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Texas Gov. Abbott delays further reopening in El Paso County due to virus spike

AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday afternoon that he will delay further reopening in El Paso County as well as the Texas Panhandle because of spikes in infections in the two areas that he described as a "meaningful outbreak."

Abbott also said Monday that El Paso's hospital capacity is "too close for comfort at this particular time." University Medical Center in El Paso has disclosed that it is now close to reaching capacity.

Across much of the state, bars and bowling alleys would be able to partially reopen (at 25% capacity) come this Friday and restaurants would be able to allow more customers inside (50% capacity) as part of phase two of the governor's plan.

However, in El Paso County and the Panhandle, those re-openings are being pushed back to May 29. The governor had been asked by El Paso officials to halt the lifting of further restrictions until the virus curve flattens.

The one-week delay "will give those communities and our surge team response the time needed to slow the spread and maintain hospital capacity," Abbott said. "It will ensure those communities safely move into phase two."

It's been more than two weeks since Abbott allowed Texas retail stores, restaurants and shopping malls to open at 25% capacity. Since then, the governor has also allowed barbershops and hair salons to reopen, and gyms were allowed to resume operations Monday.

By June, youth sports and other camps will be allowed to open, and professional sports, including auto racing, golf, softball and tennis leagues can apply with the state to host events without spectators.

Schools, which had been closed for the rest of the existing school year, can make plans to reopen for summer school with social distancing guidelines for in-person instruction. Universities can also reopen campus for the summer with similar guidelines, but the governor's order did not mention planning for college sports.

Despite Abbott's optimism, the state of Texas overall has seen a steady increase in the growth of the coronavirus, with record numbers of daily new cases and deaths.

But the governor pointed to declining positive test rates statewide, with daily testing boosted, as the reason for his decision to continue reopening the state. The infection rate was as high as 13 percent in mid-April and has dropped under 5 percent in recent days, he contended. However, the state has fallen short of Abbott's goal to reach 30,000 tests per day.

Few states have moved faster to reopen than Texas, where experts warned that the numbers of new cases would rise as the state reopened and that prediction has borne out.

A nine-day streak of at least 1,000 new daily cases that ended Sunday saw the one-day infection rate hit a record-high of 1,801 on Saturday. More than 700 of them were reported Saturday in the Texas Panhandle around Amarillo, where there is a cluster of infections tied to meatpacking plants.

With 110 deaths over last Thursday and Friday, it was easily the highest two-day fatality rate since the virus was first detected in the state. But experts have also cautioned that the state has still yet to see a peak in its death rate.

In El Paso, the county has reported six-straight days of deaths due to the virus, the largest streak throughout the pandemic.

The state reported 909 new cases Monday in about 30,000 new tests. Eleven new deaths were the lowest in a single day since March 31 when there were four. Mondays have typically been when the fewest new cases are reported.

(The Texas Tribune and Associated Press contributed to this report. You can watch the governor's entire remarks at Monday's news conference in the video player below.)

Article Topic Follows: Texas

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Jim Parker

Jim Parker is the Director of Digital Content for ABC-7.


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