Gov. Greg Abbott Announces Texas Will Open “100 Percent”

Photo courtesy of Twitter.

By Terrance Turner

March 2, 2021 (UPDATED March 3)

Today, Texas Governor Greg Abbott made a game-changing announcement.

In remarks delivered live from Lubbock, Gov. Abbott touted the state’s economy: “If Texas were its own country, it would still have the ninth largest economy in the world.” But due to the pandemic, he said, the economy has suffered. “Too many Texans have been sidelined from employment opportunities. too many small business owners have struggled to pay their bills. This must end,” Gov. Abbott said. And then, he said:

“It is now time to open Texas 100 percent.”

“Everybody who wants to work should have that opportunity. Every business that wants to be open should be open,” the governor declared, adding that “we are in a completely different position” than when he issued an executive order last March. Back then, Texans didn’t even know what PPE was, he said. He highlighted the tests and therapeutics that have become available over the past year, as well as the protective measures citizens have adopted. “Texans have mastered the daily habits to avoid getting COVID. But most importantly,” he said, “in Texas and across the country, we now have vaccines — vaccines to protect Texans from COVID.” More than 5.7 million vaccine shots have been administered in Texas, he claimed.

Gov. Abbott further promised that “by the end of this month, every senior who wants a vaccine shot will be able to get a vaccine shot.” Hospitalizations in Texas are the lowest they’ve been in four months. The same goes for the positivity rate, he said. (According to the Associated Press, “the seven-day rolling average of positive tests has dropped to about 7,600 cases, down from more than 10,000 in mid-February.”) The number of active COVID cases are the lowest they’ve been since November, the governor claimed.

Gov. Abbott cautioned that the virus has not disappeared. But state mandates are no longer needed, he says. Today, he is issuing an executive order that rescinds most of the previous orders he issued. And Gov. Abbott took his already bold pronouncement one step further: “Effective next Wednesday, all businesses, of any type, are allowed to open 100 percent. That includes any type of entity in Texas. Also, I am ending the statewide mask mandate.”

Abbott stressed that personal responsibility is still necessary regarding the spread of COVID-19. Personal vigilance is crucial, he stated: “Each person has their own role to play in their own personal safety, as well as in the safety of others.” Nevertheless, he asserted that the statewide mandates are no longer necessary. Businesses are free to continue capacity limits for safety, he said, but the governor added that “people and businesses don’t need the state telling them how to operate.”

Abbott tempered his bold order with one caveat: if the positivity rate of counties and cities rises above 15% for seven straight days, a county judge may take action of mitigation strategies like a mask mandate. (Though it remains under 15%, the positivity rate is up 63% from October 2020: from 8.3% on Oct. 7 to 13.5% today, on March 2). However, nobody can be arrested, fined, or otherwise penalized for breaking rules on masks.

Texas is the latest (and largest) of the states to ease COVID-19 restrictions, as cases and hospitalizations drop. (North Dakota, Montana and Iowa have also lifted mask orders in recent weeks.) But the AP reports that only California and New York have reported more COVID-19 deaths than Texas. According to the New York Times, Texas has been averaging about 7,600 new cases a day recently, a figure that rebounded after a drop in February when testing was disrupted by a severe winter storm. It is among the top 10 states in recent spread, relative to the size of its population.

Significantly, Gov. Abbott delivered his remarks from a Mexican restaurant — on the 185th anniversary of Texas declaring independence from Mexico in 1836.

As you might have guessed, the move is sparking a lot of reaction. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo issued a statement that reads, in part: “Taking away critical public health interventions that we know are working won’t make our community safer, nor will it hasten our return to normalcy. Quite the opposite: every time public health measures have been pulled back, we’ve seen a spike in hospitalizations […] With the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines, we’re inching closer to the finish line of this pandemic – now is not the time to reverse the gains we’ve worked so hard to achieve. At best, today’s decision is wishful thinking. At worst, it is a cynical attempt to distract Texans from the failures of state oversight of our power grid.”

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner agreed, tweeting today: “Is the Governor’s statement today an attempt to deflect from the winter storm systemwide state leadership failure? Yes.” He made his feelings even clearer when speaking with reporters today. “I don’t feel defeated. I feel disappointed about the governor’s decision,” Turner said. He expressed frustration with the move, writing on Twitter: “Every time we start moving in the right direction the Governor steps in and sets us back and makes all of our jobs harder. He minimizes the sacrifices of people and businesses. I just don’t get it.” He also tweeted the following:

Mayor Turner and Judge Hidalgo sent Gov. Abbott a letter today that reads, in part: “Supported by our public health professionals, we believe it would be premature and harmful to lose adoptions of this preventative measure [mask-wearing]. Scientific studies have shown repeatedly that the widespread wearing of face masks slows down the spread of the virus.” The letter includes mask wearing as one of several activities (frequent handwashing and keeping physical distances of at least six feet) that can reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The COVID-19 cases in Texas have dropped dramatically since last month, according to ABC 13 Houston. However, hospitalizations for the virus have jumped by 59% (from 3,519 cases on Oct. 7 to 5,611 today). Deaths from COVID-19 have nearly doubled: from 119 on Oct. 7 to 227 deaths today. Tonight, on his show, journalist Anderson Cooper revealed that Texas has only vaccinated 6.8% of its citizens — one of the lowest rates in the country. (By contrast, neighboring New Mexico has vaccinated over 12% of the residents there.) Over 40,000 Texans have died from COVID-19, according to the AP.

