The Texas Tribune is using data from the Texas Department of State Health Services to track how many people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in Texas each day. The state data comes from local health officials, and it may not represent all cases of the disease given limited testing. Here’s what we know about the daily numbers.
Under Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan to revive the economy, businesses started reopening in May. But he paused further reopening plans and scaled back others in late June. The governor is looking at two specific metrics to justify his decision to allow reopenings — the positive test rate and hospitalization levels.
Even as hospitalizations have increased dramatically in June, Abbott has said closing businesses will be “the last option” and has touted Texas’ hospital capacity as plentiful. But some local officials are worried hospitals could soon become overwhelmed. In late June, some local officials began reviving plans to make backup medical facilities available if hospitals become overwhelmed.
Where are most of the cases in Texas?
On March 4, DSHS reported Texas’ first positive case of the coronavirus, in Fort Bend County. The patient had recently traveled abroad. A month later on April 4, there were 6,110 cases in 151 counties. As of June 28, there are 148,728 cases in 244 counties. The Tribune is measuring both the number of cases in each county and the rate of cases per 1,000 residents.
How many people are in the hospital?
On April 6, the state started reporting the number of patients with positive tests who are hospitalized. It was 1,153 that day and 5,497 on June 28. This data does not account for people who are hospitalized but have not gotten a positive test.
Experts say there’s a lag before changes in people’s behaviors, like more social interaction, are reflected in coronavirus case data. It takes about nine to 16 days to see increased infections and generally another five to seven days to see changes in the numbers of people hospitalized, said Rebecca Fischer, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health. (Some individuals are only diagnosed once they make it to the hospital.)
On June 28, the state reported 12,751 available staffed hospital beds, including 1,355 available staffed ICU beds statewide.
According to DSHS, these numbers do not include beds at psychiatric hospitals or other psychiatric facilities. They do include psychiatric and pediatric beds at general hospitals, and pediatric beds at children’s hospitals.
The number of patients hospitalized with the coronavirus tripled in June compared to May 31. While state officials have stressed the state has abundant hospital capacity, there are regional differences in the availability of beds.
Hospital beds in use
How many people have died?
The first death linked to the coronavirus in Texas occurred March 16 in Matagorda County. As of June 28, 2,393 people who tested positive for the virus have died.
New deaths from coronavirus each day
How have the number of cases increased each day?
On March 24, the Texas Department of State Health Services changed its reporting system to track case counts directly from counties instead of relying on official case forms, which came in later and caused the state’s official count to lag behind other tallies. Increases in testing also led to more detected cases. In May, a large one-day spike was reported after testing was done at meatpacking plants in the Amarillo region.
Since June, the number of new cases each day has trended upwards. Abbott linked these increases to more Texans under the age of 30 testing positive for the virus. He said it’s unclear why this is happening, but has speculated that it could be from increased activity over Memorial Day weekend and other social gatherings.
How has the positivity rate changed?
Gov. Greg Abbott said he is watching the state’s positivity rate — the percentage of positive cases to tests conducted. The average daily positivity rate is calculated by dividing the 7-day average of positive cases by the 7-day average of tests conducted. This shows how the situation has changed over time by de-emphasizing daily swings. Public health experts want the average positivity rate to remain below 6%.
In early May, Abbott said a rate over 10% would be a “warning flag”. The state exceeded that mark in June for the first time since April.
The positivity rate differs from the infection rate. In order to obtain an infection rate, everybody would need to be tested, said Hongwei Zhao, an epidemiology professor at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health.
How many people have been tested?
As of June 28, Texas has administered 2,006,724 tests for the coronavirus since March. Expert opinions differ on how much larger that figure needs to be. We do not know the number of Texans who have gotten a test because some people are tested more than once. (Tests from private labs, which make up the majority of reported tests, are not deduplicated.) The state’s tally also does not include pending tests.
Coronavirus test results reported to the state each day
The DSHS data also might not include all of the tests that have been run in Texas. The state has said it is not getting test data from every private lab, and as of mid-May only 3% of tests were coming from public labs. The state has since stopped differentiating between tests reported by public and private labs.
Even as demand for testing has increased, both public and private labs continue to prioritize Texans who meet certain criteria, but every private lab sets its own criteria.
On May 21, DSHS disclosed for the first time that as of a day earlier, it had counted 49,313 antibody tests as part of its “Total Tests” tally. That represents 6.4% of the 770,241 total tests that the state had reported on May 20. Health experts have warned against counting antibody and standard viral tests together because they are distinctly different tests. Antibody tests detect whether someone was previously infected, while standard viral tests determine whether someone currently has the virus.
Antibody tests are typically reported a day late.
How is this impacting Texans of color?
While early reports from other parts of the country indicate black Americans are disproportionately likely to get sick or die from the new coronavirus, it’s virtually impossible to determine if that grim reality is playing out in Texas because information released by state health officials is notably incomplete.
The limited data provided to the Tribune offers a murky glimpse of the virus’ impact on Texas communities of color. Race and ethnicity are reported as unknown for a significant portion of the completed case reports. (Agency officials said some people prefer not to provide the information.)
Although state leaders acknowledge the demographic data is lacking, they have indicated the state won’t be taking steps to mandate reporting to fill in the gaps. In June, the state announced they are planning on ramping up testing in areas of the state that are predominantly Black and Hispanic, as well as launching a study on the coronavirus’ effect on vulnerable populations.
What else should I know about this data?
These numbers come from the Texas Department of State Health Services, which updates statewide case counts at 3 p.m. each day. The data is from the same morning, and it may lag behind other local news reports.
From March 13 through March 24, the Tribune added cases from Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, where hundreds of American evacuees from China and cruise ships were quarantined. Those case counts came from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Carla Astudillo, Mandi Cai, Darla Cameron, Chris Essig, Anna Novak, Emily Albracht and Alexa Ura contributed to this report.
Previously, The Texas Tribune incorrectly stated our formula for calculating the average daily positivity rate. This has been corrected.
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