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Gov. Abbott: Surge response teams successful in tackling 'flare-ups'

The state recorded more than 700 new cases of coronavirus on May 16 after targeted testing at meatpacking plants in the area.

Gov. Greg Abbott and state and local health officials expressed confidence Wednesday that they have made major progress in containing a hot spot of the new coronavirus in the Amarillo area, saying that the surge in state and federal resources that they sent to the region will be a model for how the state responds to local flare-ups in Texas in the future.

Roughly three weeks after Abbott announced that “surge response teams,” made up of health workers, emergency response workers and the National Guard, would head to Amarillo, he said Wednesday afternoon that the number of new cases in the area have been on the decline.

In Potter and Randall counties, where a spike in infections was in part tied to local meatpacking plants, Abbott said that in the span of 12 days, the state “almost doubled” the number of people who had been tested for the coronavirus. While 734 people tested positive for COVID-19 on May 16, Abbott said, there was “a slow trickle down” in the number of cases until Monday when zero people tested positive.

“You see the reason why there was a need to have a surge response team to assist this region respond to the challenge,” Abbott said. “But also you see extremely positive results that lead to the ability to say that Amarillo has turned a corner on its pathway toward a positive, effective resolution of this particular hot spot.”

State health officials previously confirmed they were investigating a cluster of cases tied to the massive JBS Beef meatpacking plant that’s located in Moore County, just north of Amarillo. Abbott said the region also faced the challenge of having hots pots in local nursing homes and prison facilities.

The governor said he expected a second spike in confirmed cases later this week due to more people being tested at the JBS plant. He later acknowledged that the potential for a second wave statewide as the state resumes its economic reopening process — which Abbott said he hopes Amarillo and the neighboring Panhandle area can soon be a part of.

“While so many people in this state are suffering from the coronavirus, there are so many more people who are suffering economically,” Abbott said.

The governor began a phased reopening of the economy in late April, letting the state’s stay-at-home order expire and allowing retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters and malls to operate at 25% capacity. He then allowed barbershops and salons to reopen May 8 under certain restrictions.

His announcement Wednesday came as the total number of coronavirus cases in Texas increased to 56,560, including 1,536 deaths, according to the latest data from the Department of State Health Services. Out of Texas’ 254 counties, 229 are reporting cases.

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This story originally appeared in the Texas Tribune.