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2 Texas counties urge residents to shelter in place as hospitals reach capacity

CNN logo CNN 7/4/2020 By Alta Spells and Susannah Cullinane
a bedroom with a bed and desk in a room: HOUSTON, TX - JUNE 30: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) A member of the medical staff treats a patient in the Covid-19 intensive care unit at the United Memorial Medical Center on June 30, 2020 in Houston, Texas. Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations have spiked since Texas reopened, pushing intensive-care wards to full capacity and sparking concerns about a surge in fatalities as the virus spreads. (Photo by Go Nakamura/Getty Images) © Go Nakamura/Getty Images HOUSTON, TX - JUNE 30: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) A member of the medical staff treats a patient in the Covid-19 intensive care unit at the United Memorial Medical Center on June 30, 2020 in Houston, Texas. Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations have spiked since Texas reopened, pushing intensive-care wards to full capacity and sparking concerns about a surge in fatalities as the virus spreads. (Photo by Go Nakamura/Getty Images)

Hospitals in at least two Texas counties are at full capacity heading into the Fourth of July holiday weekend, with county judges urging residents to shelter in place.

Judges in Starr and Hidalgo counties sent out emergency alerts Friday, warning residents that local hospitals in the Rio Grande Valley were at capacity.

Judge Eloy Vera said there have been 18 deaths in Starr County due to Covid-19 and two severely ill patients had to be flown out of the area for treatment. One of the patients was taken to San Antonio and the other to Dallas, the judge said in the post on Facebook.

"The local and valley hospitals are at full capacity and have no more beds available. I urge all of our residents to please shelter-in-place, wear face coverings, practice social distancing and AVOID GATHERINGS," he wrote.

Vera issued a public safety alert announcing a "Level 1 Severe" threat due to the virus spreading rapidly across the county.

In neighboring Hidalgo County, Judge Richard Cortez mirrored the warning.

In a public safety alert posted on Twitter, he also announced hospitals were at capacity and asked residents to shelter in place, avoid large gatherings, wear face coverings and practice social distancing. 

In the post, Cortez asked residents to celebrate the Fourth of July "responsibly," and to "Conserve resources; ONLY call 911 if absolutely necessary."

Governor issues executive order

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order Thursday requiring masks to be worn in public spaces in counties with 20 or more Covid-19 cases. He also gave mayors and judges the mandate to restrict gatherings of 10 or more people.

"Wearing a face covering in public is proven to be one of the most effective ways we have to slow the spread of Covid-19," Abbott said in a statement.

"We have the ability to keep businesses open and move our economy forward so that Texans can continue to earn a paycheck, but it requires each of us to do our part to protect one another -- and that means wearing a face covering in public spaces," he said. "Likewise, large gatherings are a clear contributor to the rise in Covid-19 cases. Restricting the size of groups gatherings will strengthen Texas' ability to corral this virus and keep Texans safe."

In Houston, Mayor Sylvester Turner asked the community to take several steps to help mitigate the spread of coronavirus.

During a news conference Thursday, Turner recommended people wear masks around other people, ensure social distancing in the workplace or work from home, and reduce business occupancy from 50% to 25%.

He asked that people follow his "strong recommendations" for the next three weeks to help "blunt the progression" of the coronavirus in the Houston community.

Houston Health Department Health Authority Dr. David Persse said the city had reached a 25% positivity rate.

"The virus is very prevalent in the community," Persse said, adding that there were more than 1,200 people in Houston hospitals with more than 500 of them in the ICU due to complications from the coronavirus. "The virus is very much out there," Persse said, "It's very much actively spreading."

Texas is expected to see nearly 2,000 new hospitalizations per day by mid-July, according to forecasts published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Harris County, which encompasses Houston and is the most populous county in Texas, at least two hospitals are "pretty much at maximum capacity," Turner said Wednesday. 


"The threat ... Covid-19 poses to our community right now is higher than it has been. There is a severe and uncontrolled spread between our families, friends, and communities," Turner said. "And we need to slow it down, so that it doesn't overwhelm our health care delivery system."

On Friday, Texas reported a third day of new Covid-19 cases topping 7,000, according to state health department data.

It reported 7,555 cases Friday, continuing the trend of sharp growth of the disease in the state, with a record 8,076 new cases on Wednesday and 7,915 new cases Thursday, according to state data.

Texas also reported 50 new deaths from Covid-19 Friday. John Hopkins data puts the number of confirmed cases in the state at 185,591, with 2,592 deaths.

The virus has killed more than 129,000 people and infected over 2.7 million in the US since the pandemic started, according to Johns Hopkins University. 


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