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Texas Halts Reopening Plans As Coronavirus Cases Surge

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott hit the pause button on reopening his state today. The move comes after a surge of COVID-19 cases - more than 10,000 in the past two days alone and a growing number of hospitalizations. Intensive care units in Houston, the fourth largest city in the U.S., are near capacity. Texas was one of the first states to reopen its economy, and now it's one of the first to slow that down. We're joined now by health reporter Bonnie Petrie of Texas Public Radio to discuss the latest.

Hi, Bonnie.

BONNIE PETRIE, BYLINE: Hi there.

MCCAMMON: Why did Gov. Abbott make the decision to pause the state's reopening?

PETRIE: Well, I can't really say for sure what goes into his decision-making process. But, certainly, the increase in not only positive tests, which was a benchmark he'd pointed to in the past as an important indicator as to how the reopening was going, but also the spike in hospitalizations, which of course is the true indication of how it's going. Both of those factored in. The positivity rate that he mentioned is the ratio of positive COVID tests to all tests given, and it's now greater than 10%. In the past, the governor's called anything over 10% a warning flag, and it seems to be waving.

MCCAMMON: And so the Texas economy has largely been reopened up to this point, right? What does this announcement actually mean now?

PETRIE: Right. So, virtually, everything is open with a capacity of at least 50% occupancy. Restaurants are allowed to operate at 75% capacity with tables of up to 10 people. You can go to SeaWorld if you want. This pause will halt further expansion of the reopening. But as Gov. Abbott said in a release this morning - and I'm going to quote him here - "the last thing we want to do as a state is go backward and close down businesses. This temporary pause will help our state corral the spread until we can safely enter the next phase of opening our state for business." So this pause is exactly that; it's a pause. The governor's action today doesn't roll back or order any new closings in Texas. So it's unclear if the action today will lead to dramatically fewer cases of COVID.

MCCAMMON: So a temporary pause, he's causing (ph) it. The governor also ordered some changes for hospitals today. What are some of those?

PETRIE: So the governor has halted all elective surgeries in four of the largest counties. They include Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio. He's hoping to increase the number of beds available to COVID patients. Now, this is a rollback of sorts. The governor had halted all elective surgeries back in March, then allowed them again, and now we're back to only emergency surgeries. Of course, the big concern is that some areas will run out of ICU beds.

And in Houston, the top elected official in the county announced that the stadium where the Houston Texans play football is ready to take patients at a moment's notice if hospital capacity is exceeded. The overflow space there at NRG Stadium is currently setup with 150 beds. Now, in smaller cities, like Laredo in South Texas, it's already reached out to the state because ICU capacity has been reached at two hospitals. It's asking for emergency medical help from the state.

MCCAMMON: And from your reporting, Bonnie, what are you able to say about how likely these changes are to be able to stop this rapid spread of the coronavirus in Texas?

PETRIE: Well, you know, it's really hard to say. The advice hasn't changed - wash your hands, wear your masks, stay socially distance and, quite frankly, stay at home if at all possible. That is what the governor is asking, but he's not mandating it. So we'll have to see if it'll be enough for people to follow these recommendations. They've been going to bars and beaches and restaurants. We'll see if they'll stay home now.

MCCAMMON: Bonnie Petrie of Texas Public Radio, thanks so much.

PETRIE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.