It’s still too early to tell if Abbott’s pandemic response is working

by | Mar 30, 2020 | Coronavirus, Policy

Republican leaders, from President Trump to Sen. John Cornyn, have been heaping praise onto Gov. Greg Abbott’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. But the pandemic has only just begun, and any celebration is premature.

The first confirmed case of coronavirus in Texas occurred March 4. That date represents the start of the so-called coronavirus curve in Texas, or the start of what will hopefully be a very timid bell curve representing the rise and fall of new cases in the state.

It took Abbott a little more than two weeks from that initial date to get serious about the emerging health crisis and issue closures for restaurants and schools, something dozens of other states had already done.

As the number of cases and deaths in Texas grows, Abbott has steadily changed his approach in tackling the pandemic.

During the first few weeks of the outbreak, Abbott employed a decentralized-style of governing (read: absent) where he forced local leaders to jog ahead of him in ordering and enforcing social distancing measures. In the past two weeks, he has taken a more commanding, albeit mild approach to the crisis; the governor is issuing and expanding quarantine requirements for out-of-state travelers and increasing testing capacity, but has yet to issue a shelter-in-place order as health experts and Democrats have urged him.

Today, Texas ranks 39th in the nation for aggression in tackling the spread of the virus.

Regardless of what can be said of Abbott’s delayed response and his subsequent scramble to act quickly, Texas will be operating blindly for quite some time. That’s because changes to the coronavirus curve as a result of state orders and social distancing measures won’t be seen for at least a month.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who has been clashing with Trump over when to end social distancing and who has frequently appeared in front of millions of Americans during chaotic White House press briefings, has advised against thinking about responses to the virus in a day by day setting.

“It probably would be several weeks and maybe longer before we know whether they are having an effect,” Fauci said earlier this month. 

The lessons learned from other countries that successfully tackled the pandemic, like South Korea, is to act quickly before it becomes a crisis or before the curve indicates that things are bad.

While confirmed cases are skyrocketing much more rapidly in other states like California or New York due to their population and density, Texas’s curve is just now ramping up too.

The Lone Star State is reporting just shy of 3,000 cases, a dramatic increase even from just last Monday when the number was still around 800, though still firmly within the very early stages of the pandemic in the state.

Covid Act Now

With Abbott’s slow rollout in testing— tests are still taking up to 10 days, sometimes more to return a result—  it’s already very possible the state is behind in tracking and understanding the pandemic. 

For now, Texans can only pressure state leaders to act fast before it’s too late. But we won’t know if it’s “too late” until the crisis is already here. And if Abbott keeps adjusting the seriousness and scope of his response to the pandemic based on the number of cases today or tomorrow, instead of next month, Texas may find itself becoming the next epicenter of the outbreak. 

Photo: Tom Fox-Pool/Getty Images

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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