TEXAS -- Hospitalizations for COVID-19 in Austin-Travis County are now averaging more than 20 per day, prompting Austin Public Health to move the region to Stage 4 of its risk chart.
Harris County, which includes Houston, has more than 16,000 cases of coronavirus as of Sunday. Dallas County reports more than 13,000.
The Texas Department of State Health Services reports 1,976 fatalities as a result of COVID-19 as of Monday.
Texas is one of several states reporting an uptick in cases and hospitalizations recently, and that comes as we are in Phase 3 of the plan to restart the state’s economy. Restaurants may now operate at 75 percent occupancy. Nearly all businesses have been permitted to increase to 50 percent capacity.
The trend is disconcerting to say the least, but there is no sign Gov. Greg Abbott intends to hit the pause button. According to the Associated Press, states including Utah and Oregon are putting the brakes on further reopenings amid the spike. Texas, California, Arizona and Arkansas are pressing on.
There’s certainly an argument to be made about the risks of coronavirus compared to the damage caused to the economy by stay-at-home orders. But is there a middle ground?
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff last week sent a letter to Gov. Abbott calling on him to make wearing a face covering within six feet of other people mandatory. Nelson wrote, in part:
“… we see fewer and fewer people wearing face coverings and rates of infection are increasing. In fact, in Bexar County we have had a large uptick in positive cases in the last week. Today, we have 172 new COVID-19 cases. We also have 138 COVID-19 patients in local hospitals, the highest number we have ever had in Bexar County.”
Abbott responded to Wolff by stating the decision to wear a mask is one of individual responsibly and should not be mandated by the state.
“Judge Wolff and I have a philosophical difference. He believes in government mandates, I believe in personal responsibility," he wrote. "Every interview that I've had on TV, I talk about the individual responsibility to wear a face guard to make sure that you don't either transmit COVID-19 or that you don't get it. It's up to every individual in the state to make sure that we slow the spread of COVID-19."
Dr. Gerald Parker, director of the biosecurity and pandemic policy program at Texas A&M’s Bush School and associate dean for Global One Health in the College of Veterinary Medicine, on Friday told Capital Tonight host Karina Kling that pulling back on reopening is unlikely and that for the foreseeable future we will need to adjust to coping with the novel coronavirus.
"We have to figure out how we can live with the virus. The virus is not going to go away,” he said. “And we know a lot more about the virus than we did just a month ago and who's at most risk and who's a lesser risk. So we have to plan and move forward with our life and mitigate the risk."
Gov. Abbott is confident in the surge teams tasked with responding to areas identified as hot spots in Texas as well as the state’s hospital capacity.
Judge Nelson’s complete letter to Gov. Abbott follows:
The Associated Press contributed to this report.