Tonight, Dr. Peter Hotez appeared on Anderson Cooper 360 to discuss the problem. (Dr. Hotez is the Professor of Pediatrics and Molecular Virology & Microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine, where he is also Director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development.) When asked about the governor’s actions, Dr. Hotez didn’t mince words: “We’ve got some rough sledding ahead of us.” Dr. Hotez pointed out that the UK variant of COVID-19 is “accelerating” (and one of five variants in Texas, per ABC), meaning potentially greater transmission and mortality.

When Cooper asked why the vaccination rate is so low, Dr. Hotez noted that “we lost a week” due to the winter storm in February. But the doctor also pointed out that Texas is a massive state, with 30 million residents (some of whom live in remote areas, making them hard to reach). He also expressed confusion about the urgency behind Gov. Abbott’s decision. When asked directly by Cooper why Abbott made the decision, Dr. Hotez admitted he didn’t know. “I don’t understand the urgency,” he said, in part.

UPDATE (March 3, 2021): Reaction continues to pour in, and the governor’s decision was discussed today on The View. co-host Sara Haines pointed out that Texas has one of the worst vaccination rates in the country — trailed by only two other states. She questioned why Abbott insisted on both opening businesses and removing mask mandates.

On ABC’s “Eyewitness News” at 11 am, anchor Art Rascon highlighted the fact that, though the state mask mandate is gone, President Biden’s federal mandate remains in place. That means that anyone on federal property (including airports) is still required to wear masks. Furthernore, several Texas businesses reserve the right to require masks and refuse service to those who don’t comply. Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo added that failure to comploy may incur criminal charges:

BREAKING: President Joe Biden has offered his first public comments on Gov. Abbott’s decision. “I think it’s a big mistake,” Biden said. “Masks make a difference … The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking.”

Texas Hits New Record Highs in COVID Cases, Hospitalizations, Deaths

Graph of daily COVID-19 cases since June 30. (Graph by Terrance Turner, made with Google Slides)

By Terrance Turner

Today was Texas’ deadliest day ever for the coronavirus.

Today, the state reported 60 new deaths from the virus — and a startling rise in new positive cases. The 10,026 new cases are the most since July 4, when there were roughly 8,260 cases. It is the first time that COVID-19 cases in Texas have topped 10,000 in a single day. The 60 new deaths are also a record high.

Also hitting record highs is the number of hospitalizations in Texas. According to Houston Chronicle reporter Jeremy Wallace, 9,286 people are in Texas hospitals with coronavirus. That’s up 588 since just yesterday. Hospitalizations have risen 42% since last Tuesday, and COVID-19 hospitalizations in Texas are up 515% since Memorial Day.

Somehow, Texas is still reporting 1,148 available hospital beds. But CBS News quoted Austin Mayor Steve Adler today as saying that hospitals risk becoming “overwhelmed” in the next 7-10 days. In fact, Austin hit Stage 5 today, meaning that conditions there qualify for a citywide lockdown. The daily hospitalization rate has hit 74, according to editor Matt Largey.

In Houston, officials said hospitals are exceeding base capacity in intensive care units. Houston is located within Harris County, which consistently leads the state in COVID-19 cases. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo appeared on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday to discuss the pandemic. “What we need right now is to do what works, which is a stay-home order,” Hidalgo said. “We don’t have time for incrementalism.” Hidalgo, whose county has seen the most coronavirus cases of any county in Texas, said she needed to take further action: “I need the authority to issue an enforceable stay home order. That is the only way we are going to stop ping-ponging between open and closed.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott lashed out in an interview with Beaumont television station KFDM today. He criticized “county judges or mayors who are asking for more authority to take action or to really shut things down completely back into lockdown mode that really force Texans into poverty.” The governor added: “They need to show up, enforce the law as it is before they’re given any further authority. They ask for more and more, but they do absolutely nothing.”

Former presidential candidate and Texas Senator Beto O’Rourke took note of the fray. His response was simple and characteristically blunt:

All of this comes as the Texas Education Agency is announcing guidelines for back-to-school procedures. Today, the TEA announced that students should be able to return to school for the 2020-21 school year. Their guidelines include the following:

  • Daily on-campus learning will be available to all parents who would like their students to learn in school each day.
  • In addition, all parents will have the option to choose remote learning for their children, initially, or at any point that year.
  • Parents who choose remote instruction for their children may be asked to commit to remote instruction for a full grading period (e.g. six or nine weeks).
  • But parents will not have to make that commitment more than two weeks in advance (that way, they can make a decision based on the latest public health information).
  • Schools can phase in on-campus learning.
  • Schools will also conduct screenings (i.e. temperature checks) on every child who attends.

UPDATE (July 8): Today was the deadliest day to date in Texas. 98 deaths from coronavirus were reported by the Texas DSHS. Today’s 9,610 lab-confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations are also a new record high (again). 9,979 new positive cases of the virus were also reported today — down only slightly from the 10,000 cases yesterday.

The rise in coronavirus cases has led to the cancellation of a Texas GOP convention. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner instructed the Houston First Corporation to cancel the event, which was supposed to take place in Houston next week. The planned venue was the George R. Brown Convention Center. Asked why he waited so long to make the request, Turner said he hoped the Texas Republican Party would do so on its own.

“No one wanted this to even appear to be political,” Turner said at a press conference today. “This is a political convention, and the last thing you want to do in the midst of a pandemic is to politicize or make it seem like you are going out of your way to close the door.”

UPDATE (July 9): 105 new deaths from COVID-19 were reported today. The state of Texas added another 9,782 new positive cases of the virus. Hospitalizations currently number 9,689 in Texas. Those lab-confirmed hospitalizations now take up 16.7% of Texas’ hospital beds, per the Texas Tribune. The positivity rate, which had hovered around 13% at one point, is now 15.6%. According to the Texas Dept. of State Health Services, there are now 2,918 total fatalities from COVID-19 in the state. There are now 230,346 total cases in Texas.

