AUSTIN (Nexstar) – Cases of COVID-19 reached new highs this week in Texas. That led Governor Greg Abbott to issue an executive order requiring all Texans to stay at home, in an effort to slow the spread of the disease.
“I know this is a great sacrifice,” Abbott said in a message posted on social media Wednesday, hours before the order took effect. “But we must respond to this challenge with strength and resolve.”
The order allows exceptions for workers providing essential services. Texans can still leave their homes to do what the governor called “essential things” like going to the grocery store.
The order puts the entire state under restrictions similar to what many Texas cities already had in place.
“What I did, in my opinion, was just more precise,” Abbott said, describing the differences between his order and those in place in cities. “That is saying stay at home with the exception of essential services of running government and allowing you to access things like food that you need to live and survive.”
The order comes after pleas for statewide guidelines from groups like the Texas Hospital Association and the Texas Nurses Association. The worry is that if Texans do not take more stringent measures, COVID-19 could spread so fast that patients will overwhelm hospitals.
There is still concern about whether doctors and nurses who handle those patients have enough protective equipment like masks and gowns. The governor created the Supply Chain Strike Force to help acquire that equipment. Abbott appointed Dr. John Zerwas, a former state lawmaker, to join that team.
“We’re turning to everybody for some of these supplies, because they’re in such great demand,” Zerwas said. “Not every lead we get on supplies is a good one, I’m sorry to say,” he added.
One difficulty is the worldwide demand for medical supplies due to COVID-19. “I don’t think any of us have ever been in a situation where the disaster was everywhere,” Zerwas said. “I don’t think I have, nor anybody else, has really experienced something on this magnitude.”
The Strike Force has had some success bringing in supplies, including donations from schools, universities, and builders. “I think we as a state, and we as a country, are starting to catch up on this,” Zerwas said.
Oil price decline puts Texas jobs in jeopardy
COVID-19 is contributing to a sharp drop in oil prices. Drivers are seeing the effect at the gas pump, where prices have dropped to levels not seen in many years. But the financial toll from low oil prices could cost more than half a million oil and gas jobs. A lot of those jobs are right here in Texas.
Demand for gasoline has plummeted as drivers around the world park their cars and stay home in an effort to control the virus. But the coronavirus is only part of the problem. An ongoing price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia flooded markets with oil, sending prices spiraling down.
President Donald Trump has been in talks with Russian president Vladimir Putin to try to stabilize the market. Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn has been reaching out to officials in Saudi Arabia.
“They need to understand that if they expect a cooperative relationship from us on arms sales and a host of other issues, then they are going to have to treat us like a friend,” Cornyn said.
Some insurers deny claims for mental telehealth services
Our investigators received multiple complaints from behavioral health providers, frustrated that a major insurance company was not covering mental health visits performed over teleconference.
Meghann Gordon had followed all the rules and paid her insurance premiums. She’d been seeing her therapist for months and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas covered those visits. But, when stay-at-home orders were handed out in response to the coronavirus pandemic, her therapist had to stop seeing her in person. Instead, they planned to meet over a telehealth line.
But then Gordon got word from BCBS nearly three weeks ago that her therapy sessions performed by telehealth portals would not be covered.
“Your insurance provider is telling you, because you can’t see your provider in person, we’re not paying for it,” investigator Jody Barr asked Gordon. “Yes, exactly. They’re only willing to pay for in-person visits,” Gordon said.
“It doesn’t make sense and it’s really unfortunate because people really do need care in this situation. We’re going to see more people requesting care and I think it’s really selfish and irresponsible on the part of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas to refuse to cover these visits,” Gordon said.
Hours after we asked Gordon’s insurer about her case, the company reversed its decision and offered full coverage through April. But Gordon says she’s worried that other Texans could face similar problems.
“I’m concerned about the interruption of care, not just for myself, but for other people who are seeking care,” Gordon said.
Frustration after spring break trip leads to COVID-19 outbreak
Three weeks ago, close to 70 University of Texas students took a chartered spring break trip to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico. Now, nearly two-thirds of them have tested positive for COVID-19.
News of the trip and the positive tests sparked angry responses on social media. It also brought some choice words from Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen.
“Quit being an ass. That’s my message, candidly,” Bonnen said when asked about people who refuse to follow social distancing guidelines and recommendations to avoid travel.
“Whether you think this is an issue or not, it is,” Bonnen continued. “The reality of it is they’re coming back and they may not have the illness themselves, but they could spread it to their grandmother or grandfather of their favorite aunt. They could spread it to a neighborhood.”
Bonnen emphasized that the current health orders that have shut down businesses will end when all Texans take steps to slow the spread of the virus.
“I want to be clear, the viability of the Texas economy is 100-percent linked to Texans staying home and social distancing,” Bonnen said. “The sooner the Texas economy is put fully back into business, the sooner we will be in a positive position.”