AUSTIN — As the worldwide threat of novel coronavirus increased, state agencies already were working together to ensure the health and safety of all Texans, Gov. Greg Abbott said Feb. 27.
After a briefing from state and federal health officials on coronavirus (COVID-19), Abbott provided an update on steps the state is taking. He said the Department of State Health Services has activated the State Medical Operations Center to serve as a touchpoint for any requests from local entities. The center also ensures consistent collection, tracking and reporting of public health activities and data.
Also, DSHS is preparing state laboratories with testing capabilities for the novel coronavirus and is updating public health response plans in the event of the spread of the virus. Abbott said multi-level and multi-agency coordination and communication efforts are practiced daily to ensure up-to-date information is flowing between federal, state and local partners.
Furthermore, DSHS is coordinating with the Texas Department of Emergency Management, Texas Hospital Association, Texas Medical Association and state university systems to provide educational materials and the latest developments in research and treatment methods for the virus.
And, relevant agencies will implement disinfecting measures at places such as driver license offices and schools and ensure that high-risk populations such as those in day-care centers, nursing homes, assisted living associations and health-care facilities are prepared and properly cared for, Abbott said.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed multiple cases of COVID-19 in people under federal quarantine at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. The first was a traveler who returned on a U.S. State Department-chartered flight from Wuhan City, China. The others returned on a State Department flight for passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined in Yokohama, Japan. The individuals will remain isolated at medical facilities until they test negative for the virus and are no longer at risk of spreading it. The CDC has the latest information on the number of people under quarantine who are infected and is updating its national numbers each Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
New cards being issued
The Texas Department of Public Safety on Feb. 27 announced that it is now issuing redesigned, tamper-resistant Texas driver’s licenses, identification cards and license-to-carry cards.
The cards have a new look with an updated design and enhanced security features. The driver’s license and ID cards also have visible and discrete identifiers on the front.
The DPS said that previously issued driver’s licenses are still valid until the expiration date listed on the card and, beginning Oct. 1, travelers will need a valid passport, U.S. military ID or a REAL ID compliant driver’s license (one with the gold star) to travel on commercial airlines or enter federal facilities.
Paxton welcomes ruling
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Feb. 26 applauded a federal district court ruling holding that a 1998 comprehensive settlement agreement with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and other tobacco companies stands and the agreed payments to the state for smoking-related healthcare costs must be enforced.
The U.S District Court for the Eastern District of Texas rejected Reynolds’ argument that selling acquired brands included in the settlement nullified its obligation to Texas taxpayers, declaring that “Reynolds remains as liable today as it was when it entered into the Texas Settlement in 1998.”
“I applaud the court for holding tobacco companies accountable to the terms of the settlement to which they agreed. Texas taxpayers are owed substantial back payments and we will not allow any company to shirk their obligations to the people of this state,” said Paxton. “No matter how large the company or how long the fight, my office will continue to fight for the compensation that taxpayers are owed.”
Vaping case count: 250
The Department of State Health Services on Feb. 25 reported some 250 Texas cases of severe lung disease in people who used e-cigarettes before developing symptoms. Four of them have died.
Patients range in age from 13 to 75 years old with a median age of 22 years. About one-quarter of the people affected in Texas are minors. Three-quarters are male and nine in 10 report vaping THC or marijuana possibly in conjunction with other substances. Almost all patients were hospitalized and the DSHS said many required intensive care.
By Ed Sterling • Member Services Director, Texas Press Association