AUSTIN -- Two key metrics Gov. Greg Abbott has used to judge the coronavirus epidemic in Texas hit record highs Wednesday.
More than 9,600 people were hospitalized. And over the past week, 15% of reported coronavirus tests have come back positive -- the highest rate since the epidemic began.
Texas also hit another grim record Wednesday: 98 people died of COVID-19.
“The fact of the matter is COVID has not gone away and it is not going to go away until we have medications able to treat it,” Abbott told KTAL-TV in Texarkana. “And what we are seeing is this massive spike in the spread of COVID across the entire state of Texas. There are no communities that are immune to this.”
The numbers could signal more trouble ahead. Deaths and hospitalizations are lagging indicators of infection. It means people sick enough to be hospitalized today were likely exposed to COVID-19 about two weeks ago, public health experts said.
More than 220,500 Texans have tested positive for COVID-19 and 2,813 have died since March.
Officials Austin, the state capital, have begun preparations to turn the downtown convention center into a field hospital, The Associated Press reported.
In response to surging caseloads, Abbott closed bars and mandated most Texans wear face masks in public. But plenty of other businesses, including restaurants, gyms and amusement parks, remain open under Abbott’s orders.
Experts said it takes about two weeks for any new restrictions to take effect, so cases will likely continue to rise at least that long.
Hospitals are filling up across the state. Within the past week, hospitalizations jumped by over 2,220 statewide. On Wednesday, some regions had dozens of beds open, but in others just a few intensive care beds available, according to state data.
Abbott has said it’s a red flag if the testing positivity rate, which shows the portion of tests taken that come back positive, jumps above 10% for several days. The seven-day average Wednesday rose above 15%.
“There’s really no data point or metric right now that’s good news,” said Dr. John Carlo, CEO of Prism Health North Texas and a member of the Texas Medical Association’s COVID-19 Taskforce.
Abbott called on local leaders to enforce his mask order, which requires people over the age of 10 to wear one in public. The rule does not apply in counties with 20 or fewer active COVID-19 cases that seek an exemption.
“The reason why it’s so important for people to do things like wear masks is so that we can continue to engage in business activities, so people can go to jobs, earn a paycheck and put food on their table,” Abbott said. “The last thing that we can and should do is to close down.”
For the sixth day in a row, Dallas County reported over 1,000 new cases of COVID-19.
“This is an extremely critical time in our battle against COVID-19,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a statement. “We expect to see more cases in the coming days and how high this surge goes is dependent on each of us doing our part.”
Public health experts say people should keep gatherings small, wear a mask in public, maintain social distance and wash their hands.