DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – In Dallas Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence pledged more testing for Texas and urged the state’s residents to wear masks amid a rapid increase in coronavirus cases.
The vice president met at the UT Southwestern Medical Center with Gov. Greg Abbott, ambassador Dr. Deborah Birx (the White House coronavirus coordinator), HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson, Sen. John Cornyn, Dr. John Hellerstedt (commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services), among others.
During a press briefing afterwards, the vice president repeated what he told the governor.
“We’re going to make sure Texas has what you need, when you need it,” he said
Late last week, the government announced it would extend federal funding for five community drive-thru test sites across the state, including the two in Dallas, but only for two additional weeks.
When asked why the federal government is extending federal funding by two weeks and not longer, the vice president said the federal government had recently been discussing a transition from federal to state funding for the five community test sites. “Frankly, in consultation with the Governor, and at the urging of both of your Senators, we’ll be extending that every bit as long as Texas wants us to. This is all hands on deck. We’re going to make sure not only do we continue the testing at those five sites, but the Governor needs additional public resources to expand testing. That will be made available.”
He didn’t provide more specifics.
Abbott added, “The state of Texas would have operational control of not just those. The goal and the capability was going to be able to expand even more testing sites and do even more testing.”
The governor said that will include expanded testing at UT Southwestern, but he didn’t elaborate.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins has said he has repeatedly asked the state and federal governments to provide reagents so UT Southwestern’s lab can produce hundreds of test results a day but hasn’t received them.
At the press briefing, Abbott said during the past few weeks, the statewide average daily number of positive cases rose from 2,000 to more than 5,000.
The test positivity rate statewide during that time soared from 4% to more than 13%.
The average daily number of people statewide hospitalized with COVID-19 rose from 2,000 to 5,000.
Dr. Birx said in Harris County the rate of increase “is quite enormous,” along with the rates in Bexar and Travis counties.
As for North Texas, Dr. Birx said, “Dallas is more steady in its rate of increase.”
On Friday, the governor rolled back some reopening plans.
He ordered bars to shut down and restaurants to go back to in-person dining at 50% occupancy.
Dr. Birx called the state’s reopening plan from late April “very serious and safe”, and she praised the governor for changing course Friday. “I want to thank the Governor for his action on the bars. I’m really appealing to every Texan to wear a mask.”
She said she wanted to see 100% compliance for wearing masks.
On Friday, several North Texas Democrats criticized the governor for acting too slowly to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Some Democrats nationwide criticized the vice president for not telling people they should wear masks.
In Dallas, Pence mentioned it several times. “Wearing a mask is just a good idea. And it will, we know from experience, slow the spread of the coronavirus.”
The vice president, governor, HUD secretary, Cornyn and Dr. Birx were all wearing their masks when they entered the press briefing but removed them to speak.
He also urged Texans to listen to local health officials, practice social distancing, wash their hands and protect the elderly and the most vulnerable.
Dr. Birx said in the Dallas area, they see an increased rate of Texans younger than 40 hospitalized.
While experts say younger people with COVID-19 are less susceptible to serious illness, Dr. Birx said those hospitalized may be obese or have Type-2 diabetes.
The vice president said if younger people are concerned, they should get tested whether they have symptoms of the virus or not.
He and Dr. Birx said younger people should avoid older relatives and friends because they may be asymptomatic and could unknowingly spread the virus.
Abbott said despite the recent rise in COVID-19 cases, the state still has the second lowest death rate of the nation’s top 27 most affected states.
He said Texans had slowed the spread of the virus before and that “coming together, working together, we will once again slow the spread of COVID-19.”
The meeting to discuss the state’s response to the pandemic came after Pence and Secretary Ben Carson spoke at the Celebrate Freedom event at First Baptist Dallas.
They wore their masks until they started addressing the crowd.
On Friday, Pastor Dr. Robert Jeffress said he expected between 3,500 and 4,500 people to attend and watch in various places in the sprawling downtown campus.