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State-private partnership to speed up production of masks

by | Apr 15, 2020 | Opinion

AUSTIN — Gov. Greg Abbott on April 8 announced a partnership between the Texas Military Department and Prestige Ameritech to increase production of personal protective equipment for health care workers.

Prestige Ameritech, with a 220,000-square-foot plant in North Richland Hills near Fort Worth, is the United States’ largest domestic surgical mask manufacturer. The company’s 24-hour operation will be staffed in part by members of the Texas National Guard 36th Infantry Division, enabling the production of an estimated 2 million surgical face masks per week. 

Joining Abbott in making the announcement were Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner John Hellerstedt, Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd and University of Texas System Executive Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs John Zerwas.

Abbott announced on April 6 that Texas had received 2.5 million masks in the previous 24 hours and would receive an additional 3 million masks by April 11. The governor’s office also provided a region-by-region weekly breakdown of personal protective equipment that had been distributed: masks, face shields, gloves, gowns and coveralls.

In other action, Abbott announced on April 9 an emergency rule adopted by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to temporarily allow more nurse aides to serve residents in long-term care facilities during the COVID-19 response. Under the rule, nursing facilities may hire people to provide nurse aide services without having to complete a full certification program in their first four months of employment. This action will expand the eligible pool of direct-care workers and help long-term care providers who may face critical staffing shortages, Abbott said.

According to figures posted by the Texas Department of State Health Services at noon on April 12, some 13,484 people in Texas had been diagnosed with deadly coronavirus — COVID-19 — and 271 deaths resulting from the disease had been confirmed.

Governor closes parks

Gov. Abbott on April 7 directed the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Historical Commission to close all state parks and historic sites indefinitely as part of the state’s efforts to strengthen social distancing practices and prevent gatherings of large groups of people.

Historic sites and state parks will reopen at the direction of the governor.

“Social distancing is our best tool to curb the spread of COVID-19 and save lives,” Abbott said. “The temporary closure of our state parks and historic sites will help us achieve this goal by preventing the gathering of large groups of people. I urge all Texans to continue to stay at home except for essential services as we respond to COVID-19. By following these social distance practices, we will overcome this challenge together.”

Care access to increase

Gov. Abbott on April 6 announced that Care.com, a private business that enables families to find, manage and pay for care and provides employment opportunities for caregivers, is increasing in-home child care access for frontline workers responding to the COVID-19 emergency.

As part of this initiative, Abbott said, Care.com is offering 90 days of free, premium access to their services, along with specific portals for frontline workers and caregivers in Texas.

Frontline workers looking for child care, as well as prospective caregivers, can enroll at https://texasfrontline.care.com/.

Potential caregivers are subject to Care.com’s extensive background and safety checks. While child care services are not typically free of charge, the Texas portal gives residents the ability to waive their fees and volunteer as caregivers, providing additional support to frontline workers, Abbott added.

Hegar distributes revenue

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on April 8 announced he would send cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts $701.8 million in local sales tax allocations for April.

The amount is 0.5 percent less than the amount distributed in April 2019.

Revenue allocations are based on sales made in February by businesses that report tax monthly.

Next month’s allocations, which will mostly reflect sales made in March, will begin to show the impact of pandemic-related business shutdowns. The agency, therefore, expects local allocations in May to be lower, and June allocations will likely deteriorate further, Hegar said.

Lawsuit amicus is filed

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison on April 6 led 40 attorneys general in an amicus brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of injury lawsuit decisions by the Supreme Courts of Montana and Minnesota.

In the brief, Paxton and Ellison said those state supreme courts correctly ruled in favor of allowing individuals to file personal injury lawsuits in the states in which they reside and were injured, regardless of where the defendant was located. 

The friend-of-the-court brief opposes an effort by large corporations to prevent individuals from filing lawsuits in their own local courts and to potentially prevent states from filing lawsuits to enforce their own laws, Paxton said.

Jobless urged to reapply

The Texas Workforce Commission on April 4 encouraged Texas residents previously deemed monetarily ineligible for unemployment benefits to reapply now, at the beginning of a new fiscal quarter.

The agency invited applicants who were denied unemployment benefits due to insufficient wages and who worked during the January 2019-December 2019 base period to visit the unemployment benefit services portal to reapply online.

For more stories like this, see the April 15 issue or subscribe online.

By Ed Sterling • Member Services Director, Texas Press Association

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