Texas to remain ‘wide open for business’ despite dramatic Covid-19 rise

Governor Greg Abbott urges Texans to wear masks and continue social distancing to slow rise in hospitalizations and infections

Agents from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission check that bars are maintaining social distancing protocols in Austin, Texas, on 22 May.
Agents from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission check that bars are maintaining social distancing protocols in Austin, Texas, on 22 May. Photograph: Nuri Vallbona/Reuters

Greg Abbott, the Texas governor, has said the state will remain “wide open for business” despite seeing a dramatic 10-day rise in Covid-19 hospitalizations and infections.

An average of 3,200 Texans a day are hospitalized for Covid-19, Abbott said, double the rate in mid-May. Abbott called on Texans to wear masks and continue social distancing to slow the spread of coronavirus but stopped short of making masks mandatory, and made no call for businesses to restrict services.

One expert described such voluntarily guidelines as a “hodge-podge” of public health measures.

“To state the obvious, Covid-19 is now spreading at an unacceptable rate in Texas, and it must be corralled,” said Abbott, a Republican. However, he said reimposing stay-at-凯发官网网址多少home orders was a “last resort”, and that Texas will remain “wide open for business”.

Abbott added: “We have several strategies to reduce the spread without having to shut Texas back down.” He acknowledged some Texans view wearing masks as “an infringement of freedom” but said not following guidelines will “ultimately lead to the closure of more businesses”. At the end of a press conference, Abbott donned his own face mask, adorned with stars and stripes.

More than half of American states are experiencing increased Covid-19 infections, with Texas among a handful seeing especially dramatic spikes. More than 120,000 people in the US have died from Covid-19, more than any country in the world.

In Texas, more than 111,000 people have tested positive for Covid-19 and more than 2,100 people have died, according to the Texas Tribune, which gathers data from the state health department. Texas’s most populous cities, including Austin, Dallas and Houston, have seen the largest outbreaks.

“We’re already fighting this virus with one hand behind our back,” said vaccine researcher Dr Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. “Our only choice is to maximize the use of the few tools we have.” That should include mandatory masks, and if trends continue, reimposing social distancing measures.

“The idea we’re still fighting wearing masks at this point, when people are filing into [intensive care units], is just ridiculous,” he said.

Prof Peter Hotez MD PhD (@PeterHotez)

Latest #COVID19 for Harris County, my observations if this trajectory persists: 1) Houston would become the worst affected city in the US, maybe rival what we're seeing now in Brazil 2) The masks = good 1st step but simply won't be enough 3) We would need to proceed to red alert pic.twitter.com/RruxTItNYU

June 20, 2020

Texas was one of the first states to reopen businesses in March and April following an economically devastating nationwide lockdown. Once restrictions loosened, people began to socialize in bars and restaurants, beaches, parks and rivers, although Texas has still had far fewer cases or deaths than hard-hit states such as New York.

Abbott acknowledged that charts appeared to show cases rising following what many Americans consider the unofficial start of summer, the Memorial Day holiday weekend in early June. That would roughly correlate with what is believed to be the onset of symptoms for Covid-19, as long as 14 days after infection. The growing number of infections in Texas comes before another quintessential American holiday – the Fourth of July.

“We’re on an upward trajectory now, and we have very loose restrictions in terms of people getting together in bars and restaurants,” among other gathering places, said Mark Hayward, director of the Population Health Initiative at the University of Texas at Austin, and an expert in health disparities.

Texas has far fewer social restrictions than states in the hard-hit American northeast, where case numbers are falling. For instance, restaurants in Texas can serve customers indoors at 75% of normal capacity, and there are no limits on outdoor capacity. By comparison, indoor dining is still banned in New York City, and outdoor dining only opened Monday.

“We have this hodge-podge of public health measures, then you have people that are willing to take risks – you’re going to get this kind of stuff,” Hayward said. “We’re not Europeans,” he added, referring to the idea that Texans would not respond positively to the strict stay-at-凯发官网网址多少home measures seen in countries such as France, Italy and the UK.

Hayward cautioned that a total lockdown of Texas could cast people into America’s paper thin social safety net. As it stands, that could also risk public health, by subjecting people to unemployment, poverty and food insecurity. Congressional action could change this, but the fate of any second coronavirus stimulus is uncertain.

“It really is a matter of bringing workers and companies to the table together to figure this out. It’s not simply a matter of companies weighing in with the government, without having people’s interests represented,” Hayward said. “Texans used to be really great at this.”