Men receive haircuts as social distancing guidelines to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are relaxed at Doug’s Barber Shop in Houston, Texas, May 8, 2020.
Callaghan O’Hare | Reuters
The number of people sickened with Covid-19 across Texas’ hospitals hit a new high Wednesday, surging about 11% in a single day.
There are 2,793 patients hospitalized with a coronavirus infection in the state, up from 2,518 patients reported Tuesday, according to updated data from the Texas Department of State Health Services. The new total Wednesday marks the eighth new high in the state in less than two weeks. Texas coronavirus hospitalizations are now up more than 84% since Memorial Day as the state continues to reopen.
Coronavirus hospitalizations, like new cases and deaths, are considered a key measure of the outbreak because it helps scientists gauge how severe it may be. In recent weeks, some state and federal leaders have downplayed a recent rise in cases and hospitalizations across the U.S., tying it to an increase in testing.
During a press briefing on Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott defended Texas’ reopening plan by pointing to the total available hospital beds and the ability to create surge capacity if necessary.
There were 13,815 total beds available as of Wednesday and 1,473 total intensive-care unit beds available for critically ill patients, down from 14,993 total beds and 1,675 ICU beds Tuesday, according to state data.
While the increased hospital occupancy does raise concerns, the state’s hospital capacity remains at “the lowest threat level,” Abbott said. “We have plenty of room to expand beds, there are thousands of hospital beds that are available as we speak right now,” he said.
Abbott said that there has been an increase in reported Covid-19 cases since Memorial Day and the increase is likely due to people who didn’t follow recommended social distancing practices. He also added that some of the increase could be because the state has expanded testing, especially in group homes and correctional facilities.
Angela Clendenin, an epidemiologist at the University of Texas A&M, who’s involved in the local contact tracing effort, said the recent uptick is “concerning.”
“We don’t want it to get out of hand,” Clendenin said.
Dr. John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, said on Tuesday that there are residents who believe it’s not important to continue practicing recommended health precautions against Covid-19 and “nothing could be further from the truth.” These measures include wearing face coverings, washing hands and maintaining distance from one another.
“The possibility that things could flare up again and produce a resurgence of Covid-19 that would be a stress on our health-care system is still very real,” Hellerstedt said.
Infectious disease specialists and scientists note that the U.S. and other parts of the world will likely continue to see a rise in cases until there is a proven treatment or effective vaccine.
“Before a vaccine becomes widely available, we can only hope that … the pathogen becomes less virulent and people come to treat it like seasonal influenza,” said Yanzhong Huang, a public health researcher at the Council on Foreign Relations and director of the Center for Global Health Studies at Seton Hall University.
On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said states may need to reimplement the strict social distancing measures that were put in place earlier this year if U.S. coronavirus cases rise “dramatically.”
“Right now, communities are experiencing different levels of transmission occurring, as they gradually ease up onto the community mitigation efforts and gradually reopen,” the CDC’s deputy director for infectious diseases, Jay Butler, told reporters during a press briefing.
—CNBC’s Nate Rattner and Will Feuer