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Gov. Abbott concerned about COVID-19 spikes

AUSTIN — Gov. Greg Abbott arrived at Monday’s news conference wearing a red, white and blue mask.

He was joined by Dr. John Hellerstedt, his medical point person for the pandemic, and head of the Texas Department of State Health Services, physician and former state Rep. John Zerwas, who is executive vice chancellor for health affairs of the University of Texas System and an Abbott adviser, as well as Nim Kidd, chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

Behind them were large charts showing trend lines for hospitalization, daily new cases and the positivity rate. All showed a flattening until about Memorial Day.

Then came spikes on all three charts.

“To state the obvious, COVID-19 is now spreading at an unacceptable rate in Texas,” Abbott said, adding later “If those spikes continue, additional measures are going to be necessary.”

But he said he has no immediate plans for a second shutdown of businesses, saying “closing down Texas again will always be the last option.”

Abbott aggressively endorsed the use of masks by people in public settings. He mentioned an unnamed person in the hospitality industry who was did not want to wear a mask and said he told the person that doing so could make the difference between keeping his business operating or perhaps closing down.

The governor said the man came away convinced.

When you go out, you should wear a face covering or mask,” Abbott said, adding later, “I also know that wearing a mask will help us keep Texas open.”

He said the more aggressive tone on masks now is because of the spike. No need to push it, he said, when the trend lines were flattening.

Hellerstedt said the spike in cases puts Texas “at a very crucial point in time.” He called on Texans “to recover what I feel is a sense of community,” when people seemed more agreeable to making sacrifices to limit the virus spread.

The governor said the state continues to have abundant hospital capacity. Despite this, Gov. Abbott encouraged people to continue practicing social distancing and proper hygiene.

“I know that some people feel that wearing a mask is inconvenient, or that it is, like, an infringement of freedom,” said Gov. Abbott. “But I also know that wearing a mask will help us to keep Texas open.”

“If we do not start wearing masks to slow the spread of COVID-19, it could result in [businesses] actually having to close back down,” said Gov. Abbott. “Our goal is to keep businesses open, to keep society engaged, and one of the most effective tools that we can do that is by people wearing masks.”

After the state saw spikes in hospitalization and new cases, Gov. Abbott said additional measures will be taken if these trends continue.

“If we were to experience another doubling of those numbers over the next month, that would mean we are in an urgent situation where tougher actions will be required to make sure that we do contain the spread of COVID-19,” said Gov. Abbott.