As businesses around the state are allowed to open under Gov. Greg Abbot’s orders, the average number of daily new fatalities in Texas continues to grow, reaching its highest point this week since the outbreak began.
The spike in cases and deaths in mid-April, and the subsequent decline in both in the following weeks, was used by Abbott to justify his phase one plan to reopen Texas. Now, it’s clear that the trend was only temporary, and most likely the result of statewide social distancing orders put in place two weeks prior.
Beginning Friday, all retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters, and malls in the state will be allowed to open. Abbott is aiming for May 18 to begin phase two, which will allow even more businesses to open, including gyms, bars, and nail salons.
According to the Texas Tribune, Abbott is relying on the state’s infection rate and the number of hospitalizations to guide his decision in reopening the economy.
But since Texas is near dead last in testing, that influences how the infection rate is calculated in the state and may mean using that metric alone is unreliable. Covid Act Now, a data aggregator used by health officials and governments around the U.S. to track the coronavirus curve, shows that Texas has a positive test rate of 6 percent, indicating that testing is not widespread enough.
Ideally, countries such as South Korea that have been most successful at containing the outbreak saw a positive test rate between 0 and 3 percent.
“More positives means the tests are being used mainly to confirm obvious cases, and as a result health authorities are not getting a clear picture on the scope of the epidemic in their area,” reported NPR citing the World Health Organization.
Nevertheless, even relying on the state’s testing data, the coronavirus curve of daily new cases shows an unflattened trend.
A few weeks ago, a University of Washington model that projects the peak of the curve estimated that the projected peak in daily deaths had already passed in Texas. That projected peak continues to be readjusted and the model now estimates that the peak has yet to pass in Texas.
“After each phase of reopenings, state public health officials should review the numbers of new COVID-19 daily case counts, hospitalizations, and deaths carefully, along with other syndromic surveillance tools,” recommends a series of guidelines by John Hopkins University. “The results of reopening decisions will take 2 to 3 weeks to be reflected in those numbers. If case counts, hospitalizations, and deaths go up in that time, further actions in reopening should be paused, and steps should be taken to get control of the rising numbers.”