AUSTIN — Texas hit another grim milestone Thursday when it surpassed 12,000 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, setting a new record high in that category for the fourth consecutive day.
Meanwhile, a Travis County district judge sided with Austin officials after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's office tried to overturn a ban on late-night dine-in services on New Year's Eve following a hearing just hours before people would normally head out for a long night of celebrations.
Judge Amy Clark Meachum ruled the Austin-area ban on dine-in eating and drinking between 10:30 p.m. and 6 a.m. each night from Thursday until Sunday morning can be enforced. At a livestreamed court hearing, the state argued that Austin's local orders are not allowed under previous statewide orders issued by Texas Governor Greg Abbott. Texas did not object to similar orders previously put in place by other cities, notably El Paso and San Antonio.
The Austin-area's top elected official, County Judge Andy Brown, said in a statement the ruling will "help our community slow the spread of COVID-19, while allowing businesses to safely continue their operations through takeout, drive-thru, and delivery service options."
"I encourage everyone in Travis County to order food for takeout from a local restaurant and to celebrate the New Year safely at home tonight," Brown said.
Paxton's office said Thursday night it had filed an appeal of the decision.
An official record of the hearing will not be available for another day after Judge Meachum said during that neither her nor her staff planned to work the holiday and were called in last-minute for a temporary restraining order.
Texas reported 12,268 COVID patients in hospitals, an increase of 1,400 in one week. State officials also counted 349 newly-reported deaths. The Texas death toll has reported more than 26,400 fatalities.
The stark numbers keep rising as officials roll out the first vaccines in a system that has produced delays, some confusion and frustration.
Texas had about 4,300 doses of the Moderna vaccine that had to be checked for problems with cold storage requirements and some shipments had to be replaced, the Department of State Health Services said this week. Texas also had more than 144,000 doses that were expected prior to Christmas not arrive until this week, an agency spokeswoman said.
Abbott and state health Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt suggested this week that some providers were not using all their vaccines and keeping some in reserve, which several hospital groups have disputed.
According to state vaccine data, the state has received 773,000 doses and more than 282,515 people have received at least one round of the shot, through Wednesday.