The spread of the coronavirus shows no signs of slowing in Texas as businesses continue to reopen across the state while cases exceed 107,000.
On Saturday, the state reported a record 4,430 new cases of the coronavirus, toppling the previous high set Thursday of 3,516 cases. On June 15, Texas reported 4,098 cases, however, close to 1,500 of those were inmates who had been previously diagnosed.
Raw case numbers only tell part of the story, and city, county and state health officials have pointed to the hospitalization rate, along with the number of available ICU beds, as metrics to gauge the spread of the virus.
Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has also used the rate of hospitalizations as an indicator for reopening the state's economy. As the rate climbed on Tuesday, the governor said the state's hospital capacity is "abundant" to treat COVID-19 patients.
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Data from the Texas Department of State Health Services show the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has been steadily increasing, setting a record high for nine straight days. On Saturday, that number reached 3,247 patients.
While the number of available ventilators has remained mostly flat since May, the number of available ICU beds statewide is declining. The same trend is also reflected in Dallas County, where local COVID-19 cases have surpassed 16,000.
At a news conference Friday, Dr. Phillip Huang, who heads the county health department, flipped through slides showing an uptick in the number of COVID-19 suspected ER visits over a 24-hour period, and the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 general hospitalizations and ICU hospitalizations.
He also described the steady decline in the number of available ICU beds.
"Earlier on as we were opening up, things had plateaued, they weren’t going up, and we were encouraged people we were still being vigilant," Huang said. "Since Memorial Day, we started to see more relaxation of that, more opening up and people forgetting about it and this is what's being reflected here."
Of the 944 available ICU beds in the city of Dallas, 74% or 702, are currently occupied.
In a bid to curb the increasing daily number of cases in Dallas County, where COVID-19 is now the third-leading cause of death, commissioners voted Friday to require businesses to ensure customers wear a face covering.
The order went into effect at 11:59 p.m. Friday, and businesses have five days to comply.
Huang on Friday reiterated the importance of wearing a cloth face covering to help control the spread of infection, and added that it "seems like a pretty good trade-off."
"If everyone would wear the mask then we can start opening things up in a safe way," he said.
When Abbott announced his plan to open Texas in late April, he pointed to the state's positivity rate, which had dropped to about 6%. The rate, which indicates the percentage of positive cases reported over a given period of time, had hit its high point in mid-April when it shot up to 15.85%.
Abbott cautioned that state leaders would interpret the number as a "red flag" if it climbed to a sustained trend of around 10%.
The index dropped drastically in May, to a low of 4.27% on May 26, but has been ticking upward again since Memorial Day and reached 8.94% on Saturday -- a level not seen April 20.
Until May 20, the calculation included antibody tests as well as viral tests. The removal of antibody tests on May 20 led to a small increase in the rate.