By PAUL J. WEBER Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas health officials warned Thursday that the approaching flu season threatens to further strain hospitals still dealing with thousands of coronavirus patients, and they urged the public to not wait on getting flu vaccinations this year.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott made the appeal as Texas reported more than 300 confirmed new deaths from the coronavirus, pushing the total death toll to at least 7,800. Hundreds of new deaths have been added nearly every day for weeks in Texas, although state officials say declining hospitalizations are a sign of encouragement.
Abbott met with doctors and health experts at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, where he urged people to seek out flu vaccines that he said would be available early as September. Earlier this week, Dallas County reported the fewest confirmed new daily coronavirus cases since June, although other regions including the Rio Grande Valley remains hard hit.
“With a flu season that could be prolific, if that leads to greater hospitalizations coupled with the hospitalizations that we’re seeing from COVID-19, you can easily see how hospitals in this region as well as across Texas will be completely overrun,” Abbott said.
More than 8,300 patients remained hospitalized with COVID-19 in Texas, a more than 20% decline from July’s peak. But the rate of positive infections has once again begun ticking up after a steady decline, with the seven-day rolling average going above 17%, the highest since mid-July.
Texas also began lifting visitation restrictions Thursday at nursing facilities, which have reported more than 2,500 deaths related to the virus, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. The changes allow only outdoor visitation at nursing facilities, and only at facilities where there have are no active COVID-19 cases or positive cases among staff over the previous two weeks.
Gatherings of families and friends remains a problem that is contributing to the spread, Abbott said. Health officials along the Texas-Mexico border, where a field hospital opened in the McAllen Convention Center this week, have pointed to family events as one reason why their region was overwhelmed with an alarming surge of cases this summer.