May 17, 2020
Coronavirus Gives Texas Sunday Break on Paper
with Corollary Drops in Case and Testing Rates
By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor
|Texas COVID-19 Major Counties
County Rates Per 100,000 Population
Ranked on Confirmed Cases
|Texas COVID-19 Rural Counties
County Rates Per 100,000 Population
Ranked on Confirmed Cases
A growing army of Texas coronavirus diagnosticians appeared to downshift on Sunday when the lowest number of tests here in the past five days culminated in the fewest amount of official new cases across the state in almost two weeks.
The respite on paper came as Texas climbed to the 39th spot in the national virus testing rankings after having the worst record during most of the first two months since the COVID-19 outbreak here.
After having the most worst record in the nation in that regard in March and April, Texas had vaulted all the way up to 40th in testing by Saturday night according to an ongoing analysis at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Texas moved up another notch today but could take a temporary dip after less than half as many coronavirus tests were conducted here in the past day than the number that the state posted on Saturday.
The virus had set an all-time high for the number of new confirmed cases in a single day in Texas on Saturday when 1,801 people were diagnosed with infections here. But the state recorded its lowest daily number of new infections in 13 days on Sunday afternoon when only 785 people here tested positive.
The Amarillo area had accounted for more than 40 percent of the coronavirus cases that were certified for the first time in Texas on the opening day of the weekend.
Abbott had been disturb enough to issue a public warning last night urging Amarillo residents not to panic amid the suggestion that the skyrocketing number of coronavirus cases there was more a product of an escalation in testing than signs of an accelerated spread. The Amarillo area that spreads across Potter and Randall counties already had been hit dramatically harder than other major population centers around the state as a consequence of its proximity to meat packing plants where outbreaks have erupted and spilled into communities in a part of Texas that's still predominantly rural.
After having more than 740 virus infections reported the previous day in Potter and Randall counties combined, Amarillo got a breather today when officials there announced that only 48 people had tested positive there since mid-afternoon on Saturday.
Abbott has been tracking the spread and holding his breath as Texas gets back into business in phases with green lights on Monday for gyms, manufacturing plants and office buildings to come back to life after shuttering of more than two months. Barber shops and beauty salons had been planing to reopen on Monday as well before Abbott accelerated the date a week for them amid intense pressure from hard-line conservatives.
A significant number of restaurants that haven't already reopened probably will be poised to tomorrow when the Abbott-imposed restrictions on occupancy double after two weeks of being capped at 25 percent. Retailers have been following suit at shopping malls where most of the stores had remained closed by choice for the past two weeks. Bars are expected a go-ahead from the governor on Monday as well.
Abbott has been attempting to strike a fragile balance between concerns about the public health and the economy in a state where almost 48,000 coronavirus infections had been detected by Sunday afternoon including at least 1,336 that have ended in death. A substantial resurgence in the infant stages of the reopening would be a public relations nightmare for Abbott and strike force that he's assembled for guidance during the crisis.
Abbott finally got a rare break himself when the point he'd been attempting make about the deceiving nature of the contagion case count and how it goes up or down with the testing levels.
After reaching out to help preserve the calm in Amarillo and surrounding communities that have been slammed as well, the number of tests that were positive fell below 1,000 for the first time since April 7 after going 15 of the past 17 days over the four-digit mark.
The number of confirmed cases dropped 56 percent compared to the virus count on Saturday in a parallel slide with the Texas tally of coronavirus tests that was down 54 percent during the same period.
Abbott has faced a significant challenge in his attempts to explain how the case and testing numbers have to be measured together before they can be a viable gauge for the contagion's current intensity, tendencies and magnitude and barometer for business and political leaders and health officials with a more singular focus.
Texas had appeared to be weathering the storm with minimal damage for the first month or so when the state's relatively low rates of infections and fatalities had been a mirage due a poor testing effort. With the state finally making testing a priority like local leaders had done early on in places that were hot spots at the outset of the outbreak here, a stabilization of case counts in conjunction with higher testing rates is a more accurate sign when the curve is actually flattening in a state where the governor thought that it had a month ago.
State leaders have come to realize that testing is the ticket out of a crisis because it will help them identify who might have been exposed to the virus or infected by it without experiencing symptoms. That will make it possible to employ a more selective and focused process for quarantines that will alleviate the need for lockdowns of entire cities and rural counties that have suffered more than their urban counterparts that appeared to be the central targets initially.
Texas has a CVID-19 infection rate that is lower than it is 11 counties that have populations of more than 100,000. Harris County has had 196 confirmed cases for every 100,000 people there compared to the statewide rate of 165. But the death rate in the county where Houston is located has been slightly lower than the state's as whole while testing has been higher in Harris County with a rate that's close to the current statewide mark.
Harris and Dallas rank fifth and sixty respectively among the state's 30 largest counties in testing for the coronavirus. Galveston and Fort Bend counties had been gateways for the invasion after a group of Texans who'd been a cruise to Egypt returned home and sent the disease on an unexpected and exponential race through the Houston area.
But GOP County Judge Mark Henry made testing a paramount priority in Galveston after teaming up with area mayors on a stay-at-home order that they issued on March 24 a week after he'd vowed to keep the island open for business in defiance of early warnings. Henry allowed the beaches to remain open for another week with police patrols trying to enforce social distancing before shutting them down when Galveston took a hard early hit with nearby Fort Bend County and Lubbock County on the other side of the state staggered in the initial stages as well.
Henry refused to impose a mask order like local leaders in Houston and the other largest metropolitan areas had done several weeks after they'd shut down nonesssential businesses, sharply limited public gatherings and order residents to stay at home as much as possible. But moved without haste in the establishment of an expansive testing program in collaboration with the University of Texas Medical Branch on the island.
Henry promised that Galveston would be a model for the nation in terms of testing for the coronavirus ahead of the curve in a state where other large and small areas weren't making tests available for anyone who wasn't already sick. First-term Democratic County Judge KP George had Fort Bend County jump out to an initial lead in the coronavirus testing competition that featured Galveston as the only major competitor.
Galveston and Fort Bend counties opened free testing sites midway through April and eliminated the need for symptoms as a prerequisite for tests. Both promoted the testing initiatives vigorously a month before Abbott began to stress the need for a significant statewide push.
Abbott established Surge Response Teams to travel to hot spots for extensive testing at beef and chicken processing plants and nursing homes that had been ravaged by the virus when they'd been caught unprepared. But Texas had been falling behind the governor's baseline goal for the belated testing effort until surpassing it four of the past five days.