For the second day in a row, Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday warned of record highs for statewide COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
In a series of daytime TV interviews, Abbott said Texas is facing a “massive outbreak,” and the state’s ability to remain open for business depends on efforts by Texans to follow social distancing guidelines.
“First, everybody needs understand that there has been an increase,” Abbott said in an interview with Wichita Falls’ KAUZ-TV. “In fact, today’s numbers may show even more people testing positive for today than yesterday.”
The governor’s tone shifted this week as the Texas Department of State Health Services continued to report an alarming number of new cases and hospitalizations.
State health officials reported a record 5,551 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, and the state broke its record for hospitalizations for the 13th day in a row. The Department of State Health Services reported 4,389 patients in Texas hospitals.
“People need to take this serious. People need to take responsive actions to control the spread,” Abbott said.
The health agency also reported 29 new coronavirus-related deaths, bringing the statewide death toll to 2,249 fatalities.
And the percentage of tests that come back positive continued to increase. The state’s seven-day rolling average rate of positive cases reached more than 10% on Monday, according to state health officials.
The rolling rate is calculated by taking a week’s worth of new COVID-19 cases and dividing it by the total tests performed in those seven days.
Public health experts say that number should ideally stay below 6%, and Abbott previously said that a positivity rate above 10% would be cause for alarm.
In a Monday news conference, Abbott said he remained optimistic that Texas hospitals can handle the surge in cases.
“If we were to experience another doubling of those numbers over the next month, that would mean we are in an urgent situation,” which would require new restrictions for the state, he warned.
But certain parts of the state have started to report alarming hospitalization rates.
In the Houston region, Texas Children’s Hospital began admitting adult patients to free up hospital beds in the area.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner told the City Council that Houston’s ICU’s are nearly at capacity, Council Member Sallie Alcorn said on Twitter.
“(Turner) at city council this morning announces that 97% of ICU capacity in Houston has been filled — 27% of that is COVID-19 patients,” Alcorn tweeted.
.@houmayor at city council this morning announces that 97% of ICU capacity in Houston has been filled – 27% of that is COVID-19 patients.
— Sallie Alcorn (@salliealcorn) June 24, 2020 And in Austin, local officials finalized plans Friday that would allow the Austin Convention Center to be converted into an alternative care site if hospitals become overwhelmed.
The site would be able to treat up to 1,500 COVID-19 patients, scaling up in 100-person increments, an Austin/Travis County Emergency Operations Center spokesperson said.
Interim Austin Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott warned that the area could exceed hospital capacity if there’s not a downturn in cases soon.
“You can see that the best guess of the projections, if things don’t change, if people don’t take more protective behaviors, if we are not successful in decreasing that doubling time, by mid-July we’re going to exceed hospital capacity,” Escott said in a Wednesday news conference.
Over 70% of our new cases since June 8th have been in the 20-39 age group. The same age group is experiencing increases in hospitalizations. #StayHome pic.twitter.com/aUgSqJl8rj
— Dr. Mark E. Escott (@MeaEscott) June 23, 2020 In a tweet Tuesday, Escott attributed part of the Austin area’s spike to a surge in new cases among 20 to 39 year olds. That same age group is experiencing an increase in hospitalizations, he said.
Abbott has increased the amount of authority given to local governments over the last week, after initially giving locals officials little control over mask orders and enforcement for social distancing violators.
Ahead of the July 4 holiday, Abbott said local governments may now impose restrictions on gatherings of more than 100 people. Previously, gatherings of 500 people were allowed without local intervention.
“We all know we are approaching Fourth of July, and as we are doing so we are seeing the increase in the number of people testing positive, and hence, it is more dangerous for people to be gathering outdoors,” Abbott told KAUZ on Wednesday. “We wanted to provide greater flexibility for the counties to better regulate these outdoor settings such as Fourth of July celebrations, so they, do have better control to contain the spread of COVID-19.”
Additional material by staff writer Jonathan Tilove
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