This week the Texas Governor announced the lifting of all COVID restrictions from Wednesday March 10th. We have repeatedly seen that ‘early liftings’ by states that have later seen an upsurge in cases. However, this is the first lifting of this scale where we have broad availability of multiple vaccines.
So lets start by examinging the pro’s of the governors case. The governor states that cases are rapidly falling; fatalities are falling and most importantly, the vaccine has been rolled out to well over 4 million Texans.
- 4.2 million people have received at least one dose (14% of the population)
- of these 2.3m have received 2 doses (full vaccinated) – equivalent to 8% of the total population
- An average of about 800,000 vaccination doses administered each week
- New cases are 255 per million per day, down from about 800 in Jan 2021
- Fatalities are 8 per million per day – down from about 11 at the most recent peak in Jan 2021
- Hospital capacity is at likely around 70% (my calculations)
- About 2.4m have tested positive and recovered from COVID
Event though the reductions have been dramatic – current levels are still high
February was still the 4th highest month for cases, and the 2nd highest month for deaths
Current cases levels are higher than August 2020
Many counties still have elevated fatality rates
Consider this list of large counties, all with new cases per million over 200 and population more than 100,000. The average daily fatality rate in most of these counties is still far too high.
Is the Governor just thinking about capacity?
From the begining of COVID, there has been the debate about whether it is the role of leaders to simply manage hospital capacity – with the objective that all those who need medical attention can get it. If that’s the case, then the current data supports that there is some excess capacity in the hospitals.
With a population of 28 million people, and 4 million having received 1 or more dose of vaccine – has the state adequately targetted its high risk population? Quite possibly.
Before we get into the State data – lets compare with the rest of the nation. Texas is one of the lagging states for vaccine adminstration. It has administered 32,000 doses per 100,000 population, but others – such as New Mexico have administered 43,000 doses (that’s 34% more than Texas).
People aged 85 or over make up about 1.5% of the population – so approximately 400,000 people. Clearly we would acknowledge this group is high risk. From this data we can see over 400,000 in the 80+ demographic have been vaccinated.
We can conclude that a sizeable portion of the elderly population have been vaccinated
Distibution of vaccine by race/ ethnicity
We know the virus disproportionately impacted minority populations in Texas. How do the numbers look for vaccination rates by race / ethnicity? In this case, a back of the envelope calculation shows the following.
- From a 2005 survey, Hispanics make up 34% of the population. That would represent approximately 10 million Texans. From the vaccine data we see approximately 800,000 people vaccinated – close to 8%
- White non hispanic therefore makes up about 14 million people – and we see that 1.6m have been vaccinated – about 11.4%
A large number of vaccinations, close to 1m (about 3.5% of the population), have been administered to ‘unknown’ race / ethnicity which may likely be those who declined to disclose. On balance it looks like more needs to be done to roll out the vaccine to the Hispanic population
Is the Governor directionally right?
Probably YES. There’s enough good news about the vaccine rollout to be hopeful about the future.
Is the timing right. NO!
- Texas is lagging behind the majority of states for vaccine rollout
- The data does not clearly evidence that vulnerable popuations (especially Hispanic) have had the right level of vaccine penetration;
- Many counties are still experiencing high levels of new cases and deaths
What should the Governor Do? Phase it!
In this case, the solution should be straight forward. PHASE it!
It would show good leadership to let business owners, and people know how and when restrictions could be lifted, IF the pace of progress is sustained.
Leadership matters, and the Governor’s actions simply tempt people into reckless behaviors which make it all the more difficult for the health care system and vaccine roll out to get ahead of the curve.
This is another example of declaring victory too soon. Be patient Mr Governor. Don’t lead when your data doesn’t quite support it. 6,700 Texans died from COVID in February.
Phase it in…. allow 25% restaurant capacity etc in 2 week phases. Within a month the vaccine data should be so much better, and more evidence of lower case generation, and lower fatalities.