AUSTIN, Texas — Gov. Greg Abbott sternly warned Texans of “rampant” spread of coronavirus that took the state to a new high Tuesday of more than 5,000 new cases in a single day.

Saying Texans should stay home unless they have a good reason to venture out, Abbott late Tuesday afternoon gave local officials more powers to limit public gatherings during the upcoming Fourth of July weekend.

He expanded the ability of mayors and county judges to restrict outdoor gatherings of over 100 people — down from the previous limit of more than 500 people. Previously, this applied only to outdoor gatherings over 500 people.

Abbott also told the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to enact emergency rules that provide strict health and safety standards and procedures related to COVID-19 for child care centers in Texas.

The decrees were based on data showing an increase in COVID-19 transmission stemming from large gatherings and child care centers, the governor’s office said

“These are just some of the steps Texas will take to contain the rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations,” Abbott said in a news release. “I urge all Texans to do everything in their power to reduce the transmission of the coronavirus by wearing a face mask, washing their hands often, and staying six feet apart from others.”

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Earlier in the day, Abbott foreshadowed the order by announcing the record number of positive tests in the state.

“Statewide, there’s going to be an all-time record set today in the number of people testing positive of over 5,000,” he told KRIS-TV in Corpus Christi in a live appearance via satellite from Austin.

The previous high was 4,430 positive test results on Saturday. On Tuesday, Dallas County also reported a record daily high of 445 additional infections, and seven deaths related to the virus. Statewide, hospitalizations have been breaking records every day for more than a week.

Abbott began two noon newscast interviews with very pointed references to the new daily record of more than 5,000 new, lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19.

The actual number of new cases reported by the state later in the afternoon was 5,489, plus 4,092 hospitalizations — a record for the 12th day in a row. The state reported 28 deaths Tuesday.

“There remain a lot of people in the state of Texas who think that the spread of COVID-19 is really not a challenge,” he told KBTX-TV in College Station. “The coronavirus is serious, is spreading in Brazos County, across the entire state of Texas.”

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“Importantly, because the spread is so rampant right now, there’s never a reason for you to have to leave your home unless you do need to go out,” he said. “The safest place for you is your home.”

Abbott, who began reopening the state in late April, lately has pointed in dismay at anecdotal evidence of poor social distancing practices and lack of mask wearing by some Texans during the Memorial Day holiday and in the early part of this month. Large-scale protests of George Floyd’s killing also has been a cause of public-health concerns, he has said repeatedly.

On Monday, the Republican governor warned he could impose further restrictions if coronavirus cases continue to rise. He offered no specifics. Democrats pounced, accusing him of doing nothing and reiterating their charge he reopened businesses too soon, before testing and contact tracing were ramped up sufficiently.

On Tuesday, Abbott noted that in a recent executive order, he gave cities and counties authority to regulate any Fourth of July public gatherings in excess of 500 people.

“We’re looking at ways of addressing crowds that could be gathering for the Fourth of July,” he said when asked on KRIS about the upcoming holiday.

“We are reevaluating that right now,” he said of the order, “to make sure that local officials have even greater control, … to make sure that they will be able to establish standards that can prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

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He did not elaborate.

“We did see an increase after Memorial Day,” Abbott said. “We saw an increase in the early part of June. We need to make sure that we do have the flexibility to reduce crowds in ways that will reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

On KBTX, Abbott said he’s taking action to reduce infections, such as ordering a crackdown on bars by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and sending tests and other resources to coronavirus hot spots.

“So there are measures that are being taken to make sure that we are immediately responding to this, as well as additional announcements that may be coming later today and later tomorrow, as well as during the course of the week,” he said.

Asked what those might be, Abbott spokesman John Wittman replied in an email, “Stay tuned.”

©2020 The Dallas Morning News

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