Gov. Greg Abbott said Thursday he will not order another statewide shutdown in Texas, even with a massive spike in COVID-19 cases.
“It is important for everybody in the state to know that statewide we’re not going to have another shutdown and there’s various reasons for that,” he said at a press conference in Lubbock, one of the hotspots in the state.
Abbott called shutdowns ineffective because he said studies have shown that people are not catching the virus when they are going to work or going to the store. He claims COVID-19 is spreading when people gather together to socialize within homes or with people they know.
He also pointed to the financial consequences for businesses, as well as medical and mental health consequences that are now known.
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While the medical community wants everyone to curb in-restaurant dining right now, and any large gatherings, people who study the economy say the governor has to worry the long-term effects of another shutdown.
"Shutdowns will not lead to positive results that some people think,” he said.
As the state skates around another shutdown, Deep Ellum’s The Point Skate Shop found a way to stay in the profit lines, and that has left them with mixed emotions.
“We shut down this location for about a month,” said Warren Christie. “I feel, personally, really guilty when we've done so well in a pandemic where its hurt so many others.”
A shutdown would likely shutter more businesses with the state’s economic forecast not looking promising for the next six months.
SMU economics professor Mike Davis said we have lost or are losing federal programs that provided some support during the state’s first lockdown.
“I think, for sure, that the governor is right to be very cautious about a shutdown,” he said. “So if we do another lockdown like we did last spring, we're not going to have the safety net that was provided by the federal government last spring.”
But with the explosion of COVID-19 cases across our region, the medical community has asked the governor to temporarily restrict in-door dining.
“At least for the time being, while we get through this, as you say, explosion of cases,” said Dr. Mark Casanova, with the Dallas County Medical Society.
Unless 15% of hospital capacity in the region is occupied by COVID-19 patients for seven consecutive days, there will be no new state-ordered restrictions.
Dr. Casanova warns we could reach that threshold because patients who enter the hospital or ICU with COVID-19 typically stay longer than people with other illnesses.
“I would consider that to be a worst case scenario, if we were to ultimately reach that and we're right on the precipice of it,” he explained.
The governor said a shutdown would not provide the positive results some people think.
“We don’t have to choose between protecting people’s lives or ending people’s livelihoods. We can have both,” Abbot said.
The governor said he’s already given local authorities the tools they need to achieve the results that are needed.
For example, local authorities are allowed to close bars and reduce capacity limits in their region if hospitalization percentages go above the 15% threshold.
Currently almost 14% of the people hospitalized in the Dallas-Fort Worth hospital region are COVID-19 patients.
“We’ve been there before we can do it again. All we need is for people in the Lubbock area and across the state of Texas to return to what we learned over the summer,” Abbott said. “Bring that guard back up and if we do that we will get through this episode just as we did during the months of July and August.”
The governor added that local agencies can better enforce pandemic safety measures.
“There are plenty of tools in the toolboxes of local authorities to achieve the results that are needed,” he said. “And they need to be enforcing the protocols that are in place right now.”
The county judges in Dallas and Tarrant counties have said they want the governor to issue more public health measures or give them the flexibility to do it.
And Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley said strong enforcement of the governor's orders, like the mask mandate, isn't that simple.
“Our DA and their associations, our sheriff and their associations, and the police and their associations, all say that the way that they wrote the order...prevents them from being able to write citations to individuals,” he explained.
Whitley said he’d consider a curfew for bars, restaurants, and more, but the governor’s order does not grant county judges that authority.
“I would like to see authority given back to the county judge,” Whitley added.
The regional hospitalization rate for 19 area counties has been rising for a month, and although there was a slight decrease Thursday, experts believe the worst might be around the corner.
“This is some of the highest we’ve run,” DFW Hospital Council CEO Steve Love said.
Love said they’re now seeing increased hospitalizations in rural areas.
“It is more of a rural spread. Even in Hunt County, Wise County, we’re getting more and more COVID hospitalizations,” Love explained.
Abbott also discussed “good news” for frontline healthcare workers – a new antibody therapy drug that is now available for use across the state of Texas.
The treatment by drugmaker Eli Lilly is a drip infusion that can be delivered intravenously in about an hour. It’s similar to the drug taken by President Donald Trump when he was diagnosed with COVID-19.
The antibody therapy works best on people who are newly diagnosed and still have mild symptoms but might be at a greater risk for complications later on. It lowers the chance of people needing hospitalization.
The governor also said he expects a similar therapeutic drug from another pharmaceutical company to be available in Texas soon and the two COVID-19 vaccines recently announced could be approved as soon as December.
The State of Texas is fully prepared to distribute the vaccines as quickly as possible once they arrive, Abbott said.
“While we wait for increased volumes of these antibody therapeutic drugs as well as the vaccine, it’s important for everybody to remember the habits that got us through the spike of cases of COVID-19 in July,” he said.