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- Abbott made three claims about the coronavirus in Texas
- “Fewer Texans test positive for COVID-19 than residents of any large state in the United States.” That's False.
- “We have the second lowest death rate of the 25 most affected states in America.” That's True.
- “Only about 10% or even less of Texans who test positive for COVID-19 ever even need to go to the hospital in the first place.” That's Mostly True.
Although infections and hospitalizations connected to the coronavirus are on the rise in Texas, state officials are continuing efforts to reopen parts of the state and allow people to return to their jobs.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sought to quell fears over the virus during a press conference on Tuesday, pointing to the number of available hospital beds in the state and statistics suggesting that Texas is handling the virus better than other large states.
"Fewer Texans test positive for COVID-19 than residents of any large state in the United States," he said. "We have the second lowest death rate of the 25 most affected states in America. Only about 10% or even less of Texans who test positive for COVID-19 ever even need to go to the hospital in the first place."
Abbott’s office did not return a request seeking additional information about these claims, so we turned to state data published by the Texas Department of State Health Services and data from the COVID Tracking Project, an organization launched by The Atlantic that collects and publishes data from each state’s health agencies on the virus.
Abbott made these claims on June 16, so we will rate them using the information available at the time. It should be noted that these figures are fluid, especially as Texas had seen record hospitalization figures for at least five consecutive days at the time of Abbott’s remarks.
Abbott did not expand on his comparison and offer specifics on which large states he was measuring against Texas, which is the second most populous state in the country with more than 27.8 million residents.
One comparison could be between California, Texas and Florida, the only three states with a population of 20 million or more.
Of those states, Florida (with a population of 20.5 million) reported the fewest positive coronavirus cases at the time of Abbott’s remarks in raw numbers, with more than 77,000 positive tests to Texas’ 89,000. California reported more than 151,500 positive tests.
Abbott’s claim is also off if we look at the rate of positive coronavirus test results, as opposed to the raw number of positive results. This rate looks at the percentage of tests administered that come back positive.
Using this metric, both California (with a population of 39.1 million) and Florida reported a lower positivity rate than Texas. In California, 5.2% of coronavirus tests had come back positive and 5.4% of tests in Florida were positive at the time of Abbott’s remarks. In Texas, the positivity rate was 6.8%.
If we expand the pool to look at the 10 most populous states, Texas is far from being the state with the fewest positive test results. Of those states, Texas actually reported the fourth highest number of positive test results.
Looking at the positivity rate, Texas has the third lowest of the 10 most populous states — with California and Florida still reporting a lower positive test rate.
We rate this claim False
Looking at all 50 states and Washington D.C., Texas ranks 43rd in terms of its COVID-19 death rate — the number of fatalities reported vs. the number of positive test results.
Again, it is not clear which states Abbott considers the "most affected" by the coronavirus. We looked at the 25 states with the highest number of positive coronavirus tests and the 25 states with the most fatalities reported to assess this claim.
Looking at the states with the highest positive test results, Abbott is correct: Texas has the second lowest death rate (about 2.2%). Only Tennessee is lower, with a death rate of about 1.5%.
Looking at the states with the most fatalities, Texas has the lowest death rate, followed by North Carolina with a rate of about 2.5% and Virginia at 2.8%.
We rate this claim True.
It is difficult to say exactly what percentage of coronavirus cases in Texas have resulted in hospitalizations since the start of the pandemic, as the state does not track cumulative figures for COVID-19 hospitalizations.
State officials produce a daily tally of the number of people currently hospitalized, but if these tallies were totaled, the result would not be an accurate count of the number of people who have ever been hospitalized for the coronavirus — the actual figure would be much lower.
Lyndsey Rosales, a spokeswoman for the state health department, said the state does not collect information about when patients were admitted and discharged. This means the daily hospitalization figures could count one person multiple times, if they were in the hospital longer than one day.
But it is possible to calculate the hospitalization rate for the virus on a given day: by comparing active infections to current hospitalization figures.
The state produces an estimate of the number of active coronavirus cases "based on several assumptions related to hospitalization rates and recovery times." They calculate the number of recoveries using the same data.
At the time of Abbott’s remarks, there were an estimated 30,000 active coronavirus infections in the state and about 2,500 people hospitalized — about 8.3% of active cases.
Looking back through available state figures, the percentage of active cases reported as hospitalized on a given day has fluctuated from as high as 16% on some days to as low as 5% on others.
We rate this claim Mostly True.
Austin American Statesman, Abbott seeks to reassure Texans as COVID-19 cases rise, June 16, 2020
Austin American-Statesman, Austin health official says political divide must end to prevent coronavirus boom, June 17, 2020
Texas Department of State Health Services, COVID-10 case dashboard, accessed June 16, 2020
Texas Department of State Health Services, "COVID-19 hospitalizations over time by trauma service area," accessed June 16, 2020
COVID Tracking Project, Data by State, accessed June 16, 2020
Email interview with Lyndsey Rosales, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, June 18, 2020
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Symptoms, 2019
Texas Tribune, Texas reported 3,500 new coronavirus cases, a record high, June 18, 2020