Dallas County in Texas reported its highest number yet of coronavirus cases on Friday — the same day the state’s governor reopened stores, restaurants, and movie theaters at a limited capacity.
Three hours south, in the home county of Austin, the state capital, the number of reported cases has continued to grow each day since testing for the coronavirus began in March.
Even some rural towns like Paris, Texas, which seemed to largely escape the pandemic for weeks, are seeing a sudden uptick in the spread of the deadly virus.
“Everybody is scared,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler, a Democrat, told MSNBC on Thursday. “Obviously the economy is hurting and people are looking to see what happens next, but no one knows what’s going to happen with the governor’s actions.”
Adler said he wished that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott had waited another week or two to reopen to allow further expansion of testing and contact tracing programs first. But the mayor said his hands are tied, and now he just hopes people continue to wear face masks and practice social distancing.
Texas reported a total of 30,522 coronavirus cases and 847 deaths on Saturday, up from 23,773 cases and 623 deaths a week earlier.
Abbott maintains that new protocols for the first phase of the state’s reopening allow the state to maintain health and safety standards as it advances a program of testing and contact tracing for the coronavirus.
All retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters, museums and libraries were allowed to open Friday, but must limit their capacity to 25 percent. Malls can also open under the same capacity restriction but must keep food courts closed
“This strategic approach to opening the state of Texas prioritizes the health and safety of our communities and follows the guidelines laid out by our team of medical experts,” the governor said in a statement last week.
Texas — with a population of 29 million — has conducted over 380,000 coronavirus tests.
New York, a state with about 10 million fewer people, has done 959,000 tests, about 2.5 times as many tests, according to the New York State Health Department
The testing that is happening in Texas shows the virus is continuing to spread.
Dallas County reported 187 new positive tests and two more deaths on Friday, marking its highest number of new cases since the start of the pandemic. The county said that brought their total to 3,718 cases and 106 deaths.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins urged residents to “wear face coverings when visiting businesses, limit unnecessary shopping trips” and stay home “until we achieve two consecutive weeks of decline.”
“Today marks our highest day so far in new COVID19 cases,” he said in a statement. “Our highest three days have all been this week. This increase in positive cases has occurred without any significant increase in testing capacity. We have seen younger people dying from COVID19 this week and today’s victims add to that list. All this illustrates why we all must make smart decisions and follow the science to #FlattenTheCurve.”
Paris, Texas, a small town of 25,000 jumped from having only a handful of cases to becoming a sudden hotspot with at least 65 reported infections, The Associated Press reported Thursday. Particularly concerning is that the outbreak appears to have shown up at a nursing home.
Until last weekend, there had only been eight cases Paris. Six of those people had recovered.
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“And then, ‘boom,’” Paris Mayor Steve Clifford told the AP.
Still, many business owners across the state are wrestling to balance between their concerns about the spread of the disease and the need for them and their employees to earn money.
A Texas Restaurant Association poll found that 44 percent of the state’s eateries planned to reopen Friday, while 47 percent said they would wait.
Amy Cowan, who owns a cafe and outdoor market named Oddfellows in Dallas, said her restaurant was going to start allowing patio seating to try to provide some semblance of normalcy to customers, but she understands why some people are emphasizing the “importance of staying home and isolating.”
She said businesses like hers provide support to frontline workers, and opening up will help her employees as well as customers.
“They are still looking for some semblance of their old life,” Cowan said of her customers. “And if we can offer a little bit of a respite and we can do it in a way that’s safe, I think people will come.”
Phil McCausland is an NBC News reporter focused on rural issues and the social safety net.
Garrett Haake and Kailani Koenig