Texas governor says coronavirus spread 'unacceptable' but imposes no new requirements

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Monday acknowledged that recent spikes in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations were “unacceptable” but stopped short of announcing any new requirements to halt the spread of the virus. 

“To state the obvious, COVID-19 is now spreading at an unacceptable rate in Texas, and it must be corralled,” Abbott said during a press conference on Monday. 

The governor said rates of coronavirus-related hospitalizations in Texas averaged more than 3,200 per day over the last “four or five days,” an increase from the second half of May, when around 1,600 people in Texas were hospitalized per day with COVID-19. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Coronavirus cases jumped to an average of 3,500 per day in Texas over the past five days, Abbott said, a sharp increase from around 1,500 positive cases a day in the second half of May.  

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), as of Monday, the state had tracked 115,000 positive cases of the coronavirus in total, while more than 2,000 individuals have died from the virus in the state. 

Despite these statistics, Abbott said Texas would remain “open for business,” stressing the need for Texans to wear masks, wash their hands and maintain social distancing to stop the spread of the virus, though not requiring any of these measures.

“Our goal is to keep Texans out of hospitals and to reduce the number of Texans who test positive,” Abbott said. “COVID hasn’t gone away, but neither has our ability to stop the spread of it. We don’t have to choose between jobs and health. We can have both. We can protect Texan lives while also restoring livelihoods. ... Together, we will keep Texas wide open for business.”

The governor noted that if cases “doubled” by the middle of July, he would consider “tougher actions” to stop the spread of COVID-19. 

When asked if he would scale back phased reopenings in Texas, Abbott said he thought the state could “curtail” the virus if guidelines were followed. 

ADVERTISEMENT

"Closing down Texas again will always be the last option," Abbott said. 

Cases have spiked since the state began a phased reopening in May. As of June 3, the state had moved into stage three of reopening, which allows for restaurants to use up to 75 percent of their seating capacity and most businesses to operate at 50 percent capacity. 

Abbott’s orders in May prevented cities from issuing fines for not wearing masks in businesses. Austin Mayor Steve Adler (D) last week rolled out an order requiring individuals to wear masks in businesses or face fines of up to $1,000, which Abbott said he would allow.

Abbott said he was personally wearing a mask more than he did in May because of “additional scientific and medical data that has shown that wearing a mask is one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

The governor was not wearing a mask during the press conference but put one on as he left. 

Abbott noted that the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) was working to shut down bars where coronavirus safety measures were not followed and that he had spoken with local leaders about limiting large gatherings, particularly in advance of the July 4 festivities. 

TABC announced Monday it had suspended 12 bars in the state for 30 days for not complying with state health requirements around COVID-19. 

Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa strongly criticized Abbott's actions on Monday, saying the governor was putting "lives at risk."

"Thousands are in the hospital," Hinojosa said in a statement. "Isolated from their families. Terrified and alone in a hospital bed. Millions have lost their jobs. They don’t know how they will pay rent or put food on the table. Everyone made sacrifices to stop the spread of this virus. We’re left wondering what our suffering was for when our governor turns his back on those who are desperate and dying, refuses to offer solutions, and continues to lie about this pandemic."

"In every single way, by every single metric, Governor Abbott and Republicans have failed," Hinojosa emphasized.

DSHS Commissioner John William Hellerstedt said during the same press conference that the state was at a “crucial time” in responding to the virus and urged Texans to wear masks and follow state health guidelines. 

“It’s all about hygiene. If you can, wear a face covering. That is a great idea,” Hellerstedt said. “We are still all in this together Texas, and we need to act not just to protect ourselves but to protect the entire community. The things we are asking you to do will be effective. We must do them now. We must curb these trends so we can go forward.”

-Updated at 6:15 p.m.