Reopening of the lag behind Texas and Florida amid waves of COVID-19

In a major change, the Republican governors of Florida and Texas rolled back their states’ aggressive reopens on Friday, which President Trump had touted as successful national role models, ordering the closure of bars and restaurants to reduce capacity as prices increased. coronavirus infections.

Florida banned alcohol consumption in bars as new coronavirus cases approached 9,000, nearly double the previous record set two days ago. The state has reported 111,724 cases of COVID-19 since March, more than a fifth of them this week, and 3,327 deaths as of Thursday.

Florida officials blamed the new outbreak on young people who crowded bars that reopened three weeks ago at half capacity, although many customers ignored restrictions on social distancing. The seven-day state average for positive COVID-19 tests has tripled from the beginning of the month to 13.4%.

Infections have increased dramatically across the country following reopens and protests that started last month after George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis.

In Texas, where Vice President Mike Pence was scheduled to visit Sunday for an indoor “Celebrate Freedom” event at a 14,000-member Dallas megachurch, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott announced that he would effectively close bars and reduce restaurant capacity from 75 to fifty%.

Democrats leading the state’s largest counties and cities have been pushing the governor to reopen more slowly, to no avail.

Dallas County Executive Director Clay Jenkins asked Abbott to limit public gatherings of 10 or more people before July 4, noting that the event Pence planned to attend “was not really safe, but they have the right to do so” . “

“We would all be better served if response leaders were at their desks working instead of holding events,” Jenkins said.

Major Texas cities have seen hospitals fill up with COVID-19 patients in recent days, as Abbott refused to issue state masks or stay-at-home orders, insisting that the reopening should continue.

“This virus is out of control in Houston,” said Marvin Odum, a former president of Shell Oil who served as a relief and recovery advisor to Houston’s COVID-19.

Houston’s COVID-19 infection rate has tripled in the past three months, with eight deaths on Friday, 216 in total. The average age of those who tested positive had dropped from 50 to 40, authorities said.

As concern grew about large park and beach gatherings this summer, Abbott ordered Friday to shut down rafting equipment and tubing, saying that outdoor gatherings of 100 or more must be approved by the local government.

The announcement came less than two months after Texas began a gradual reopening that Trump and other Republicans ranked among the first and most effective in the country. But as cases increased this month, leaders of the state’s largest cities and counties imposed mask requirements and lobbied for state restrictions to curb the spread of the virus.

Texas has reported 131.9717 COVID-19 cases and 2,296 deaths, primarily in counties surrounding Dallas and Houston. More than 17,000 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in the past three days and a record number of positive tests, 5,996, on Thursday. Hospitalizations also set a record, and Abbott suspended elective procedures in major cities in the state to increase the hospital’s capacity. The state infection rate reached 12%, a red flag that Abbott said led him to delay reopening the state.

“As I said from the beginning, if the positivity rate were to rise above 10%, the state of Texas would take further steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Abbott said in a statement on Friday. “Right now, it’s clear that the increase in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans who congregate in bars. Actions in this executive order are essential to our mission to quickly contain this virus and protect public health. We want this to be as short as possible. ”

Abbott urged people to stay home, warning that a “massive outbreak” is sweeping across Texas. He did not say when the newly imposed restrictions would be lifted.

City and county leaders in Houston, the largest city in Texas with a population of approximately 4 million, announced that they had reached the worst COVID-19 threat level. The Texas Medical Center, listed as the largest in the world, was expected to complete days; A local arena was on standby for overflow. They asked Abbott to reinstate a stay-at-home order last invoked in March.

“We find ourselves falling into an overwhelming and catastrophic situation,” said Lina Hildalgo, executive director of the surrounding county.

Hidalgo seemed visibly upset when she explained that the public health data “begs for aggressive and sustained action,” which took weeks to flatten the infection curve this spring and now, “we may not have weeks.”

Local officials have demanded that people wear masks at businesses in the Houston area, and violating the order carries potential fines. Hidalgo also announced a local ban on public gatherings of more than 100 people on Friday through July 4. But he noted that it was not in his power to issue an order to stay home, only the governor could do so, and asked him to do so repeatedly.

“What works is a requirement to stay home. What doesn’t work is the status quo, “said Hidalgo, calling anything between” a gamble and an experiment with our own people “who are” preparing us for failure. “

She said the state had reopened too quickly and that other parts of the country should learn from the Texas mistake.

“Consider us the canary in the coal mine,” said Hidalgo, “there are no shortcuts to avoid the crisis.”

Arizona and Florida have seen similar spikes in COVID-19 after reopening this spring.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who had been downplaying the growing outbreak, changed his tune this week, promising that state agencies would crack down on those who violate the COVID-19 restrictions. But like the Texas governor, DeSantis did not require residents to wear masks or stay home.

Speaking at the Gulf Coast Medical Center in Fort Myers on Friday, the governor said trying to monitor those mandates “would be counterproductive.”

Some Florida cities and counties have already required masks inside public buildings. The governor said those decisions rest with local officials.

“They will have to figure out how they are going to use the long arm of the law to enforce it or not,” DeSantis said. “We will continue to send the message; we will continue to give guidance and we will trust people to make good decisions. “