AUSTIN, TX — The number of coronavirus cases rose by 1,347 more diagnoses and 56 more people died from the respiratory illness in the past 24 hours — marking the eighth day in a row with 1,000-plus additional patients as the state closes in on the third week of a governor-led reopening of the economy.
The uptick in illness was reported Friday by the Texas Department of State Health Services agency on a dashboard that is updated daily. Statistics show the illness count now stands at 45,198, with 1,272 fatalities to date.
The number of fatalities reported on Friday is two shy of the biggest single-day increase in deaths reported on Thursday, when 58 more people succumbed to the respiratory illness statewide. The illness count on Thursday also marked the biggest single-day count in diagnoses when it reached 43,851.
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According to the state's statistical dashboard, the highest rates of illness as of Friday were in the following counties:
- Harris County: 8,817 cases (196 more cases than on Thursday)
- Dallas County: 6,837 cases (235 more from Thursday)
- Tarrant County: 4,211 cases (135 more)
- Travis County: 2,345 cases (57 more)
- Bexar County: 2,041 cases (65 more)
- El Paso: 1,607 cases (151 more)
- Fort Bend: 1,471 cases (19 more)
Despite cumulative increases in illness, Gov. Greg Abbott launched the gradual reopening of the state economy on May 1. The first phase of the reopening began with restaurants, malls and movie theaters, with operators directed to keep occupancy levels at 25 percent. The next week — one week ahead of initial plans — the second phase of the state reopening was launched with barbershops, nail salons, tanning booths among other businesses allowed to reopen at the same limited capacity.
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Abbott originally said he would wait to see the illness trends after the first phase of reopening, allowing for a two-week period before implementing the second phase. Ultimately, the governor triggered the second phase of business reopenings after a mere week rather than the two-week period he initially indicated would serve as barometer of illness trends.
"Texas is in a position to continue opening parts of our economy because of the efforts and determination of the people of Texas," Abbott said during his press conference announcing the expanded reopening. "Over the past month, Texans have worked together to contain the spread of COVID-19 by following social distancing practices and staying at home whenever possible."
In spite of the growing rates of illness, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton warned cities — namely Austin, Dallas and San Antonio — not to enforce coronavirus-related restrictions that are viewed as more stringent than those of the governor. In his warning, Paxton dissuaded local officials from insisting residents wear fabric face coverings as a tactic of illness spread mitigation.
"Unfortunately, a few Texas counties and cities seem to have confused recommendations with requirements and have grossly exceeded state law to impose their own will on private citizens and businesses," Paxton wrote in his warning letters. Paxton was particularly strident in warning local officials not to urge churchgoers from wearing masks, categorizing such suggestions as tantamount to a "trampling" of religious freedoms.
Reached by Patch for a response to Paxton's warnings, Austin Mayor Steve Adler categorized the attorney general's move as politically motivated. He noted Austin and Travis County immediately adjusted local rules related to physical distancing and mask wearing to accommodate the governor's relaxed rules.
"Up to this point, we have avoided the naked politicization of the virus crisis," Adler wrote in an email to Patch. "I will not follow the AG down that road. The city's order complements, incorporates, and does not conflict with the governor's order. We will continue working to keep our community safe to the fullest extent allowed by law."
The increased illness rates emerged in the same week that Dr. Anthony Fauci, director ot the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease who serves on the White House coronavirus task force, on Tuesday warned states reopening too quickly could result in "needless suffering and death."