Texas reported 50 more COVID-19 deaths on Thursday, the most in any one day since the state reported its first deaths in mid-March.
The state also reported it had added more than 1,000 new cases of COVID-19 to its total of 28,000 — the biggest one-day increase in infections since April 10.
The numbers came out less than 9 hours before Gov. Greg Abbott was set to lift restrictions on many businesses, allowing malls, movie theaters, retail stores and restaurants to begin operating at 12:01 a.m. Friday. Those businesses can only operate at 25 percent of their maximum capacity for the next two weeks under Abbott’s phased re-opening plan. After that, if things are going well, Abbott has said he will increase the limit to 50 percent occupancy.
Abbott’s statewide stay-at-home order expires at the end of Thursday.
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Abbott earlier this week said he was reopening businesses because the state’s death rate and hospitalizations have been low.
“Understand that Texas has either the 3rd or 4th best — meaning lowest — death rate in the United States,” Abbott said in a television interview on KVUE, an ABC affiliate in Austin. “Texas never has had a situation like New York, like California, like Washington, like Louisiana, like New Jersey, like Michigan, like Illinois with deaths. We’ve never had capacity strains on our hospitals like those states.”
But over the last two days, Texas reported more than 90 deaths from the disease, state records show. That number did not include another six deaths from Harris County, according to an independent tally by Hearst Newspapers.
On Wednesday the state reported 42 people had died. In the previous week the total deaths were 25 per day, on average.
On Monday, Abbott said he expected the number of people who test positive for COVID-19 to climb as testing for the virus accelerates in Texas.
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He was correct in that Texas reported 1,033 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday and more than 15,510 more tests. But while both numbers have risen, Abbott said they also show that just about 7 percent of those tested were positive. He said during an interview on Newscenter 25 in Victoria that earlier this month the rate of positive tests for the disease closer to 10 percent.
“All the doctors that know what they’re talking about in this subject area know it’s not the number of people who test positive that matters,” Abbott said. “What matters to follow is the percentage of people who test positive.”
Abbott also said the state’s hospitalizations have declined, another sign that it’s moving in the right direction.
The 1,033 positive tests were the highest number in Texas on one day since April 10 when the state reported 1,441 positive cases.
‘Something to watch out for’
As the state begins re-opening, Abbott said he will watch numbers carefully in case there are flare-ups.
Dr. Luis Ostrosky, an infectious disease specialist at the McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, said he's not overly concerned about a one- or two-day spike because these deaths are likely from cases that emerged two to three weeks ago.
"It's something to watch out for,” he said. “If you look at those graphs it looked like we were peaking in early April and the trend had been going down. If we see a new upward trend that would be concerning."
The Texas death rate has been creeping up since mid-April. Of the 28,087 people who have tested positive, 782 have now died, a rate of 2.8 percent. That rate was 2.6 percent a week ago and 2.3 percent two weeks ago.
Still, that death rate remains one of the lowest in the nation and the state’s hospitalizations remain steady, said Abbott’s communications director John Wittman.
Other large states have had a higher percentage of COVID-19 patients die. In New York, 5.9 percent of those who have tested positive have died. In California, 4 percent of patients have died; in Florida it is 3.5 percent.
Even before Thursday’s results were reported, Abbott decision to re-open parts of the Texas economy starting Friday was under fire from Texas Democrats. U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, told reporters she was “baffled” by Abbott decision to re-open.
“Was it really time?” Garcia said Thursday morning before the new numbers were released. “Frankly, we just need to keep doing what we are doing. I’m not convinced it was time to open, certainly not here in the Houston region.”
Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, said every step Abbott and state leaders have taken has been in direct consultation with medical experts. He said this is only phase one of the re-opening plan and taking measured steps will help prevent a big spike in cases.
“This is not opening the barn door and everyone go flooding out,” Bonnen said.
He said obviously any life loss is hard to swallow, but that has to be balanced with economic despair that is creating a host of other issues that are hurting Texans. Also Thursday, the number of statewide unemployment claims hit 1.9 million.
“People need to get back into the economy,” Bonnen said.
Staff writer Jeremy Blackman contributed to this report.