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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott activates National Guard to be ready for coronavirus response

Gov. Greg Abbott, left, and Dennis Bonnen, right. (Jay Janner/Austin-American Stateman/TNS)

Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday he is activating the Texas National Guard to be ready to help with the state’s response to the novel coronavirus.

“The National Guard has been involved in this process from the beginning. It’s just at this particular point in time, I want to fully activate the National Guard. But no National Guard need to be deployed at this time,” Abbott said at the State Operations Center in Austin ahead of a call with hospitals across the state.

In a statement following the announcement, Abbott stressed that activating the Texas National Guard is a precautionary measure to ensure they are ready at a moment’s notice.

First responders and health care workers who are members of the Texas National Guard will be exempt, “because they need to be on the front lines of making sure that we are providing all the healthcare that is needed for those who may contract COVID-19,” Abbott said.

In a statement following Abbott’s announcement, Lt. Col. Laura Sanchez Cross, a spokeswoman for the Texas Military Department, said the department is preparing to ensure the Texas Guard can respond as needed.

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“The Texas National Guard has unique resources and equipment to support our civilian partners, and we bring a wide breadth of expertise and assets to enhance the COVID-19 response with trained personnel for this type of emergency,” Cross said. “We hope that the people of Texas find comfort in knowing that we are Texans, and we will work together during this difficult time.”

Abbott joined a growing number of governors of states such as New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Colorado and West Virginia who activated their national guards following declarations of states of disaster.

On the call with representatives from hospitals across the state, Abbott announced a temporary waiver for hospitals to increase unused bed capacity without being required to submit an application or associated fees, according to a news release following the call.

“By working to expand hospital bed capacity, as well as meet staffing and equipment needs, Texas is ensuring our hospitals are able to care for those who contract COVID-19, while maintaining normal health care operations,” Abbott said in a statement.

Abbott also updated the number of confirmed cases in Texas.

Monday night, the state’s first death related to COVID-19 was reported in a man in his 90s who was a resident of Matagorda County who had been hospitalized for the illness.

As of Tuesday afternoon, there were at least 64 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across 19 counties, and 1,264 Texans had been tested, Abbott said.

“And that number will continue to increase dramatically in the coming days,” Abbott said as testing capabilities ramp up statewide in conjunction with public health departments, private labs and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

This week, Texas will be receiving 15,000 COVID-19 test kits from FEMA alone, Abbott said, and he anticipates by the end of this week Texas will be capable of testing about 10,000 people weekly.

In a press conference Monday in San Antonio, Abbott had said Texans need to be prepared for the “mathematical reality” that as testing becomes more widely available throughout the state, there will be an “exponential increase in the number of people that test positive on a daily basis.”

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© 2020 the Fort Worth Star-Telegram