AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — State health officials on Sunday reported 839 new cases of the coronavirus, as Texas continues to reopen. New cases raised the Texas total for the pandemic to 55,348.
Actual numbers are likely higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest up to half of those infected with the virus have no symptoms.
Meantime, the Texas Department of State Health Services said Sunday COVID-19 deaths in Texas increased by 13 to 1,519.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said he consults with doctors and experts from area hospitals, “and what they tell us is that we’re reopening too fast, and we’re reopening in the wrong order.”
Locally, Palestine Mayor Steve Presley has expressed similar worries. “I'm very concerned,” he said.
Local jurisdictions in Texas do not have the authority to issue more stringent restrictions than the state, which began aggressively reopening this month.
So Dallas has focused on messaging. The county has a daily “COVID-19 risk level” that is currently red, for “stay home, stay safe.” Officials are working on seals that businesses can display to indicate they are meeting local public health guidelines, not just state mandates.
Texas is one of 24 states – mostly in the South and Midwest, where the coronavirus may still be spreading at epidemic rates, according to new research that highlights the risk of a second wave of infections in places that reopen too quickly or without sufficient precautions.
Imperial College of London researchers, using a model that estimates the average number of infections generated by each infected person in a vulnerable population, found Texas topped the list of 24 states that show a reproduction number over 1.
Texas was followed by Arizona, Illinois, Colorado, Ohio, Minnesota, Indiana, Iowa, Alabama, Wisconsin, Mississippi, Tennessee, Florida, Virginia, New Mexico, Missouri, Delaware, South Carolina, Massachusetts, North Carolina, California, Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Maryland.
Conversely, researchers found the reproduction number has dropped below 1 in the District and 26 states. In those places, as of May 17, the epidemic was waning.
Some states have had little viral spread or “crushed the curve” to a great degree and have more wiggle room to reopen their economies without generating a new epidemic-level surge in cases. Others are nowhere near containing the virus.
The model, which has not been peer reviewed, shows that in the majority of states, a second wave looms if people abandon efforts to mitigate the viral spread.
“There’s evidence that the U.S. is not under control, as an entire country,” said Samir Bhatt, a senior lecturer in geostatistics at Imperial College.
Gov. Greg Abbott has been reopening the state’s economic activity in phases. Bars, breweries and tasting rooms were allowed to reopen Friday at 25 percent capacity and with other social distancing measures in place. Rodeos, bingo halls and aquariums also can reopen.
Restaurants, which were allowed to reopen May 1 at 25 percent customer capacity, may now run at 50 percent. The new standards don’t apply yet in El Paso and Amarillo, which have seen a recent increase in coronavirus cases.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, which clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
In a news conference Thursday, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) defended her decision to reopen concert venues, movie theaters, and other businesses despite rising case numbers.
“We cannot sustain a delayed way of life as we search for a vaccine,” she said. “Having a life means having a livelihood, too.”
A week ago, Texas reported a single-day high in new cases as well as deaths — about 14 days after the beginning of the state’s phased reopening.