Harris County reported 495 cases and 7 deaths. That leaves the county with a total of 40,000 cases (which leads the state) and 411 deaths, per the Texas Tribune. The City of Houston reports 412 new cases and 5 new deaths — all of them either black or Hispanic patients, according to ABC 13 Houston. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner warned today in a press conference that the next 14 days will be critical if the virus is to be brought under control.

As Texas COVID Hits New Highs, Gov. Abbott Issues Mask Order

Image: Mike Pence
Photo from NBC News.

By Terrance Turner

July 1, 2020

The Texas Department of Safety and Health Services reported 8,076 new cases of COVID-19 today. That’s an all-time high for single-day cases. There were 57 deaths — the highest one-day total since May 14. According to KTRK, 6,904 hospitalizations were reported in the state of Texas. That’s also a record.

UPDATE (July 2):

The Texas Medical Center is now converting other beds into ICU beds because they have hit 100% capacity. They have now entered “Phase 2” of their ICU surge. That means they have 373 beds available, per KTRK. The TMC will certainly need those beds if today’s hospitalization numbers are any indicator.

Today, 7,915 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Texas. There are 44 new deaths. Hospitalizations from COVID-19 have hit a new record high: there were 7,382 lab-confirmed hospitalizations today, up 56% from last Thursday. According to Houston Chronicle reporter Jeremy Wallace, the number of coronavirus hospitalizations is up 389% since Memorial Day.

The dramatic spike forced Gov. Greg Abbott to take action. Today, the governor of Texas issued an executive order “requiring all Texans to wear a face covering over the nose and mouth in public places in counties with 20 or more positive COVID-19 cases, with few exceptions.” Those exceptions include people who are eating, exercising, or driving alone. (Or driving with passengers from one’s own household.)

Those under 10 years of age are also exempted from the order. So are those who have medical conditions that prevent masks. Or those who are voting. Or assisting a voter. Or giving a speech via broadcast or to an audience. Or anyone swimming in a pool…or a lake, or “similar body of water”. Or “any person who is actively providing or obtaining access to religious worship”, per the order.

The governor’s press release noted that the governor is giving mayors and county judges the ability to impose restrictions on some outdoor gatherings of over 10 people. Under the order, people cannot be in groups larger than ten and must maintain six feet of social distancing from others. (That, too, though, includes exceptions.) Penalties entail a verbal warning (for the first offense) and a $250 fine for the second.

The Associated Press reported today that the mask order takes effect Friday. As of Thursday, 176 of the state’s 254 counties had reported more 20 or more confirmed COVID-19 cases; those counties include most of the state’s population. 

Texas’ Coronavirus Cases Hit New High (AGAIN)

By Terrance Turner

June 25, 2020

Texas reported another 5,996 cases of COVID-19 today. That’s a new record, and the 47 deaths reported today are the most in five weeks. As if that weren’t enough, the state is also reporting a record 4,739 lab-confirmed hospitalizations from coronavirus. This news comes as the Texas Medical Center today said 100% of its ICU beds are full. (About 30% of those beds are held by patients with COVID-19.) The hospital can convert other beds to ICU status, but that may or may not be enough: hospitalizations are up by 350 since yesterday.

The number of daily cases has surpassed 5,000 for the third straight day. On June 24, Texas reported 5,551 cases of COVID-19, according to Houston Chronicle reporter Jeremy Wallace. That same day, the Texas Medical Center — the largest medical center in the world — hit crisis mode. 97% of hospital beds in the Medical Center’s intensive care unit (ICU) were reported as full. At roughly the same time yesterday, news broke that Trump is ending federal funding for coronavirus testing at the end of this month. (WHY?!?)

On June 23, the state of Texas had 5,489 new cases of COVID-19, according to the Texas Medical Center. 28 deaths were reported. As of June 23, there have been 120,370 total cases in Texas state, and 2,220 Texans had died. Today, of course, those numbers have already increased dramatically.

The Texas Tribune uses data from the Texas Department of State Health Services to track the number of daily positive tests. Today, the Tribune revealed that some 32,066 positive cases have emerged in Texas over just the past week. Predictably, Harris County and Dallas County have seen the largest number of both positive cases and deaths. They’ve led the state in those categories for months.

But cases and deaths aren’t the only categories in which there’s cause for alarm. Texas Governor Greg Abbott often cites the positive testing rate and hospitalization rate in Texas to justify reopening Texas. Gov. Abbott has spoken encouragingly about them in press conferences, and he’s even displayed charts of the numbers. Admittedly, both metrics were relatively low. At least at first. From April to June, the hospitalization rate held steady below 2,000. But beginning around June 10, the cases began to climb. Within days, they broke 3,000, according to the Tribune. Today, the number of hospitalizations reached a new high of 4,092.

After weeks of rising numbers, the reality of the situation seems to have finally hit Gov. Greg Abbott. In an interview with KBTX News, he urged Texans to stay home. “Because the spread is so rampant right now, there is never a reason for you to have to leave your home unless you do need to go out,” he said. “The safest place for you is at your home.”

Yet when he was asked whether he’d consider another lockdown, Abbott said that was a “last option”. Why? And the president said today that he was in favor of “slowing down” testing. WHY? Cases in several states are beginning to surge, and in Texas, the situation has gotten dire: Texas Children’s Hospital is now accepting adults because of a lack of hospital bed capacity.

In response to this stunning rise, Gov. Abbott has authored an executive order banning elective surgeries in Harris, Dallas, Travis, and Bexar counties. To his credit, he also moved to limit the spread among children. The governor’s office also is working with the Texas Department of State Health Services to create stricter safety standards for child care centers during the pandemic, according to the Texas Medical Center’s website.

