THE QUESTION: Is Texas “far better” positioned to reopen now than it was in October 2020?
THE ANSWER: This claim is false. State data shows the seven day averages of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths, as well as current hospitalizations and the positivity rate all are higher now than they were in October 2020.
OUR SOURCES: Gov. Greg Abbott, Texas Department of State Health Services
WHAT WE FOUND:
At a restaurant in Lubbock, Abbott on Tuesday announced a new executive order that ends the statewide mask mandate and allows Texas businesses to reopen with no capacity restrictions.
“Let me tell you why now is the best time to do this,” Gov. Abbott said. “Texas is far better positioned now than when I issued my last executive order back in October.”
On October 8, 2020, Abbott issued Executive Order GA-32, which allowed certain businesses to reopen to 75% capacity, but if hospitalizations reached 15% or more for seven days in a row, those capacity restrictions rolled back to 50%.
In order to determine whether Gov. Abbott’s claim about Texas’s positioning for reopening to 100% capacity and rolling back the statewide mask mandate, WFAA compared COVID-19 data in four key metrics.
According to the Texas Department of State Health Services COVID-19 dashboard, the seven-day average for COVID-19 cases on October 8, 2020, was 3,126.
As of March 2, 2021, Texas’s seven-day case average was 4,562 – a 46% increase.
According to the Texas Department of State Health Services COVID-19 dashboard, there were 3,593 people hospitalized with COVID-19 on October 8, 2020.
As of March 2, 2021, 5,644 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Texas – a 57% increase.
According to the Texas Department of State Health Services COVID-19 dashboard, the seven-day average for COVID-19 deaths across Texas was 77.
As of March 2, 2021, the seven-day average for COVID-19 deaths in Texas was 266 – a 245% increase.
According to the Texas Department of State Health Services COVID-19 dashboard, the COVID-19 testing positivity rate on October 8, 2020, was 7.2%.
As of March 1, 2021, the COVID-19 testing positivity rate was 9.18% -- an increase of 27%.
This is a snapshot of the positivity rate comparing these two specific dates. The positivity rate changes daily because of how the state is counting results as they come back.
One COVID-19 metric where Texas definitively is in better position now than in October is vaccines. In October, COVID-19 vaccines weren’t yet available to the public.
According to the Texas Department of State Health Services COVID-19 vaccine dashboard, more than 1.9 million Texans have received both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine and are fully vaccinated. Another 3.7 million Texans have received their first doses and are ready to get their second shots.
During his announcement on Tuesday, Abbott said state health officials soon will release more information about who will be eligible for a vaccine under Phase 1C.
When it comes to the current status of COVID-19 in Texas, Gov. Abbott’s claim that Texas is “far better positioned” to reopen businesses and end the mask mandate is false.
Despite his new executive order, Abbott cautioned Texans, saying “COVID has not suddenly disappeared.” And, he encouraged personal vigilance and responsibility to follow safe standards to prevent COVID-19 from spreading.
On Wednesday, President Joe Biden criticized Gov. Abbott's decision to end the mask mandate and lift business capacity limits.
“And the last thing, the last thing we need is the Neanderthal thinking that in the meantime everything’s fine, take off your mask, forget it. It still matters...It’s critical, critical, critical, critical that they follow the science," President Biden said.
Gov. Abbott press secretary told WFAA, "The Governor was clear in telling Texans that COVID hasn’t ended, and that all Texans should follow medical advice and safe practices to continue containing COVID. The fact is, Texas now has the tools and knowledge to combat COVID while also allowing Texans and small businesses to make their own decisions. It is clear from the recoveries, the vaccinations, the reduced hospitalizations, and the safe practices that Texans are using, that state mandates are no longer needed. We must now do more to restore livelihoods and normalcy for Texans. The Governor’s focus has been, and always will be, protecting the lives and livelihoods of Texans.”