Capital Highlights: Abbot joins in National Zika threat conference

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Gov. Greg Abbott on June 9 participated in a White House-hosted conference call for governors to discuss the Zika virus threat and what to do about it.

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Tom Frieden led the call.

Frieden said no vaccine exists to prevent the Zika virus disease, and the way for individuals to prevent contracting the disease is to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes.

“With the recent floods, and as we enter the height of mosquito season, I encourage Texans to take precautions to protect themselves from mosquito exposure and heed all warnings and recommendations from health officials,” Abbott said after the conference call.

While the Texas Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response and the Department of State Health Services finalize a plan to combat the spread of the virus, the most important thing Texans can do is to remain vigilant, including when traveling abroad to countries experiencing Zika outbreaks and eliminating standing water, Abbott added.

On May 13, the CDC gave states and territories until June 13 to apply for funds to fight Zika. 

The CDC acknowledged the $85 million in available funding is not enough to support a comprehensive Zika response and can only temporarily address what is needed.

DSHS reports on Zika

The Texas Department of State Health Services on June 10 said Texas has had 41 reported cases of Zika virus disease.

Of those cases, Forty were in travelers who were infected abroad and diagnosed after they returned home; one of those travelers was a pregnant woman. One case involved a Dallas County resident who had sexual contact with someone who acquired the Zika infection while traveling abroad.

The DSHS posted this list of Zika cases by county: Bexar, 6; Collin, 1; Dallas, 6; Denton, 2; Ellis, 1; Fort Bend, 2; Grayson, 1; Harris, 13; Tarrant, 4; Travis, 2; Val Verde, 1; Williamson, 1; and Wise, 1, for a total of 41 cases.

The DSHS is advising Texans to protect themselves against Zika by applying EPA-registered insect repellents; wearing pants and long-sleeved shirts that cover exposed skin; using screens or closing windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out; removing standing water in and around the home, and covering trash cans or containers where water can collect.

West Nile is here, too

On June 7, the DSHS posted information about the mosquito-borne West Nile virus, known to be active in Texas.

The agency said the state’s first case of the nervous system-attacking disease was diagnosed in a person from El Paso County.

In 2015, some 275 human cases of West Nile illness were reported in Texas, reportedly causing 16 deaths.

Hurricane drill is held

The Texas Department of Public Safety on June 8 posted information about a multi-agency exercise in which a mock “Hurricane Tejas” led to the evacuation of a sample group of 300 people.

The agency’s Texas Division of Emergency Management coordinated the exercise with local, state, federal and private sector partners, moving volunteer “general and medical evacuees” from the lower Rio Grande Valley to the sheltering jurisdictions of San Antonio, Austin, Fort Worth and Irving.

Tax allocations are lower

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on June 8 announced his office will send cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts $618 million in local sales tax allocations for June, 1.8 percent less than in June 2015.

These allocations are based on sales made in April by businesses that report tax monthly. “Energy-centric cities such as Midland, Odessa and Corpus Christi continued to see decreases in sales tax allocations,” Hegar said. “Meanwhile, other areas of the state helped offset those losses as Austin, El Paso, and Irving saw moderate increases in allocations.”

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