Abbott emphasizes hospital capacity as Texas continues with business reopenings

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By Patrick Svitek, Texas Tribune

Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday continued to tout Texas’ hospital capacity as plentiful as hospitalizations due to the new coronavirus hit new highs and the state presses forward with business reopenings.

Abbott, speaking during a news conference in Austin, called the state’s capacity “abundant” and said officials are “laser-focused” on maintaining that level.

The state saw another new peak Tuesday, reporting 2,518 Texans are currently hospitalized who have tested positive for the virus. Close to 15,000 beds are still open, according to the latest figures from the Department of State Health Services.

Still, the tally of hospitalizations has been on a brisk upward trajectory. Tuesday’s count was up 43% from the start of the month.

The number of cases has also continued to rise in the state, and the first half of June saw some of the biggest single-day caseloads yet.

In seeking to explain the trend, Abbott pointed to temporary spikes in positive tests in some isolated areas. But he also suggested young people specifically are not taking the virus seriously enough, saying there are “certain counties where a majority of the people who are testing positive … are under the age of 30, and this typically results from people going to bar-type settings.”

“It’s hard to tell exactly where those people contracted COVID,” Abbott said. “All we know is that because these people are testing positive at a higher rate who are age 30 and under, it informs us about certain strategies to take to make sure that we are able to reduce the number of people testing positive.”

Abbott pointed to a recent warning by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, which said bars and restaurants could lose their licenses for 30 days if they do not follow state guidelines to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Bars are currently allowed to operate at 50% capacity and restaurants at 75% capacity.

The news conference featured a presentation by John Zerwas, the University of Texas System official and former state representative who is helping with the state’s coronavirus response. In an exchange with Abbott, Zerwas said the state is still at “Level 5” in hospital capacity, meaning hospitals can maintain their current capacities without having to build it out.

“The bottom line is this, and that is the increased capacity of hospital beds, it does raise concerns, but as shown today, there is no reason to be alarmed,” Abbott said. “Even though there are more people hospitalized, we still remain at the lowest threat level in our hospital capacity. We have plenty of room to expand beds. There are thousands of hospital beds that are available as we speak right now. And then there is the ability to surge even more hospital beds if it were ever to be needed.”

As he has done in recent days, Abbott reiterated that the state still has the option to at least partially restore a ban on elective procedures to free up even more beds.