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Coronavirus cases soar, but Texans have ‘quarantine fatigue’

The map of Texas reveals the relentless march of the pandemic.

A new wave of coronavirus is fueled by outbreaks in cities, towns and outposts, stretching from Dallas to West Texas. Health officials along the border in El Paso extended a stay-at-home order, doubled their mobile morgues and expanded a temporary hospital at the convention center. New outbreaks were also accumulating in Amarillo and Lubbock.

Big cities have been hit hard, too, but because the infections spread to larger populations (about 7 million people live in the greater Houston area alone), they didn’t lead to closures or public protests. At the end of a haunting and surprising week, one thing was clear: Texas, like much of the nation, is overwhelmed by a virus that is more stubborn than the will of many quarantine-fatigued Americans.

A line of patrons stretches down the block Friday outside Houston's Turkey Leg Hut.

A line of patrons stretches across the block Friday in front of Houston’s Turkey Leg Hut, where diners ate at crowded tables under tents.

(Molly Hennessy-Fiske / Los Angeles Times)

“The country is in free fall. He’s in disaster mode, ”said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. “It’s really scary in terms of the sudden increases in ICUs, the hospital staff is running low and mortality is going to skyrocket. They are lives that must not be lost ”.

COVID-19 cases are increasing in 46 states. Public health officials announced more than 177,000 new infections in the US on Friday, a record for the third day in a row. Coronavirus hospitalizations also hit a record 67,096 this week, double the number five weeks ago. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Luján Grisham reinstated the country’s most restrictive pandemic measures, saying the state was at a “breaking point,” while Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced a two-year state “freeze.” weeks to limit meetings before Thanksgiving.

Deaths in the US have risen to an average of more than 1,000 a day. More than 244,000 have died from the virus since the pandemic began. Another 40,000 could die in the next month, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By the end of the year, Hotez expects at least 400,000 deaths from COVID-19.

Healthcare workers decontaminate a COVID-19 testing site in El Paso on Friday.

Healthcare workers decontaminate a COVID-19 testing site Friday as the number of cases rises in El Paso.

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Texas became the first state to surpass 1 million COVID-19 cases this week (followed by California), matching the highs reached this summer and alarming public health experts ahead of winter break, when it is expected. infections increase.

Despite exhausting doctors and constant funeral processions, many Texans refused to wear face masks or avoid crowded public places. In the border city of McAllen, 36-year-old Bianca Lilley took her mother and 3-year-old daughter out to eat at La Plaza Mall this week. They plan to reunite with their extended family on Thanksgiving, he revealed, but only after one member of each of their nuclear families has tested negative for the virus.

“Obviously we don’t want to get sick,” she said as she watched her daughter play outside the mall. “But also, we don’t want to live in fear.”

Public health officials said that testing one family member will not necessarily protect the rest of the family, because they could have a false negative or other family members could be infected but asymptomatic.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and other state leaders have resisted pandemic closures and restrictions, even in places like El Paso. The Texas Attorney General joined local businesses suing to overturn El Paso’s stay-at-home order.

Unlike the Governor of California, Abbott did not issue a coronavirus-related travel advisory ahead of the holidays or warn residents traveling out of state to self-quarantine when they return, even though Texas universities have more infected students than any other state. On Friday, the Dallas County executive director sent a letter to the governor requesting additional restrictions for the pandemic.

Wells Fargo Plaza in downtown El Paso is lit with an American flag design.

The Wells Fargo Plaza in El Paso is lit up with an American flag design over the near-empty city center. Health officials along the border in El Paso have extended a stay-at-home order as virus cases rise.

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Hotez is frustrated to see people socializing in cafes without wearing masks in his Houston neighborhood. She had been looking forward to a visit from her daughter and her husband from Los Angeles over the holidays. He canceled it when cases in El Paso soared.

“People are making such horrible decisions because of this ideology of medical freedom that emerged in Texas and is now supported by the White House coronavirus task force,” Hotez said. They are working on a COVID-19 vaccine that is in clinical trials but will still take months to develop.

As temperatures drop in North Texas, Hotez expects infections to multiply as they have in the Midwest as people spend more time indoors, especially in Dallas-Fort Worth.

“We are starting to see an increase in hospitalizations,” he emphasized, even in Houston, where coronavirus hospitalizations nearly doubled this week compared to last month. “The more aggressively we can distance ourselves over the next two or three months, the more lives we will save.”

Small gatherings in North Texas have increased the community spread of COVID-19, said Dr. Erin Carlson, associate clinical professor at the University of Texas College of Nursing and Health Innovation at Arlington.

A worker cleans the floor in the mostly empty El Paso International Airport.

A worker cleans the floor near a display of an American flag and Christmas decorations at the nearly empty El Paso International Airport.

(Mario Tama / .)

“People are bored with the quarantine. They are tired of it. They want to go to their friends’ house and have a poker night like they used to, ”he said. “With pretty much any contact tracker that you talk to, you will record small meetings and that will increase the rates. They are fed up and want to see their families, so they go to the celebration parties ”.

Catherine Troisi, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center in Houston, said she is concerned about declining hospital resources due to the “exponential spread” of the virus. If families reunite for Thanksgiving without quarantining for two weeks in advance, he noted, there is a chance the pandemic will get worse.

“We want to maintain our social routines,” he said. “But we are not transmitting that public health message. That can have devastating effects. “

Troisi, a 68-year-old breast cancer survivor, has grandchildren in Washington, DC, whom she has not seen since the start of the pandemic.

“I am sick of this. I miss my grandchildren, “he said. “But what we have to emphasize is that it’s not about you, it’s about the community.”

His message was lost among many. Shopping malls and indoor restaurants in Houston were packed with customers Friday, some without masks.

At the Galleria Mall, 36-year-old pharmacist Michael Varnado stopped for lunch at the food court with his parents, who were visiting from New Orleans. Varnado and his mother shared a birthday on Monday and had come to celebrate. But his father had to be persuaded to go to the mall, because he was very concerned about the pandemic. They all wore masks.

“Walking through the mall, we saw people who didn’t have face coverings,” said Sharon Varnado, 66, despite signs warning that their use is required. “They don’t take it seriously. Many people do not comply because they have not understood or because they do not believe ”.

Across the food court, Óscar Castillo de San Antonio and his parents, who came from Guadalajara, Mexico, wore face masks as they watched the ice skaters without masks slide down the mall’s indoor rink. They had been isolated since the start of the pandemic and were surprised to see so many people.

“We’re getting used to it,” said Castillo, 26, who teaches at a migrant shelter, about the pandemic. “The numbers are increasing, but we are going to get out there and move on with our lives. I don’t know if it’s the best, but humans are social ”.

Nearby, a dozen shoppers rushed out of the mall and drive across town to the mecca of southern convenience, Turkey Leg Hut, in Houston’s Third Ward neighborhood. By 4 p.m., the outdoor tent patio was already packed. Construction worker Robert Rodriguez said he felt safe: He wore a mask and technically ate outside.

“They hit us hard at first, but since we’ve adjusted, we’re fine,” said Rodriguez, 35, who planned to reunite with his family as usual this Thanksgiving.

The line before dinner at the restaurant stretched across the block. Those who were waiting had traveled from as far away as St. Louis, Florida, and New York.

“I refuse to be home on my 25th birthday,” said Jonae Mims, who was waiting to celebrate after traveling from North Carolina with her friend Lativia Nash.

“You only live once,” Nash said.

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