Texas puts reopening on 'pause' as US COVID-19 cases continue to rise at near-record rate

HOUSTON -- Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday halted elective surgeries in Texas' biggest counties and said the state would "pause" its aggressive reopening as the number of new coronavirus cases per day in the U.S. stood near an all-time high Thursday,

The suspension of elective surgeries is designed to protect hospital space in the Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio areas as the state deals with a surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations that has made it a virus hot spot.

Statewide, the number of COVID-19 patients has more than doubled in two weeks. Texas has reported more than 11,000 new cases in the previous two days alone.

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The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. is hovering close to the peak reached in late April during some of the darkest and deadliest days of the crisis.

While greatly expanded testing probably accounts for some of the increase, experts say other measures indicate the virus is making a comeback. Daily deaths, hospitalizations and the percentage of tests that are coming back positive for the virus have also have been rising over the past few weeks in parts of the country.

The 34,300 COVID-19 cases recorded Wednesday were slightly fewer than the day before, but still near the high of 36,400 reached on April 24, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

As the virus rises again in the U.S. and other parts of the world, some governments and businesses imposed new restrictions only weeks after lifting shutdowns, even as others areas loosened up.

"There are no magic answers. There are no spells here. You can't divine this away," World Health Organization emergencies chief Dr. Michael Ryan said. "We have to act at every level."

In the U.S., where governors and other politicians have tried to strike a balance between the health risks and the threat to the economy, the number of workers applying for unemployment benefits last week declined slightly to 1.48 million, indicating layoffs are slowing but are still painfully high.

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ABC News' Rebecca Jarvis reports on the state of the U.S. economy on Thursday, June 25, 2020.



In Texas, the pause on reopening does not roll back previous orders that already allowed much of the economy to reopen. But it would appear to slow down any planned expansion of occupancy levels at places including bars, restaurants, amusement parks and other venues.

"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 said in a statement. "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."

By reimposing a ban on elective surgeries, the Republican is returning to one of his first actions when the virus first emerged in Texas in March. He later rescinded the order during an aggressive reopening of the state in May that lifted lockdown orders ahead of most of the U.S.

Abbott this week has taken a newly urgent tone about the worsening trends and is now telling the public they should stay home. On Thursday, the number of hospitalizations climbed to nearly 4,400 patients, setting a new record for a 13th consecutive day.

Abbott has also urged Texans to wear masks in public. The governor hasn't issued a statewide mask order, but the state's cities and counties have imposed new orders on businesses to require customers and workers to wear face coverings.

The U.S. has greatly ramped up testing in the past few months, and it is now presumably finding many less-serious cases that would have gone undetected earlier in the outbreak, when the availability of testing was limited and sicker people were often given priority.

But there are other more clear-cut warning signs, including a rising number of deaths per day in states such as Arizona and Alabama.

Several more states set single-day case records this week, including Arizona, California, Mississippi, Nevada and Oklahoma. Some of those states also broke hospitalization records, as did North Carolina and South Carolina.

In an encouraging sign, as of last week the number of deaths per day in the U.S. overall was actually declining, not rising in lockstep with new cases. Experts said that could reflect improved efforts by nursing homes to prevent infections, as well as the advent of effective treatments.

Also, a growing share of the new cases are among young people, who are more likely than older ones to survive a bout with the virus.

The virus has been blamed for over 120,000 U.S. deaths -- the highest toll in the world -- and more than 2.3 million confirmed infections nationwide. On Wednesday, the widely cited University of Washington computer model of the outbreak projected nearly 180,000 U.S. deaths by Oct. 1.

The governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut announced that their states, which were devastated by early outbreaks that appear to be under control, will now require travelers from certain states with high infection rates to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.

Some states are moving to ensure more consistent use of face masks and other anti-virus measures.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper ordered people to wear masks in public as the daily count of hospitalizations and new cases hovered near records. In Florida, several counties and cities recently enacted mask requirements.

Dr. Peter Hotez, an infectious-disease expert at the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, said he worries that states will squander what time they have to head off a much larger crisis.

"We're still talking about subtlety, still arguing whether or not we should wear masks, and still not understanding that a vaccine is not going to rescue us," he said.
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