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Texas leaders warn of strained hospital capacity, ask for lockdowns

A man jogs along a Houston road with an American flag on Saturday.
A man jogs along a Houston road with an American flag on Saturday.
(Associated Press)

Leaders in two of Texas’ biggest cities are calling on the governor to empower local governments to order residents to stay home as the state’s continued surge in coronavirus cases tests hospital capacity.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that he wants Gov. Gregg Abbott, a Republican, to return control of his city to the local government as its hospitals face a potential crisis.

“If we don’t change the trajectory, then I am within two weeks of having our hospitals overrun,” said Adler, a Democrat. “And in our ICUs, I could be 10 days away from that.”

Texas reported 3,449 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, after a record high of 8,258 Saturday. State health officials also reported 29 additional deaths, bringing the totals to 2,637 fatalities and 195,239 confirmed cases. A record 8,181 Texans with COVID-19 were hospitalized Sunday.

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The true number of cases is likely much higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest that people can be infected and not feel sick.

The Fourth of July weekend has also seen some defiance of Abbott’s orders closing bars and requiring people to wear face coverings in public in much of the state.

Texas became a national coronavirus hot spot this week but didn’t close popular beaches like Galveston until Friday, when crowds still appeared.

The mask order — which carries a $250 fine — came as part of the most dramatic about-face Abbott has made as he retreats from what stood out as one of America’s swiftest reopenings.

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Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the top county official in the Houston area, said she’s grateful for the mask mandate but that a stay-at-home order is needed.

“We don’t have room for incrementalism, we’re seeing these kinds of numbers, nor should we wait for all the hospital beds to fill and all these people to die, before we take drastic action,” Hidalgo, a Democrat, told ABC’s “This Week.”

Houston has rapidly become one of the American cities hit hardest by the virus. In addition to strained hospital capacity, it needs help meeting the demand for testing, Mayor Sylvester Turner told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday.

Over the last month, the proportion of tests that come back positive for the virus has rocketed from about one in 10 to nearly one in four, Turner, a Democrat, said.

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In the face of the city’s rising infection rate, Texas’ Republican Party leadership last week affirmed plans to hold its in-person convention in Houston. And not all Texans are following measures meant to limit the virus’ spread over the Fourth of July weekend.

This Houston hospital tried to prepare for the second wave of COVID-19, but was already 80% full this week as a nurse and doctor fell ill.

People flocked to cookouts and lakes to celebrate Saturday, with some not wearing masks or appearing to keep a safe distance from others. In Fort Worth, a bar may have its license suspended after hosting a “Tea Party Protest” on Saturday, WFAA-TV reports.

Adler said the lack of unified public health messaging is endangering Texans, and expressed outrage over President Trump’s statements that the virus could “just disappear.”

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“And when they start hearing that kind of ambiguous message coming out of Washington, there are more and more people that won’t wear masks, that won’t social distance, that won’t do what it takes to keep a community safe,” the mayor told CNN. “And that’s wrong, and it’s dangerous.”

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the highly contagious virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal. The vast majority of people recover.


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