Similar to a press conference that he held in April, Abbott, joined by former state representative Dr. John Zerwas and Department of State Health Services Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt, reassured the public that hospital capacity in the state is still in a good position to handle any new surges of cases.
With respect to the number of cases, Abbott said that the record daily highs — such as today, with 2,622 new confirmed cases — are often due in part to reporting inconsistencies.
For example, he said that Hays County, which usually sees an average of about 30-40 new daily cases, reported 265 new cases today.
However, in the previous two days, the county had not reported any new cases, suggesting that a sizable amount of the cases reported today had been batched together from previous days.
Abbott also said that the widespread testing in “congregant” settings, such as nursing homes, meatpacking plants, and jails, have contributed to the increase in new cases.
With respect to hospitalizations, Abbott and the state health officials also remained confident that the state is prepared to handle new surges.
The seven-day rolling average of hospitalizations across the state has increased from around 1,600 at the end of May to currently around 2,100.
As of Tuesday, Abbott said that 2,518 COVID-19 confirmed patients are hospitalized.
“The increase of the occupancy of hospital beds does raise concerns,” said Abbott, adding that there is “no real reason to be alarmed” because the number of hospitalizations is still well below what hospitals are equipped to handle, even before taking extra precautions that officials are prepared to implement.
Abbott noted that the health region covering Galveston is the only region where COVID-19 patients fill more than 10 percent of the available hospital beds.
In Galveston, that amount is 12 percent, whereas the average across the state is around six percent.
Explaining the same five-level bed capacity plan that was introduced in April, Zerwas — who is currently the executive vice chancellor for health affairs of the University of Texas System — noted that all hospital regions in the state currently fall under the “Level 5” category, which is the lowest threat level.
In regions that face a surge of coronavirus cases, hospitals can take several steps to increase the number of available beds, including limiting the number of non-essential hospital admissions, expanding to less commonly used medical facilities, and surging to non-medical facilities such as hotels.
His presentation, which detailed the current hospitalizations and potential surge capacities in each region, can be found here.
Hellerstedt said that with the lockdown slowing the spread of the virus, there is a “very real” possibility that the infection could “flare-up” among the vast majority of Texans who have not been infected and place a strain on the hospital system.
Both Hellerstedt and Abbott said that even with that risk, it is important for people to resume their livelihoods so they can continue earning a living and putting food on the table.
“We are now in a situation where we are coexisting with COVID-19 where we do not have to choose between either returning to jobs or protecting healthcare,” said Abbott. “We do have the tools and strategies in place where we can achieve both of those ends.”
The state officials all strongly urged the public to take hygienic precautions to avoid spreading the virus, including wearing a face mask.
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Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.