May 11, 2020

Texas Coronavirus County Rankings Reflect
Testing Efforts for Containment and Catch-Up

Hill Country Hideaway with Hoo Doo in Past Bounces Back after Outbreak
at Council Session as Fort Bend Sets Bar with Galveston and Wichita Close

By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor

Coronavirus Modelers May
See End of Siege in Sight

The expert outlook for the coronavirus recovery has brightened in Texas amid predictions that the daily death count here will start to subside later in May or the first week in June while the rate of confirmed injections could already be on the decline.

Virus trackers at the University of Washington lowered their projections for fatalities here for the next three months on Monday when they estimated that the virus will have killed 2,567 people in Texas by August 4 - a 27 percent reduction from the number that the scientists in Seattle had been predicting.

The model at the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at UW sees the Texas death rate taking a turn to the south on Tuesday and continuing to go down for the next 80 days before people here are no longer losing their lives from coronavirus attacks.

The UT COVID-19 Modeling Consortium is currently predicting that the daily increases in coronavirus fatalities will climb for six more days until reaching an apex on Monday when the second phase of the Texas reopening that Governor Greg Abbott is directing will get under way with gyms, nonessential manufacturers and some other companies having permission to come back to life then if they choose.





The German settlement that's known now Mason County has been content to stay out of the spotlight since the adoption of an English only resolution during World War I amid fears of a xenophobic backlash and bloodbath on par with the Hoo Doo War there several decades earlier.

The folks in the secluded patch of the Texas Hill Country had heard stories from grandparents about the horror stories from the 1870s there when vigilantes declared war on cattle rustlers that included famed outlaw Johnny Ringo in their ranks. They'd also learned how some residents had been more concerned with the threat of attacks by fellow Americans than they'd been about the Spanish Flu back in 1918 when the county effectively told the citizens there to quit speaking German once and for all.

But Mason County has put itself back on the map now in the midst of the coronavirus crisis that's the worst public health emergency since the mother of all pandemics 102 years ago. At a time when all of the other Texas hot spots have been areas with meat packing plants or poorly-run nursing homes, Mason County has been the only known jurisdiction where a COVID-19 surge was spawned at a local government meeting that focused on how the disease hadn't been a problem there.

The 45th smallest county in Texas with a population around 4,000, Mason County has the fourth highest rate of coronavirus infections in a state where only three counties that are all in the Panhandle have been hit harder so far. Mason had reported its first and only confirmed case on April 4 before the mayor in the county seat of Mason and three others tested positive for the virus more than three weeks later after attending a city council session that was conducted in person with no masks or other obvious inconveniences a month after the people in Texas cities had started sheltering in place.

But Mason might have done a better job at playing catch-up than any other rural county after being caught flat-footed amid a false sense of security that paved the way for a major outbreak there. Mason County ranks number one in Texas in coronavirus testing as the chief weapon for prevention and damage control and the eventual ticket to freedom in the face of a disease that's left almost 40,000 infected and 1,100 dead in its trek across the Lone Star State in the past two months.

The places in Texas that have the best shots at minimizing the death and destruction are the cities and counties that have been testing the most people who aren't already sick as the only way to identify those who could be asymptomatic and spreading the virus unbeknownst to them.

Texas County Rankings
Containment & Comebacks & Starting Odds

Cases & Tests Per 100,000 Population
    Cases Tests Net
1 Fort Bend 179 3,697 4.8%
2 Galveston 203 3,449 5.9%
3 Wichita 57 1,739 3.3%
4 Harris 168 1,677 10.0%
5 Jefferson 147 2,303 6.4%
6 Mason 663 4,666 14.2%
7 Donley 785 1,329 59.1%
8 Gregg 95 1,509 6.3%
9 Taylor 96 1,542 6.2%
10 Lubbock 193 1,274 15.1%
11 Dallas 215 1,646 13.1%
12 Walker 471 3,020 15.6%

Fort Bend and Galveston counties have been models for proactive action with the heaviest emphasis on testing as a priority before Governor Greg Abbott and other state officials began to realize that it should be the most pressing concern after weeks of lip service.

Wichita County - never known as a mecca for progressive thinking - has put on a clinic in the art and science of a coronavirus response by elevating aggressive testing to the top of the priority list when it appeared to have major hot spot potential in the opening stages of the virus debut in Texas in the second half of March.

In a state with no centralized standards statewide, the most successful places in terms of individual pandemic responses have been those with the highest rates of testing and relatively low incidence with initial vulnerability based in large part on population size and density as key factors as well.

