Roughly three weeks after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order that lifted mask mandates and allowed most businesses to reopen to full capacity, the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) positivity rate in the state continues to drop.
“Today the 7-day Covid positivity rate dropped to a new recorded low: 4.95%. Hospitalizations dropped to a 6 month low. This week we have 1 million 1st vaccines available,” Abbott tweeted on Sunday, March 28. “Everyone now qualifies for a shot. They are highly recommended to prevent getting Covid but always voluntary.”
The 4.95 percent test positivity rate was the lowest the state has seen since the start of the pandemic.
Abbott’s executive order, which went into effect March 10, drew a lot of criticism from various sectors. It also put Texas in conflict with President Joe Biden, who urged Americans to keep taking precautions, including wearing masks.
“I think it’s a big mistake. Look, I hope everybody’s realized by now, these masks make a difference. The last thing, the last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking that, ‘In the meantime, everything’s fine, take off your mask, forget it’. It still matters,” Biden said at that time.
While Biden was Abbott’s most recognizable critic, he was certainly not the only one.
“Absolutely reckless,” California Governor Gavin Newsom tweeted in response to Abbott’s announcement.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Dr. Anthony Fauci called it “inexplicable.’
“Texas will experience more cases, more hospitalizations and more deaths,” state Representative Richard Peña Raymond, a Democrat from the border city of Laredo, told Abbott in a letter.
“What Abbott calls pro-business is anti-people. Make no mistake: Opening Texas prematurely will only lead to faster COVID spread, more sickness and overcrowding in our hospitals, and unnecessary deaths. Our country’s infectious-disease specialists have warned that we should not put our guard down even as we make progress towards vaccinations. Abbott doesn’t care,” said Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the Democratic Party in Texas, in a statement.
The state’s DSHS Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt didn’t directly criticize Abbott but told local lawmakers that he “did not have a personal conversation” with the governor prior to the announcement.
Contrary to what critics had predicted, cases in the state have actually gone down.
According to the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), at least 1,900 new virus cases were reported on Sunday, which would be the lowest daily number the state has seen since early June last year.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that the seven-day moving average number of cases in Texas dropped to the lowest level since mid-June last year. According to the CDC, Texas was averaging 3,783 daily cases as of March 27.
According to data from the state’s DSHS, 3,104 COVID-19 patients were in hospitals across the state as of Saturday. The state has not recorded a number this low since Sept.19 last year, when there were 3,081 COVID-19 patients in hospital.
As of Monday, March 29, Texas has reported more than 2.3 million confirmed coronavirus cases and at least 47,156 deaths.
The drop in virus cases, hospitalizations and the testing positivity rate came three weeks after the state officially lifted its pandemic restrictions, including a statewide mask mandate. Abbott first announced the removal of most COVID-19 restrictions on March 2, when he tweeted that “Texas is OPEN 100%.” (Related: Texas Gov. Abbott ENDS statewide mask mandate and lifts all restrictions on businesses.)
It seems that Abbott took a calculated risk with his decision. Like the rest of the country, Texas sawthe number of cases and deaths plunge before he issued the executive order. At the time he issued the order, Texas had administered nearly 5.7 million vaccine shots to its 29 million residents.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than $42.4 billion in unemployment claims had been paid out in Texas.
From March 2020 to March 2021, 7.2 million unemployment claims have been filed in the state. According to the Texas Workforce Commission, that’s more than the previous five years of claims combined. At last count, there were still 322,060 Texans making continued claims for jobless benefits.
Texas is also coming off a deadly cold snap that resulted to massive power outages and food shortages.
“We must now do more to restore livelihoods and normalcy for Texans by opening Texas 100 percent,” Abbott said. At the same time, the governor noted that “COVID-19 has not disappeared, but it is clear from the recoveries, vaccinations, reduced hospitalizations, and safe practices that Texans are using that state mandates are no longer needed.”
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