GALVESTON

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.

Matt deGrood: 409-683-5230; matt.degrood@galvnews.com

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(28) comments

John Grossman

This article is irresponsible and unbalanced. Stringham is quoted as if he is an unbiased authority. In fact, he and his institute are dedicated to promoting right-wing, libertarian viewpoints. This should have been pointed out in the article before presenting his views as comparable to those of Dr. Keiser, who is an infectious disease expert.

Carlos Ponce

"irresponsible and unbalanced"? You must mean because Stringham's name appears 8 times in the article while Keiser's name appears a mere 7. Otherwise, content seems balanced.

Edward Peter Stringham is an expert in his own field discussing the effects of the shutdown from an economic viewpoint.

The two men have a lot to offer, one medical, the other economic. The topic is not one dimensional.

Chuck DiFalco

[thumbup]

Bailey Jones

"Some others, however, argue statistics don’t support the argument that tighter lockdowns produced better results, but they clearly did produce higher unemployment." The economic fallout is obvious - because that's something that is well measured and well understood. As for whether the lockdowns produces better results - all one needs to do is look at the data. I prefer not to look at positive cases because that number is always going to be influenced by the amount of testing. I prefer to look at hospitalizations and deaths which is not influenced by the amount of testing.

The hospitalizations for the Houston and Galveston trauma service areas rose sharply at the beginning of the pandemic, then slowly fell during the lockdown. Since at Memorial Day, however, they have risen very, very steeply - more than doubling in the Galveston TSA and almost quadrupling in the Houston TSA. I don't know what this could be attributed to other than the end of the lockdown.

At a national level, COVID deaths rose sharply at the beginning of the pandemic, exceeding 18000 per week, then began to fall, now to just over 4000 per week, lagging the lockdowns, and particularly the New York lockdown, by a few weeks.

Until about two weeks ago. That's when the number of deaths stopped falling. It appears that the death rate is beginning to climb again. We'll know better in another week or two.

In yesterday's COVID briefing, VP Pence said that we have flattened the curve. This is misleading, at best. Nationally, the curve for confirmed cases, which had begun to bend ever so slightly toward the horizontal in May, is now bending toward the vertical at a rate we haven't seen since March and April. Locally, new cases and new hospitalizations are rising like a rocket.

This isn't a resurgence of the virus, or a "second wave". We have yet to reach the crest of the first wave. As I've said before, and will continue to say, there is no cure for COVID. There is no vaccine for COVID. The only way to slow the spread of this virus is to keep it from jumping from one person to the next. The best way to do that is to stay away from people. This is why the lockdown was effective. The next best way is to maintain at least 6 feet of distance between people. And limit the amount of time you are around any person - infection requires both closeness and time. Wash your hands and clothes after any contact. And when you are out in the world, wear a mask. The data is clear - if we don't do these things, more people will get sick, more people will die, and more businesses will close.

Walter Dannenmaier

Bailey Jones, am I misreading the GCDN graph? Is it true that there have been no deaths reported in the last 16 days? Where are the dead people? Are we expecting 1,000 of them next week in this county? Shouldn't there be more of them to justify precipitous actions?

Bailey Jones

It's true Walter, there haven't been any deaths reported in Galveston County recently. That isn't a surprise, G County only has 34 COVID patients. Our county is tiny - about 1% of the state's population. And the recent spike in cases is mostly people in their 20-30s, which makes sense since they're the ones who ran out to play after the lockdown ended. And they don't die as much. If Galveston County was the whole universe there would't be much to worry about.

However, in the greater area - the Houston TSA and the Galveston TSA, cases have more than doubled in the last few weeks. Deaths lag cases by some weeks. They are coming.

As far as "precipitous actions" - I'll leave that to the politicians to decide. What I know is that I'll continue to do my part to keep the infection rate down, and keep our economy moving.

Raymond Lewis

On 25 June UTMB Incident Team reported 69 CVD-19 patients CURRENTLY hospitalized and 73 deaths since 9 April. TDCJ with 42 hospitalized.

Jim Forsythe

Raymond, they do not count since they do not fit with what Carlos thinks.

Carlos Ponce

Raymond, can you cite a source for your information?