Gov. Abbott even ordered a “pause” on reopening Texas. In a statement, he said: “This temporary pause will help our state corral the spread until we can safely enter the next phase of opening our state for business.” But returning to a lockdown is apparently out of the question: “The last thing we want to do as a state is go backwards and close down businesses,” he said.

Given the rapid, continuous pace at which Texas reopened and the governor’s refusal to resume lockdown, frustrations with his leadership are growing. Earlier this week, ABC 13 reported that 16,000 users on Twitter had called for Abbott to resign. Today, local station CW 39 conducted a Twitter poll on Abbott’s leadership. The results speak for themselves:

Texas COVID Cases Reach New High (Again)

Greg Abbott speaks at a press conference on Tuesday.

By Terrance Turner

Today, 2,622 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Texas. It’s the highest one-day total the state has ever had. According to the Texas Department of Safety and Health Services, an additional 1,476 cases “were previously diagnosed among Texas Department of Criminal Justice inmates, but that had not been reported by local health departments.” (Why?)

That makes for a total of 4,098 positive cases of COVID-19 since yesterday. Houston Chronicle reporter Jeremy Wallace wrote today that Texas is also reporting 46 deaths. That’s the most since May 20. Total deaths from coronavirus in Texas now number over 2,000.

For five consecutive days, hospitalizations for COVID-19 have reached all-time highs, with each day topping the day before. Today, Texas reported 2,518 patients are in hospitals with lab-confirmed coronavirus. That’s a leap of 192 since yesterday and up 67% (!!!) since Memorial Day. Wallace delivered the news earlier today on Twitter:

From Twitter.

As usual, Harris County and Dallas County continue to lead the state in cases. They total 17,282 and 14,537, respectively, at press time. (Data from the Texas DSHS is preliminary and is subject to change.) Thankfully, there are still roughly 15,000 available hospital beds and around 1700 ICU beds, according to The Hill. But hospitalizations in Texas for COVID-19 have risen for six straight days and broken records for five.

Texas reported 2,518 patients with positive coronavirus tests who are hospitalized today. That is a record high. This graph shows the number of current hospitalizations has been trending up in recent days.
Courtesy of the Texas Tribune.

Dallas County reported 306 new COVID-19 cases and 8 deaths today, according to the Dallas Morning News. Hospitalizations are also increasing. (Speaking of hospitalizations, there’s been a shooting at the Dallas Galleria Mall. At least one person has been shot. Dallas police spokeswoman Melinda Gutierrez told CNN that the suspect is still at large, but added: “This is not an active shooter.”)

All of this is happening as Texas continues to reopen. Restaurants were allowed to open at 75% capacity last week, and on Friday, amusement parks will be allowed to open at 50% capacity — just like nearly every other business in Texas. Phase 3 of reopening began on June 3, a month after Phase 1 commenced on May 1.

But a growing trend is emerging in data: infections are rising among people under 30. Per the Texas Tribune, more 20-to-29-year-olds make up 24% of all cases and 8.3% of the hospitalizations in Travis County and the city of Austin. At a press conference on Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott said that in Lubbock County and Cameron County, a majority of new cases are in people under 30.

He suggested that the results were related to Memorial Day celebrations or bars, that “certain counties where a majority of the people who are testing positive … are under the age of 30, and this typically results from people going to bar-type settings.” (Does he mean the very bars that he ordered to reopen on May 22?)

“It’s hard to tell exactly where those people contracted COVID,” Abbott said. “All we know is that because these people are testing positive at a higher rate who are age 30 and under, it informs us about certain strategies to take to make sure that we are able to reduce the number of people testing positive.”

One strategy that he won’t be using is ordering face masks. The mayors of Austin, Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio, along with five other cities, sent Abbott a letter yesterday. They’re asking him to let these mayors require the use of face masks in their respective cities. But the governor rebuffed their requests. (His executive order bars Texas cities from issuing fines or jail time to those who violate the mask requirement.)

Texas’ Coronavirus Cases Hit All-Time High

How Cardi B's Off-the-Cuff Video Became a Coronavirus Anthem - The ...
Cardi B warned y’all. (Photo via Google Images)

By Terrance Turner

“Coronavirus! Coronavirus!”

It is getting real — very real — in the Lone Star State.

Texas reported 2,504 cases of COVID-19 yesterday, which is the biggest one-day jump since the pandemic started. Texas also set a new record for COVID-19 hospitalizations for the third day in a row. According to the Texas Tribune, 2,153 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Wednesday — up from 2,056 the day before and 1,935 on Monday. The average number of hospitalizations a day has now climbed to 1,927 (officials use a 7-day “rolling average”). Houston Chronicle reporter Jeremy Wallace broke the news on Twitter yesterday:

Today, 1,826 new cases were reported in Texas. There were 35 new deaths, according to Wallace. He added that 13,732 more tests have been conducted since yesterday. The Texas Department of Safety and Health Services estimates that around 54,000 Texans have recovered from the virus.

So what’s behind this new jump? Gov. Abbott’s spokesperson says that the rise can be traced to two events: the Memorial Day festivities and the recent protests that have blazed across the state (and country).

According to Houston Public Media, over 21% of Texas’ new cases yesterday were in Jefferson County. When asked about the cause of the increase, DSHS spokesperson Chris Van Deusen pointed to Jefferson County’s three state prisons. Most of the new cases were “due to a change in how the local health department is reporting” cases from the prisons, he said. As usual, though, Harris and Dallas counties lead the state in COVID-19 cases.

