Texas governor Greg Abbott announced a rollback of the state’s reopening Friday, the most dramatic step taken around the country as a handful of states watch the number of coronavirus within their borders soar.
Under Abbott’s new order, bars in Texas will have to close by noon Friday, restaurants must reduce capacity to 50 percent (down from 75 percent), and public gatherings of more than 100 are required to have the approval of local officials.
“At this time, it is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars,” Abbott said in a statement. Texas was among the first states to reopen public spaces in May. “The actions in this executive order are essential to our mission to swiftly contain this virus and enhance public health.”
The order marks a significant turnaround for Abbott, who said just last week that there was “no reason to be alarmed” about the rise in coronavirus cases in the state. By Wednesday of this week, he was warning that the spread of the virus could get “out of control” and hinting at a re-implementation of business closures. On Thursday, Abbott “paused” Texas’s reopening and banned elective surgeries in four counties to preserve hospital beds.
“The last thing we want to do as a state is go backwards and close down businesses,” he said in a statement Thursday. A day later, businesses were closed down.
Abbott’s about-face comes as Texas continues to set new coronavirus-related records. Thursday’s new case count nearly reached 6,000, bringing the three-day total to more than 17,000 cases. The 4,739 Texans hospitalized for COVID-19 Thursday marked a record high, the 14th consecutive day such a record was set. The state’s positive test rate, presented as a seven-day average, has also creeped up toward 12 percent. “As I said from the start, if the positivity rate rose above 10 percent, the State of Texas would take further action to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Abbott said after announcing the reopening rollback Friday.
Houston remains the epicenter of the outbreak in Texas. On Thursday, the Texas Medical Center reported that 100 percent of its ICU beds are full. Just over a quarter of the patients in those beds are being treated for COVID-19. The hospital still has capacity to use regular medical beds for ICU patients.
Friday morning, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo moved the COVID-19 threat level to its most severe level, which calls for poeple to stay home except for essential trips out. “The harsh truth is that our current infection rate is on pace to overwhelm our hospitals in the very near future,” she said. “We hope this serves as a wakeup call to everyone that the time to act is now.”