DALLAS, Texas – Texas' governor declared a state of disaster Friday as the coronavirus pandemic spread to every major city and swept new worries through the 50,000-student campus at the University of Texas, which abruptly canceled classes after the wife of the school president tested positive.
University of Texas President Greg Fenves said another member of his family is also believed to have COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, and that he had also been tested. He said his wife, Carmel, started feeling ill following a trip to New York last week and that his family was in self-quarantine.
The announcement by Fenves came hours after the university — one of the largest in the U.S. — canceled classes and closed the campus, which previously had no confirmed cases.
Texas now has at least 39 confirmed cases of the virus, and Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said 220 people had been tested as of Friday. Questions have mounted about why so few tests had been done in a state of 29 million people, but Abbott said at a news conference that testing would begin ramping up, including San Antonio launching drive-thru testing for first responders and certain high-risk patients.
Abbott, who unlike governors in other big states has not urged cities to limit large gatherings or cancel events, also ordered visitor restrictions on everywhere from nursing homes to jails. And he sought to calm nerves by noting that 90 people previously brought to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio from Wuhan, China — which had been the epicenter of the virus — had now all returned home.
“This is not a death sentence we're dealing with here,” Abbott said. "This is a typical outcome that we expect to see. Working together, I know we can do it."
The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on Wednesday. Worldwide, more than 137,400 cases have been confirmed and more than 5,000 people have died.
The vast majority of people recover within weeks. It causes only mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems.
On Friday, San Antonio banned large public gatherings and postponed its giant Fiesta celebration until November after the first travel-related case of COVID-19 was detected in the city. Like the South by Southwest Festival in Austin that was shelved last week, it was another big blow for a major Texas city: Fiesta organizers say the festival attracts more than 2 million people and has an economic impact of more than $300 million.
Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson issued a proclamation late Thursday declaring a local state of disaster for the city of 1.3 million people, shortly after a countywide ban on large public gatherings of 500 or more people was announced. Public health officials in Austin, meanwhile, said that one patient in his 60s was hospitalized in critical condition.
The San Antonio Roman Catholic archdiocese and Dallas Roman Catholic diocese have suspended public Masses through March 30, and other Catholic dioceses have urged sick and high-risk communicants to stay home.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler said the city had been preparing for the virus to arrive and had taken preemptive steps to reduce the threat of it spreading, including canceling schools Friday ahead of next week’s spring break.
“This is a virus that we have known was coming to us. It has now come to us,” Adler said. “Let's be calm and deal with what's in front of us."
Associated Press writers Jim Vertuno in Austin and Jamie Stengle in Dallas contributed to this report.
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