Legislators discuss public concerns about coronavirus with state leaders


AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The House of Representatives’ Public Health Committee held a public hearing at the Capitol Tuesday, March 10.

On the top of the agenda, the committee heard from state agencies, including the Texas Department of State Health Services, the Texas Division of Emergency Management and the Health and Human Services Commission about how Texas as a whole is handling the spread of the coronavirus.

DSHS Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt said he believes the public has responded well as a whole.

“I’m starting to see a lot of change just in people’s behavior, the fist-bumping, the elbow tapping, the surface cleaning,” he said.

But washing hands and avoiding handshakes might not be enough when it comes to an airborne contaminant. These methods typically are used to reduce spread via droplet transmission.

The commissioner said they are asking the CDC daily whether or not the coronavirus can be transmitted through the air. 

“We’re really asking, for instance, the CDC and other researchers to address that question, because it’s very important. it has a significant impact on what types of resources we need to bring to bear, especially in the care of hospitalized patients,” Hellerstedt said.

That’s not the only question legislators had.

“At what point, are enough folks falling through the cracks — maybe falling through the communities — and how are we going to isolate people that need further testing?” Rep. Eddie Lucio III (D – Brownsville), asked the commissioner regarding the number of tests currently available.

Hellerstedt explained the state is being conservative and cautious with the tests they have now, but the amount they have adequately serves the number of cases present in the state. That could soon change, however.

“We definitely are ramping up on things like our capacity to do laboratory testing,” Hellerstedt said.

Another important item on the agenda included making sure healthcare professionals stay healthy during the outbreak.

“It’s really important to understand protecting our doctors, our nurses, that is a top priority,” Hellerstedt said.

In order to do so, he said it’s important to leave the medical resources for those who need them most, including face masks.

Other agencies represented at the hearing today included the Texas Education Agency, the Texas Medical Association and the Texas Associations of Health Plans.

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