SAN ANTONIO — Texas officials have braced themselves for an ongoing concern in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic: an adequate supply of masks, gloves, face shields and other personal protection equipment, or PPE.
"There are two coming events that this directly impacts," Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said. "One is the coming of the reopening of schools. The other, as we go down the calendar, is the coming of flu season."
Abbott and state officials gathered Tuesday morning at the Texas Division of Emergency Management Warehouse in San Antonio to address the state's current PPE supply.
"We achieved one of our top priorities during the course of this pandemic, and that was to provide adequate supply of PPE to everyone in the state that would need it," Abbott said.
Texas has spent more than $1 billion stocking up on PPE, according to state officials, bringing much-needed items to hospitals and testing sites, and now schools as districts prepare for students' return to the classroom.
TDEM has reportedly provided more than 130 million masks, 33 million gloves, 7 million gowns and 4 million face shields to various entities across the state since the pandemic started.
At the start of the pandemic, the governor said one of the state's biggest hurdles was inadequate supply of PPE and that most supplies were being manufactured overseas. Since then, the governor has designated a task force to address those issues.
"They have not been doing this alone. They have team members working together with them to execute this. Key members of those teams include the National Guard that we have here in the state of Texas," Abbott said.
The governor announced President Donald Trump has extended federal funding for the National Guard to continue its work in Texas until the end of the calendar year at a 100 percent reimbursement rate. That assistance includes supplies and personnel.
"One of the things we're focused on in regards to PPE, in regard to the state, is the beginning of the school year," Abbott said.
The governor said Texas school districts have received 59 million masks, 24,000 thermometers, 565,000 gallons of hand sanitizer and 5,000 face shields from the state. He said Texas will continue to send PPE to school districts at no costs to help them best respond to the pandemic.
"We wanted to do this at no costs to the local schools. This is being provided by the state to ease the financial burdens on the local schools," Abbott said.
Gov. Abbott said safety remains their top priority, and every school district has the flexibility to choose what date to start the school year and if it will be in person or remotely.
“The people who know best about what both the needs are in their school district as well as the capabilities of providing a safe learning environment. The people who know best about that are the local school officials,” he said.
Houston ISD plans to do virtual learning starting on Sept. 8 for six weeks.After that, face-to-face instruction will begin, but it’s subject to change based on recommendations from health officials.
“Local school boards and superintendents can base their decision solely upon the information provided to them by local public health authorities," Gov. Abbott said.
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