June 28, 2020
Abbott Office Denies Coronavirus Censorship Bid
as ICUs Crammed in Major Texas Coastal Regions
By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor
The state sparked suspicions about an attempt to censor public information when it snapped a streak of record-setting increases in COVID-19 hospitalizations on Sunday but failed to defuse a mounting crisis with intensive care bed shortages in many major Texas cities.
The Department of State Health Services reported today that Texas hospitals had 5,497 patients with coronavirus infections - a drop of 26 from an all-time high that had been recorded on Saturday when the record fell for the 16th day in a row.
Texas ended the record run in the nick of time as Vice-President Mike Pence jetted into Dallas on Sunday to attend a downtown rally at First Baptist Church where he was regaled by a choir whose members wore no masks. Pence, who'd sported a mask when he entered the sanctuary, learned in a subsequent meeting with Governor Greg Abbott that the pandemic had taken a dramatic turn for the worse in Texas after informing President Donald Trump last month that the spread had been contained.
Trump had declared Texas as the model for America in its response to the worst public health emergency in more than 100 years. The president may be dismayed when Pence passes the word to him on how the Lone Star State has turned out to the showcase for pandemic bungling in a state where the cumulative number of new cases are has gone up more than 129 percent in the first four weeks of June in tandem with the fast-track Abbott reopening.
Texas has recorded almost 34,000 new infections in the past six days alone after a typical dip in the number of cases that were logged by the state on Sunday when some localities simply don't report. The Texas testing positivity rate soared to 14.3 percent - the highest since the state started tracking the critical variable in early April. Almost 149,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Texas where at least 2,393 have died from infections.
Texas narrowly eluded a 17th consecutive record day for hospitalizations with a massive boost from decreases in the number of virus patients in the Houston, San Antonio and Galveston area where the state has its three largest medical schools and teaching hospitals. Houston and San Antonio had recorded record numbers of coronavirus hospitalizations for 17th consecutive days before both reported a decrease today.
But ICU beds were clearly in short supply around the state on Sunday with the Rio Grande Valley and the Galveston, Beaumont and Corpus Christi areas were in the most dire shape with intensive care facilities almost filled near capacity.
The Houston area had the third fewest ICU beds per capita available on Sunday while the San Antonio, Austin, Laredo and Waco areas were all running perilously low as well.
Abbott had assured Texans almost two weeks ago that the state wouldn't have a shortage of hospital beds for virus cases. But the governor has been wrong with hasty conclusions that he'd drawn on the virus being isolated to rural hot spots and the timing of restrictions that he'd imposed and relaxed before it was safe to do so.
Abbott appears to be taking the coronavirus seriously again after freezing the reopening in place last week before he shut down bars for the second time this year in the wake of widespread violations of social distancing requirements that were a condition for staying in business.
The governor could be more worried about a potential panic here than the public right and need to know based on reports on him pressuring Texas Medical Center officials into withholding details that they'd been providing daily on the availability of ICU beds for coronavirus patients whose lives are most at risk.
The alleged strong-arming had appeared to work when the TMC that has seven hospitals in the Houston area declined on Sunday to report the numbers on ICU bed availability. But the governor's office is adamantly denying that Abbott ever sought to have emergency medical data concealed from the public.
The world's largest medical complex has assured the public that it could create more intensive care space by shuffling patients with unrelated maladies around in its massive system to accommodate the new surge.