Tuesday, 23 June 2020 16:49

TX Governor Urges Voluntary Measures to Curb Coronavirus Spread, Says Closing State Will be ‘Last Option’

Written by Patrick Svitek, The Texas Tribune


Gov. Greg Abbott struck a newly urgent tone June 22 about rising coronavirus numbers in Texas but said "closing down Texas again will always be the last option."

"To state the obvious, COVID-19 is now spreading at an unacceptable rate in Texas, and it must be corralled," Abbott said during a news conference at the Texas Capitol in Austin.


However, he stopped short of introducing any new policies or pulling back on the reopening of Texas businesses, instead emphasizing long-established voluntary guidelines encouraging people to stay home if they can, use hand sanitizer, keep 6 feet of distance from others and wear masks.


He also promised that Texas has strategies to address the rising numbers "without having to return to stay-at-home policies."


Those strategies include stepping up enforcement of guidelines in places like bars where large crowds have gathered, "surging testing in areas that may be hot spots" and working with hospitals to ensure they have capacity for coronavirus patients. He continued to describe hospital capacity as "abundant."


At the same time, Abbott held open the possibility that Texans could see new restrictions to get the virus under control. He said so while speaking in front of three poster boards showing the rapid rise of daily new cases, hospitalizations and the positivity rate, or the ratio of confirmed cases to tests.


"In each of these three categories, there’s been pretty much a doubling of the numbers in those three categories," Abbott said. "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."


Texas has broken its record for the number of people hospitalized with the virus for 11 consecutive days. On June 22, that number was 3,711. June 20 saw the highest number of new daily reported cases yet---4,430. The positivity rate, presented by the state as a seven-day average, has increased to 8.8%, on par with where it was in late April.


Case numbers and hospitalizations have been climbing for nearly a month in Texas, but Abbott has been measured in his response, noting that the state has plenty of hospital beds and blaming at least part of the increase in cases on efforts to step up testing in hot spots like prisons and nursing homes.


In recent days, however, local and state health officials have also taken a more urgent tone about the rising numbers.


Austin Mayor Steve Adler said over the weekend that officials will soon have to "choose between returning to sheltering at home or watching as our hospitals get overwhelmed and we suffer many preventable deaths."


Meanwhile, Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, predicted Houston is on the brink of a disaster, based on the latest trends in increasing numbers.


Discussing the guidelines to slow the spread of the virus, Abbott was particularly emphatic about masks.

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