AUSTIN, Texas - Texas reached 200,000 total COVID-19 cases Monday, just 17 days after crossing the 100,000 threshold, a figure that took the state nearly four months to hit.
The grim milestone came as the state has reported weeks of surging hospitalizations and new cases, and as Gov. Greg Abbott aimed to clamp down on those rising numbers with a statewide mask order.
Although the number of newly reported cases rose at a slower rate Sunday and Monday, with the Texas Department of State Health Services reporting 5,318 cases Monday, a spokesman for the health agency said the state may see a “big increase” in new cases this week as more local jurisdictions report data after the holiday weekend.
“There were a lot of jurisdictions that didn’t report new cases with the holiday weekend, particularly on Saturday, which would have showed up in yesterday’s update,” agency spokesman Chris Van Deusen said in an email.
The number of cases and hospitalizations has accelerated since Memorial Day, prompting Abbott to close bars, reduce restaurant occupancy, pause additional reopenings and issue a statewide order to wear a face covering in counties with more than 20 COVID-19 cases.
But Texas has yet to see whether the latest restrictions will improve the numbers. The incubation period for the virus is between one and 14 days, meaning data won’t immediately reflect the changes.
In addition to 200,557 confirmed infections to date, state health officials Monday reported 8,698 COVID-19 hospitalizations, a record high for the eighth consecutive day.
The rolling seven-day average of positive tests was 13.5%, according to the health agency. Abbott has said anything above 10% is cause for concern and action to reduce exposure to the virus.
Statewide testing also soared over the weekend. The seven-day average of daily new tests hovered around 50,000 on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
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Hot spots across Texas
As the state’s most populous counties gained national attention over rising cases and reports of crowded hospitals, some local officials and health experts feared that the latest restrictions in Texas might not slow the coronavirus spread.
On Sunday, Austin Mayor Steve Adler told the American-Statesman that the Austin-area’s intensive care units could be overrun in the next 10 to 14 days if hospitalizations continue increasing at their current pace. Officials in San Antonio, Houston and Dallas issued similar warnings.
In the Rio Grande Valley and South Texas, area hospitals have continued to see an alarming increase in the number of hospitalizations and declining availability of ICU beds.
Dr. Jose Vazquez, the Starr County health authority, said COVID-19 deaths in the area have been undercounted and hospital beds are full, The Monitor reported Friday. Vazquez told the newspaper that some patients had to be transferred by helicopter to other areas of the state with available beds.
The Texas Department of State Health Services on Monday reported 43 available ICU beds for the trauma service area that includes Starr and three other counties.
In one South Texas area that covers Victoria, Goliad and four other counties, state health officials reported just nine available ICU beds.
There are nearly 13,000 hospital beds available statewide, 5,300 ventilators and 1,226 ICU beds, according to the health agency.
The agency reported 18 new deaths Monday, bringing the statewide virus death toll to 2,655. It’s a nearly 74% increase since Memorial Day, when officials reported a total of 1,527 coronavirus-related deaths.
The state’s current seven-day average of COVID-19 deaths per day is 36, compared with 27 on Memorial Day.
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Polling finds Texans are less concerned about virus
Meanwhile, statewide polling released Monday found that while most Texans believe controlling the spread of COVID-19 is more important than reopening the economy, they are less concerned about the virus than in April.
And the poll from the University of Texas’ Texas Politics Project found that Abbott’s favorability in Texas has fallen since April.
The poll, which surveyed 1,200 registered voters from June 19 to 29, had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.83 percentage points.
While 52% of Texas voters approved of how Abbott has handled the economy, 49% approved of how he’s handled the state’s response to COVID-19, down from 56% in April.
The poll also found that a majority of Texans, or 53%, said controlling the spread of COVID-19 is more important than helping the economy.
Even so, concern about the coronavirus decreased as new cases and hospitalizations spiked in June.
The number of Texans who reported being “extremely” or “very” concerned about the spread of the virus in their community dropped from 54% in April to 47% in June, according to the Texas Politics Project.