Remember that phrase used by frustrated parents to rowdy kids in the car? Don’t make me turn this car around. That is what the latest coming from Texas Governor Abbott sounds like as he addresses a spike in COVID-19 cases in the state. In this case, the state is the car and Abbott is saying that if Texans don’t get with the program, he’ll have no choice but to put the state back into lockdown mode.
Back in May during a private phone call, Governor Abbott admitted that the act of reopening businesses in the state would cause an increase in new cases of the coronavirus.
“How do we know reopening businesses won’t result in faster spread of more cases of COVID-19?” Abbott asked during a Friday afternoon phone call with members of the state legislature and Congress. “Listen, the fact of the matter is pretty much every scientific and medical report shows that whenever you have a reopening—whether you want to call it a reopening of businesses or of just a reopening of society—in the aftermath of something like this, it actually will lead to an increase and spread. It’s almost ipso facto.”
“The more that you have people out there, the greater the possibility is for transmission,” Abbott said on the call, which a spokesperson confirmed was authentic on Tuesday. “The goal never has been to get transmission down to zero.”
That was an expansion of what the governor was telling Texans at the time, though. Publicly, Governor Abbott only acknowledged that the number of cases would rise due to increased testing. The phone call shows Abbott admitting that increased physical contact would inevitably cause a rise in cases, not just increased testing.
Texas is experiencing a spike in cases, there is no argument there. There is an increase in the number of positive cases from testing, as the governor predicted, but there is also a spike in hospitalizations which is even more troubling. Last night eyebrows were raised as reports began coming in that the Texas Children’s Hospital, a part of the Texas Medical Center in Houston, released a statement that it is providing additional capacity through ICU and acute care beds across its campuses to both pediatric and adult patients. Houston, in particular, has seen a marked increase in cases in the month of June.
Adult patients who have COVID-19 will be cared for in an expanded Special Isolation Unit at Texas Children’s Hospital West Campus. The hospital is also admitting adults who don’t have COVID-19.
“Texas Children’s Hospital, our employees, medical staff and leadership team continue to carefully monitor the ongoing active transmission and increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the greater Houston area and across the State. We are committed to doing our part to assist the city as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise,” the statement read.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner continues to sound the alarm about the spike in cases. CEO and President of Houston Methodist, Dr. Marc Boom, has a leading role in mitigating the coronavirus spread in the city. He, too, is addressing the uptick in cases.
On Monday, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the health department is reporting some of the highest numbers the city has had since the start of the pandemic.
“We are moving very fast and we are moving very fast in the wrong direction,” said Turner. “The course that we are currently on is not in the best interest of our city or state.”
Dr. Marc Boom, CEO and President of Houston Methodist and a member of COVID-19 response in the Texas Medical Center, said Methodist hospitals have seen triple the amount of COVID-19 patients in the month of June.
“That’s a pretty dramatic uptick with most of it occurring over the last two weeks or so, so we are concerned about an uptick,” he said.
So, here we are. The concern is that though there is not a shortage of hospital beds right now, a continued spike in cases will create a shortage. The fact that Texas Children’s Hospital is pro-actively moving to free up hospital beds in other hospitals by admitting adults to the children’s hospital is raising red flags. The state reported over 3,700 people were hospitalized Monday. Granted, Texas is a big, sprawling state, but the majority of cases of COVID-19 tend to be centralized in larger cities.
Governor Abbott calls the recent spike as “unacceptable”. He continues to ask everyone to wear face masks in public, avoid large gatherings of people, social distance, and continue personal hygiene like frequent hand washing. Monday the governor said the virus “must be corralled.” And, he said, another lockdown “will always be the last option.” So far, the availability of hospital beds is not at a critical stage across the state.
While Abbott has not mandated the use of face masks in public, he emphasized their importance to people who may feel it’s “inconvenient” or an “infringement of freedom.”
“Wearing a mask will help us to keep Texas open because not taking action to slow the spread will cause COVID to spread even worse, risking people’s lives, and ultimately leading to the closure of businesses,” he said.
Abbott acknowledged the trends are concerning, but he said hospitals “continue to have abundant capacity to treat patients with COVID-19.” The state reported Monday that 14,697 hospital beds and 1,517 beds in intensive care units were available across Texas.
During his press conference on Monday, Abbott said that the state’s positivity rate has nearly doubled since late May – it is now at nearly 9% over the last five days. The governor didn’t impose any new rules or requirements Monday. He is beefing up enforcement measures, though. He mentioned more enforcement of the rules, increasing testing, and continuing to ask Texans to socially distance. He isn’t mandating the wearing of face masks but has agreed that local officials can penalize businesses for not making customers and employees wear face coverings. In other words, he is putting the burden on businesses, not individual Texans.
The governor acknowledges that a mandate on wearing masks is impractical in Texas. Rural areas are relatively coronavirus-free and don’t need such a mandate. Since hospitalizations have increased in some spots by about 50% over the span of a week, it is important for state and local officials, including the governor, to encourage everyone to do what they can to prevent further spread of the virus.