Weekend wrap-up: COVID-19 infection rate climbs, Abbott shows regret

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Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo is self-quarantining after being exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19 last week, the judge’s office announced Sunday. 

It’s just one of the latest headlines in the Lone Star State as it faces a worsening pandemic. 

“There are thousands of residents across Harris County that are increasingly finding themselves in the same position I am in today,” Hidalgo said in a statement. “There are rising numbers of residents testing positive for this virus, and more and more requiring hospitalization.”

The statewide infection rate — or the percentage of coronavirus tests that come back positive — has grown to 14 percent as of Saturday. That about 5 confirmed cases for every 1,000 Texans, according to state data.

Gov. Greg Abbott previously said state health officials want the infection rate around 6 percent, which represents manageable growth for controlling the virus (the World Health Organization, for example, recommends 5 percent). 

In Texas, the statewide positivity rate has been climbing ever since the governor reopened all Texas businesses at the beginning of the month:

In Harris County, which leads the state in the number of confirmed cases and hospitalizations, the test positivity rate for COVID-19 currently stands at 22 percent according to the Texas Medical Center — almost three times the national average.

The state’s infection rate is of particular significance because it was one of two key indicators Abbott pointed to as justification for opening businesses, the other being hospitalizations.

On that note, one piece of good news from the weekend: the number of statewide hospitalizations dipped slightly, breaking an almost two-week trend for growth in the number of Texans currently being treated for COVID-19. It will take several more days to see if that drop in hospitalizations is a genuine result of Texans practicing more social distancing or merely an outlier in the month-long trend.

As of Sunday, 5,497 Texans were being treated for COVID-19 in hospitals around the state.

As some Republicans have pointed out, despite growth in the state’s infection rate and number of hospitalizations, the number of Texans dying from the virus remains varied but does not show growth like other indicators. 

While the reason ultimately remains unclear right now, the Texas Medical Association speculated it could be because deaths are a “lagging indicator” that take more time to reflect, or it could be because elderly Texans, who are the most vulnerable to the virus, have gotten better about protecting themselves. 

Those thoughts were in part echoed last week by Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease specialist, who said during a congressional hearing that deaths always lag considerably behind cases. 

“You might remember at the time when New York was in their worst situation where the deaths were going up and yet, the cases were going down, the deaths only came down multiple weeks later,” Fauci said. “You are seeing more cases now while the deaths are going down. The concern is if those cases infect people who wind up getting sick and go to the hospital, it is conceivable you may see the deaths going up.” 

The increase in cases and hospitalizations in Texas has put Abbott, lauded by President Trump only weeks ago for his supposedly smooth reopening, in a retrospective mood. 

On Thursday, Abbott announced a temporary pause on his plan for reopening Texas. A day later, he closed bars again and reduced restaurants to 50 percent occupancy.

“If I could go back and redo anything, it probably would have been to slow down the opening of bars, now seeing in the aftermath of how quickly the coronavirus spread in the bar setting,” Abbott said in an interview on Friday with KVIA in El Paso. 

Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

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