Texas has become the first state to surpass the 1 million case mark in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic. No state wants to be the winner of this title. It looks like the third wave of the virus is upon the state with no end in sight. It’s deja vu all over again.
How did Texas get here? As with everything else with this virus, none of the experts can point to one specific reason so many are offering up some educated guesses. The count found on the Johns Hopkins University website, as of Wednesday morning, is 1,010,364 coronavirus cases with 19,337 deaths since the pandemic began in early March. Texas, the second-most populous state, recently surpassed California, the most populous state, in recording the highest number of positive coronavirus tests. The reality is that there are likely many more cases that haven’t been recorded because people are not getting tested or because people can be infected and not feel any symptoms. According to the Johns Hopkins data, if Texas was its own country (it was once, you know), it would rank 10th in terms of total cases, surpassing European hot spots like Italy.
Texas recorded 10,865 cases on Tuesday, setting a new daily record that surpassed by 74 cases an old mark set July 15, state officials said. According to state figures on Tuesday, an estimated 132,146 cases are active, the most since Aug. 17, and 6,170 COVID-19 cases are hospitalized, the most since Aug. 18.
There were 94 new deaths Tuesday, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Meanwhile, cases of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 are surging in the Laredo area as the borderlands remained a COVID-19 hotbed Tuesday, health officials said.
Laredo health officials reported 331 new cases Tuesday of the coronavirus, the most since the Aug. 10 peak of 374 cases. That brought the area’s case count for the pandemic since the beginning of March to 16,558. Of those, 934 cases are active, the most in two months, and 73 require hospitalization. One new death was reported Tuesday, bringing the city’s COVID-19 death toll to 367.
The surge comes as El Paso, another border city, grapples with a recent tsunami of cases. Another 1,292 cases were reported in El Paso County on Tuesday, bringing its pandemic count to 65,651 with 27,895 cases now active and 1,076 requiring hospitalization. Nine new deaths brought the county’s COVID-19 death toll to 682.
Keep in mind that Texas is the home of about 29 million people. The statistics show 3,508 cases per 100,000 Texans, which is still lower than about half the states in the country. The concern now is that Texas recorded more newly recorded cases of COVID-19 last week than any other state last week. The average was about 8,520 daily, with only Illinois recording more. On Tuesday, Texas reported more than 11,500 new cases, the highest number since the summer peak in July. The state is not heading in the right direction.
Experts are weighing in with their opinions as to why the third wave of cases is upon us now. Politics weighs heavily in the reasons presented. This is 2020 and it’s just how we roll now, especially during a presidential election year, right? Dr. David Callender, president of the Memorial Hermann Health System, was quick to point a finger at “political statements”.
“It’s not a surprise in the context of all that’s happened,” Callender said. “But it’s a significant number — 3 percent of the population — and cause for worry about the trend continuing as we go forward.”
Callender attributed the high number to “too much division” in the attempt to contain the virus.
“To me, politics entered in an inappropriate way,” he said. “People making a political statement with their behavior — that the pandemic is a hoax, that no one can make them wear a mask — really interfered with efforts. It was the wrong mindset.”
Dr. Callender didn’t weigh in on possible superspreader events like the summer BLM protests and the medical professionals in white coats who joined in those protests in cities like Houston.
Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of Baylor College of Medicine’s National School of Tropical Medicine and co-director of Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, declares, “The worst is maybe yet to come.” How’s that for a hedge with his wording – “maybe”. Or, maybe not, I guess. He blames the Trump administration for what he calls a lack of a national plan. This is his standard criticism. He submitted his own ideas for a national plan to the White House coronavirus task force several months ago and he continues to sound bitter that they didn’t use his plan. He is a fan of national lockdowns but he is offering up some encouraging words on the success of vaccine development.
Hotez, a leading expert on the coronavirus, placed the blame for the rising number of coronavirus cases in Texas squarely on the Trump administration for downplaying the severity of the pandemic and attempting to discredit scientists who urged the public to wear masks and practice social distancing.
“Had we had a national plan, a national road map, most of those cases could have been avoided,” Hotez said.
Some experts are busy blaming Governor Abbott’s approach to the virus. A frequent criticism is that he tried to re-open Texas businesses too quickly and often sparred with local officials, especially in large metro areas who favored keeping lockdowns in place. The governor’s office is pushing back on that.
Renae Eze, spokeswoman for the governor’s office, said in a statement that state leaders are working closely with local officials to deal with spikes in hospitalizations and that Texas is preparing to distribute upcoming treatments for COVID-19 when they become available.
Eze said the state’s efforts will only work if Texans do their part.
“The reality is, COVID-19 still exists in Texas and across the globe, and Texans should continue to take this virus seriously and do their part by social distancing, washing their hands and wearing a mask,” Eze said.
Dr. David Persse, health authority for the city of Houston, sounds a little more reasonable than other experts. He says it is unfortunate that politics have taken over discussions about the pandemic but more than politics have played a part in the rise of recorded cases.
“We got to 1 million cases because of the difficulty containing a virus able to infect people and not cause symptoms,” said Persse. “That means people spread it unknowingly.”
Persse added that COVID-19 numbers accumulated because the failures came in stages: initially, many were slow to get the message and didn’t take it seriously; over time, many became resistant for political reasons; and, more recently, fatigue has weakened some people’s resolve.
The state’s positive test rate is now 11.63 percent, compared to 7.35 percent a month ago.
Dr. Paul Klotman, president of Baylor College of Medicine, says the numbers are inevitable due to the population of the state and how quickly the virus spreads. He isn’t alarmed with the million cases mark as much as he is the 100,000 new cases a day nationally. He says that masks and social distancing remain the best hope to stop the virus from spreading. He points to the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. It went away, he says, because people adopted similar practices.
Whether you blame politicians or the medical community for bad advice and slow reactions, coronavirus fatigue is real. The lockdowns that decimate businesses and the stress of trying to stay healthy are real. Everything that happened played a part in what is happening now. We can hope we end 2020 on a hopeful note that a vaccine is soon to be available to everyone who will take one. There is plenty of time for lessons learned later.
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