By ACACIA CORONADO and JIM VERTUNO Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Gov. Greg Abbott insisted Tuesday that Texas’ health care system can handle the record-high number of new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations as the state aggressively pushes to reopen its economy.
At a news conference, Abbott acknowledged that many Texans have become lax about wearing masks and social distancing as coronavirus restrictions have been lifted, and urged them to take greater responsibility for stopping the spread of the virus and to stay home as much as possible.
“It does raise concerns, but there is no reason right now to be alarmed,” Abbott said of the recent spike in cases.
Tuesday marked the eighth time in nine days that the state set a new high for hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients, with 2,518, which was an increase of nearly 200 since Monday. That exceeded the number of hospitalized patients on Memorial Day, which at the time was the lowest in more than a month, by more than 1,000.
State health officials on Tuesday also reported 2,622 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, which was a single-day high. The state also reported 46 new deaths, doubling the state’s daily average for the last two weeks.
Texas began aggressively reopening its economy on May 1, and the business-friendly Republican governor has continued to relax restrictions despite the increase in infections.
In the past week, Abbott allowed retailers, restaurants and amusement parks to increase capacity, even as local officials in some of the hardest hit areas such as Dallas, Houston and Austin urged residents and businesses to remain vigilant about social distancing and wearing face masks. On Friday, amusement parks in counties with more than 1,000 cases will be allowed to operate at 50% capacity.
Abbott and health officials said the state has enough equipment and available hospital beds to handle the spike — nearly 15,000 open beds, including nearly 1,700 in intensive care units.
He said COVID-19 clusters in state prisons, senior living centers and among young adults going to bars without following proper health precautions could be behind the increases in some counties. The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission issued a warning to bars stating that their liquor licenses would be suspended for 30 days if they are found to be not complying with public health guidelines.
Abbott, who wore a mask at his news conference when other officials were speaking, urged Texans to follow social distancing guidelines. He allowed his statewide stay-at-home order to expire in May.
“We just want to double down and remind everybody that the things we learned in March, April and May we still have to be practicing. COVID-19 hasn’t magically left the state of Texas,” he said.
That drew a swift rebuke from state Democrats and the Democratic leaders in the state’s largest cities, who have accused the governor of stymieing their efforts to enforce social distancing and mask wearing.
“The governor has failed all Texans by refusing to take the evidence-based actions needed to flatten the COVID-19 curve. We have to face reality: Managing this crisis goes way beyond knowing how many hospital beds are available,” said state Rep. Chris Turner, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.
The mayors of nine of Texas’ biggest cities, including Austin, Houston, Dallas and San Antonio, wrote a bipartisan letter asking Abbott to let cities set and enforce rules on issues such as masks.
“A one-size-fits-all approach is not the best option,” they wrote. “We should trust local officials to make informed choices about health policy.”