By John Tedesco, Alex Stuckey, Stephanie Lamm, Matt Dempsey
Originally published April 4, 2020
Texas is bracing for a pandemic that is projected to kill tens of thousands of people across the U.S., but health officials and state leaders are struggling to provide the public with timely updates on how many people are infected and how many hospital beds and ventilators are available for the critically ill.
Other states across the country have been providing coronavirus hospitalization figures for weeks. On Friday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that 827 people have been hospitalized in Texas. But the true number of cases is likely far higher than the official tally due to a shortage of reliable tests and delays in delivering results, which can take up to 10 days.
Joseph Larsen, an open-government advocate in Houston and lawyer with the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said state law allows public health officials to withhold a wide array of information pertaining to contagious diseases, ostensibly to prevent panic.
But the magnitude of the coronavirus pandemic shows the limitations of the law, Larsen said.
“In the situation that we’re in, I tell you what’s going to cause a panic: It’s not knowing what’s going on,” Larsen said. “And you know what’s going on with the coronavirus? We don’t have a clue.”