Texas on Thursday experienced its deadliest day of the coronavirus pandemic, reporting 50 new deaths just one day before Gov. Greg Abbott's (R) stay-at-home order was set to expire as the Lone Star State hopes to begin reopening its economy.
Also on Thursday, the state reported 1,033 new cases of COVID-19, the first time the daily rise of new cases has exceeded 1,000 since April 10.
Texas has a population of almost 30 million but has only administered 330,300 coronavirus tests, of which 28,087 have been positive.
Abbott spokesman John Wittman told The Associated Press that the rise in positive tests is due to the state's increased testing efforts and that the rate of positive tests has fallen from 10 percent to 7 percent in recent weeks.
“As Texas ramps up its testing, there will be more positive cases,” Wittman said. “The hospitalization rate has remained steady and the fact remains Texas has one of the lowest death rates per capita in the country, showing the success of our efforts.”
The Texas Democratic Party issued a statement attacking Abbott's decision to reopen.
“Today is a dark day in Texas,” the statement said. “Abbott’s decision to let Texas’ stay-at-home order expire is reckless, irresponsible, and puts all of us at risk.”
Under Abbott's reopening efforts, restaurants, retailers, malls and movie theaters across the state are allowed to reopen at 25 percent capacity. If a county has fewer than five confirmed cases of the virus, businesses there will be able to reopen at 50 of their normal capacity.
Many have criticized Abbott's reopening plan, saying that there isn't enough emphasis on worker safety. State officials have signaled that workers who refuse to return to work out of fear of contracting the virus will lose their unemployment benefits.
“No workers should have to choose between their livelihoods and their safety on the job," Rick Levy, president of the Texas AFL-CIO, said in a statement.
How the reopening of the Lone Star State plays out has the potential to influence the November elections, with Democrats hoping to be competitive in Texas in the presidential race as well as down the ballot.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) is also up for reelection, and the state will host a number of House races that could help determine the next majority.