As the state set another record Tuesday for COVID-19 hospitalizations, Gov. Greg Abbott tried to reassure Texans the uptick is manageable.
“The increased occupancy of hospital beds, it does raise concerns,” he said during a news conference. "[But] there is no reason today to be alarmed.”
Abbott said the state remains in the “lowest threat level in our hospital capacity,” despite the fact that hospitalizations rose to more than 2,600 Tuesday.
“We have plenty of room to expand beds,” he said.
Abbott said the state has plans to open up hospital beds in alternative settings, if needed. In the meantime, he said, there are open beds across the state. In the Austin area, for example, officials say almost 30% of beds are currently available.
As for the recent uptick in cases, Abbott said inmate populations and isolated incidents of data errors account for large parts of the surge. He also said Texas remains one of the biggest states with relatively low case numbers and has the second lowest death rate in the country.
Abbott and health officials said Texans should continue to stay at home if they can, wear masks, wash their hands and physically distance from other people. Abbott attributed the uptick in cases in part to fewer people taking those precautions.
After the news conference, Texas state Rep. Erin Zwiener said it was "tremendously unfair" for the governor to blame people for not taking proper precautions, saying "the state hasn't done a very good job asking them to.”
In a statement, she also accused him of misreporting the number of COVID-19 cases in Hays County, which she represents.
“It's important that Governor Abbott gets these numbers right, because we can't minimize the severity of the case spike we're seeing in Hays County," she said. "If people don't understand the severity of the outbreaks in their community, they're not going to take measures to minimize risk."
Mayors in nine of the state’s most populous cities sent Abbott a letter Tuesday asking for the authority to enforce rules around wearing masks.
"A one-size-fits-all approach is not the best option,” wrote the mayors of Austin, Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth, El Paso, Arlington, Plano and Grand Prairie. “We should trust local officials to make informed choices about health policy. And if mayors are given the opportunity to require face coverings, we believe our cities will be ready to help reduce the spread of this disease.”
When asked during the news conference, Abbott would not say whether he would allow it.
In an earlier interview with NPR, Austin Mayor Steve Adler said local officials have been “preempted by the state” when it comes to enforcing rules that would slow the spread of the disease.
“At this point I can just make recommendations to the community and recognize that the community actually chooses what happens regardless of what the governor allows or doesn’t allow,” he said.
This post has been updated.
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