Surrounded by masked task force members, an unmasked Gov. Greg Abbott laid out his plans for allowing businesses in the 19 of 22 hospital regions in Texas, which includes Collin County, to reopen at 75 percent on Monday.
Bars, however, were not on his reopen list despite their statewide protests.
“Because bars are nationally recognized as COVID-spreading locations, they are still not able to open at this time,” Gov. Abbott said. “However, it is important for them to know that we are focused on finding ways to get them safely reopened.”
Effective immediately, hospitals are now able to start offering elective procedures, while nursing homes, assisted living facilities, state-supported living centers, and other long-term care facilities are allowed to reopen Sept. 24 for visitation if they are not experiencing a COVID outbreak and are following certain health protocols.
At his press conference Thursday afternoon, Gov. Abbott claimed that since late July, the spread of COVID-19 has steadily declined as did the number of new cases and hospitalizations, which he said has been cut by more than two-thirds. “Just yesterday, we had the lowest hospitalization of the past three months,” he said.
Gov. Abbott also pointed out that the number of recoveries continues to “skyrocket.” “Doctors explained that the biggest reason for these improvements is because Texans are taking COVID seriously. People are following the CDC standards, social distancing, sanitizing their hands, and wearing masks around others.
“Those safe practices remain the best defense against COVID until vaccines arrive in the coming months.”
As of this writing, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention reports that there have been more than 6.6 million total cases nationwide, more than 196,000 deaths, and nearly 270,000 confirmed cases in the last seven days. By comparison, during the 2018 and 2019 flu season, 35.5 million people were infected and 34,200 died, according to CDC’s recent estimates.
Gov. Abbott’s promises about a decline are also questionable given Collin County Judge Chris Hill and the Collin County commissioners’ recent announcement about their lack of confidence in the state’s COVID-19 numbers. They argued that the state is simply estimating those numbers, kind of like the CDC or the Gallup Poll, an organization known to base estimates on population samples instead of the entire population.
“There was always an actual accounting for the number (when the county was keeping track),” Judge Hill told commissioners Monday afternoon. “We don’t have that now. In fact, the state dashboard shows that it is a formula they use to estimate. They are not doing actual case counts. They are just guessing. Estimate is a nicer way of saying guessing.”
They were so worried about it that they opted to keep their warning on the county’s online COVID-19 dashboard.
Notice: Collin County is providing this COVID-19 dashboard as a convenience to our residents. However, the data that comprise the dashboard are provided by the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), and DSHS officials have acknowledged that the data for Collin County are inaccurate. We advise residents that Collin County lacks confidence in the data currently being provided to us.
On Thursday afternoon, Gov. Abbott said that Texans like Judge Hill should be paying more attention to hospitalizations to determine COVID-19 severity. “[It] is the most important information about the severity of COVID in any region and is also the most accurate information available on a daily basis.”
He broke it down like this: When COVID hospitalizations are high, it means the spread of COVID is excessive in that particular region, which means corrective action is needed and businesses could be closed. But when COVID hospitalizations are low, it means the spread of COVID is contained in that region and businesses can open at 75 percent capacity.
“The fact is not all parts of Texas are impacted the same by COVID,” he said. “High level spread in one part of the state may be completely irrelevant to the COVID conditions in another part of the state 500 miles away.”
For example, Amarillo is closer to Kansas and Colorado than it is to Dallas and Houston. Gov. Abbott claimed it would be more affected by the COVID-19 conditions in those states than in other regions of Texas. “The severity in one region of Texas should not dictate the business practices in some far distant region of the state,” he stressed.
Moving forward, Gov. Abbott said they will be watching those numbers closely in the 22 hospital regions in Texas because they’ve kind of become his canary in the mine. Doctors, he said, have told him that it could be a warning sign of COVID-19 spread if more than 15 percent of hospitalizations are COVID patients, which could comprise the hospital’s ability to respond effectively to the spread.
In other words, if hospitalization is higher than 15 percent, then additional restrictions could be implemented in that region.
“There are some Texans who want to open Texas as if COVID is no longer a threat,” Gov. Abbott pointed out. “The fact is COVID does still exist and most Texans remain susceptible. If we fully reopen Texas without limits, without safe practices, it could lead to an unsustainable increase in COVID that would require the possibility of being forced to ratchet it back down.”
Gov. Abbott’s announcement to ease COVID-19 restrictions comes at a time when schools are reporting more and more cases among students and staff members. Last week, Edge Middle School in Collin County announced that it was closing its campus after 5 percent of their students ended up in quarantine along with several staff members.
Denton and Collin counties have a combined total of more than 2,500 COVID-19 cases among staff and students, according to a Sept. 17 Community Impact report.
And let’s not even delve into the high school football COVID-19 nightmare about to unfold. One Texas coach has already died from coronavirus complications, while over in Palestine, the Palestine Herald reports that two student athletes tested positive in mid August.
Friday Night Lights may have to go virtual by the end of the season with players competing like the ones from Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One: from home with virtual reality sunglasses. Texas high schools could broadcast the virtual games via Twitch.
“These practices (COVID ones) are particularly important now that students are returning to schools and colleges, now that fans are returning to sporting events, and now that flu season is upon us,” Gov. Abbott said. “Personal vigilance is the best way to keep down the number of COVID cases, the number of hospitalizations, and the number of fatalities.”
Gov. Abbott stressed that Texans need to be mindful of those who are suffering from the pandemic in other ways: family hardships and financial challenges, for example. He commended Texans for showing that they can do both: adjust their lives to follow the safety concerns of COVID while also taking steps to restore “the livelihoods that Texans desperately need” unless you’re a bar owner.
Achieving both goals — the health and safety concerns of COVID and reopening Texas — requires a framework of safe practices that help contain COVID and “emphasize protecting the most vulnerable and establishes a clear metric that the public can depend upon,” Gov. Abbott said. Those safe practices include: staying at home if you’re sick, sanitizing your hands, maintaining safe distances, and wearing a mask.
“Those personal behaviors will continue to slow the spread while opening schools and while adding jobs,” Gov. Abbott said.
Increased testing would also help, and Gov. Abbott already has a plan in motion to do just that. Texas, he said, is scheduled to receive millions of 15-minute COVID-19 tests per month.
But to reduce COVID-19 fatalities will require Texans to remain focused on protecting the most vulnerable. Most of those COVID-19 fatalities are people over the age of 70 and half of those are people over 80, according to Gov. Abbott. “We can save more lives by continuing to shield our seniors from exposure to COVID.”
Gov. Abbott reminded people that no doctor ever said eradication of COVID-19 was the goal even after a vaccine becomes available.
“The goal,” he said, “has always been to contain the disease, to limit its harm, and to maximize the healthcare system’s ability to treat both COVID patients as well as other medical needs of the community.”