By PAUL J. WEBER Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas’ surging coronavirus numbers will not slow the state’s reopening as Republican Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday instead prescribed an emphasis on face coverings and social distancing to curtail sobering trends, including hospitalization rates that have doubled since Memorial Day.
Abbott did not announce any new measures to reverse what he called “unacceptable” trends on the heels of Texas hitting a 10th consecutive day of record COVID-19 hospitalizations. And while he didn’t rule out reimposing lockdown orders in Texas — describing it as a last resort — he said the virus did not require choosing “between jobs and health.” He instead emphasized long-established voluntary measures, such as staying at home if possible.
Wearing a mask has become a political statement during the pandemic throughout the U.S., and Abbott is not requiring them in public, even as big cities last week began racing to impose mask mandates on businesses.
But Abbott nodded to the resistance that has flared particularly from within his party. Ahead of next month’s Texas GOP Convention in Houston, party leaders have said masks won’t be required.
“I know that some people feel that wearing a mask is inconvenient or that it is like an infringement of freedom,” Abbott said in a televised briefing outside his office in the Texas Capitol. “But I also know that wearing a mask will help us to keep Texas open.”
House Democrats quickly blasted Abbott’s reaction to surging cases as insufficient.
“He set the stage to finally take much-needed strong and decisive action — and then, predictably, backed away without doing anything,” Democratic state Rep. Chris Turner said in a statement.
Texas reported more than 3,400 hospitalizations on Sunday and a daily high of more than 4,400 new cases on Saturday. Abbott acknowledged the grim trends that continued over the weekend, saying the virus was spreading at “an unacceptable rate in Texas and must be corralled.”
Pressed on at what point he would consider putting restrictions back in place, Abbott said another doubling of new cases, hospitalizations and infection rates over the next month would create an “urgent situation” that would require action but did not offer specifics.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said he was particularly disappointed after “all of the good work we did” in shutting down businesses and slowing the virus’ spread earlier this year. The number of COVID-positive hospital patients in Harris County, which encompasses Houston, has nearly tripled since May 31.
“We’re wiping away the success that we collectively achieved and the sacrifices that people made in March, April, and in May,” Turner said.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the highly contagious virus can cause severe illness, including pneumonia, and be fatal.
Associated Press writer Nomaan Merchant in Houston contributed to this report.