The state of Texas won’t resume the limits on civic and commercial life enacted earlier this year to slow COVID-19, Gov. Greg Abbott said Thursday.
“It is important for everybody in the state to know that, statewide, we’re not going have another shutdown,” Abbott said
The people of Texas will have to do it themselves, he said.
Speaking at his first public COVID-related news conference in more than two months, and for the first time since Texas COVID-19 cases began rising from a late summer low, Abbott said he had no inclination to issue new orders.
“This is not our first response to this challenge,” Abbott said. “We had a greater increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in July. We learned exactly at that time what needed to be done to crush COVID-19 in Texas, and Texans joined together to make sure we did slow the spread.”
Abbott spoke on a day that the number of new cases reported in the state hit a new record high at 12,293 and hours after a series of short-notice cancellations in Galveston County.
Late Wednesday night, organizers of two large events planned on the island — the Ironman 70.3 endurance race and Dickens on the Strand, a Christmas street festival — decided to call off their events.
League City announced Thursday that Mayor Pat Hallisey had been hospitalized and was receiving oxygen after contracting the virus. Soon after, the city of Galveston confirmed that two employees in its city manager’s office were quarantined after being diagnosed with COVID-19 infection.
Galveston City Manager Brian Maxwell, who tested negative for the virus, said he was working from home until the office could be deep-cleaned.
Locals officials said they had no plans, or legal ability, to take action beyond what Abbott had ordered statewide.
In Galveston Craig Brown, who is acting mayor, said the city planned to follow the governor’s lead.
“At this point, I don’t see anything in the near future,” in terms of business closures, Brown said. “Really the enforcement of this is going to have to come down to the individual.”
At times earlier this year, Galveston officials moved to close bars and beaches, limit public gatherings and send hotel visitors and short-term renters home. The moves distressed and angered some local business owners, particularly before the Fourth of July, when the city closed beaches on very short notice ahead of one of the island’s busiest holidays.
Although cases of COVID-19 are appearing in record numbers in Texas, the situation in Galveston County still appeared under control, Brown said.
Still, he lauded decisions by private groups to cancel events that might have made matters worse.
Galveston County Judge Mark Henry, who has for the most part resisted ordering closures because of COVID-19 throughout the year, said he wasn’t surprised by Abbott’s stance. It was something Abbott has said in other interviews in recent days, he said
“I didn’t hear anything new today,” Henry said. Henry wasn’t inclined to impose some kind of local pandemic order, in part because recent increases in the virus haven’t overburdened local hospitals, he said.
“Our hospitals have indicated that they have no capacity issues at all,” Henry said.
Over the course of the year, Abbott has swung between allowing local officials to make decisions about anti-COVID-19 measures and making sweeping statewide rules that usurped the decisions made by those officials.
In a news conference Oct. 7, Abbott announced that county judges — but not mayors or other municipal leaders — could exempt bars from his COVID-19 orders, if a county met a certain threshold of hospitalizations.
He also moved to prevent or limit cities’ abilities to issue fines as a way to enforce statewide face-mask orders.
Part of the reason for the recent spread of the virus was that local officials weren’t doing enough to enforce existing COVID-19 rules, Abbott said.
“There are plenty of tools in the toolboxes of local authorities to achieve the results that are needed,” Abbott said. “Some local officials are not using the tools that are available to them to make sure they are taking every step they need.
“These measurable tools or metrics won’t matter if they’re not enforced,” he said. “They need to be enforcing the protocols that are in place right now.”
As of Thursday, the state of COVID-19 in Galveston County remained about where it’s been over the past month.
As of Nov. 19, there were 1,165 active cases in Galveston County, according to the health district. A month ago, on Oct. 19, there were 646 active cases. At the end of July, there were as many as 5,300 known active cases in the county at one time, according to the health district.
Since October 25, 1,393 county residents have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the district. It’s the highest four-week total since 1,242 positive cases were identified from Aug. 2 to Aug. 29.
In one four-week period from June 21 to July 19, 6,156 county residents tested positive.
There has been a slight increase in the number of people hospitalized locally by the virus. As of Thursday, 49 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Galveston County hospitals, according to data from the Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council. About 6.6 percent of local hospital beds were being used to treat COVID-19 patients.
On Oct. 19, 30 people were hospitalized and about 3.5 percent of beds were being used by COVID-19 patients.
On July 7, the county’s hospitals were at their peak usage. At that time, there were 273 COVID-19 patients in county hospital beds, and 32 percent of all the beds were being used to treat COVID patients.
Texas reported 8,489 new cases Wednesday; the count grew by 2,000 on Thursday. Across the state, 7,958 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Wednesday, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.