start reopening in Texas on Friday. Last week, restaurants and retailers in the state were allowed to begin reopening with limited capacity.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
Information in this article came from the Associated Press.