KEY POINTS

  • The skyrocketing of COVID-19 cases in Texas is alarming both state and health officials
  • Health experts now warn Texas is "on the verge of being apocalyptic" based on epidemiological models
  • COVID-19 cases in a single day hit a new record high of 5,996 Thursday

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has decided to pause the full reopening of the state for business as COVID-19 cases in a single day hit a new record high of 5,996 Thursday.

This horrific total compares to Wednesday's record of 5,551 and 5,489 Tuesday. Texas' rolling average of 4,581 new cases on Thursday is also a new record high. It's also 340% higher than the rolling average on Memorial Day, May 25.

Taken together, these dismaying numbers have state health experts warning of further "apocalyptic" surges in major Texas cities if the upward trend continues. Abbott on Thursday paused his reopening of the state and also issued an order to ensure hospital beds are available for COVID-19 patients.

Abbott suspended all elective surgeries in hospitals in four counties where San Antonio (Bexar County), Dallas (Dallas County), Houston (Houston County) and Austin (Austin County) are located. Abbot said these four counties have had "significant increases" in COVID-19 hospitalizations. He said procedures not immediately necessary to correct serious medical conditions or preserve a life will be postponed.

"As we work to contain this virus, I urge all Texans to do their part to help contain the spread by washing their hands regularly, wearing a mask, and practicing social distancing," Abbott said in a statement.

The pullback was a significant compromise by Abbott who has long said he wanted Texas to be fully opened by the 4th of July. That's no longer happening.

"The last thing we want to do as a state is go backwards and close down businesses," according to Abbott. "This temporary pause will help our state corral the spread until we can safely enter the next phase of opening our state for business."

In early June, Abbott was confident enough about the then moderate number of cases in Texas to accelerate the launch of his phase three reopening plan that would have meant most business could operate at up to 50% capacity.

Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine (NSTM) at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, warns if Texas' current trajectory continues, Houston could be the hardest-hit city in the U.S. with numbers at par with those in Brazil. He said infection numbers are also rising in Dallas, Austin and San Antonio.

"The big metro areas seem to be rising very quickly and some of the models are on the verge of being apocalyptic," said Dr. Hotez to CNN. "I can't stress enough how concerned I am."

Dr. Hotez said they're not seeing deaths just yet, "but that will start. Those deaths will start to mount up, I would say, in a couple of weeks."

Epidemiological models estimate Houston might be hit by a four-fold increase in the number of daily cases by July 4. Dr. Hotez said states need to act to stop community transmission.

"That is really worrisome and as those numbers rise, we're seeing commensurate increases in the number of hospitalizations and ICU admissions," he said.

"You get to the point where you overwhelm ICUs and that's when the mortality goes up."