Most Texas Cities in Red and Yellow Zones
on Positivity Rate as Sign of Weak Testing
By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor
September 8, 2020
Texas schools are reopening amid substantial anxiety in several major population centers where coronavirus testing positivity rates are in the top-level danger zone as the state emerges from the Labor Day weekend.
At least 16 Texas counties with populations of 100,000 or more have positivity rates above 10 percent - the official line of demarcation for Governor Greg Abbott when assessing pandemic restrictions and reopenings. But a half-dozen major counties from West Texas to the border are painted red for severe on the COVID-19 warning charts with positivity rates that exceed 20 percent.
The Waco area had the highest positivity rate for an urban location in Texas at 31.5 percent in McLennan County. The percentage of positives had soared to 27.2 percent in Webb County that has Laredo as its hub on the state's southern border. Potter and Randall counties had an average rate of 21.9 percent as the home of the Amarillo area.
Midland had a dangerous positivity rate at almost 24 percent on Monday night while Cameron County in the Rio Grande Valley on the border and the coast checked in at 20.6 percent according to the research organization Covid Act Now.
Seventeen major counties are in the yellow warning range with positivity rates between 5 percent and 10 percent. The World Health Organization has said that positivity rates should be lower than 5 percent before communities can be confident the virus is under control.
The Department of State Health Services pegged the statewide positivity rate on Monday as 7.24 percent - the lowest number since June 16 after a three-month roller coaster ride.
The positivity rate is the leading metric for appraising the levels of risk and the potential extent of the virus spread. Abbott ordered the bars in Texas to close in late June for the second time this year after the positivity rate eclipsed 10 percent for the first time here. The governor, however, hasn't threatened to put the reopening of schools on hold in the event of a positivity spike.
The state has appeared to corral a positivity rate that had skied last month beyond 24 percent in a development that state officials eventually blamed on technical reporting problems. But the state has figured out that the positivity rate goes up or down with the amount of testing that's being conducted - and the state's has been falling for two weeks in concordance with an increase in diagnostic tests.
The positivity rates have vaulted in college towns with Lubbock and Brazos counties at 15.4 percent and 12.1 percent respectively as the settings for Texas Tech University and Texas A&M University. McLennan's skyrocketing rate is tied in part to the resumption of in-person education at Baylor University in Waco.
The counties that have led the state in testing without competition - Galveston and Fort Bend - had positivity rates of 5.9 percent and 2.5 percent respectively tonight. Gregg and Smith counties in East Texas had positivity rates of 4.0 percent and 4.7 percent respectively tonight while Guadalupe County on the eastern edge of the San Antonio area had the lowest among places with six or seven figure populations at 0.7 percent.