By Alana Rocha, Texas Tribune
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Texas reached another grim milestone Sunday when it surpassed 5,000 deaths from the new coronavirus. In doing so, the state reported 1,000 deaths in six days, four days faster than it took to hit that total the previous time.
According to state health data released Sunday, 5,038 people in Texas had died from the virus. That’s 153 more deaths than the day before and 1,080 more than a week ago. Public health experts have said that reported totals are likely to be an undercount because not all people who died with coronavirus symptoms were tested.
Since July 20, when Texas passed 4,000 deaths, some Rio Grande Valley counties have seen significant increases in the number of people dying from COVID-19. That part of the state— among the hardest-hit parts of Texas — has a larger share of Hispanic residents than many other areas.
National data has shown that Black and Hispanic people are disproportionately affected by the virus. In Texas, Hispanic people are the most likely to lack health coverage, making up 61% of the uninsured but only 40% of the population, according to figures used by the Texas Medical Association.
Cameron County reported 96 total deaths on July 20. On Sunday, it recorded 177. During that same time frame, Hidalgo County reported 456 total deaths on Sunday, up from 284.
While Texas continues to report daily deaths in the triple digits, the number of new daily cases seem to be stabilizing. In the past week alone, state data appears to show new daily infections leveling off, albeit at nearly record highs.
The state recorded its largest number of daily new cases on July 15, at 10,791. On Sunday, that number was 5,810.
Epidemiologists and disease modelers have said they are cautiously optimistic that the mask mandate Gov. Greg Abbott issued three weeks ago is helping the state turn a corner in its efforts to contain the outbreak. Although a plateauing of new virus cases would hardly represent a victory over the pandemic, it could help keep hospitals from being overrun with sick patients.
But hospital data is incomplete. The state isn’t releasing the information it collects about how many beds individual hospitals have available. And only a fraction of the state’s hospitals, cities and counties are providing that information to the public on their own.
The Houston Chronicle reported that Abbott had expressed displeasure to hospital executive about headlines related to ICU capacity, but Abbott spokesman John Wittman said any insinuation that the governor suggested the executives publish less data is false.
Still, even if new case counts remain steady, public health experts are asking Abbott not to rule out another shutdown, especially in the state’s hardest-hit regions, given that the disease continues to infect about 10 times as many people each day compared with two months ago, ravaging some parts of the state more severely than others.
An Abbott spokesman did not respond to a request for comment Sunday.