'No reason to be alarmed' says governor as Texas sets records for new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations

Democrats respond that the state's positivity rates are "too high."

June 16, 2020, 7:20 PM

Texas set new records for daily COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations on Tuesday as the governor looked to downplay concerns about the latest numbers.

There were 2,622 new coronavirus cases and 2,518 patients currently in Texas hospitals, according to the latest data from the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Tuesday also marked the sixth straight day of hospitalization increases, and the fifth day of record-setting ones, starting with 2,166 on June 12.

At a news briefing on Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott said the rising number of hospitalizations "does raise concerns," but that "there is no reason right now to be alarmed."

PHOTO: Hospital workers check temperatures of coworkers at a pedestrian walkway at Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas, April 13, 2020.
Hospital workers check temperatures of coworkers at a pedestrian walkway at Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas, April 13, 2020.
Bronte Wittpenn/Bloomberg via Getty Images

"We are here today to let Texans know about the abundant hospital capacity that exists to treat Texans who may test positive for COVID-19," Abbott said, adding that the state has slowed the spread of COVID-19 "to prevent hospitals from being overrun. That goal has been achieved."

Out of the state's 54,844 hospital beds, there are 14,993, or 27%, beds available, according to the state. There are 1,675 available ICU beds and 5,869 available ventilators statewide, data show.

Currently the state is at "Level 5" in hospital capacity, meaning hospitals can maintain their current capacities without building out, according to Dr. John Zerwas, a University of Texas System official helping with the state's coronavirus response. The state also could still free up more beds by reducing nonessential surgical procedures, Abbott said.

"Even though there are more people hospitalized, we still remain at the lowest threat level in our hospital capacity," Abbott said. "We have plenty of room to expand beds. There are thousands of hospital beds that are available as we speak right now. And then there is the ability to surge even more hospital beds if they were ever to be needed to respond to COVID-19."

PHOTO: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks to the press, June 16, 2020.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks to the press, June 16, 2020.

Texas is one of 20 states to have an increasing number of new reported cases, an ABC News analysis of New York Times data has found. Abbott attributed the state's record number of daily new cases on Tuesday to a bump from an assisted living facility in Collin County and several days' worth of batched data from Hays County.

The Republican governor also said that there are several counties where a majority of the cases reported since the beginning of June are people under 30. "This typically results from people going to bar-type settings," Abbott said, pointing to Lubbock, Cameron and Bexar counties in particular. Memorial Day festivities could be to blame, he added.

The state's testing positivity rate, or the ratio of cases to tests, is 6.71% as of Monday. The rate has steadily risen from its lowest point of 4.27% on May 26, but is still lower than the 10% positivity threshold experts say states should aim to stay below.

Responding to Abbott's comments on Tuesday, Texas Democrats said combating the pandemic involves more than having sufficient hospital beds.

"We have to face reality: managing this crisis goes way beyond knowing how many hospital beds are available," state Rep. Chris Turner, chairman of the Texas House Democratic Caucus, said in a statement. "Our state's positivity rates are too high and still increasing, and positive cases and hospitalizations continue to rise. And we still have yet to reach the daily testing goals Gov. Abbott set forth nearly two months ago."

State Rep. Erin Zwiener, whose district includes Hays County, also said Abbott's comments included "several inaccuracies that minimize the severity of the situation" in the county.

"New hospitalizations and the testing positivity rate are also increasing, and Hays County reported that they were behind on paperwork due to high case counts," Zwiener said in a statement. "Case counts in Hays County have increased more than 5 fold in a week."

On Tuesday evening, a bipartisan group of mayors in nine Texas cities also sent Abbott a letter urging him to grant them the authority to require face masks as the number of cases goes up.

"With the increase in testing, we are naturally seeing more people being diagnosed with COVID-19, and some areas are seeing confirmed cases increasing more rapidly than testing," the letter said. "While it's important to get our economy working again, we must also take precautions to avoid a massive influx of new cases overwhelming our hospitals."

The letter noted that masks "could prove to be the most effective way to prevent the transmission of this disease," yet many people in their cities are not wearing them.

"A one-size-fits-all approach is not the best option. We should trust local officials to make informed choices about health policy. And if mayors are given the opportunity to require face coverings, we believe our cities will be ready to help reduce the spread of this disease," the letter said.

In response to the letter, Abbott spokesman John Wittman told ABC News, "None of these local officials have lifted a finger to impose penalties and enforcement mechanisms currently available to them. The one time a county judge did, a business owner wound up in jail."

ABC News' Ali Dukakis and Leah Larosa contributed to this report.

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