AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday closed schools for more than 5 million students for at least two weeks, and warned that during that time the coronavirus outbreak could spread to “tens of thousands” of cases across the state.
The Republican also banned dining at restaurants, shut down gyms and prohibited public gatherings of more than 10 people. He also said during a televised town hall Thursday night that he was tested for the coronavirus and the results were negative, saying he did so given the thousands of people he has encountered in recent weeks and his role leading the state.
Texas has confirmed more than 140 cases and five deaths related to the virus that causes COVID-19.
“This time next week, there will be thousands of people who will have tested positive. In two weeks, probably tens of thousands,” Abbott said. “This is a very rapidly spreading disease, but one we are prepared to respond to.”
Across the entire U.S., there are more than 11,000 confirmed cases and at least 157 deaths.
For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with preexisting health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover. People with mild cases recover in about two weeks, according to the World Health Organization, while others could take three to six weeks to get well.
Prior to his sweeping executive orders Thursday, Abbott had left most of those decisions to local governments. But he reversed that position as a patchwork of rules took root in Texas, with restrictions that varied starkly between neighboring cities, even as big as Dallas and Fort Worth.
Abbott did not say when he took the test or whether he had shown any symptoms. He said he had hugged or shaken hands with thousands of people since the virus first appeared in Texas and the he “owed it to my staff, to the people of Texas, as I lead this effort to make sure that I was tested.”
Abbott’s order, which takes effect Friday, also will shut down gyms and bars and restricts access to nursing homes. Abbott said education officials would develop education alternatives such as online learning for their students.
Abbott issued the order hours after Houston opened the first drive-thru testing in the nation’s fourth-largest city, but officials there warned they didn’t have enough kits or protective gear to meet demand.
The governor’s order came on the heels of a statewide public health disaster declaration, which he said is the first in Texas since 1901.
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