Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Thursday the state will pause its efforts to reopen the economy as the number of confirmed coronavirus infections spikes and hospitals begin to fill.
Abbott has been warning of a mounting catastrophe for days, as new cases rise precipitously in Houston, the Dallas metroplex and in cities like Austin, San Antonio and El Paso.
Abbott said businesses that are already allowed to operate under the current reopening phase will continue to be able to do so.
"As we experience an increase in both positive COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, we are focused on strategies that slow the spread of this virus while also allowing Texans to continue earning a paycheck to support their families," Abbott said in a statement. "The last thing we want to do as a state is go backwards and close down businesses. This temporary pause will help our state corral the spread until we can safely enter the next phase of opening our state for business."
Experts have watched with growing alarm as the number of confirmed cases in Texas rise past 125,000. The state is dealing with an estimated 50,000 active cases, one of the highest numbers in the nation.
Texas has added more than 5,000 new cases on each of the last two days, and the number of overall cases has doubled since the end of May.
In Houston, hospitals are rapidly filling with new COVID-19 patients. Several major medical centers are already shipping patients to other facilities to create more space in intensive care units; Lyndon Baines Johnson Hospital said its ICU was over capacity, and the massive Texas Medical Center is operating at 97 percent capacity, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo (D) told reporters on Wednesday.
Abbott ordered a halt to elective surgeries in Texas hospitals on Wednesday, a move intended to free up bed space.
On Thursday, he urged Texans to wear a mask in public, though he did not issue an order requiring masks as governors in some other states have done.
“These four counties have experienced significant increases in people being hospitalized due to COVID-19 and today’s action is a precautionary step to help ensure that the hospitals in these counties continue to have ample supply of available beds to treat COVID-19 patients,” Abbott said Wednesday.
Abbott acknowledged the scale of the spike in interviews with several local outlets Wednesday, telling High Plains Pundit, “There is a massive outbreak of COVID-19 across the state of Texas.”
Abbott had previously said any testing positivity rate over 10 percent would constitute a “warning flag.” The seven-day average for the positivity rate reached 10.42 percent as of Wednesday, according to the Texas Tribune.
“The outlook is not good,” Rebecca Fischer, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health, told the newspaper. “We are in a super dire situation.”