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If Your Time is short
- Doggett's claim left out an important detail: the statistic he highlighted is about the growth in the 14-day average of new COVID-19 cases. The increase in the 7-day average and the actual count of new cases is significantly higher.
Coronavirus infections are on the rise in Texas, with some areas experiencing a more dramatic increase than others.
In Central Texas, Austin and its surrounding counties have reported an increase in the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations. Hays County, which sits to the south of Austin, has been hit particularly hard.
On June 19, the county reported more active cases than Austin’s Travis County — a remarkable feat considering that Travis County’s population is five times that of Hays County.
U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, a Democrat whose district includes parts of both counties, shared two tweets about the Austin area, including one highlighting the impact of the virus in Hays County.
"Hays County is one of the only places in Texas with more trouble: an incredible 845% increase in cases since June 7," he wrote.
There’s no question Hays County has experienced a dramatic increase in the number of COVID-19 cases, but is Doggett’s figure accurate?
Hays County increase tied to activities
In response to a question from PolitiFact Texas, Hays County spokeswoman Kim Hilsenbeck shared a press release outlining the impact of the coronavirus in the county since the onset of the pandemic.
During April and early May — when local and statewide orders to stay at home were in place — the number of new daily cases in the county ranged from zero to ten.
In late April, Gov. Greg Abbott initiated the first phase of a plan to reopen the state’s economy and allowed the statewide stay-at-home order to expire. He also allowed restaurants, retail stores, malls and movie theaters to reopen at limited capacity.
In subsequent phases, Abbott allowed barbershops and salons to reopen with limited capacity and other restrictions. He also allowed rivers, parks and other natural areas to reopen.
County health officials said they believe the gradual reopening of businesses might have contributed to an increase in COVID-19 cases.
"Through contact tracing, our health department staff were able to see the rapid increase in COVID-19 totals seemed to coincide with activities such as working at or going to restaurants and bars, activities such as floating the river, and attending large public gatherings," the release reads.
Hilsenbeck also highlighted Mothers Day (May 10), Memorial Day (May 25) and protests against racism and police brutality as significant events in May.
By the end of May and early June, the number of new cases in the county started to rise. On May 27 there were 18 new cases. On June 8, there were 43 new cases.
More recently, the number of new daily cases in Hays County has ranged from 100 to 200.
In April and May, the majority of new cases in the county were primarily in Kyle among people older than 30 who were Hispanic.
But since early June, the group experiencing the largest increase in new COVID-19 cases is 20 to 29-year-olds in San Marcos. The number of people who identified as Hispanic has decreased.
"While not all 20-29-year-olds are college students, San Marcos has a large student population because of Texas State University, many of whom are now back in town following a period of virtual learning throughout the spring," the release reads.
Examining data on new cases
Doggett spokeswoman Kate Stotesbery said the figure he shared came from a graph published by an Austin-area television station.
The graph shows the number of new coronavirus cases that have been reported each day in Hays County since April, plus a line showing the 14-day average of daily new cases.
An arrow pointing upwards is overlaid on the graphic, with text on top that reads: "845% 14-day average since June 7."
But Doggett’s remark on Twitter is missing that detail — that there has been an 845% increase in the 14-day average of new COVID-19 cases in the county since June 7. The increase in the actual number of cases is much higher.
On June 7, the cumulative number of cases in the county was 385 and the number of new daily cases had been fluctuating. There were 24 new cases on June 2, 14 new cases on June 4 and zero new cases on June 7.
By June 21, the cumulative count of cases in Hays County was 1,608, with 57 new cases reported that day.
Looking at the 14-day average of new cases, it was 8 on June 7 and 87 on June 21.
But the 7-day average is a more commonly used measurement by government agencies and news outlets to assess changes in the number of new cases in the area. The change in that figure during this period is substantially higher.
Using weekly averages instead of daily tallies offers a more accurate picture of change over time, as it reduces the impact of daily spikes.
From June 7 to June 21, Hays County experienced a roughly 1,569% increase in the 7-day average of new COVID-19 cases — from 8 cases on June 7 to 134 on June 21.
Doggett said that Hays County had experienced "an incredible 845% increase in cases since June 7."
Doggett was actually speaking about an increase in the 14-day average of new COVID-19 cases — a less common measurement of the increase in COVID-19 cases in an area — but his figure is accurate.
We rate this claim Mostly True.
Twitter, Lloyd Doggett, June 22, 2020
Texas Department of State Health Services, Cases over Time by County, accessed June 22, 2020
Austin American-Statesman, Hays County: With 130 new coronavirus cases, total now over 2,000, June 23, 2020
San Marcos Record, Hays County Surpasses Travis’s Active Coronavirus Case Counts, June 20, 2020
Email interview with Kate Stotesbery, Doggett’s spokeswoman, June 23, 2020
Email interview with Kim Hilsenbeck, spokeswoman for Hays County, June 24, 2020
Texas Department of State Health Services, Opening the State of Texas, accessed June 24, 2020
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