Tonight, the president is in Dallas for a panel discussion and fundraiser. Today, Dallas County hit a new one-day high of 312 cases, according to ABC affiliate WFAA. Three people died. There are now over 13,000 new COVID-19 cases in Dallas County. The president reportedly has made little mention of the cases tonight, but he did manage to crack a joke(?):

The Dallas Morning News captured this photograph of (maskless) people praying during the roundtable discussion that Trump was a part of.

In a upper level of seating, social distancing cards are visible on unused chairs as people in the audience pray during a roundtable conversation about race relations and policing at Gateway Church Dallas Campus on Thursday in Dallas. Most of the seats lower down and closer to the stage were filled with attendees sitting side by side.

Meanwhile, the state continues to reopen. On June 3, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Phase 3 of reopening the Texas economy. With “very limited exceptions”, virtually all businesses in Texas can now reopen at 50% capacity. That includes museums, libraries, water parks, and swimming pools. Beginning after midnight, restaurants will be able to operate at 75% capacity. Abbott’s order specifies that there will be no occupancy limits for church services, local government operations, child-care services, or youth camps, or recreational sports.

UPDATE (JUNE 12, 2020): Beginning at 12:01 am, restaurants began operating at 75% capacity. Significantly, Abbott’s order specifies that professional and collegiate sports events may also commence at 50% capacity. (This may be difficult for the University of Houston: today Fox 26 reported that six student-athletes at UH have tested positive for the coronavirus. As a result, the university is suspending voluntary workouts.

Today, Texas added another 2,097 cases of COVID-19, according to Wallace. 19 additional deaths were also reported. The Texas DSHS data reveals that, once again, Dallas County and Harris County lead the state in both cases and deaths. According to the most recent data, Harris now has 15,864 cases total, with 267 deaths; Dallas is not far behind, with 13,257 cases. Dallas County has 277 deaths, leading the state. (Data are provisional and subject to change.) Gov. Abbott says that he is “concerned but not alarmed” about the rise in cases. But Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo was concerned enough to sound the alarm.

Yesterday, she unveiled a four-part “threat level” system of COVID-19, revealing that the Houston area is now on level “orange”. That indicates significant risk. If current trends continue, she said, the county may have to ask residents to stay home. The only exceptions would be essential errands.

As COVID Cases Climb, Abbott Announces New Openings

A visual representation of the numbers of cases by area within Texas. Harris County and Dallas County lead the state in cases and deaths. (Photo via the Texas Tribune.)

By Terrance Turner

May 18, 2020

On Saturday, Texas reported a record-high 1,801 cases of COVID-19. That’s the highest one-day jump since the pandemic started. The Department of State Health Services says that the totals were “largely from targeting testing” at meat plants. CBS News says that 700 of those cases sprung from a meatpacking plant in Amarillo, TX. On May 16, Gov. Abbott released a statement saying that he’d deployed a “surge response team” to Amarillo to conduct site surveys and test employees.

Another 33 deaths were reported on Saturday, according to the Houston Chronicle. That brings the three-day total to 147 — the most in a three-day period during this pandemic. Another 31 deaths were reported Sunday. But yesterday, the number of daily cases plunged from 1,801 to 785. Today, there were 909 new cases, according to the Texas Tribune.

Today, Gov. Abbott emphasized the positive during the press conference. He stressed that the hospitalization rate is lower than at any point since April 21. (Truthfully, hospitalizations have hovered between 1,500 and 1,700 for most of the past month.) Abbott also touted the “positivity rate”, which measures how many people who have been tested for the virus actually have it. Abbott displayed a chart during the press conference that presented a 7-day “rolling average” of positivity rates. The positivity rate in Texas fell from 13.86% on April 13 to 4.97% on May 13.

Graphic displayed during Gov. Abbott’s press conference yesterday.

Abbott used these encouraging statistics to bolster his argument in favor of reopening further. “Texas is prepared to move into Phase II,” Gov. Abbott said during today’s press conference. Effective today, gyms and businesses in office buildings can reopen at 25% capacity. Those who work at those jobs may be able to find child care more easily after today. “Starting immediately, child care services are able to open,” Abbott said.

Beginning Friday, May 22, restaurants may reopen at 50% capacity. Bars, breweries, and wine tasting rooms can reopen at 25% capacity on Friday. Also allowed to reopen: bowling alleys, bingo halls, aquariums, and Abbott added that on May 31, youth sports camps and Little League games may re-open. Pro sports may also resume, given certain standards and conditions.

UPDATE: May 19, 2020: Bars reopen on May 22, but you may not want to go just yet. A number of safety standareds have been instituted that may put a damper on your night out. “Customers should not be permitted to loiter at the bar or in commonly trafficked areas, and should remain seated at tables inside the bar,” the “Minimum Health Protocols” sheet on the Governor’s website says. “Only provide service to seated individuals.” No table can seat more than six people.

“Parties should maintain at least 6 feet of distance from other parties at all times, including while
waiting to be seated in the establishment or for admission to the establishment,” the article continues. “Activities that enable close human contact, including but not limited to dancing, are discouraged.” For bar patrons, there are additional rules:

“When individuals go to a bar or similar establishment, individuals should, to the extent
possible, minimize in-person contact with others not in the individual’s household. Minimizing
in-person contact includes maintaining 6 feet of separation from individuals. When
maintaining 6 feet of separation is not feasible, other methods should be utilized to slow the
spread of COVID-19, such as wearing a face covering or mask, washing or sanitizing hand
frequently, and avoiding sharing utensils or other common objects.”

