Abbott plans cautious reopening of Texas ahead of pandemic’s projected peak

by | Apr 17, 2020 | Coronavirus, Policy

Gov. Greg Abbott issued three executive orders on Friday, planning for and scheduling the phased reopening of the Lone Star State amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

One order allows for nonessential surgeries to continue as long those procedures don’t deplete personal protective equipment, another announced the creation of the “Governor’s Strike Force to Open Texas,” and the last order allowed for businesses to begin retail pick-up and delivery services starting April 24. The governor also announced the reopening of state parks.

The phased reopening, at least so far, is a far cry from what the most right-wing elements of the GOP— from the Tea Party, President Trump, and Lt. Gov Dan Patrick— have been calling for

Ultimately, however, the governor’s press briefing was spare with details as to what steps the state would take going into May when the coronavirus curve is projected to peak. He placed much of that responsibility on his newly formed Strike Force, which so far, does not have the most encouraging roster.

The Strike Force will be led by former finance executive and current Southwestern Medical Foundation Chair James Huffines. Mike Toomey, a long-time Rick Perry confidante and revolving-door lobbyist, will serve as its Chief Operating Officer.

The Strike Force also includes elderly-sacrifice-encourager Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, indicted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, disgraced Texas House Speaker Bonnen, and Texas Comptroller  Glenn Hegar. It will tap into the recommendations of credible health experts, as well as the advice of 39 business leaders from major energy, finance, and real estate companies. 

Small businesses, for whom the phased reopening was supposedly planned for, are not represented. Neither are labor groups or unions.

In a conference call hosted by Texas Democrats reacting to Abbott’s announcements, Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-San Antonio) criticized those named on the governor’s Strike Force and warned that the infusion of federal money could lead to corruption.

“This is again keeping with a pattern of corruption in state government over the years, we’re we seen big contributors of the governor and other statewide elected officials get sweetheart deals worth millions or sometimes billions of dollars,” Castro said.

State Rep. Celia Israel (D-Austin) critcized the Strike Force for its absence of mayors or county judges. Democrats also raised concerns about reopening the state at a time when the true scope and impact of the pandemic has yet to be seen or understood. 

“It’s hard to flatten the curve when our leaders have been so far behind it,” Castro said, citing Texas’ dismal rates of testing.

State Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston), who helped host a medical conference call between doctors in China— where the pandemic has been largely contained— and doctors in Houston, said Texas can learn from China’s pandemic response.

“The way they decided when it was time was based on three things, testing, tracing, and availability of PPE,” Wu said. “Those are what drove their decisions and to say when it was the right time to open up the country.”

Photo: World Travel & Tourism Council/ Wikimedia Commons

fernando@texassignal.com | + posts

Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at fernando@texassignal.com

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