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Phelan hosts Tele Town Hall concerning response to COVID-19

By Dawn Burleigh

Texas House Representative Chairman Dade Phelan (Rep.) District 21 hosted a telephone Town Hall with Governor Abbott’s COVID-19 Supply Chain Strike Force member Dr. John Zerwas as well as Orange County Judge John Gothia and Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick on Thursday evening.

Individuals could press 0 to have their question recorded and then transcribed to the speakers to answer.

County Judges Gothia and Branick have been at the Southeast Texas Regional Emergency Operations Center for about 30 days as they stay informed on the latest numbers and strive to keep their counties healthy during the pandemic.

“One of the reasons for sharing with the six counties is to use our resources more efficiently,” Gothia said.

As Orange County has seen the numbers of those who have tested positive for COVID-19, Gothia pointed out the significance of the growth of those who have recovered.

“We have seen the number of recoveries go from 13 to 20 recoveries,” Gothia said. “That is where antibodies come from. We just got permission to release the gender and age of those who have tested positive.”

The meeting came the same day as the president released a three point plan for restarting the economy.

“We can see the numbers flatten, and we are glad to see it,” Gothia said. “But we do not want to get overconfident. We don’t want to cause a spike and start over.”

Gothia added that the reason the area is seeing the numbers they are is because of social distancing.

Representative Chairman Dade Phelan pointed out the area has been through a great deal in the last two and half years with Hurricane Harvey, Tropical Storm Imelda, the TCP explosion and now the pandemic.

“Texas has the 10th largest economy, we should not have to rely on people in garages for masks,” Phelan said.

He also mentioned the Sales Tax Holiday for Emergency Supplies coming up later this month.

“I would like to see a Sales Tax Holiday for Pandemic Supplies,” Phelan said. “people could stock up on sanitizers and masks. If it happens once, it could happen again.”

Texas Workforce is also feeling the effects of the pandemic as more and more people are facing unemployment due to the coronavirus.

“Texas Workforce is being overtasked. They are receiving 100,000 calls a day,” Phelan said. “It is borrowing employees from other agencies to work the phone banks. It is taking an average of four to five days to get a call back.”

He added to those in need of filing for unemployment to stay diligent and it is a 24 hour hotline.

“They can also contact me at dade.phelan@house.state.tx.us,” Phelan said.

Dr. John Zerwas said the perseverance of people staying at home has shown a positive effect in the numbers of those testing positive for COVID-19.

“We see the numbers everyday, and we see them slowing down,” Zerwas said. “We are hoping it is entering a plateau.”

Zerwas is one of the members of Governor Abbott’s COVID-19 Supply Chain Strike Force whose job it is to help locate and purchase PPE for those on the front line, as well as other medical needs.

“The credit goes to those in your region Dade,” Zerwas said. “You’re going to see us win this war and not see the numbers seen in New Orleans or New York.”

This week he is working on enhancing testing capacity.

“To open up the economy we need a robust testing system,” Zerwas said. “We need to be able to run test on people on a largescale basis.”

Currently, in Southeast Texas area, 100-125 are able to be tested on a daily basis.

The task force is also working on an antibody test.

“Three antibody tests were approved this week,” Zerwas said. “It would show if you have been exposed to the virus. Many facilities in Texas have the machine needed to run the test.”

He also added that in three weeks to a month, a blood test version was on the horizon which would show if one had developed antibodies for the COVID-19.

“Also, on the horizon are drug trials,” Zerwas said. “They are fast paced trials with encouraging results.”

Zerwas added that depending on teste results, a vaccine could be found later this year.

“I have not had a chance to look at the president’s plan as it just came out,” Zerwas said. “We need to get the economy going, but we need the pandemic in check first.”

One thing the officials agreed upon was the need to take steps in restarting the economy in steps.

“If we do it too fast, we could see a surge of the virus,” Zerwas said. “We do not want to do that. Taking steps in the right direction.”

Wearing masks may become a fashionable, according to Zerwas as residents are encouraged to continue practicing social distancing good hygiene and wearing masks.