April 22, 2020
Biggest Texas Cities Have Been Safer in Virus Surge
Amid Good and Bad Death and Lockdown Projections
By Mike Hailey
University of Texas scientists who are tracking the coronavirus trek the state have decided that the death count took a turn to the south on Wednesday and will continue to fall until dipping into single digits two weeks from now for the first time since the start of April.
But a group of researchers at the University of Washington have pushed the Texas target date back six days to June 7 for the beginning of a safe transition from lockdowns to a containment strategy in a state that's starting to slowly reopen despite concerns about testing capabilities.
The UW Health Metrics and Evaluation Estimate has been more optimistic about the Texas fatality tally that it believes to have peaked six days ago. The HME projects that the demand for hospital resources for coronavirus patients will hit a high point today in Texas.
The UT-Austin COVID-19 Modeling Consortium's forecast for the apex in the Texas death toll - while almost a week later than the Seattle college estimate - is substantially more optimistic than it had been last week with current odds of 64 percent that the fatality count has already reached its pinnacle here.
With Texas kicking off an economic recovery process with the easing of some restrictions on retailers and surgeons this week, the state's ranking near the bottom in testing abilities could be the driving factor in the later projected date for the relaxing of limitations on social movement. The HME estimate is based on the state's ability to have an effective containment plan in place in the next six weeks with sufficient testing, contact tracing, quarantines for people who've been infected and limits on public gatherings. .
As Texas starts to creep back to life, a Capitol Inside analysis of the coronavirus rates in the state's major population centers reaffirms the random nature of the disease that had been expected to inflict the most pain in the biggest cities with an exponential spread.
But that hasn't been the case based on the examination of the number of confirmed cases and deaths when they are measured in proportion with population size in the parts of Texas where most of its residents live.
While the total of positive tests and fatalities are essentially in line with population rankings, the odds of eluding the coronavirus wrath have been higher in the Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth areas than they've been in places that are tiny in comparison.
The Lubbock area leads the state in coronavirus deaths on a per-capita basis despite its relatively remote location in the vast expanse of the South Plains in northwest Texas. But the Amarillo area that anchors the Texas Panhandle 120 miles north of Lubbock has the highest per-capita rate of positive COVID-19 tests in the state based on the ongoing pandemic global tally at Johns Hopkins University.
One of every 838 of the residents in Potter and Randall counties that Amarillo straddles had tested positive for the coronavirus by early Wednesday morning. One of every 886 Lubbock County residents have been infected with the virus based on testing there. Amarillo has the fifth highest death rate with Bryan-College Station, the Laredo area and Beaumont-Port Arthur ranked second, third and fourth respectively in the proportional fatality rate.
Bryan-College Station and Beaumont-Port Arthur have the third and fourth highest per-capita rates of confirmed virus infections. The Midland-Odessa area ranks fifth in the fatality rate and sixth in the rate of positive COVID-19 tests when gauged in the context of population size.
The five areas that have the five highest death rates have a combined population of 1.4 million while the state's two largest metropolitan areas have more 13 million residents when added together. But the Houston area and DFW rank eighth and seventh respectively in per-capita deaths and even lower in the rate of confirmed coronavirus cases.
The Temple-Belton area that includes Killeen is more an anomaly in the coronavirus Texas trending with the fifth highest rate of total cases that have been confirmed and 12th in the per-capita death count.
Three of the four Texas population centers with the lowest rates in both categories - the El Paso area, the Rio Grande Valley and the Corpus Christi area - are located in South Texas where the vast majority of the people are Hispanic. The curiously low rates in those areas might be explained by a lack of testing among people who are poor and could be in the country illegally and showing up at hospitals and clinics in much smaller numbers as a result.
But the Corpus Christi area's dead-last ranking in both coronavirus case and death rates might be the hardest to believe in light of the fact that thousands of college students had converged on the island town of Port Aransas for spring break in March when the contagion was escalating across the state.
The smaller areas with the highest fatality rates have all had outbreaks at nursing homes that were unprepared for the coronavirus siege. Lubbock and Brazos counties that are anchored by cities with two of the largest schools in the state with Texas Tech University and Texas A&M University have had 36 and 16 deaths respectively with a significant number at nursing homes.
The Corpus Christi area that includes Nueces and San Patricio counties has had a grand total of one death as the ultimate trend crasher in the pandemic so far.