AUSTIN, Texas (KLTV) - Addressing the spike of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations that have occurred since Memorial Day, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott urged Texans to follow the recommended safety protocols going into the July 4th holiday weekend.
Toward the end of Monday’s press conference in Austin, Abbott said that if the Lone Star State’s COVID-19 numbers double again in the immediate future, tougher actions like mandatory stay-at-home orders may again be required.
“COVID-19 has not gone away,” Abbott said.
The governor said early on in the coronavirus pandemic, Texas’ leaders sought to keep the state’s hospitals from being overrun by COVID-19 cases.
“We succeeded in that goal,” Abbott said.
He reiterated the safety protocols for preventing the further spread of the COVID-19 virus. He urged people 65 and older or who have pre-existing health conditions to stay at home as much as possible. Abbott also stressed hand sanitization, social distancing, and Texans wearing masks or face coverings when they go out in public.
Abbott said that in late May, Texas was seeing about 1500 new COVID-19 cases a day. In the past four or five days, that number has jumped to about 3,500 a day. According to an article in the Texas Tribune, the state reported 4,430 new cases on Saturday, which is a new record high.
In that same period, the percentage of coronavirus tests that turn out to be positive has risen to almost 9 percent. Hospitalizations have gone from 1,600 a day to about 3,200 a day since late May, Abbott said.
“To state the obvious, COVID-19 is now spreading at an unacceptable rate in Texas, and it must be corralled,” Abbott said.
Abbott said there are numerous areas state officials are focusing on. One, Texans need to continue following the safety protocols to lessen the spread of the coronavirus.
He added that appropriate authorities like the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission are being given additional authority to enforce the safety protocols. Giving an example, he said the TABC is temporarily shutting down bars and clubs that violate the social distancing guidelines.
The state is also implementing a surge in COVID-19 testing in “hot spot” areas of the state. About 3,500 Texas National Guard troops are still on active duty and assisting with that effort, Abbott said.
The state’s leadership is continuing to work with hospital CEOs to make sure there is enough capacity to treat everyone who develops the more serious COVID-19 symptoms.
Abbott also said even though he understands that some Texans feel that being forced to wear masks is an infringement on their rights, wearing masks in public is still one of the best ways to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
During the question and answer portion of the press conference, Abbott stopped short of saying that masks should be mandatory. He said a state the size of Texas, which has 254 counties, requires a measure of flexibility, adding the what works for a metropolitan county with a large number of COVID-19 cases may not be necessary for rural counties with few or no cases of the coronavirus.
The governor said wearing masks in public won’t be permanent, but Texans may need to do it until some kind of effective treatment is found for the COVID-19 virus.
Abbott said if Texans follow the recommended safety protocols, there won’t be a need to choose between getting back to work and staying safe. He added that closing the state down again “will always be the last option.”
“We have several strategies to reduce the spread without shutting Texas back down, but it is up to all of us to do our part to protect ourselves and others,” Abbott said. “We need all Texans to follow the safety protocols developed by our team of medical experts, including staying home if you are sick or at risk, sanitizing your hands, social distancing, and wearing face coverings or masks. COVID-19 hasn’t gone away, but neither has our ability to slow the spread of it.”
Dr. John Hellerstedt, the commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, said Texas and the rest of the United States are at a crucial point in the pandemic.
“We need to get back to the sense of community that we all had at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hellerstedt said. “We’re still all in this together.”
At a question about the upcoming July 4th holiday, Abbott said his recent executive order allows outdoor gatherings of up to 500 people if social distancing is maintained. He added that the hope was that the added flexibility would allow entities to make their own decisions.
Abbott said many cities and organizations have decided to cancel their Fourth of July fireworks shows and/or parades because of concerns about the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
In response to a question about the safety of voting in the runoff elections for the primaries, Abbott said early voting has already started, and he extended the time that people can early vote to give Texans a chance to vote when there are fewer people at the polling places.
“I think if you wear a mask when you vote and follow the safety protocols, it shouldn’t be much of a problem,” Abbott said.