Gov. Abbott: Texas health officials investigating high coronavirus positivity rate

©Austin American-Statesman

Ricardo Brazzziell/Austin American-Statesman/TNS

AUSTIN, Texas — Gov. Greg Abbott said state health officials are investigating why the percentage of Texans testing positive for COVID-19 has increased so much in recent weeks.

In a Lubbock news conference Thursday, Abbott noted that COVID-19 testing has decreased in the state while the positivity rate of the virus has increased.

The governor said some of the testing decline can be attributed to temporary “surge testing” in certain hard-hit regions, nursing homes, prisons and other facilities, which increased statewide testing numbers in July.

The seven-day average positivity rate had continued to climb since July 31, when the percentage of those testing positive hovered around 12%. The number surpassed 20% for the first time on Aug. 8.

“We are working on strategies as we speak that will be easy pathways to increase more people being tested,” he said, adding that recent surge testing in Harris County also will increase testing numbers. “You can expect those test numbers to go up in the coming days.”

Hours later, state health officials reported an increase in tests and that the rolling seven-day positivity rate dropped from 24.5% to 16% Wednesday, the latest data available from the Texas Department of State Health Services.

But Abbott has set as a goal a positivity rate below 10%; the World Health Organization advised governments that before allowing businesses to reopen, the number should remain at 5% or lower for at least 14 days.

A high positivity rate can indicate that a state is only testing the sickest people and not casting a wide enough net to know where the virus is spreading, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

Meanwhile, the Department of State Health Services reported declines in COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases Thursday.

The health agency said 6,879 patients were in Texas hospitals, the lowest number in more than a month, and announced 6,755 new coronavirus cases.

The death toll of the virus has continued to rise.

The state health agency reported 255 new deaths Thursday, although they occurred over the past week or more, as the state is now relying on death certificates instead of local health reports to tally deaths.

The latest increase brings the virus death toll to 9,289 in Texas.

When asked in Lubbock about reopening businesses, especially bars, Abbott said future decisions would be based on data.

“We do need to see the positivity rate go back below 10% for a sustained period of time,” he said. “We do need to see more hospital rooms come available.”

He urged Texans not to let their guard down despite “COVID fatigue,” noting that the state saw a spike in cases after Memorial Day weekend.

“It’s so important for people to not let their guard down during the Labor Day holiday like they did during Memorial Day,” he said.

“There are lines open. There are tests available,” he said.

Abbott later met with local officials in El Paso.

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©2020 Austin American-Statesman, Texas