The most effective gauge for grading how well local areas have fared in the coronavirus crisis is the gap between the rates of confirmed cases and tests per capita. The wider the better.

The county that's anchored by Wichita Falls on the Oklahoma border is a prime and rare example of a locality that flatten the curve by getting a jump on it with the state's fifth highest testing rate and 33rd confirmed case ranking among the 39 counties with populations of more than 100,000.

While Harris County leads the state in total COVID-19 infections with almost 7,900 by Monday afternoon, it had been one of the two largest targets for the virus in Texas as the state's second biggest in terms of population density. Dallas County ranks first in the state in that regard as the anchor of the nation's fourth largest metropolitan area. But the difference in the rates of confirmed coronavirus cases and tests in Harris and Dallas counties is a very respectable 10 percent and 13 percent respectively.

Lubbock County has been making a comeback as the place that had ranked first in both confirmed cases and deaths per capita in the first few weeks of the coronavirus siege here. Lubbock has bounced back after the early staggering with drive-through testing sites in several parts of the county where the case rate is only 15 percent of the testing rate now.

While the Amarillo area has had the highest infection rate in Texas by far with outbreaks at several meat processing facilities in the city and surrounding counties, nearby Donley County has been the most impressive exception as the original coronavirus hot spot in the Panhandle.

Rural Hot Spots
  County Rates Per 100,000 Population
Ranked on Confirmed COVID-19 Cases
    Cases Tests
1 Moore 2,385 2,742
2 Potter 933 2,872
3 Donley 785 1,778
4 Mason 663 4,666
5 Panola 611 1,063
6 Shelby 584 2,066
7 Washington 468 1,170
8 Walker 471 3,020
9 Jones 460 656
10 Gray 335 536
11 Nacogdoches 308 1,624
12 Castro 293 1,237
13 Randall 266 829

With Clarendon as the largest city in a county with a mere 3,000 residents, Donley recorded 23 cases in a week in early April when the county judge who happens to be a medical doctor moved swiftly in an attempt to contain the spread there by testing people who weren't already ill. As the virus ravaged other parts of the Panhandle, Donley County only reported three more cases in the past month and boasts a state-leading recovery rate at 85 percent without a single death.

The Texas counties that have struggled the most are those where the lion's share of people who've been tested for COVID-19 were already ill with most of the standard symptoms. Moore County has the most glaring example as a place where 87 percent of the tests have turned out to be positive since an outbreak at a beef and sausage plant. Moore has had the highest infection rate in Texas by far.

Testing has increased in Potter County since an outbreak at a meat packing factory on the outskirts of Amarillo. But the correlation between the number of tests that have been taken and the state's highest rate of infections by far suggest that Potter has a long and steep road ahead compared to the vast differences between case and testing rates in places like Fort Bend, Galveston and Jefferson counties.


Confirmed Cases & Testing Per 100,000 Population
Counties with Populations of 100,000 or More
1 Fort Bend 10 179.1 3,697
2 Galveston 17 203.0 3,449
3 Potter 38 933.1 2,872
4 Jefferson 20 146.7 2,303
5 Wichita 34 56.9 1,739
6 Harris 1 167.7 1,677
7 Dallas 2 214.6 1,646
8 Taylor 7 95.6 1,542
9 Gregg 36 94.8 1,509
10 Montgomery 11 122.4 1,292
11 Ellis 25 116.3 1,290
12 Lubbock 18 193.0 1,284
13 Travis 5 170.8 1,301
14 Denton 9 107.9 1,156
15 Tarrant 3 156.2 1,225
16 Hays 24 84.6 1,127
17 Grayson 35 63.3 1,116
18 Collin 6 91.5 1,090
19 El Paso 7 151.8 1,083
20 Smith 22 74.7 1,079
21 Tom Green 39 50.0 1,008
22 Johnson 26 59.8 968
23 Midland 27 61.2 967
24 Kaufman 37 94.4 923
25 Bell 16 63.2 922
26 Brazoria 14 177.7 865
27 Brazos 23 114.9 860
28 Randall 32 266.3 829
29 Bexar 4 97.1 781
30 Williamson 12 65.9 775
31 Comal 30 46.1 774
32 Cameron 13 116.6 756
33 Webb 19 150.7 711
34 McLennan 21 37.0 609
35 Ector 29 60.5 587
36 Hidalgo 7 43.8 580
37 Guadalupe 15 57.6 473
38 Parker 33 33.7 441
39 Nueces 15 35.4 360





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