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As COVID-19 spreads in Texas, an ER doctor begs residents to stay home

Texas is taking a particularly hard hit from COVID-19. For about a week, the state has been reporting roughly 4,000 new cases per day. In the Houston region alone, there are nearly 32,000 cases. For a report from the front lines of the fight against the disease, Amna Nawaz turns to Dr. Hilary Fairbrother, who works in emergency medicine at the Texas Medical Center.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    As Lisa reported, Texas is taking a particularly hard hit right now. The state recorded more than 5,000 new cases in a day, a new all-time high.

    For about a week now, Texas has been reporting roughly 4,000 new cases a day, and the Houston region is reflecting those broader trends, with nearly 32,000 cases overall and almost 500 deaths in that region.

    For a report from the front lines, we turn now to Dr. Hilary Fairbrother. She works in emergency medicine at the Texas Medical Center.

    Dr. Fairbrother, welcome to the "NewsHour," and thanks for being with us.

    Let's talk about those numbers, that surge in infections we're seeing across Texas. What are you seeing on the ground in Houston?

  • Hilary Fairbrother:

    So, on the ground in Houston, I am definitely seeing an increase in cases. We're seeing an increase in volume in our emergency department, both public and private.

    And we are seeing more and more people worried that they have the symptoms of coronavirus.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And we should point out there was a statewide stay-at-home order, right? Governor Abbott issued that for all of April.

    But ever since then, Texas has been on kind of a steady march to reopening. Now that you're seeing this surge in infections, do you think that that's due to the reopening?

  • Hilary Fairbrother:

    You know, Texas was an anomaly.

    And so, when we first started dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, like everyone else, we had these horrifying projections of what was to come and all sorts of scientists really trying to prepare us for what to expect when it came to the pandemic and the number of people who would be sick and all of those things.

    And, in Texas, those numbers never came true. And so, initially, the governor, like many other governors, issued stay-at-home orders and everyone stayed at home and socially isolated. The business and economies were shut down.

    After, you know, a decent while of not seeing those numbers come to pass, the governor and the state started to open. And without a question, coronavirus has never left the Houston community. We have always had cases. We all had this kind of steady spate of cases that was in our community.

    So, I don't think that anyone could say that reopening did not adversely affect the number of cases. The real question really is, is, I think, can we handle this increase in volume?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We mentioned the new all-time single-day high today.

    Governor Abbott also said yesterday that the virus is now spreading at an unacceptable rate. He's urging people to continue social distancing and wearing masks and wash their hands. Do you think that message is getting out? And are those practices enough to slow the spread that you're seeing now?

  • Hilary Fairbrother:

    So, I applaud the governor for those important messages. We do. We beg you, please stay at home. Please socially distance. Please wash your hands. And when you absolutely have to go out, please wear masks.

    This helps everyone, and this helps — including the people like myself who have to go to work, so that we can take care of everyone who gets sick in the city of Houston.

    Whether it will be enough to keep — in my mind we have this duty. We reopened the state, and that was really important to so many businesses, but we always have to balance everything, whether it's the economy or any other resource, with our health care resource that we have available, with the number of ventilators and ICU beds and hospital beds that we have available.

    And it is when one of those things becomes completely imbalanced that I really think that we will see our state and the city of Houston really suffer. So, it's just about balance.

    Whether the increased urging to stay at home is getting through to people and changing their behavior, I think, has yet to be seen. There has to be some more personal accountability, so that, hopefully, we can keep our economy open and also take care of and have the resources to take care of anyone who gets sick in the state of Texas.

    But it's a balance.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It is a balance, indeed. And we're wishing you and the people in Houston all the very best.

    Dr. Hilary Fairbrother, Houston emergency medicine physician, thanks for being with us.

  • Hilary Fairbrother:

    Thank you so much.

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