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New Coronavirus Cases Up 71% in 2 Weeks as Texas Moves Forward with Reopening

Coronavirus cases are trending higher in Texas, even as the state continues to move forward with Governor Gregg Abbott’s ambitious reopening plan.

According to the Texas Tribune, the number of confirmed COVID-19 infections has gone from an average of 1,081 per day during the week ending May 24th to about 1,527 per day last week. The most recent 14-day trend line indicates the number of new Texas cases grew roughly 71% in the past two-week period.

Texas Authorities Blame Coronavirus “Hot Spots”

Authorities have attributed the surge to increased testing in coronavirus hot spots, including prisons and meatpacking plants. The state’s overall case count jumped by 19,000, or 34%, from May 25th to June 7th, with nearly a quarter of the increase coming from 10 Texas counties where those facilities are located.

As the Tribune notes, however, not all counties include prison cases in the totals reported to the Department of State Health Services. As a result, it’s difficult to determine exactly how much prison outbreaks have contributed to the recent increase in Texas.

While COVID-19 testing has also increased all across the state in the past two weeks, positive tests and hospitalizations were up as well. Both suggest coronavirus transmission is rising in many areas of Texas.

COVID-19 on the Rise in Houston Metro Region

New coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are also spiking in Houston, with the Metro Region’s rolling daily average rising from 267 on May 22nd to 358 on June 4th. Harris County went from a low of 194 new COVID-19 infections on May 31st to 262 on June 3rd.

According to Texas Medical Center, ICUs in the Metro Region could be overwhelmed in roughly five weeks if the current rate of transmission continues.

What’s behind the recent increases? Many experts place the blame squarely on the Governor’s insistence that Texas reopen its economy.

“I am afraid the public interprets lifting ‘government-mandated shelter in place’ and closure of non-essential business that the pandemic is over and community and individual mitigation measures are no longer necessary,” Gerald Parker, director of the pandemic and biosecurity policy program at Texas A&M’s Bush School of Government Service, recently told The Houston Chronicle. “But the virus is still in our communities and can hit the most vulnerable hard.”

Abbott allowed retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters, malls, museums, and libraries to open at 25% capacity on May 1st. Most other businesses were permitted to resume operations at 50% capacity last Wednesday.

This coming Friday, the Governor will allow restaurants to begin operating at 75% capacity.

Houston Protests Could Fuel Another Spike

The recent mass protests over the tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police have drawn more than 60,000 people to downtown Houston in recent days. Because the incubation period for COVID-19 can be as long as 14 days, those gatherings have yet to impact the region’s numbers. But officials are bracing for a protest-related spike in the coming weeks.

“The concern that public health departments across the country have is as we are in the midst of fighting this pandemic, we now have protests that are occurring where the very messages we’ve been putting out about social distancing, wearing facial coverings and doing all the preventative measures are in contrast to how people are coming together,” Dr. Umair Shah, Harris County’s health director, told the Chronicle. “We also recognize the right of individuals to express themselves.”

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