The day before Texas began its first wave of business reopenings during the coronavirus pandemic, the latest figures from the state health department brought some grim news.
Another 50 Texans had died from the virus — the most in a day yet — and an additional 1,033 had tested positive — the third most in a day yet.
The numbers instantly sparked a fresh round of second-guessing about Gov. Greg Abbott's decision to let stores, restaurants, movie theaters and malls reopen at 25% capacity Friday. The governor, however, is looking at a completely different set of numbers when it comes to tracking the pandemic in Texas, fueling optimism for him and his pandemic advisers even as anxiety rises beyond his circle about the reopening process.
As he makes decisions about how quickly to restart the Texas economy, Abbott has zeroed in on two figures: the state's infection rate — the ratio of positive cases to tests conducted — and the hospitalization rate — the proportion of infected Texans who are requiring hospitalization. Both rates have generally trended downward since high points in the first half of April.
"All the key metrics are going in the right direction, and that is exactly why the doctors advised us that we had the green light to open up to the extent we are opening up," Abbott said in an interview with The Texas Tribune on Thursday evening, shortly after the latest case figures came out.
As for the deaths, Abbott said any death is tragic and that is why his latest order advises the population most vulnerable to the virus — those 65 and older — to remain at home except for essential activities. He pointed out that, "even with today's number, we have one one of the lowest deaths per capita in any state in America."
Abbott's focus on those numbers has been backed up by his medical advisers and affirmed by other experts focused on the pandemic, such as Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.