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Governor acts to slow down deadly virus

AUSTIN — Texas is more invested every day in promoting increased and thorough hand-washing, disinfecting surfaces and social distancing to reduce cases of the rapidly spreading novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

As of March 22, the cumulative count of patients testing positive in Texas increased to 334. The death count stood at five with 8,756 people having been tested, according to figures posted by the Texas Department of State Health Services.

As the work week began, Gov. Greg Abbott was still not ready to order all Texans to stay at home, as local authorities ordered in Dallas County. However, he issued four statewide executive orders in accordance with federal guidelines issued by President Trump and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

• Every person in Texas shall avoid social gatherings in groups of more than 10 people;

• People shall avoid eating or drinking at bars, restaurants and food courts or visiting gyms or massage parlors — provided, however, that drive-thru, pickup or delivery options are allowed and highly encouraged throughout the limited duration of the executive order;

• People shall not visit nursing homes or retirement or long-term care facilities unless to provide critical assistance; and

• Schools shall temporarily close.

Abbott’s orders, effective through 11:59 p.m. on April 3, are subject to extension.

Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner John Hellerstedt also declared a public health disaster last week.

Hellerstedt’s declaration allows state and local health authorities to more easily require property owners to disinfect, decontaminate and seal off property that might be contaminated by COVID-19.

The declaration also:

• Authorizes health authorities to take control measures to eradicate the threat to public health;

• Streamlines the process for health authorities to invoke the courts to enforce quarantines of individuals; and

• Activates enhanced tools for DSHS to collect disease and health information and to share that information with law enforcement personnel and first responders, as appropriate.

GOVERNOR ACTIVATES GUARD

Gov. Abbott on March 17 activated the Texas National Guard to be prepared to assist with response efforts for COVID-19, ensuring that the military force can assist in various forms throughout the state when needed.

Healthcare workers and first responders who are members of the Texas National Guard are excluded from this activation so that they can continue serving the people of Texas in their respective fields, Abbott said.

SBA ASSISTANCE REQUESTED

Gov. Abbott on March 17 requested designation from the Small Business Administration to access the federal agency’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program for the entire state.

If granted, Abbott said, the Small Business Administration would provide long-term, low-interest loans to qualifying businesses across the state.

Small business owners are invited to visit the Texas Division of Emergency Management website: tdem.texas.gov/covid-19/ where they will be directed to an online application on the SBA website.

TELEMEDICINE TO INCREASE

Gov. Abbott on March 17 waived certain regulations and directed the Texas Department of Insurance to issue an emergency rule relating to telemedicine care in mitigating the spread of COVID-19.

Abbott said his actions build upon previous waivers of portions in the Occupations Code to expand provider flexibility in providing medical services over the phone.

Medical providers seeking guidance on the impact of the new rule can expect guidance from the Texas Medical Board to be issued in the coming days. Insurers seeking guidance on the emergency rule should contact the Texas Department of Insurance or visit their webpage for more information.

GOAL: STOP TRANSMISSION

The Texas Department of Transportation on March 17 announced actions to help reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

TxDOT postponed or canceled its inperson public hearings and gatherings through April 3, subject to change. However, work on projects to improve our transportation system continues, as does TxDOT’s ongoing work to maintain and operate our state’s transportation system.

Meanwhile, TxDOT has closed the lobbies of its 12 Travel Information Centers until further notice, but outside restrooms will remain available at all times and will be regularly cleaned between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Also, safety rest areas on highways throughout the state will remain open.

AG: PRICE-GOUGERS BEWARE

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on March 21 warned retail suppliers, including those who supply grocery stores and pharmacies, that state law strictly prohibits price gouging in the wake of a disaster.

Price gouging laws apply to any person or entity selling necessities at an exorbitant or excessive price after a disaster has been declared by the governor or president. This prohibition includes those who supply retailers.

Under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, Paxton said, any price-gougers may be required to reimburse consumers and may be held liable for civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation with an additional penalty of up to $250,000 if the affected consumers are elderly.