Wednesday, 24 June 2020 20:46

Governor Recommends Texans Stay Home as Coronavirus Cases Surge

Written by Patrick Svitek, The Texas Tribune


With cases of the coronavirus surging to record levels in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott recommended June 23 that Texans stay home as much as possible and for the first time moved to allow the tightening of two kinds of restrictions that had been eased under his reopening plan.

"We want to make sure that everyone reinforces the best safe practices of wearing a mask, hand sanitization, maintaining safe distance, but importantly, because the spread is so rampant right now, there’s never a reason for you to have to leave your home," Abbott said during an early-afternoon interview with KBTX-TV in Bryan. "Unless you do need to go out, the safest place for you is at your home."


Within hours, Abbott made two announcements to alter the reopening process. He scaled back a previous statewide order and gave local officials the ability to place restrictions on outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people, a threshold he originally set at 500 people. And Abbott said the state would enact mandatory health standards for child care centers after prior rules became voluntary earlier this month.


The moves came a day after Abbott said at a news conference the coronavirus was spreading at an "unacceptable rate" but did not offer any new policies to stem the virus' spread.


Instead, he reiterated long-established guidelines such as social distancing and pointed out the state was increasingly cracking down on businesses that allow large crowds. At the news conference, Abbott also encouraged Texans to stay home, albeit in less explicit terms than he did in the KBTX interview.


The June 22 news conference marked a newly urgent tone by Abbott, which he continued into June 23. During TV interviews in the noon hour, he made the somewhat unusual move of getting ahead of the state's daily announcement of new coronavirus cases, bracing audiences for a new record high exceeding 5,000---a big increase over the last peak of 4,430 on June 20.


Before sharing the new record figure with KBTX, Abbott said he was trying to "make sure people around the state really comprehend the magnitude of the challenge we’re dealing with."


By the end of the afternoon, the state Department of State Health Services had reported the precise number: 5,489 new cases.


At the same time, two metrics Abbott has prioritized---hospitalization levels and positivity rate---continued to trend in the wrong direction.


Hospitalizations reached 4,092, marking the 12th straight day of a new peak. The positivity rate---or the ratio of cases to tests, presented by the state as a seven-day average---reached 9.76%, back to the level it was at in mid-April.


Texas was one of the earliest---and fastest---states to reopen, and Abbott said June 22 that "closing down Texas again will always be the last option." But at the same time, he did not rule out moving to unwind the reopening process if the numbers continue to raise alarms.


Prior to his announcement on outdoor gatherings and child care centers, Abbott told KBTX there could be "additional announcements that may be coming later today and later tomorrow, as well as during the course of the week."

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