Texas state has recorded a drop in the percentage of Texans testing positive for COVID-19, but experts have also warned against another spike.
The number of positive COVID-19 tests in Texas has continued to fall to a level not seen since cases began to spike in June, while public health experts are cautiously optimistic even as they warn that the threat is far from over.
The Department of State Health Services said the proportion of positive tests fell to 7.58% for the week ending September 8 after a peak of 24.5% in mid-August and below the 10% benchmark Gov. Greg Abbott called “warning flag” level.
The 7.85% rate by the health authorities is above the 5% threshold that experts and the World Health Organization recommend reaching before governments relax restrictions.
Meanwhile, experts fear that students returning to schools and gatherings during Labor Day weekend could trigger another resurgence and say aggressive testing is necessary to keep the virus at bay.
“All the metrics look to be going in the right direction, but we’re still at a tenuous point where one wrong move could send us skyrocketing. We’re not out of the woods,” said Angela Clendenin, an epidemiologist and biostatistician at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health.
Clendenin added that the state is on the right track, but the risk remains high in a number of counties, especially in low-income communities along the Texas-Mexico border.
Last month, Governor Abbott said bars could potentially reopen if the positivity rate remains below 10% for a sustained period of time, but Catherine Troisi, an infectious disease epidemiologist at UTHealth School of Public Health in Houston, cautioned against loosening restrictions before the coronavirus is under control.
“It’s going to be important to open up gradually so that we can study the effects and be ready to ramp down again if we see that we’re getting a big increase in cases,” she said.
Coronavirus testing in Texas dropped last month, suggesting questions of a series of reporting discrepancies about the reliability of the state’s data.
Part of the decline could be fatigue, experts said, as people become less likely to seek out tests, especially those who are asymptomatic or have only mild symptoms.
Clendenin said widespread testing is essential to controlling the spread of the coronavirus, especially as health officials assess the impact of students returning to school.
“When you’re trying to mitigate disease, the best tool is testing everyone possible,” she said. “That’s the only way we can catch all the positives, get them isolated and do contract tracing.”
The rate of new hospitalizations is likewise back to levels last seen in mid-June, as the state reported 3,064 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 on Thursday.
At its peak, Texas recorded nearly 10,100 hospitalizations in a single day in late July.
“Part of that decline is a shift in new cases toward a younger demographic,” said Rajesh Nandy, a professor of biostatistics and epidemiology at the University of North Texas Health Science Center.
As it stands, cases are rising among those ages 18 to 25, who are less likely to be hospitalized.