After waiving high-stakes standardized testing for millions of public school students, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott warned that a surge in coronavirus cases was coming as the state raced to ramp up testing.
"You're going to see an exponential increase in the number of people who test positive on a daily basis," Abbott said at a San Antonio news conference. "So people just need to prepare, and not be shocked, for the mathematical reality."
As of Monday, Texas had nearly 60 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. Results were pending on more than 300 other cases, Abbott said, adding that by the end of the week "anyone who needs a COVID-19 test" would be able to get one, including at drive-thrus going up in Texas' largest cities.
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One was already operating Monday in San Antonio, but the trickle of cars was slow. Drive-thru testing was being limited to first responders and health care workers, and some cars that pulled up were turned away.
"You just can't drive up like you would drive up to at Whataburger and order a cheeseburger," Abbott said. "You have to have some explanation of why you qualify for needing a COVID-19 test, and that first qualifier is a doctor's order."
The Republican governor has otherwise resisted telling schools, businesses or cities whether they should remain open, limit public gatherings or close altogether.
Some local officials have sought more specific guidance, but unlike governors in other big states such as California and Florida, Abbott has said those decisions are best made at a local level.
Suspending this year's testing requirements suggests that Texas public schools should plan for long-term closures. Abbott suggested that will remain a local decision.
For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with preexisting health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover from the virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild cases recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe ones may take three to six weeks to get well.
The State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, also known as STAAR, is the state-mandated test given annually to students from elementary through high school. Several state lawmakers and education groups had urged Abbott to cancel this year's tests.
Schools are also rated based in part on how students perform and the standardized tests were scheduled to begin in April.
"With this health crisis, educators, students, parents and their families need to be dedicated to keeping their families safe. That's stressful enough without having to worry about a standardized test to advance or graduate," said Clay Robison, spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association.
Abbott said he was working with Texas education officials to ensure students are prepared for next year as schools brace for a possible shift to online learning.
Texas Education Agency officials said some districts have already asked if they can still give the tests to measure student learning locally, even without the state requirement.
It was still unclear Monday how canceling STAAR would affect students who need certain tests to advance to the next grade level or graduate. Students in fifth and eighth grades must pass the tests to advance, and high school students must pass in order to graduate.
A spokesman for the Texas Education Agency said schools should expect more guidance from state officials on testing and other issues later this week.