Texas Reports 1000 New COVID-19 Cases for Eighth Straight Day

My graphic of the COVID-19 cases in Texas, which have topped 1000 daily for eight straight days. Graph created by Terrance Turner (with Google Slides)

By Terrance Turner

May 15, 2020

Today, the state of Texas reported 1,347 new cases of COVID-19. The Texas Tribune confirmed the news, adding that that Texas reported 56 new deaths. Yesterday, Texas reported 1,448 new cases of COVID-19. The state also reported 58 deaths from COVID-19 on Thursday — the largest one-day increase since this pandemic began. Houston Chronicle reporter Jeremy Wallace delivered news of the grim milestone late yesterday afternoon:

The Texas Tribune confirmed: “Texas reported 1,448 more cases of the new coronavirus Thursday, an increase of about 3% over the previous day [May 13], bringing the total number of known cases to 43,851. The state has also reported 58 additional deaths, bringing the statewide total to 1,216 — an increase of about 5% from Wednesday. Both of these are largest daily increases the state has reported. But they also come as testing has increased across the state.”

It does appear that testing has increased. According to state data released by the COVID Tracking Project, the state is averaging 17,000 tests a day. (The COVID Tracking Project, launched by The Atlantic, publishes and collects the most complete testing data available for U.S states and territories. It compiles data on testing and hospitalizations.) Testing on Thursday (May 14) produced 35,853 new tests for Texans, according to the Project.

KERA News quoted Abbott on April 27: “Getting up to 25,000 tests is something that should occur early on in the May timetable that we’re looking at,” the governor said. But since Texas began slowly reopening on May 1, the state has only met that threshold three tines Before the nearly 36,000 yesterday, there were roughly 49,000 tests on Wednesday, May 13 and 28,873 on May 2.

And cases continue to rise: Texas has reported 1,000 cases of COVID-19 each day for eight straight days. The Hill brought attention to the streak in a May 13 article. “According to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services, 1,179 new cases were reported on Tuesday,” wrote staff writer Marty Johnson. “Since Gov. Greg Abbott (R) allowed some businesses to resume operations on May 1, Texas has only been below 1,000 new cases per day twice — on May 4 and May 7.”

ABC 13 reporter Nick Natario qualified these findings, writing on Twitter: “This is correct, but the state is also performing more tests. 110,000 more in May than the final two weeks of April. Hospitalization numbers have flattened.” He added that there are 130 fewer Texans in the hospital for COVID-19 than there were in April. However, according to Lauren Ancel Meyers, a biology professor at UT-Austin, it can take 10 days for hospitalization numbers to catch up with infection numbers. She says tracking data indicate that movement to places like grocery stores has increased in recent weeks.

Those numbers will likely increase next week. Monday marks the start of “Phase II” in Texas. Restaurants and retail stores will be open at 50% capacity, and gyms will reopen at 25%.

Reopenings Threaten Texans’ Lives. Does Greg Abbott Care?

Gov. Greg Abbott announces modifications to executive order ...
Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a press conference on May 4. (Photo via Click2Houston.)

By Terrance Turner

May 8, 2020

Today, a number of local businesses opened, thanks to an executive order by Texas Governor Greg Abbott. “This Friday, cosmetology salons, barbershops, hair salons, nail salons, and tanning salons are able to open,” Abbott said during a May 5 press conference. Each stylist can only have one customer at a time, he added. This is provided that all establishments follow social distancing of at least six feet. Swimming pools may also reopen, provided that they operate at 25% capacity.

Abbott also announced that wedding venues and churches that conduct weddings may open immediately. Weddings held indoors but outside of a house of worship must only operate at 25% capacity. Wedding receptions must also be at 25% capacity unless they’re outdoors, according to the press release on the governor’s website.

In addition, Gov. Abbott proclaimed that beginning May 18, locker rooms and gyms may also reopen. But locker rooms and shower facilities must remain closed. Gyms, too, must operate at 1/4 of their capacity. The same goes for office workforces and unspecified “manufacturing services” that are allowed to open that day. The press release said that these new rules would go into effect at 12:01 am today.

“Texas is in a position to continue operating parts of our economy because of the efforts and determination of the people of Texas,” the governor said. Certainly, the Texas population (29 million) has largely worked together to help flatten the curve of Covid-19. But is Texas really in a position to reopen? Is it?

Is it?

On April 30, the day before Abbott began reopening the economy, 50 deaths were reported, along with 1000 new cases of coronavirus. But that wasn’t enough to stop Abbott from reopening. Gov. Abbott allowed his stay-at-home order to expire on April 30. The next day, his executive order took effect, allowing restaurants, retail stores, and movie theaters to reopen on May 1.

According to ABC’s Austin affiliate KVUE, Texas health officials reported 2000 new cases between May 2-3. On May 2, CBS station KHOU confirmed that 1,293 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Texas. On Sunday, May 3, the number of COVID-19 cases in Texas passed 1,000 for the fourth consecutive day. (According to the Associated Press, deaths increased by at least 20 that day.) The Austin-American Statesman said that 1,026 fresh cases had been reported on May 3. (It added that the only previous days with more than 1000 cases were April 8 and April 10.) On May 4, 784 new cases were added.

In media appearances, Gov. Abbott has stressed the recovery rate, noting that Texas has among the highest recovery rates in the state. While raw data indicate that Texas is third in the nation for recoveries, that isn’t one of the White House guidelines for reopening.

“Understand that Texas either has the 3rd or 4th best — meaning lowest — death rate in the United States,” Abbott said in a television interview with KVUE. But the highest death counts are in Harris County and Dallas County. On May 4, Harris had 6,967 confirmed cases and more than 130 deaths, according to Dr. Umair A. Shah, executive director for the county’s public health department. Harris County includes the City of Houston, and Houston also experienced a spike.

