When Donald Trump welcomed Texas Governor Greg Abbott to the White House in May, the President of the United States praised his fellow Republican as “one of the great governors” and praised the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and predicted boom times in the future.
“When you look at the work he’s done in Texas, I trust his judgment,” Trump said.
Seven weeks later, as the state once again closes businesses with soaring virus cases and hospitals running out of intensive care beds, Texas seems to be a model: on how to waste a position of hope through a premature reopening, ignoring inconvenient data and fighting parties – political territorial wars.
On May 7, the day of Abbott’s visit to Washington, the state reported 968 new cases among its 29 million residents. Daily numbers soared this week to 5,996 on June 25, prompting Houston doctors to sound the alarm.
On Friday, Abbott ordered to halt Texan experiences, such as hitting bars along Austin’s noisy Sixth Street and floating lazily in an inner tube along a wooded river. The bars, which were open up to 50% of capacity, should be closed again, restaurants should reduce their capacity from 75% to 50%, and rafting operations should be closed.
Harris County, which includes Houston, moved to its highest Covid-19 threat level, signaling an “severe and uncontrolled” outbreak.
“The stark reality is that our current infection rate is on its way to overwhelming our hospitals in the very near future,” Lina Hidalgo, the county judge, said at a news conference on Friday. “We open too fast.”
It was not his choice. Hidalgo, a Democrat, issued a mandatory mask order in April that was quickly removed by Abbott, who said the masks were highly recommended but that local authorities could not impose penalties for noncompliance.
Abbott said in the Oval Office that the gradual reopening of Texas was based on data-driven strategies that would reduce the spread of the virus and allow the economy to recover. But he was choosing numbers; Statistics did not meet federal criteria to relax a blockade, and Texas’ per capita testing rate is among the worst in the nation.
That same day, Abbott watered down his own authority to placate his conservative base. He was removed from jail as punishment for violating his coronavirus restrictions, in response to outrage on the right by the imprisonment of the Dallas hairdresser owner who had illegally reopened, refused to close again, and was sentenced to seven days behind bars for contempt of court. .
“Abbott tries to be moderate, but he’s actually almost tied up with the far right,” said Mustafa Tameez, a Houston-based Democratic strategist.
Tameez said Abbott and Trump have sowed the confusion through mixed messages. “We are not going to be able to make a policy unless we root it in facts and science,” he said. “We are not going to be able to overcome this through political sounds and positions.”
Republicans control Texas politics at the state level largely thanks to the support of rural and suburban white voters. But Democrats dominate in the largest cities, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin. This has led to political conflict for a long time, with the state overriding municipalities on issues of banning plastic bags to immigration law enforcement. Greg Casar, a member of the Austin city council, said Abbott placed appeasing his top voters ahead of the health of urban communities of color.
“The governor at the beginning of this chose to prioritize public health policy,” Casar said, noting the state’s attempt to suspend abortions. He added that if the cases continue to escalate, Austin would likely pass laws that go beyond Abbott’s limits, risking a fight in court.
“The overwhelming majority of our hospitalizations are Latino, and of course black Austin residents are also hospitalized at a disproportionate rate,” Casar said. “Generations of racist practices and policies are really exposing those communities right now, no matter how hard we try to mitigate them.” Austin was blocked earlier this month from implementing compulsory paid sick leave after a long-standing legal challenge backed by Texas top Republicans.
“Hopefully the leadership of this state now knows that they have to put public health first, we have to flatten the curve to the end,” said Royce West, a state senator in Dallas and a primary candidate for the US Democratic Senate. “Leaders in this state have to see if what the model in New York was should be replicated here.” That would underscore the dramatic reversal in fortunes since spring, when New York was the national epicenter, but severe action seems unlikely.
Dan Patrick, the 70-year-old deputy governor of Texas, declared in March that he was willing to risk dying to help the economy.
On Friday, Patrick scrapped the idea of a new shutdown and accused hospitals of providing misleading information. “Yes, positive rates have increased, mostly young people, they are not dying,” he told Fox News. “We are still moving forward, with a slight pause.”
The pandemic is also not causing state leaders to reconsider its most cherished political goals. As hospitals rush to find more beds in the ICU, Texas, the state with the highest number of uninsured people, released a report Thursday urging the US Supreme Court to repeal the Health Care Act to Low Price, which would threaten access to healthcare for millions.