Not so long ago, Dr. Philip Keiser, Galveston County’s local health authority, would have been shocked to see 100 cases of the coronavirus announced in a day, he said.
But now, we might soon enter a time when the county sees 400 cases a day, Keiser said.
The reason for the quick rise in coronavirus cases in Galveston County is a lack of personal responsibility and a state reopening that didn’t go quite according to plan, Keiser said.
“I think that perhaps we could have slowed down the opening a little more,” he said. “I think depending on where you were, there were mixed messages.”
Some others, however, argue statistics don’t support the argument that tighter lockdowns produced better results, but they clearly did produce higher unemployment.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Friday that all bars were to close by noon Friday and all restaurants must reduce capacity to 50 percent by Monday, undoing a gradual reopening of the state’s economy that began May 1.
Abbott in his order cited a positivity rate of more than 10 percent in people tested for the coronavirus as his motivation for tightening restrictions meant to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
The Galveston County Health District reported 252 new COVID-19 diagnoses Friday afternoon, a new single-day high, topping the previous high of 226 on Wednesday.
The sharp rise in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in Texas, combined with the new restrictions on businesses, has turned handling of the pandemic into something of a political football.
Some health professionals, for instance, declined to comment about what reopening should have looked like, citing concern about political fallout from their comments.
And that environment contributed to fewer and fewer residents taking social distancing and other health measures seriously, Keiser said.
“There’s been a lot of confusion about what’s permissible, what’s not permissible,” Keiser said. “When the public sees the politicians and the leadership disagree, they realize there’s no negative consequences to their actions.”
Officials with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in May unveiled a list of guidelines to help states prepare for reopening the economy.
Those guidelines, for instance, recommended that states only begin the first phase of reopening when officials see a downward trajectory of documented cases over a 14-day period, records show.
The state has performed well in some regards, Kesier said.
Contact tracing, for instance, hasn’t been a problem, he said.
“We’ve been working very hard on getting tracing up and running,” he said.
A lack of knowledge about the rules has been the largest issue, Keiser said.
Some economic experts, however, argue that the initial coronavirus shutdowns were overly harsh, and ineffective at stopping the spread.
“I will say that many people made dire predictions that if we do not have lockdowns, we will necessarily have bad outcomes,” said Edward Peter Stringham, president of the American Institute for Economic Research. “They were criticizing the states that did not have lockdowns. But the data should lead us to question those strong statements.”
Stringham recently authored an article for the institute, arguing against the benefits of the lockdowns.
Stringham cited data showing that states that didn’t lockdown, such as South Dakota, Utah, Arkansas and Iowa, among others, had a comparatively lower unemployment rate than those that did lock down, 7.8 percent versus 13.2 percent.
And locked down states have a death rate about four times higher than those that didn’t, Stringham argues.
But Stringham also conceded that the statistics he lays out could have different mitigating factors, such as population density of affected states.
Ultimately, the most telling statistic moving forward, however, will look at available intensive care beds, Stringham said.
That’s an attitude Keiser pushed back against Friday.
“We’ve been very fortunate with our death rate,” he said. “I think there are some people who until we start to see the death count rising won’t take it seriously, and that’s unfortunate.”
“Some states might be in a position now that they must take some action to stem the spread of the virus,” Stringham said.
Calls for more stringent measures are not supported by the numbers, however, he said.
“Much of the public dialogue is not based in science,” Stringham said.