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Gov. Abbott seeks disaster declaration from White House ‘to protect our state’ as Texas virus deaths grow to 9

Gov Abbott coronavirus briefing
Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott during a briefing on the coronavirus outbreak.

AUSTIN, Texas -- Gov. Greg Abbott sent a letter to President Trump on Monday requesting a presidential declaration of a major disaster in Texas due to the impact of the coronavirus, which has now claimed nine lives in the state.

The three new deaths reported Monday included a woman in her 80s who is the San Antonio-area's first fatality; she was being treated at a hospital and had a history of underlying health issues. The other deaths were two Dallas men in their 60s who had been hospitalized in critical condition; one had prior health issues while the other did not.

The governor said the virus outbreak in Texas is of "such severity and magnitude" that lives are at risk without federal assistance and he warned of the looming "threat of a larger disaster."

"COVID-19-related expenses and obligations are already exceeding $50 million and that will only rise as our efforts continue," Abbott said in his letter to the president. "Additional federal funding is essential for us to maintain our aggressive course of action to protect our state."

The new federal money sought would be used by the state of Texas to deal with the current shortage of needed medical equipment, hospital beds and testing supplies as well as protective equipment for medical and healthcare providers.

Over 10,000 Texans had been tested for the virus as of Monday, with at least 670 testing positive, according to data from Johns Hopkins.

Among the new cases confirmed Monday was a counselor who works in a Texas prison, marking the first time the disease caused by the novel coronavirus has been reported in the country’s largest prison system.

The substance abuse counselor was informed that he tested positive for the disease after doing “cell side counseling” at a prison outside of Houston last week, a Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman said Monday.

The counselor has been ordered into quarantine. The prisoners who had “limited contact” with the counselor through “hard cell doors” are in a restrictive housing unit, spokesman Jeremy Desel said in statement.

The counseling took place through a locked door and involved “no physical contact,” Desel said. The 300-person prison where the counselor was working is in Richmond and houses people with substance-abuse disorder.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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Jim Parker

Jim Parker is the Director of Digital Content for ABC-7.

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