Texas recorded its highest daily death toll from the coronavirus Wednesday, while cases and hospitalizations continued to level off in a possible sign that the state is nearing an overall peak in infections.
More than 200 deaths were reported, according to a Hearst analysis of the most current state and county totals. The statewide death toll from the pandemic is now above 4,400, up from 2,500 at the beginning of July.
Public health experts predicted the rise in fatalities, given the surge in cases and hospitalizations that began last month amid holiday celebrations, public protests and the state’s reopening. Many cities and counties are still undergoing devastating outbreaks, particularly in Latino communities along the Gulf Coast and the Mexican border.
The state is now reporting well over 100 deaths per day.
ABBOTT’S APPROVAL: Gov. Abbott’s plummet in public approval depicted in yet another Texas poll
Statewide, the growth in new daily cases and hospitalizations still appears to be slowing, and may be beginning to plateau. The rate of people testing positive for the virus is now at 14.2 percent, the lowest since July 6. It has been on a downward trend since July 16.
Public health experts are still waiting to see whether the flattening holds, and many have said the positivity rate will need to drop drastically before the state can effectively manage outbreaks — or consider sending students back to classrooms in the fall.
In Houston and other hard-hit cities, local leaders again called on Gov. Greg Abbott to allow them to impose targeted, temporary lockdowns to slow their infection rates.
“Until we can get that positivity rate down to 5 percent or below, our contact tracing and testing is not going to be nearly as impactful,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, a Democrat, said in an interview with CNN.
Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez also appeared on the network urging the governor to allow local lockdowns. Cortez ordered many county residents to shelter in place earlier this week, while acknowledging that it is unenforceable under restrictions currently in place by Abbott.
“If I can even simply get 10 percent of people to follow it, I’m 10 percent better than I was today, because yesterday we had 49 people pass away and that is certainly not acceptable,” he said.
Abbott has refused to allow any shutdowns, and said Wednesday that his recent statewide mask order appears to be slowing infections. He urged cities and counties to issue more citations for violators. His mandate only allows for penalties on repeat offenses, which can be hard for law enforcement to track.
“We need to make sure we have enough time for this practice to be utilized by everyone,” Abbott said in a TV interview.
A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday found that a slim majority of respondents oppose a new statewide lockdown, though a large majority say local officials should be able to issue them for their jurisdictions.
Democrats have blasted the governor for his refusal to step up restrictions as deaths rise.
“The people in San Antonio are nervous, not only about contracting the virus but whether there will be space at local hospitals if they do get sick,” U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, said in a press conference in Washington.
Castro questioned Abbott’s political courage. “For whatever reason, he won’t make the tough decisions. He has to step aside and let local leaders do it.”
Meanwhile, health experts pressed state and federal leaders across the political spectrum to compromise and find solutions.
“Local school boards are making a decision to close schools but the bars and restaurants are still open,” Scott Gottlieb, a leading expert and former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, said in a CNBC interview. “We need to make a decision about what’s important and what we’re willing to sacrifice right now, until we’re on the other side of this.”
Dr. Peter Hotez, a professor and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, said the country is currently on track to reach 220,000 deaths by October.
“It doesn’t have to be that way,” he said in a virtual town hall with state Rep. Sarah Davis, R-Houston. “We have to stop acting like this is a fait accompli, like it’s inevitable. There are things we can do.”
Hotez has called for new national benchmarks, and has said states with large outbreaks, including Texas, will need to consider lockdowns in order to get there.
“The goal should not be a bed or ventilator for every Texan,” Davis said. “The goal should be to prevent anybody from getting to that point.”