ABC 13 revealed on May 3 that Houston had 115 new cases of COVID-19. There were also five deaths — the highest single-day death total for Houston since this pandemic started. “In this entire time period, we’ve never reported, in the city of Houston, more than five deaths. So this equals the maximum that we have ever reported of people that passed away on any given day,” Turner said.

Things got worse the next day. The Daily Beast reported on May 4:

“Harris, which includes the city of Houston and is the third-largest county in the United States, had 6,967 confirmed cases on Monday and more than 130 deaths, according to Dr. Umair A. Shah, executive director for the county’s public health department. There were 129 new cases overnight”

From “Texans Brace for a COVID-19 ‘Explosion’ Just Days After Reopening”

In Dallas County, the numbers were similarly bleak. On May 3, the county had its highest number of cases up to that point, with 234 new cases and 11 deaths. The next day, another 237 cases were added. The Dallas County Health and Human Services Department announced 251 cases from COVID-19 on May 7. “Today replaces yesterday as our second-highest day of new positive COVID-19 cases,” said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins. Yesterday, 249 deaths were reported, according to NBC 5. The 10 deaths that day tied a county record.

Currently, there are an estimated 16,670 active cases of COVID-19 in Texas. Per the Texas Dept. of Health, there have been 1,049 fatalities. Today brought even more bad news. According to Houston Chronicle reporter Jeremy Wallace:

This past weekend, Texas surpassed a thousand deaths from COVID-19. But here we are, ready to reopen a slew of other Texas businesses. And Abbott has added insult to injury (literally) by publicly tussling with local authorities.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo issued a controversial order last month requiring all Harris County residents to wear masks in public. Gov. Abbott swiftly moved to undermine the order — and its penalty of $1000 fine for anyone who didn’t comply.

“We strongly recommend that everyone wear a mask,” Abbott said in a press conference. “However, it’s not a mandate. And we make clear that no jurisdictions can impose any type of penalty or fine.” He then announced that his executive order would supersede local orders — effectively nullifying Hidalgo’s order. (She later amended her order to conform to his.)

In a May 6 proclamation posted on the Texas Governor’s website, Abbott called for fines and even jail time for those who violated his executive orders:

WHEREAS, under Section 418.173, failure to comply with any executive order issued during the COVID-19 disaster is an offense punishable by a fine not to exceed $1,000, confinement in jail for a term not to exceed 180 days, or both fine and confinement.

“Governor Abbott Issues Executive Order To Expand Openings Of Certain Businesses and Activities” (gov.texas.gov)

But after Dallas salon owner Shelley Luther was jailed for violating a stay-home order (and refusing to apologize to a judge), Abbott did a 180. In a Fox News interview, Abbott spoke out against Houston enforcing HIS order. “In Houston, they were issuing fines and potential jail time for anybody who refused to wear a mask,” Abbott told host Sean Hannity. “Wearing a mask is the best practice. However, no one should forfeit their liberty and be sent to jail for not wearing a mask.”

He then went even further. The Chronicle quotes him as saying, in a written statement to the media: “Throwing Texans in jail who have had their businesses shut down through no fault of their own is nonsensical, and I will not allow it to happen.” But that’s exactly what Abbott did allow, by issuing his executive order.

On May 8, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo pointed out the obvious contradiction:

Abbott later amended his executive order by striking down the section that introduced fines and potential jail time. But by then, the political damage was already done. And the damage to Texas residents was only just beginning.

UPDATE (May 14, 2020): This week has brought another surge in both new cases and deaths from COVID-19. Gov. Abbott’s order to reopen barbershops and salons took force on May 8. Since then, cases have spiked. According to the Texas Dept. of Health Services, 1,179 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Texas on Tuesday. “Texas, which began to open its businesses at the beginning of May, has reported more than 1,000 new cases of COVID-19 for five consecutive days,” The Hill reported.

Obviously, these positive tests may very well represent infections from two or three weeks ago. Granted, Gov. Abbott cannot be held responsible for the rise in infections or deaths. But he has made himself a convenient target for criticism. Abbott publicly denounced local leaders for enforcing the orders that he himself signed (!). And his conflicting positions on those orders have left many Texans confused about how to proceed.

Continuing to open businesses, even as cases continue to soar, will surely expose more Texans to infection. Yet the deadly spike on the first weekend in May seemed to not affect Abbott at all. He designated several more businesses to reopen just a week later (last Friday, May 8). Coronavirus cases (and deaths) may well keep rising after more state businesses open next week. The question now is whether Gov. Abbott even cares.

Texas Is Reopening Amid Surge In COVID-19 Cases.

Texas reopening leaves some workers with tough decision | The ...
Gov. Greg Abbott at his Monday press conference. Photo courtesy of the Texas Tribune.

By Terrance Turner

Texas begins reopening tomorrow.

At an April 27 press conference, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott laid out a plan to reopen businesses in Texas. Abbott said that the COVID-19 infection rate “has been on the decline over the past 17 days”. He further claimed that hospitalization rate has held steady and that hospital capacity has remained abundant. (Both apparently true.)

“At the same time, we must not forget those who have lost their lives due to COVID-19,” Abbott said. “Every life lost is a tragedy. But the fact is, the tragedies in Texas have been far fewer than in most states in the United States. And I’m proud to say that Texas has the third-most recoveries from COVID-19 in America. In fact, the number of people who have recovered from COVID-19 will soon exceed the number of active cases.” (For the record, Texas reported 50 new deaths from COVID-19 today — the most in one day since mid-March. The state also reported more than 1,000 new cases. That’s the biggest one-day jump in infections since April 10, according to the Houston Chronicle. Furthermore, KPRC reporter Tulsi Kamath said today that Houston-area cases have now topped 10,000.)

