A Texas scientist says the state is facing a 'humanitarian catastrophe,' which will worsen without immediate and aggressive social distancing

insider@insider.com (Rhea Mahbubani)
·4 min read
austin texas sixth street empty coronavirus stay home policy murals
Murals in Austin, Texas.

Joey Hadden/Business Insider

  • As the fifth worst-hit state in the United States, Texas has reported at least 128,132 cases of the coronavirus and 2,270 deaths, as of Thursday.

  • The state is grappling with a surge in new cases and Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday hit pause on the state's reopening plan.

  • Dr. Peter Hotez, who is working to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, said the situation unfolding in Texas is a "humanitarian catastrophe," and described the country' response to the pandemic as "one of the biggest public health failings in the history of the US."

  • Hotez said Texas has no time to waste and must immediately "implement a significant level of social distancing" before the weekend.

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Coronavirus cases across Texas are spiking, prompting Gov. Greg Abbott to ask residents to stay home as much as possible.

A month ago, Abbott defended reopening the state because its death and hospitalization rates were lower than in other similarly sized states. After telling local CBS affiliate KFDA earlier this week that "closing down Texas again will always be the last option," Abbott on Thursday announced a "temporary pause" on the state's reopening plan. Businesses that have already reopened can continue to operate with limited occupancy, he said.

As of Thursday, the US has confirmed more than 2.38 million cases and 122,000 deaths. As the fifth worst-hit state, Texas has reported 128,132 cases and 2,270 deaths, based on data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

On Tuesday alone, 5,489 new cases were reported in the state, which Abbott described as a "massive outbreak" and Dr. Peter Hotez, who is working on developing a COVID-19 vaccine, called "absolutely horrifying."

Hotez, the dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told the Houston Chronicle he is "terribly upset" at the surge in coronavirus cases. He said some models had predicted this trend, which is why he "didn't want Texas to open up as early it did."

Now that the cases are climbing, though, Texas has no time to lose.

"We have to implement a significant level of social distancing, Now, we have no choice," Hotez told the Chronicle. "We have to take action before the weekend. At the minimum, we must focus on the metropolitan areas: Houston, San Antonio, and Austin."

Houston is on track to become the worst-hit city in the US

FILE PHOTO: Customers line up to enter a Gucci fashion store at the The Galleria shopping mall after the mall opened during the coronavirus disease (COVID -19) outbreak in Houston Texas, U.S., May 1, 2020. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
Customers line up to enter a Gucci fashion store at the The Galleria shopping mall on May 1, 2020 after the mall opened during the coronavirus disease (COVID -19) outbreak in Houston.

Reuters

Meanwhile, Hotez told ABC13 that Houston, which is located in hardest-hit Harris County, is on the verge of becoming the most impacted city in the country.

He reiterated that to the Chronicle, saying, "We are already reaching a dire health crisis in Houston, and it will only get worse."

Citing modeling by the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's PolicyLab, Hotez also told Bloomberg that Harris County is on track to tripe or quadruple its cases by mid-July, which would be "apocalyptic."

Local news reports on Thursday said intensive care units in the Houston area have reached maximum capacity.

Asked about Rep. Pete Olson of Texas calling the situation in Houston "damn scary," Hotez replied, "I think the congressman has been reading my social media page. That unfortunately is the situation we may be in, unless we do something. The default plan if we don't do anything is that the cases rise until we reach herd immunity. Those numbers would continue to rise vertically."

According to Hotez, the situation in Houston, where state health data show that at least 15,266 people have tested positive for COVID-19, counts as a "red alert for coronavirus threat level."

"Six months into this epidemic, and we're basically to square one," Hotez told the Chronicle.

Hotez told the BBC that Texas is facing a "humanitarian catastrophe"and underscored the need to act quickly to curb the severity of this public health crisis.

"Nationally, this is one of the biggest public health failings in the history of the US," he told the Chronicle. "We have a vaccine that we are hoping to advance this time next year. This pandemic is not getting better on its own."

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