- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 25, 2020

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott paused his state’s reopening Thursday and signed an executive order prohibiting elective surgeries in four major counties as he scrambles to contain a coronavirus surge and preserve hospital space.

Mr. Abbott said he will not, however, rein in businesses that were allowed to reopen as part of previous phases. For instance, restaurants can operate at 75% capacity and bars at 50%.

“The last thing we want to do as a state is go backwards and close down businesses,” Mr. Abbott, a Republican, said. “This temporary pause will help our state corral the spread until we can safely enter the next phase of opening our state for business. I ask all Texans to do their part to slow the spread of COVID-19 by wearing a mask, washing their hands regularly and socially distancing from others.”

Texas began reopening May 1 after the COVID-19 shutdown of most of the country in mid-March. It was the second state, behind Georgia, to get back to business.

Now, it is scrambling to control a crush of COVID-19 cases that have forced hospitals to look for empty beds in their respective regions. In the Houston area, the children’s hospital is accepting adults to free up room.

Bexar County, where San Antonio is located, as well as Dallas, Harris, and Travis counties have been told to suspend elective surgeries at area hospitals. Houston is in Harris County and Austin is in Travis County.

“These four counties have experienced significant increases in people being hospitalized due to COVID-19 and today’s action is a precautionary step to help ensure that the hospitals in these counties continue to have ample supply of available beds to treat COVID-19 patients,” Mr. Abbott said.

Texas is among several Sun Belt states seeing a surge in infections among younger adults. Alabama and Nevada reported single-day highs Thursday and places like Arizona, California and are seeing some of their highest totals of the pandemic.

The lower median age means fewer people are dying compared to March and April, though people with underlying medical conditions must be wary and everyone should realize the long-term effects of COVID-19 aren’t fully known, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.

CDC Director Robert Redfield said the age shift may indicate that older people are taking precautions, and that increased testing is uncovering more cases among young people who’ve shown mild or no symptoms.

Dr. Redfield says the virus may be far more prevalent in the U.S. than it appears, with antibody testing suggesting the actual number of infections is 10 times what’s on the official scorecard. That would mean over 20 million Americans had been exposed, though it is still only about 6% of the U.S. population.

The director said the ratio of known-to-actual cases is tough to pin down, but “a good rough estimate right now is 10 to 1.”

Dr. Redfield said the mortality picture has improved since the depths of the pandemic — a point that President Trump and White House officials have emphasized.

“We’re up to almost 30 million tests. That means we’re going to have more cases,” Mr. Trump told shipbuilders in Wisconsin. “Deaths are down. We have one of the lowest mortality rates.”

The president also tweeted: “The number of ChinaVirus cases goes up, because of GREAT TESTING, while the number of deaths (mortality rate), goes way down. The Fake News doesn’t like telling you that!”

Dr. Redfield said that while the U.S. is in a different situation than it was in March and April, the surge is still serious.

“I’m not playing it down at all. It’s a significant event,” Dr. Redfield said.

Even if a young person doesn’t get ill and die, they may pass the virus to a more vulnerable person. Also, scientists are trying to understand the long-lasting effects of infection.

Jay Butler, the CDC’s coronavirus incident manager, cited anecdotal reports about patients who suffer from persistent fatigue and shortness of breath after clearing the virus.

“How long that will last is hard to say,” Dr. Butler said.

As parts of the Sun Belt face rising transmission, the governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have ordered people entering from high-transmission states like Texas to self-quarantine for 14 days, saying they don’t want to squander the gains they’ve made after getting slammed earlier in the pandemic.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday said officials will track people flying into New York and conduct random checks to make sure they are where they’re “supposed to be” in light of the new rules for visitors from coronavirus hot spots.

“You fly into New York — we’ll have your name. We’ll know where you’re supposed to be staying,” Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, said on CNN. “There [will] be random checks. You’ll get pulled over by a police officer and he looks at your residence and says, ‘How long have you been here?’”

Mr. Cuomo said there will be inspectors who will be “randomly” looking at “names on the list and calling to follow up to make sure you’re quarantining.”

“And if you’re not, then you’re in violation of the law and you will have a mandatory quarantine and you’ll be fined,” he said. “I think most people are going to honor it.”

Besides Texas, the quarantine applies to travelers from Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah and Washington.

• Alex Swoyer and David Sherfinski contributed to this report.

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