As Texas' coronavirus numbers continue their rapid climb, Gov. Greg Abbott put the state's reopening plan on hold Thursday morning.
In a news release, Abbott said the state will pause all scheduled phases of reopening. The move freezes in place the state's capacity restrictions for businesses that were allowed to open their doors under previous phases of the state's reopening plan. But the order doesn't reinstate any restrictions that have already been phased out, meaning businesses like bars, restaurants, bowling alleys and movie theaters may all remain open.
"As we experience an increase in both positive COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, we are focused on strategies that slow the spread of this virus while also allowing Texans to continue earning a paycheck to support their families," Abbott said in a news release. "The last thing we want to do as a state is go backwards and close down businesses. This temporary pause will help our state corral the spread until we can safely enter the next phase of opening our state for business."
Abbott also signed an executive order Thursday again putting elective surgeries on hold in Texas' four most populous counties. Abbott said the move was intended to free up hospital capacity at a time when reported cases of COVID-19 are rising rapidly in Texas. The order applies to hospitals in Dallas, Harris, Bexar and Travis counties.
“As Texas faces a rise in COVID-19 cases, we are focused on both slowing the spread of this virus and maintaining sufficient hospital capacity for COVID-19 patients,” Abbott said in a news release. “These four counties have experienced significant increases in people being hospitalized due to COVID-19 and today’s action is a precautionary step to help ensure that the hospitals in these counties continue to have ample supply of available beds to treat COVID-19 patients. As we work to contain this virus, I urge all Texans to do their part to help contain the spread by washing their hands regularly, wearing a mask, and practicing social distancing.”
Abbott enacted an executive order in late March placing elective surgeries on hold at hospitals statewide. After about a month, the state eased those restrictions. Thursday's order represents a partial reinstatement of the ban.
The moves come at a time when the state's coronavirus situation is looking increasingly dire. On Tuesday, Texas health officials reported 5,489 new cases of COVID-19, marking the first time the state's daily new case count had crossed the 5,000 mark. On Wednesday, the state's new case total ticked up yet again, climbing to 5,551 new cases.
On Wednesday, Dr. Peter Hotez, a nationally recognized infections disease expert and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told the Houston Chronicle that the sharp uptick means Texas has no choice but to implement "a significant level of social distancing." Hotez called Texas' numbers "absolutely horrifying" and said they were an indication that the state opened up before it was safe to do so.
"I think we should be red alert for coronavirus threat level," he said. "We need to head in that direction. Six months into this epidemic, and we're basically to square one."
As recently as Tuesday, Abbott said hospital capacity in the state was "abundant." But hospitalizations related to COVID-19 have climbed dramatically in Dallas County and across North Texas over the past few weeks. On Wednesday, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said COVID-19 hospitalizations were up 88% in the county and 86% across the region since June 1.
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.