“The lives saved are priceless,” Abbott continued, “but the price has been steep. Many have lost jobs; others have lost businesses. Many are struggling to pay their bills. I want those Texans to know they are not alone in this fight. Just as we united as one state to slow COVID-19, we must also come together to begin rebuilding the lives of the livelihood of our fellow Texans.”

Gov. Abbott said that the Texas Workforce Commission staff has been tripled to more than 2000. Abbott claimed 1.9 million unemployment claims have been filed, and 1.6 million have been processed. $2 billion in benefits have been paid out.

“Now our goal, of course, is to get those Texans back to work, and that is what today is all about. My executive order to stay at home,” Abbott said, “is set to expire on April 30th. That executive order has done its job to slow the growth of COVID-19, and I will let it expire as scheduled. Now it’s time to set a new course — a course that responsibly opens business in Texas. We will open in a way that uses safe standards […] standards based upon data and on doctors.”

Abbott cited reports of countries that reopened only to face new outbreaks. “So we’re not just going to open up and hope for the best. Instead, we will put measures in place that will help businesses open, while also containing the virus and keeping Texans safe […] opening Texas must occur in phases. Obviously, not all businesses can open all at once. A more strategic approach is required to ensure that we don’t reopen only to have to close down again. So, consistent with CDC guidelines, and based on advice from infectious disease specialists, we will open Texas businesses in phases.” Phase 1 begins tomorrow: Friday, May 1st.

“If we can contain the spread of COVID-19 during that time period, we can move to phase two as early as May 18th,” Abbott said. “We need to see two weeks of data to confirm no flare-up of COVID-19. That is exactly why, now more than ever, Texans must continue safe distancing practices.”

Gov. Abbott declared that “with my new executive order, all retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters, and malls can reopen May the 1st. Now, to minimize the spread of COVID-19 during phase 1 — on the advice of doctors — I am limiting occupancy to no more than 25%. This is a proven business strategy that’s exactly the type of practice successfully used by HEB and Home Depot. The extent to which this order opens up businesses in Texas supersedes all local orders. If Phase One works while containing COVID-19 days to expand that occupancy to 50%. Further increases will be allowed in the future so long as COVID-19 remains contained.”

Abbott later said: “Now there are some businesses that I want to open, that Texans want open, that the doctors advised were simply not safe enough to open at this particular time. They include barber shops and hair salons, bars and gyms. We are working with our medical team as well as working with the members of the industry sectors to open these businesses as soon as possible. My hope is that they will open on, or no later than, mid-May.”

But some of the businesses Abbott mentioned may not open tomorrow. Cinemark, Alamo Drafthouse, and non-Texas-based chains AMC and Regal ALL told Texas Monthly that they will not yet be opening. This is hardly surprising, as studios have not released a new film to theatres since March

Abbott emphasized that the order is voluntary. “Something important to remember: this order allows businesses to reopen. It does not require them to do so. If a business owner feels unsafe opening at this time, or for other reasons doesn’t want to reopen, there’s no requirement to do so. (However, a Texas Workforce Commission spokesman says that those who do not return to work risk losing unemployment benefits. AND a new report from KPRC says that the TWC is encouraging employers to report employees who don’t return to their jobs.)

Mercifully, Abbott today announced new guidelines for the TWC in regards to those who cannot return to work.

Governor Greg Abbott: (42:34)

“Additionally, all museums and libraries can open under the same 25% capacity. However, interactive areas of museums with hands-on exhibits must remain closed at this time. Again, this is permission to open, not a requirement. Some libraries and museums are operated privately, or by local governments or universities. It is up to them to decide if they are able to open. The state will work to open its libraries and museums by May 1, or soon thereafter.”

Now, a lot of business in Texas is done by sole proprietors. They can safely return to work now. The guidance in this book, and online, provides safe standards for sole practitioners.”

Places of worship were kept open under Abbott’s existing executive order, but effective by the 1st, they will be able to expand their capacity even more. “We do, however, emphasize the importance of safe distancing practices to ensure that church members remain protected from COVID-19.” (No word on whether those who have lost relatives to COVID-19 will be allowed to hold funerals or pay respects to their loved ones.)

“Outdoor sports are also allowed at this time. So long, however, as it involves no more than four participants playing together at any one particular time, and so long as certain distancing practices are followed. Examples of this would be things like golf, and tennis,” Abbott explained. If COVID-19 can be contained in phase one, sporting events can expand the number of participants in Phase Two.

Governor Greg Abbott: (44:36)

“Doctors, nurses, and dentists: they need to get back to work. Even more importantly, patients need to get in to see those doctors, nurses, and dentists…. so all licensed healthcare professionals are allowed to return to work with few restrictions. However, all licensed hospitals still must reserve 15% of capacity for COVID-19 patients.” (Those hospital beds will be needed. According to Business Insider, On April 28, the state reported 42 deaths, up from 26 the week prior and 11 at the beginning of the month.)

Abbott touted a “robust testing and tracing program” that would also have three phases. “When you aggregate all of the tests run by the state and local governments with the rapidly increasing number of tests run by the private sector, we should easily exceed our goal of 25,000 tests per day,” he said. (The Texas Tribune reports: “The state has been adding an average about 14,000 tests per day over the past week, according to figures from the Texas Department of State Health Services. Still, the total number of tests done as of Monday — 290,517 — remained about 1% of Texas’ nearly 29 million people.”)

Texas Monthly added in an article published today that Texas ranks 46th in the nation in testing per capita.

I’m dedicating this piece to my godbrother, who died of complications from COVID-19 today.