State Show Virus Spiking and Continuing to Fall
as Johns Hopkins Pegs Texas Positivity at -29%
By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor
September 16, 2020
Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick announced the next phase of the Texas reopening on Wednesday despite signs that the second coronavirus wave could be getting off the ground with the state initially recording the highest number of new cases in more than three weeks in one of its two official daily counts.
The Department of State Health Services reported 6,026 new infections late this afternoon on one hand in a development that could be a harbinger for the deadly fall that experts have been predicting.
But Patrick - a Republican who has no control over the state's COVID-19 response - could be going off the count on the other hand that showed Texas with only 3,409 new infections today on the DSHS daily graphic tally.
The Texas testing positivity rate that had been a key gauge for Governor Greg Abbott was all over the map on Wednesday thanks to the latest change in the way the state computes it. The DSHS showed the positivity to be 6.98 percent while the research site Covid Act Now had it at 9.4 percent here - a vault of almost two points in the past two days. Both numbers are considered to be high for a state to safely reopen schools.
The state's calculation of the positivity rate has become so convoluted that Johns Hopkins University had it at -29.4 percent tonight - a number that could be an all-time world record even though it isn't actually possible.
While the state's virus tracking system has been largely discredited over the course of the past six months, a glance at the two dramatically different daily counts gives the impression that the bad fall that the experts have been predicting is in the making now or that the disease is still on the decline in Texas after two full months of appearing to retreat.
As the sole commander of virus-related decisions at the state level, Abbott can basically take his pick when determining when he will start lifting restrictions again after freezing the reopening in place almost three months ago when he shut the bars around Texas for the second and last time during the pandemic.
After being relegated to the sidelines throughout the crisis, Patrick appeared to tip Abbott's hand on Tuesday in a television interview on the ABC affiliate KTRK in Houston.
"What we're talking about is not a dramatic opening of the doors," Patrick said. "What we're saying is, 'Let's just expand the openings that we have.'"
That represents a significant change in the lieutenant governor's views on the management of the contagion several months after he called for an unconditional withdrawal of all coronavirus restrictions that Abbott and local leaders had imposed.
Patrick has appeared to either temper his position on masks or has simply been biting his tongue after blasting Hidalgo County Judge Lina Hidalgo in April for the implementation of a face-covering mandate at a time when conservatives were still comparing the coronavirus to the common flu. But Patrick has been mum on masks since Abbott ordered the wearing of them statewide in early July after Texas had exploded into the epicenter of the second virus surge.
Patrick indicated that he'll be all in as soon as the governor decides to get the economic reboot back on track.
Abbott might have second thoughts about the jump-start of the reopening if he believed the numbers that the DSHS reported today on its Excel spread sheet that's tracking the daily increases and cumulative count. The DSHS shows that Texas had 28,891 new infections in the past week with that accounting method compared to 20,376 - the number that you get adding up the daily increases on the front end of the coronavirus dashboard.