Gov. Greg Abbott Pauses Re-Opening Plans, Cancels Elective Surgeries

As the number of coronavirus cases rapidly increases in Texas, the state is taking more steps to flatten the curve.

By Catherine Wendlandt and Dianna Wray June 25, 2020

Gov. Greg Abbott in a press conference in Dallas on May 30, 2018. 

Updated 4 p.m. June 26 

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo has banned all outdoor gatherings larger than 100 people, she announced today.  

Published 1:38 p.m. June 25

After the number of COVID-19 cases in Texas topped 125,000 yesterday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced today a temporary pause in the state’s phased reopening.

This isn’t an indication that the state will ultimately roll back some of its phased reopening in the face of this massive increase (Texas now has the fifth most COVID-19 cases in the country), he cautioned in the issued statement.

“As we experience an increase in both positive COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, we are focused on strategies that slow the spread of this virus while also allowing Texans to continue earning a paycheck to support their families,” Abbott stated. “The last thing we want to do as a state is go backwards and close down businesses. 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. The more that we all follow these guidelines, the safer our state will be and the more we can open up Texas for business.” 

In previous comments over the past couple of weeks, Abbott has placed blame on the state’s rapid rise in cases on minor errors in small cities and on young people celebrating on Memorial Day weekend and going to bars.

For context, on May 1, the first day of the Phase 1 plan, the state reported 29,229 total cases. On May 18, the first day of Phase 2, the state reported 48,693 total cases. On May 26, when the governor expanded Phase 2 openings, the state reported 56,560 total cases. On June 3, the first day of Phase 3, the state has reported 68,271 total cases.

Since Memorial Day, the state has reported 69,950 new cases, as of June 24.

In addition to pausing reopening, the governor has suspended all elective surgeries in surgeries at all hospitals in Harris, Bexar, Dallas, and Travis counties to free up beds. Thursday morning, CEOs of Houston’s hospitals reported ICU capacity is currently at 97 percent in the TMC. On June 23, Texas Children’s Hospital announced it would start admitting adult patients to free up hospital beds. 

However, Houston Methodist President and CEO Dr. Marc Bloom cautioned against assuming this means that the hospitals are about to be unable to handle the influx of COVID-19 patients. He noted that Methodist and the other hospitals often operate at these capacity levels, and they all are used to being flexible and working with each other to ensure that people are being treated. 

“Running major health systems is an art as much of a science,” Dr. Douglas Lawson, president and CEO of CHI St. Luke’s, said. “The reality is all of us have the ability to significantly expand our capacity on a day to day, week to week, and month to month basis.”

As the cases have been rapidly increasing over the last few weeks, Abbott has been giving some power to make decisions on local orders back to mayors and county judges. Last week, the governor announced that local government officials could mandate local businesses to require face masks. In domino-like series of events, several major counties quickly enacted those orders. Harris County’s face mask order took effect on Monday, June 22. 

On June 23, Abbott expanded local governments' abilities further. Now local authorities can impose restrictions on outdoor gatherings of over 100 people. So far, Harris County has not imposed this restriction.

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