In ‘re-opening’ Texas, it’s clear the donors are in charge

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As local officials in North Texas continue to warn against an increase in COVID-19 cases, statewide the mandate appears to be the state is back to business. That could lead to more people sick, more people hospitalized, more people eventually dying. Quite the grim future.

Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that businesses like salons and tanning centers can reopen on Friday, May 8. On May 18, gyms can reopen but showers and locker rooms must remain closed. Abbott announced these orders despite the fact that COVID-19 cases have not been declining in several parts of the state. Yesterday, Dallas County reported 253 new cases, tying a previous record. 

Abbott seemingly acknowledged reopening the state would lead to more infections in leaked audio with Texas officials.

Like elsewhere in the country, Texas has been experiencing outbreaks at assisted living facilities, meatpacking plants, and prisons. Yesterday, Tarrant County announced 485 new cases, 423 from a federal prison outbreak. Health directors for both Dallas and Tarrant County expressed concern about the number of cases, and are urging caution for residents. 

From the state capitol, it’s a different tune. Ahead of a press conference for the “Texans Back to Work Task Force,” Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick released a 113-page document outlining the group’s recommendations for getting the state “reopened and restored to 100 percent in the not too distant future.”

Patrick tapped Dallas businessman G. Brint Ryan to lead the task force. Ryan is a prolific Republican donor, last year sending thousands of dollars to the Republican National Committee and members of the Texas delegation including Reps. Van Taylor (TX-3) and Chip Roy (TX-21).

For officials in Tarrant and Dallas county that are trying to lead with science and epidemiology, the statewide turn to reopening is concerning, to put it mildly. In Dallas, the county commissioners passed a resolution 4-1 encouraging potential voters worried about contracting COVID-19 to vote via absentee ballot by claiming a “disability.”

The lone holdout commissioner who opposed the resolution, J.J. Koch noted that this runs counter to statewide laws that are advocated by Attorney General Ken Paxton. Koch has a point, and the resolution is not legally binding.

Even before the pandemic, Paxton has been a staunch opponent of voting by mail, citing the increased possibility of ballot harvesting and voter fraud. In Oregon, which passed all-vote-by-mail in 1998, election officials have pointed out that their system increases both turnout and security.

After Wisconsin held its primary in early April, it’s estimated at least 50 (voters or polling volunteers) contracted COVID-19. And that’s likely just people exhibiting symptoms. Is this really something we want to see throughout the state of Texas? Because that’s what the state leadership is telegraphing.

For county commissioner Elba Garcia (precinct 4), who is a dentist, she understood the metrics that the medical community was looking for before re-opening the county: at least two weeks of no new cases and no new deaths. Garcia also recognizes that many of her constituents are struggling. “The city of Dallas, [and the county], are going to have a tough economic time, however, with that being said we need to be careful,” Garcia said.

Garcia hopes people who can stay at home, and even work from home, continue to do so. She further emphasizes social distancing and washing hands. What local officials like Garcia especially want to prevent is an increased number of sick people going into the hospital at the same time.

With a federal government all but ignoring CDC guidelines, we need a state leadership that is listening to science, as opposed to rich donors. Watching Abbott at the White House, it seems Texas is open for business, science be darned. 

Photo: Getty Images

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