The Texas Tribune is using data from the Texas Department of State Health Services to track how many people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in Texas each day. The state data comes from local health officials, and it may not represent all cases of the disease given limited testing. Here's what we know about the daily numbers.
Under Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan to revive the economy, businesses started reopening in May. But he paused further reopening plans and scaled back others in June. Recently, he told one TV station he regretted reopening bars too quickly.
As hospitalizations increased dramatically in June and July, Abbott issued a statewide mandate requiring Texans living in counties with more than 20 active cases to wear a mask in public spaces, despite previously resisting calls for such an order. He also started banning elective surgeries in many counties. And although he previously said closing businesses would be “the last option,” Abbott recently warned that an economic lockdown would be the next step if the spread of the virus doesn’t slow.
Where are most of the cases in Texas?
On March 4, DSHS reported Texas’ first positive case of the coronavirus, in Fort Bend County. The patient had recently traveled abroad. A month later on April 4, there were 6,110 cases in 151 counties. As of July 12, there are 258,658 cases in 247 counties. The Tribune is measuring both the number of cases in each county and the rate of cases per 1,000 residents.
|County||Number of cases||Cases per 1,000 people||Deaths|
How many people are in the hospital?
On April 6, the state started reporting the number of patients with positive tests who are hospitalized. It was 1,153 that day and 10,410 on July 12. This data does not account for people who are hospitalized but have not gotten a positive test.
Experts say there’s a lag before changes in people’s behaviors, like more social interaction, are reflected in coronavirus case data. It takes about nine to 16 days to see increased infections and generally another five to seven days to see changes in the numbers of people hospitalized, said Rebecca Fischer, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health. (Some individuals are only diagnosed once they make it to the hospital.)
On July 12, the state reported 11,726 available staffed hospital beds, including 977 available staffed ICU beds statewide. COVID-19 patients currently occupy 18.1% of total hospital beds. In late April, Abbott ordered hospitals to reserve 15% of beds for COVID-19 patients.
According to DSHS, these numbers do not include beds at psychiatric hospitals or other psychiatric facilities. They do include psychiatric and pediatric beds at general hospitals, and pediatric beds at children’s hospitals.
Hospital beds in use each day
- Beds in use
- Used by COVID-19 patients
In mid-June, Abbott touted the state’s abundant hospital capacity. Since then, hospitalizations have continued to rise, doubling in just two weeks.
Regional differences exist in the availability of beds — some hospital officials have reported that intensive care units are near or over capacity. In the Rio Grande Valley, the increases have stretched hospital staff, while in Houston some hospitals have had to turn away patients because of overcrowded emergency rooms.
“One of the most critical measures of the ferocity of the COVID virus is the use of intensive care unit beds,” said Britt Berrett, a healthcare management professor at the University of Texas at Dallas. “Healthcare professionals will need to be vigilant in monitoring the time it takes from diagnosis in the emergency room to treatment and admission into the ICU bed.”
Hospital beds in use by region
How many people have died?
The first death linked to the coronavirus in Texas occurred March 16 in Matagorda County. As of July 12, 3,192 people who tested positive for the virus have died.
The rate of deaths in Texas has been accelerating. On July 10, the state surpassed 3,000 deaths — 24 days after 2,000 deaths were reported. It took 53 days to get from the first death to 1,000 deaths and 39 days to get from 1,000 to 2,000 deaths.
Experts say the official state death toll is likely an undercount.
New deaths from coronavirus each day
How have the number of cases increased each day?
On March 24, the Texas Department of State Health Services changed its reporting system to track case counts directly from counties instead of relying on official case forms, which came in later and caused the state’s official count to lag behind other tallies. Increases in testing also led to more detected cases. In May, a large one-day spike was reported after testing was done at meatpacking plants in the Amarillo region.
Since June, the number of new cases each day has trended upwards.
Cumulative cases of coronavirus in Texas
New cases of coronavirus each day
How has the positivity rate changed?
Gov. Greg Abbott said he is watching the state's positivity rate — the percentage of positive cases to tests conducted. The average daily positivity rate is calculated by dividing the seven-day average of positive cases by the seven-day average of tests conducted. This shows how the situation has changed over time by de-emphasizing daily swings. Public health experts want the average positivity rate to remain below 6%.
In early May, Abbott said a rate over 10% would be a “warning flag.” The state exceeded that mark in June for the first time since April.
7-day average for the positivity rate
- Positivity rate is not shown because the state did not release viral testing data
The positivity rate differs from the infection rate. In order to obtain an infection rate, everybody would need to be tested, said Hongwei Zhao, an epidemiology professor at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health.
How many people have been tested?
As of July 12, Texas has administered 2,757,859 tests for the coronavirus since March. Expert opinions differ on how much larger that figure needs to be. We do not know the number of Texans who have gotten a test because some people are tested more than once. Tests from private labs, which make up the majority of reported tests, are not deduplicated. The state’s tally also does not include pending tests.
Coronavirus test results reported to the state each day
- Viral tests
- Antibody tests
- The state did not release the breakdown of tests
The DSHS data also might not include all of the tests that have been run in Texas. The state has said it is not getting test data from every private lab, and as of mid-May only 3% of tests were coming from public labs. The state has since stopped differentiating between tests reported by public and private labs.
Even as demand for testing has increased, both public and private labs continue to prioritize Texans who meet certain criteria, but every private lab sets its own criteria.
On May 21, DSHS disclosed for the first time that as of a day earlier, it had counted 49,313 antibody tests as part of its "Total Tests" tally. That represents 6.4% of the 770,241 total tests that the state had reported on May 20. Health experts have warned against counting antibody and standard viral tests together because they are distinctly different tests. Antibody tests detect whether someone was previously infected, while standard viral tests determine whether someone currently has the virus.
Antibody tests are typically reported a day late.
How is this impacting Texans of color?
While early reports from other parts of the country indicate Black Americans are disproportionately likely to get sick or die from the new coronavirus, it’s virtually impossible to determine if that grim reality is playing out in Texas because information released by state health officials is notably incomplete.
The limited data provided to the Tribune offers a murky glimpse of the virus' impact on Texas communities of color. Race and ethnicity are reported as unknown for a significant portion of the completed case reports. (Agency officials said some people prefer not to provide the information.)
Although state leaders acknowledge the demographic data is lacking, they have indicated the state won't be taking steps to mandate reporting to fill in the gaps. In June, the state announced they are planning on ramping up testing in areas of the state that are predominantly Black and Hispanic, as well as launching a study on the coronavirus’ effect on vulnerable populations.
What else should I know about this data?
These numbers come from the Texas Department of State Health Services, which updates statewide case counts by 4 p.m. each day. The data is from the same morning, and it may lag behind other local news reports.
From March 13 through March 24, the Tribune added cases from Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, where hundreds of American evacuees from China and cruise ships were quarantined. Those case counts came from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Carla Astudillo, Mandi Cai, Darla Cameron, Chris Essig, Anna Novak, Emily Albracht and Alexa Ura contributed to this report.
Previously, The Texas Tribune incorrectly stated our formula for calculating the average daily positivity rate. This has been corrected.