As COVID numbers surge in Texas on Thanksgiving eve, leaders make a last-ditch plea

Amid the greatest spike in daily Texas COVID-19 cases during the pandemic, Houston political and health leaders Wednesday made a last-ditch effort to get people to practice preventative measures over the holiday weekend.

The pleas, from Mayor Sylvester Turner to the head of the Texas Medical Center, came a day after the state recorded more than 19,500 new positive cases, a larger single-day increase than even any day during the summer surge of cases. The statewide seven-day average is 12,415, a number increasing every day.

“I know tomorrow is Thanksgiving,” Turner said at a Wednesday news conference. “I can’t force anyone to stay home. But what I can say is: Understand the ramifications of your actions. (They) can be severe for your family members and your friends, as well as for yourself. You may see them tomorrow, but there is no promise about what the future may hold.”

William McKeon, president of the medical center, added that the trends are “concerning enough without the holiday. Now is the time for people to double down on wearing masks and maintaining at least six feet of distance if they come together.”

Houston health officials said the area is doing better than much of the state, but its numbers are steadily worsening too. The nine-county area recorded 2,742 new cases Tuesday, up from an average of about 500 in late September.

Medical center officials said their hospitals are still fully capable of handling the increasing number of admissions, but are definitely concerned about the trend. Dr. Marc Boom, president of Houston Methodist, said the system’s COVID-19 related census Wednesday was 358, compared to 199 Nov. 1. McKeon said that at the continued growth rate, without any Thanksgiving spike, the number of TMC hospitalizations projects to grow from the current 900 to as much as 2,000 by Christmas.

TMC hospitalizations peaked at around 2,400 in mid-July, partly attributed to spikes associated with the Memorial Day and July 4th holiday weekends.

“The trends we’re seeing now are deeply troubling because they mirror what we saw in the early lead-up to last summer’s explosion in cases and hospital admissions,” said Rafael Lemaitre, spokesman for Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. “Thanksgiving gatherings have the potential to pour jet fuel on this situation, accelerating even beyond current trends the number of cases and hospitalizations we’re seeing.”

The current state surge is being fueled by El Paso and Lubbock, where record number of cases are overwhelming hospitals and morgues. Peter Hotez, a Baylor College of Medicine infectious disease specialist, said the cities are two of the “worst affected metro areas in the world.”

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