For the fourth time in five days, Texas reported a record number of new coronavirus cases Saturday as the disease continues to surge in one of the first states that allowed businesses to reopen after a weeks-long shutdown meant to slow the pandemic.
However, it was a different story Saturday in Gregg — which reported no new COVID-19 cases — and in surrounding counties.
State health officials credit some of the 4,430 new cases to a data entry backlog in Harris County, which accounted for about 1,200 of the recorded illnesses. But Texas Department of State Health Services spokesman Chris Van Deusen said part of the increase is also attributable to Texans gathering at bars, beaches, rivers and other social gatherings like graduation parties. He also said that people testing positive in prisons and at meatpacking plants continues to contribute to the growing number of cases.
The number of Texans hospitalized with the virus — 3,247 people — also set a record for the ninth consecutive day Saturday. More than 2,100 Texans have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. But the true death toll is certainly higher than the state's official count.
In Gregg County, County Health Administrator A.J. Harris reported no new cases, keeping the total at 308.
Harris said 2,791 total tests had been administered in the county as of Saturday, with 2,351 results returning negative and 132 results pending.
He said the county’s recoveries remained unchanged at 126. The county has recorded 13 deaths from the virus.
Elsewhere in the area, Harrison County Judge Chad Sims said his county has three new COVID-19 case, raising the total there to 272. Harrison County has seen 26 deaths, 181 recoveries and has 66 active cases.
"We have enjoyed a nice downward trend in our active cases," Sims said in a statement. "Don't let up now on the personal hygiene and social distancing."
Three new cases were reported late Friday by the Rusk County Office of Emergency Management, raising the county's total to 73. Rusk County has seen two deaths, 47 recoveries and has 21 estimated active cases.
And Titus County Brian Lee reported three new cases Saturday, bringing the total to 732.
"The flattening continues, and so should our efforts to keep it that way" Lee said in a statement. "Let’s prevent another spike with continued focus. You know what to do. "
Gov. Greg Abbott said one of the key metrics he would watch as he allowed businesses to reopen was the infection rate, or the ratio of positive cases to tests conducted. Public health experts want the daily infection rate to remain below 6%. But Texas' seven-day average infection rate has been above 6% for more than two weeks.
Still, Abbott this past week said there was “abundant” space in hospitals for people getting sick with the virus. Van Deusen said that as of Saturday, there are 13,701 available beds available, compared with 13,571 a week ago.
"We’re staying in close contact with hospitals on their situations, their plans for adding beds and staff, and making plans in case there is a need to use other facilities for people who need care for COVID-19 but don’t need to be in a hospital" he said.
A spokesperson for Abbott's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday
Van Deusen said the state has also dramatically increased testing with the addition of mobile testing sites, adding that there are more than 3,000 contract tracers in the state who are working to identify hotspots and where community spread is most common. That’s short of Abbott’s goal of having 4,000 tracers by June 1, but Van Deusen said state and local jurisdictions are still adding to those totals.
“We’re still looking to ramp up because we think there is going to be more work to do,” he said.
Seven walk-up COVID-19 testing sites are scheduled in late and July in Longview.
Van Deusen also said that while the DSHS gives the governor’s office guidance on the coronavirus response, the decision to pause or even scale back business reopenings is up to the governor.