WATCH: Gov. Abbott discusses nursing home COVID-19 cases, effort to re-open Texas

Governor Abbott Interview

TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - During an exclusive live interview Thursday afternoon about the effort to re-open Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott addressed recent spikes of confirmed COVID-19 cases at East Texas nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

KLTV’s Blake Holland interviewed Abbott during a Special Report on East Texas Now.

Abbott said as he and his team work to re-open Texas safely, they will remain focused on protecting the Lone Star State’s most vulnerable residents - people who are 65 years old or older.

“I was very clear on Monday that the most important strategy moving forward in opening up Texas requires us to re-double our efforts for our seniors and nursing home residents,” Abbott said.

The governor cited some disturbing numbers. He said that even though people 65 and older only make up about 20 percent of the total COVID-19 cases in Texas, 75 percent of the people who have died as a result of the coronavirus pandemic were in that age group.

Any time there is an outbreak at a nursing home or assisted living facility, the Texas Department of State Health Services will work to improve the infectious disease protocols at that location, aggressively test the residents and staff for the COVID-19 virus, try to separate those who have tested positive for the coronavirus from those who tested negative, and provide all the treatment needed for anyone who tests positive for the coronavirus.

In response to a question about the wording of his most recent order, Abbott said it wasn’t his intent for it to be vague or ambiguous. He said that the state’s attorney general thought the order was clearly written.

Abbott said they talked about making sure Texas could re-open restaurants, retail stores, malls movie theaters, and museums and let doctors and dentists get back to work. He added the most important thing other than keeping people as safe as possible was letting Texans get back to work.

If businesses and entities need further clarification on the details in his most recent order, they can contact their regulatory agencies, Abbott said.

Some employees have expressed concerns about the safety of returning to work this soon. In response to a related question, Abbott said if an employee is forced to choose between going to work when they don’t feel safe or losing their jobs because they choose not to go back to work, they should err on the side of caution and stay home.

In response to a question that mentioned a recent letter from Smith County Judge Nathaniel Moran to the governor that mentioned his desire to see more local control, Abbott said Texas has 254 counties, and if he gave local more local control to each county judge, there would likely be 254 different plans to re-open those counties instead of one statewide plan.

“Because this is a statewide pandemic and a worldwide pandemic, it knows no county lines, so it’s important to establish standards for the entire state to make sure that as a state we’re able to do all we can to open up as much as possible while controlling this pandemic," Abbott said.

The governor said that he and his COVID-19 team are looking at allowing businesses to open up to 50 percent of their customer capacity in two weeks if the COVID-19 numbers continue to trend downward. If those numbers spike significantly, it may affect the plan to re-open the state, Abbott said.

Abbott explained that as more people are tested in Texas, the numbers will go up. However, the doctors on his COVID-19 team told him the numbers they need to be looking at are the percentages of people testing positive and how many people are being hospitalized.

In the previous month, about 10 percent of all people tested for the COVID-19 virus tested positive Abbott said. In April, that number has gone down to about 6 percent, he said. He added that the number of hospitalizations has gone down as well.

At a question about when barber shops and beauty salons will be able to re-open, Abbott said he and his team have been talking to people who work in that field all week, but they still don’t have a firm answer about when those businesses will be allowed to re-open.

Toward the end of the interview, Abbott said he is looking at getting a dinner reservation for this weekend. He added that it may be difficult because many restaurants are choosing to wait on re-opening.

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