SAN ANTONIO – Speaking in a San Antonio warehouse that’s stocked with personal protective equipment (PPE), Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday schools will have all the supplies they need to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 with no cost to them.
The governor stopped by the warehouse to show the progress Texas has made in securing PPE since the pandemic began.
“It turned out that there were minimal supplies of PPE in Texas as well as the United States,” Abbott said.
Since then, the state has been able to develop a new supply chain, allowing the Texas Division of Emergency Management to distribute more than 130 million masks and millions of gloves, gowns and face shields, Abbott said.
With some schools deciding to open up for in-person instruction as early August, Abbott assured the public the state has enough PPE to meet every school’s needs.
“This is being paid for by the state of Texas to ease the financial burdens of the local school districts,” Abbott said.
To date, the state had distributed more than 59.4 million masks, 24,000 thermometers, 568,000 gallons of hand sanitizers and 511,000 face shields to Texas schools.
“There continue to be new deliveries as we speak, on an ongoing basis, to make sure that all of the PPE supplies, of all of the schools across the state of Texas, will have their needs met at no cost to the local schools,” Abbott said.
Abbott’s handling of school reopening caught the ire of the Texas State Teacher’s Association.
“The governor’s optics today on PPE is a drop in the bucket, compared to what will be needed if schools are forced to reopen before it’s safe,” TSTA President said in a statement. “59.4 million masks are roughly 11 masks per student. That might get students through the first week of school.”
Three San Antonio-area school districts - Northside ISD, North East ISD, and San Antonio ISD - told KSAT they had either bought, or plan to buy, more equipment than what the state provided. A spokesman for SAISD said the district had to buy smaller masks for children between 3 and 12 years-old, while an NEISD spokeswoman said the district plans to buy gloves, booties, and gowns.
The Texas Democratic Party chided Abbott after the press conference in a statement that called the event a “staged photo-op.”
“Just like Donald Trump, Governor Abbott has proven time and time again that he has failed Texans in our greatest time of need,” wrote Texas Democratic Party communications director Abhi Rahman, accusing the governor to listening to “right-wing donors and lobbyists” instead of “doctors and experts.”
School districts have dealt with constantly changing Texas Education Agency guidelines and directives from local health authorities on when and how to reopen.
After the Metropolitan Health District ordered Bexar County schools to remain closed through Sept. 7, Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Attorney General Ken Paxton have said only local school districts have the authority to decide when and how campuses should reopen.
While local health authorities may close a campus in response to an outbreak, according to a joint statement on Friday from Abbott and other top Republicans, they “do not have the power to issue preemptive, blanket closures of schools weeks or months in advance of when a school may open its doors to students.”
“The local school districts are free to make decisions based upon local public health authorities, however, as it concerns when schools open, they’re not bound by any date dictated months in advance by a local public health authority,” Abbott said Tuesday.
Metro Health officials plan to release an amended directive later this week pertaining to schools.