The source of mine is:

https://www.gchd.org/about-us/news-and-events/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19/galveston-county-confirmed-covid-19-cases

Deaths at 40, Hospitalizations now at 36.

Carlos Ponce

Jim, it's not what I think, it's what is officially reported.

Carlos Ponce

Raymond, I found your source:

https://www.utmb.edu/covid-19/updates/daily-global-updates/2020/06/25/as-of-3-03-p.m.-june-25-2020

UTMB Hospitals include non-Galveston County UTMB Hospitals. Included are Harris County: Clear Lake Campus

Brazoria County: Angleton Danbury UTMB Campus

Carlos Ponce

Deaths holding steady at 40. Hospitalizations have climbed from 34 to........35! Condolences to that family.

Raymond Lewis

Glad you found the link. Most are fairly familiar with the site. The UTMB Incident Command Group provides a report twice weekly. Next report 30 June. It's a good site to help sort out what is fact and what is fiction.

Raymond Lewis

These figures are incorrect per the 25 June Incident Report.

Carlos Ponce

I wish they specified the number hospitalized by facility. There are many who still think UTMB is Galveston only.

Irwin Fletcher

“Some health professionals, for instance, declined to comment about what reopening should have looked like, citing concern about political fallout from their comments.“

Public Health and well-being vs Political lines should never be a consideration. If you can’t do the job, don’t run for office of apply for the position.

Raymond Lewis

For clarification, response was in reference to Mr. Ponce's figures that should be updated.

Carlos Ponce Jun 27, 2020 12:32pm

Deaths holding steady at 40. Hospitalizations have climbed from 34 to........35! Condolences to that family.

Carlos Ponce

That's why there's a time and date indicated on each post.

Currently, deaths still holding at 40. Hospitalized now at 37. Hopefully, no more deaths or hospitalizations but there are no guarantees this will remain.

Gary Scoggin

I agree. I hope the death numbers stay level, obviously. But if I remember correctly, in the Spring, the death numbers lag the hospital numbers by a couple of weeks. Which makes sense in that people going into the hospital that are very ill don't die immediately; it takes a while. Sad all the way around.

Carlos Ponce

Check the graph "Galveston County COVID-19 Cases, Recovered, Deaths - Date Reported":

https://www.gchd.org/about-us/news-and-events/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19/galveston-county-confirmed-covid-19-cases

Ted Gillis

But some people like the spot light and they don’t care about doing the actual job. We need to makes exceptions for those.

Chuck DiFalco

I am encouraged that this article does not fall into the typical media trap of dwelling on what epidemiologists recommend economic policy should be, as if they were the cognoscenti (“wise ones”) elected officials should follow. The United States fell into the same trap in 1929 and 1930. Except back then the cognoscenti were economists and industrialists who were successful as well as celebrities. Policy makers at the time ended up following the worst ideas of both. That’s how a recession became the Great Depression. We are not doomed to repeat history. That means lockdowns must stop now.

Gary Scoggin

I agree with you about the danger of celebrities making policy.

Charlotte O'rourke

The mask misinformation at the beginning of covid 19 is why government should never lie to its citizens. Masks were always indicated as one of the tools to stop covid 19 spread, but government wanted to save the masks for health professionals (rightly so, but just tell the truth).

Always tell the truth because once someone lies it’s hard to ever believe them again.

Allan Scott

In my opinion, greed derailed the reopening. Galveston County was doing just fine rocking along with 5 to 15 new cases per day. And then the flood gates were thrown open by some politicians and 150,000 to 200,000 tourists per day from neighboring counties converged on Galveston. Just look at the graph of new COVID-19 cases in Galveston County and there is a direct correlation to the dramatic increase in tourist numbers. Too late now to put the Genie back in the bottle!

Bailey Jones

That's true - the upswing in cases begins right after Memorial Day.

Jose' Boix

CDC National Data - COVID-19 Cases/Day Nationally - Last few days:

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/cases-in-us.html

Date Cases Change

6/20/2020 32,411

6/21/2020 27,616 -4,795

6/22/2020 26,657 -959

6/23/2020 34,313 7,656

6/24/2020 37,667 3,354

6/25/2020 40,588 2,921

6/26/2020 44,602 4,014

6/27/2020 44,703 101

Terri Abraham

Jose, the GCHD said Galveston county went up 154 on 6/27/2020

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