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 has 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 center.
Meanwhile, the Texas Department of State Health Services reported another decline in COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases Thursday.
The health agency reported 6,879 patients in Texas hospitals, the lowest that number has been in more than a month. There were 6,755 new coronavirus cases reported the same day.
The death toll of the virus has continued to rise as the state changes its methodology for reporting COVID-19 fatalities.
The state health agency reported 255 new deaths Thursday, although they occurred over the past week or more, as the Texas Department of State Health Services is now relying on death certificates instead of local health reports to tally deaths.
The latest increase brings the death toll of the virus in Texas to 9,289.
When asked about additional reopenings, especially for 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.”
Following his Lubbock news conference, Abbott met local officials in El Paso to discuss the state’s response to the coronavirus.
In Lubbock, he urged Texans not to let their guard down despite “COVID fatigue,” noting that the state saw a spike in cases as Texas reopened and then saw a crowded 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 … that people are not going up to and getting testing…take advantage of an opportunity to learn about a testing location near you where you can get tested
The trip comes two days after he traveled to Victoria and Beaumont to meet with local officials there on coronavirus issues. Last week, he held coronavirus news conferences in San Antonio, McAllen and Dallas.
It’s a departure from his strategy during July, when he opted for frequent interviews on local TV newscasts from his Austin television studio rather than press conferences.