During a wide-ranging interview with CNBC's Squawk on the Street Thursday morning, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) defended new legislation on abortion and elections and said "things are looking good" in the Lone Star State when it comes to battling COVID-19.
The morning after the Texas Department of State Health Services reported another 320 COVID-19 related deaths, 21,000 new cases, and a slight increase in hospitalizations, the governor told CNBC host Morgan Brennan, "numbers are flatlining, if not declining."
Hospitalizations in the state have been hovering around 13,900 for more than a week. The plateauing of current hospitalizations, though, could be due in some part to the rise in deaths. During the same time frame, the 7-day average for deaths has increased from 170 per day to 230 per day and on Thursday, the DSHS reported 341 deaths, which was the highest single-day total since Feb. 23, and 21 more than the 320 reported on Wednesday.
"The positivity rate in Texas is at a three-week low and has steadily declined for three weeks," Abbott said. "In fact, it’s the lowest that it has been in over a month, hospitalizations are flatlining, the positivity cases are flatlining, so things are looking good."
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Of the positivity rate, the numbers have dropped from an August high of 18.72% to 15.02% Wednesday. The positivity rate is the rate at which positive cases of the virus are confirmed through testing. In the last two weeks since children have gone back to school, hospitals have reported being inundated with requests for tests due to reported exposures in the classroom while also dealing with an overwhelming demand for critical services.
Abbott added that infusion centers being opened around the state are "doing a terrific job of reducing hospitalizations." The infusion centers, the most recent of which was opened Wednesday in McKinney, provide the Regeneron monoclonal antibody treatment at no cost to the patient.
Abbott was asked about the state's policy of banning mitigation efforts like mask and vaccine mandates, to which he replied that there seems to be a limited growth period for the delta variant and that because of the number of people in the state who have already had coronavirus the numbers will soon be going down.
"It seems like there's a lifespan of advancement of the delta variant that lasts about a month or so and then you see a decline, and you see this repeated from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and it looks like it's being repeated in the state of Texas," Abbott said. "The fact of the matter is, there's a tremendous amount of acquired immunity in the state of Texas. One report showed that at least 30% of Texans do have acquired immunity … so with our acquired immunity, with those who have already received full vaccination, the numbers are beginning to look very good in the state of Texas."
Acquired immunity comes from having been infected with coronavirus, and according to the Texas DSHS, there have been more than 3.6 million confirmed and probable infections in Texas since March 2020. What's not clear is how long those who were infected retain their immunity.
The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center released an updated COVID-19 forecast this week that said without consistent, enhanced mitigation efforts the number of adults and children hospitalized for COVID-19 in North Texas is expected to surge this month beyond levels seen in January.
On Legislation Affecting Business
Citing a survey by Forbes, Brennan said nearly two-thirds of college-educated workers said they may avoid Texas because of the new abortion law that went into effect Wednesday. Brennan asked the governor if he was worried recent legislation may hinder the state's ability to convince both businesses and workers to continue to move to Texas.
Abbott said while some publications try to link the state's business environment to legislative action, "the truth of the matter shows something completely different. The Federal Reserve puts out a report every single month that shows the mobility of people moving from one state to another. Month after month after month, including the most recent month, shows that people are choosing to move to Texas more than any other state in the United States and it's not even close."
Earlier this summer, CNBC's annual ranking of the best states for business dropped Texas to fourth.
Brennan then asked Abbott about the state's new election integrity law passed during the second special session and concerns shared by some businesses over accessibility to polls.
"Texas was making it easier to vote than before the law passed. Let me just give you one quick example and that is Texas has almost two weeks of early voting to make it very easy for people to vote and in the president's home state of Delaware, they have zero days of early voting so it's far easier for people to vote in Texas," Abbott said.
Two weeks of early voting is not new to Texas. What's changed in the new law is that the entire state is now subject to standardizing early voting between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., closing the option for some locations to remain open 24 hours or for shorter durations in other areas.
"When they learn the facts of what the election integrity law does in the state of Texas, they realize that Texas was adding more time to vote," Abbott said. "Texas was making it easier to vote than before the law passed. If people look at the facts, they realize, wait a second, Texas really is a well-governed state."
The new law also outlaws drive-through voting, a method allowed by some Democratic-led counties in 2020 due to the pandemic, increases identification requirements and forbids counties from distributing mail-in ballot applications, among other changes.
Critics of the bill said it was an attempt to suppress the turnout of a growing and more diverse group of voters.
Still, Abbott said Thursday that many businesses moving to Texas, along with many residents of the state, support his agenda and the steps taken by the legislature.
"You need to understand that there's a lot of businesses and a lot of Americans who like the social positions that the state of Texas is taking," Abbott said. "Again, people vote with their feet and this is not slowing down businesses coming to the state of Texas at all. In fact, it is accelerating the process of businesses coming to Texas."'
Abbott said Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, who has moved some of his businesses to Texas, was one of those business owners who supported the state's "social policies."
In a response to CNBC on Twitter, Musk said, "In general, I believe government should rarely impose its will upon the people, and, when doing so, should aspire to maximize their cumulative happiness," Musk told CNBC in a tweet.