AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas reported an increase of nearly 700 additional deaths from the COVID-19 virus due to a change in how the state collects fatality data, representing a grim surge in the state’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
The new figures released Monday show the state now with 5,713 COVID-19-identified fatalities in Texas, compared with 5,038 reported Sunday. The new figures include 44 new deaths reported Monday.
Texas had seen a dramatic spike in newly confirmed cases, hospitalizations and fatalities over the past month and Gov. Greg Abbott had warned the results could be jarring.
State health officials said the new death totals are compiled by using the cause of death listed on death certificates, instead of waiting for local and regional public health authorities to report them to the state. Death certificates are required by law to be filed within 10 days.
“This method allows fatalities to be counted faster with more comprehensive demographic data. Using death certificates also ensures consistent reporting across the state and enables DSHS to display fatalities by date of death, providing the public with more information about when deaths occurred,” the agency said in a statement.
Only deaths directly attributed to the COVID-19 virus are counted. This method does not include deaths of people who had COVID-19 but died of an unrelated cause, the agency said.
On Monday, state health officials reported 4,267 newly confirmed cases. Texas also reported nearly 10,000 hospitalizations but said lags in reporting from hospitals may keep that number lower than it really is.
The true number of cases in Texas is likely higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death. The vast majority of people recover.
Abbott said he is watching to see if new cases spike in South Texas after Hurricane Hanna, which prompted families to huddle together to ride out the storm or evacuate.
“We’re very concerned this could lead to an additional spread of COVID-19,” Abbott said. “There are so many cases of COVID-19 in the Rio Grande Valley that result simply from large gatherings of family members.
Abbott extended the state’s early voting period for the Nov. 3 general election by nearly a week, allowing greater flexibility to cast a ballot while the state grapples with the coronavirus pandemic.
The Republican governor’s order allows early voting statewide from Oct. 13 until Oct. 30. Mail-in ballots will also be allowed to be delivered on Election Day.
“As we respond to COVID-19, the State of Texas is focused on strategies that preserve Texans’ ability to vote in a way that also mitigates the spread of the virus,” he said. “By extending the early voting period and expanding the period in which mail-in ballots can be hand-delivered, Texans will have greater flexibility to cast their ballots, while at the same time protecting themselves and others from COVID-19.”
Texas Democrats called the order the “bare minimum” Abbott could do and said the state should expand mail voting for anyone who wants it. Mail ballots in Texas are generally limited to those 65 or older or those with a “sickness or physical condition” that prevents voting in person.
“Gov. Abbott had the opportunity to make voting convenient and safe for all Texans. He didn’t,” Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said.
Also Monday, Abbott waived the grade promotion requirement of Texas’ high-stakes standardized testing for public school fifth- and eighth-graders for the 2020-2021 school year. Typically, a grade on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness test is used to determine whether a student can move to the next grade level.
The Texas State Teachers Association said the governor should also eliminate using the state to rate teacher and school performance. Abbott suspended STAAR requirements before schools were closed statewide in the spring.
“STAAR testing will still be wasteful and stressful at a time when teachers, students and their parents are stressed out enough over a deadly pandemic,” said TSTA President Ovidia Molina.
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