Abbott Says COVID-19 Is Spreading At An 'Unacceptable' Rate, But Shutting Back Down Is A Last Resort

Jun 22, 2020

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As coronavirus hospitalizations and cases continue to rise in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott is urging people to wear masks and follow other health protocols to slow the spread of the disease. 

“COVID-19 is now spreading at an unacceptable rate in Texas, and it must be corralled,” he said during a news conference Monday.

Abbott highlighted three data points that demonstrate the increase in spread: new cases, the positivity rate and hospitalizations.

Texas was seeing an average of 1,500 new positive cases a day in the last half of May; in the last few days, the average has been more than 3,500 new cases per day. 

The positivity rate – the percentage of tests administered that come back positive – has nearly doubled since late May. Hospitalizations continue to rise, too: While the average number of hospitalizations in late May was around 1,600, that average in the last few days has hovered around 3,200. As of Monday afternoon, there are a record 3,711 patients in Texas hospitals with the coronavirus.

Despite the surge in cases, the governor was adamant the state doesn’t need to return to stay-at-home policies. Abbott said it’s clear COVID-19 hasn’t gone away, but “we don’t have to choose between jobs and health.” He encouraged Texans to follow the state’s health protocols, including staying home if possible, washing hands frequently, keeping 6 feet from others outside your group and wearing a face covering when keeping that distance isn’t possible. 

“I know that some people feel that wearing a mask is inconvenient or is an infringement of freedom, but I also know that wearing a mask will help us to keep Texas open,” he said. “Not taking action to slow the spread will cause COVID-19 to spread even worse, risking people’s lives and ultimately leading to the closure of more businesses.”

Though Abbott has been asking Texans to wear masks voluntarily, he has refused to make it an enforceable requirement for individuals – despite calls to do so from city and county leaders. Bexar County found a loophole in the governor’s orders last week that allows local authorities to require businesses to enforce mask rules for employees and customers. Abbott OK’d the move, and several authorities – including Travis, Dallas and Harris counties – followed suit.

When asked Monday if he would make masks a requirement, he said the level of spread is different in various parts of Texas – some areas are seeing higher levels of spread than others – so the state needs to “have latitude for that differentiation.”

Despite the rise in cases, he said shutting down the state again will be a last resort. When asked if he would consider scaling back some of the reopenings, he said he thinks if people follow health protocols, the state will be able to curtail the rise. But, he said, the state remains flexible in regard to implementing more strategies if needed. He noted that daily new cases, the positivity rate and hospitalizations have all nearly doubled in the last month. 

"Surely the public can understand that if those spikes continue, additional measures are going to be necessary” to ensure Texans’ health and safety, he said. He didn’t say, though, what those measures would be. 

“If we were to experience another doubling of those numbers over the next month, that would mean we are in an urgent situation where tougher actions will be required to make sure that we do contain the spread of COVID-19,” he added. 

Got a tip? Email Marisa Charpentier at mcharpentier@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @marisacharp.

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