It’s a tough time in the Lone Star State. Governor Abbott is making some hard decisions in order to manage the spike in new cases of the coronavirus in Texas. Whether we like it or not doesn’t matter at this point – the governor has to keep public safety foremost in his decision-making process and that means Texans have to step it up in their mitigation efforts. The virus isn’t done with us yet.
Up until the past week or so, things were going pretty well in Texas. Increased testing, increased hospitalizations, and younger, healthy people becoming infected have changed the matter. Fortunately, though there is an increase in positivity, there is not an increase in deaths from the virus. That’s good news. The bad news is that though Texans did what the experts told us to do in the beginning – stay home as much as you can, wear a mask in public, social distance, avoid large gatherings, and wash your hands – and the numbers showed that it worked, the re-opening of the state has lessened the feelings of urgency to continue those guidelines. Texas has a much lower death rate than other states from the pandemic. However, as predicted, as the state has opened back up, the cases have increased. Now the governor has to find the magic spot of balancing business concerns and the state economy with the health of its residents.
The writing was on the wall, frankly. After warning Texas residents, he pulled the trigger on re-closing businesses Friday. The state is going to have to shut down again to get a handle on the coronavirus hotspots. Today the governor closed all the bars, effective at noon, in the state. Restaurants will have to fall back into Stage 2 position with only allowing 50% capacity for inside dining. And he is cracking down on large gatherings.
In addition, he is giving local governments new authority to regulate gatherings of over 100 people, which would allow them to order groups to get a permit before having an event. And finally, he is shutting down river rafting activities that have been linked to a surge in cases in Hays and Comal counties. In just over a week, cases in those two counties have doubled.
“As I said from the start, if the positivity rate rose above 10 percent, the State of Texas would take further action to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Abbott said. “At this time, it is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars.”
He is still not mandating facial masks but he is strongly emphasizing the need for Texans to wear them in public, as well as the other standard recommendations – hand washing, social distancing, and staying home as much as possible.
There is no getting around the fact that since June 1, the hospital system has been under increased stress. The number of COVID-19 cases in Texas has more than doubled and the state’s lab-confirmed hospitalizations have nearly tripled. Texas Children’s Hospital announced it would admit adults, for the first time, in order to free up beds at other hospitals for COVID-19 patients. Governor Abbott eased restrictions on elective surgeries but yesterday had to shut them down again when it looked like the ICU capacity in Houston hospitals would be overrun with COVID-19 patients. The Texas Medical Center leaders sounded the alarm about the spike and the hospital system’s ability to handle it but then yesterday, just like that, the Texas Medical Center eased off its dire warnings. The hospitals are ready to handle what comes since the elective surgeries are on hold again.
It’s a long, rugged road to recovery, especially here in Houston. The city and county and surrounding areas have a population of over seven million people. The concern is that Houston will become the next New York City of the pandemic. That is why some more tough decisions are being made.
The governor opened up outdoor activities like carnivals and amusement parks just last week. Now he is shutting down river-rafting trips and banned outdoor gatherings of over 100 people unless local officials approve.
As for outdoor gatherings, Abbott’s decision Friday represents his second adjustment in that category this week. Abbott on Tuesday gave local governments the choice to place restrictions on outdoor gatherings of over 100 people after previously setting the threshold at over 500 people. Now outdoor gatherings of over 100 people are prohibited unless local officials explicitly approve of them.
Governor Abbott is trying to keep a positive spin on the situation. He wants Texas to get back to the business of doing business as much as anyone. The state’s economy – and his political future – depend on it.
“We want this to be as limited in duration as possible. However, we can only slow the spread if everyone in Texas does their part,” Abbott said. “Every Texan has a responsibility to themselves and their loved ones to wear a mask, wash their hands, stay six feet apart from others in public, and stay home if they can.”
Everyone sounds like a broken record in reciting the safety guidelines in mitigating the pandemic. But, they have shown to be helpful. I haven’t stopped wearing a mask in public and stay home as much as possible until this fades or a vaccine becomes available. We can get through this. It’s just going to be more difficult than we hoped.