While much of our attention was focused on the coming presidential election and then its muddled aftermath, something else was going on in Texas. Coronavirus infections were soaring to new heights, and it’s so bad in El Paso that the city is locking down. This is a serious change in this ongoing battle, and it must be met with an equally strong response from elected officials and public health leaders — as well as average Texans.
The numbers cannot be disputed, even for an illness that is usually underreported. Last week the state saw more than 8,000 new cases for two straight days, the highest back-to-back total since early August. The rate of people testing positive for the virus was above 10 percent for more than two weeks, and that had been the threshold that Gov. Greg Abbott cited in relaxing restrictions and reopening bars recently when Texas dipped below it. Now, Abbott, apparently reluctant to close bars again or order new limitations, is saying that the rate of hospitalizations, not positive tests, is the number we should be watching.
Moving the goal posts like that is not going to get virus numbers down again. Abbott is not as bad as President Trump, who keeps saying the pandemic is about to end without any proof — and in defiance of actual statistics which prove otherwise. But local leaders have to be frank about the totals they face — or they will end up like El Paso.
The outlook is not good. The weather is cooling, and that will bring more people indoors, where they could spread the disease or catch it from someone easier.
The Thanksgiving holiday is a little more than three weeks away, and that could bring large numbers of people together for the first time. Sadly, that’s the recipe for a super-spreader event.
We’re all tired of wearing masks and social distancing, but that’s what we have to keep doing to get these virus numbers down again.
It’s frustrating, but it’s our only option, and it actually works. If someone develops symptoms, they should be tested and isolated quickly. The chain of infection must be broken.
Until a vaccine is available, this must be our approach, not wishful thinking or hoping we stay lucky. This virus is persistent, but we must outlast it.