There's no reason to panic over a recent uptick in hospitalizations due to COVID-19 in the state, Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday.
Even though Texas has had a record number of people being hospitalized for COVID-19 in the past several days, Abbott said during a news conference that the state still has “thousands” of hospital beds available.
“The increased occupancy of hospital beds, it does raise concerns,” he said. "[But] there is no reason today to be alarmed.”
Abbott said the state remains in the “lowest threat level in our hospital capacity,” despite the fact that Tuesday will set another record for hospitalizations at more than 2,600.
“We have plenty of room to expand beds,” he said.
Abbott said the state has plans to open up hospital beds in alternative settings, if needed. In the meantime, he said, there are open beds across the state. In the Austin area, for example, officials say almost 30% of beds are currently available.
As for the recent uptick in cases, Abbott said inmate populations and isolated incidents of data errors account for large parts of the surge. He also said Texas remains one of the biggest states with relatively low case numbers and has the second lowest death rate in the country.
John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, said the recent increase in COVID-19 patients was largely expected.
“But we are seeing it occurring at a manageable level,” he said. “I really want to stress, though, that the continued success is up to the people of the state of Texas.”
Abbott and health officials said Texans should continue to stay at home if they can, wear masks, wash their hands and physically distance from other people. Abbott attributed the uptick in cases in part to fewer people taking those precautions.
When asked, Abbott did not say whether he would allow local officials to fine people who do not wear masks in public spaces.
During an interview on NPR on Tuesday, Austin Mayor Steve Adler said local officials have been “preempted by the state” when it comes to enforcing rules that would slow the spread of the disease.
“At this point I can just make recommendations to the community and recognize that the community actually chooses what happens regardless of what the governor allows or doesn’t allow,” he said.
Mayors in nine of the state’s most populous cities sent Abbott a letter Tuesday asking for the authority to enforce rules around wearing masks.
"A one-size-fits-all approach is not the best option,” wrote the mayors of Austin, Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth, El Paso, Arlington, Plano and Grand Prairie. “We should trust local officials to make informed choices about health policy. And if mayors are given the opportunity to require face coverings, we believe our cities will be ready to help reduce the spread of this disease.”
On Monday, Adler extended Austin's stay-at-home order, which requires that anyone over 10 cover their face when leaving home. The rule is unenforceable, however, because a state order encouraging people to wear masks also states “no jurisdiction can impose a civil or criminal penalty for failure to wear a face covering.”
Audrey McGlinchy contributed to this report.
This post has been updated.
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