Texas governor: No to statewide shelter in place, one county responds

Trump

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has resisted doing a statewide lockdown so far. He keeps Texans updated on the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in the state daily and seems to be making decisions on a day by day basis. His main message is that the urban areas of the state are under pressure to keep up with the pandemic as it spreads but most of the state is not affected, at least not yet.

Abbott is not burying his head in the sand. 334 novel coronavirus cases have been confirmed across Texas, as of Sunday. That number includes six deaths, according to the state health department. About 200 more presumptive positive cases have been reported by Johns Hopkins University. Given the numbers that other large states are dealing with, the number in Texas is still small. The governor has warned that tens of thousands of cases are possible. As testing becomes more available, the numbers will go up.

Governor Abbott has declared the state’s first public health disaster since 1901. The measures in that declaration include no gatherings of more than 10 people, restaurants may only offer drive-through or take out service (but liquor can be ordered and delivered with a meal), bars and clubs are closed, as are gyms. You get the idea. Everyone is encouraged to stay at home, if possible.

The Dallas Morning News ran a piece Sunday about concerns that the area will experience a shortage of hospital beds by late April. Governor Abbott is being encouraged by a Dallas-area hospital association to order residents to stay home.

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The chilling warning, based on one projection the association included in the email sent Saturday, illustrates how quickly Texas hospitals could be overrun by the spread of the new coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19.

“We need your help,” Steve Love, president and CEO of the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council wrote in an email Saturday urging his members to pressure the governor to impose a shelter in place order. “Thank you for your immediate action as we want the governor to take this urgent action statewide rather than individual counties or cities.”

Love’s email, coupled with additional letters sent this weekend from mayors, health care executives, school leaders and business owners in the Dallas area, represents the latest effort to pressure the governor for stricter restrictions to combat the virus’s spread.

Texas has 254 counties and as of Sunday, the governor said he is unwilling to shutdown the entire state because 200 counties have not reported any cases of the coronavirus. He did issue two new executive orders Sunday to help ease any upcoming stress on the hospital system. “He directed all licensed healthcare professionals and facilities to postpone surgeries and procedures not medically necessary to correct a medical condition or to save a patient’s life. His second executive order includes trying to maximize hospital rooms, and he gave an example of possibly treating more than one patient in a room to increase the number of people who can get treated.”

When asked about Governor Abbott’s approach during Sunday’s coronavirus task force press briefing, President Trump praised the governor.

“He’s a great governor, and he knows what he’s doing. A lot of the areas that he’s talking about, a lot of the counties he’s talking about are not very strongly affected,” Trump said. “. ..I have total confidence in Gov. Greg Abbott.”

Pressed as to whether the lack of uniform restrictions among states and within states is acceptable, Trump said it is.

“Every state’s different. Idaho, West Virginia, Iowa, Nebraska, are much different than New York, than California — Los Angeles as an example or San Francisco,” he said, noting that current hot spots for the outbreak are in Washington state, California and New York. “That’s the hot spot like no other hot spot.”

Trump’s right – individual states don’t benefit from a one size fits all approach. Texas is not a hot spot, at least not now. The uncertainty of how this pandemic will spread across the country is stressful but as long as Texans can go about their business while doing what is being asked of them – gatherings of no more than 10 people, social distancing, hand washing, support local restaurants by ordering delivery or take-out food – perhaps the devastation to our way of life won’t be as severe as in other places. Stay home when you can.

In response to the governor’s directions Sunday, County Judge Clay Jenkins ordered Dallas County to shelter-in-place starting Monday. (County Judges are not necessarily actual judges in Texas. They are the CEO, if you will, of the county. They work with mayors in times of big decisions or crisis.) Residents are prohibited from leaving their residence except for “essential activity”. The order stands until April 3.

In a news conference Sunday, Judge Jenkins ensured residents that this decision was not an easy one.

“This order is our best chance to flatten the curve here in Dallas County and save as many lives as possible,” he said. “I know there will be economic hardships with this. It makes me sick that we are at this point.”

For the purposes of this order, residences include hotels, motels, shared rentals and similar facilities.

Anyone who leaves their residence is to provide or perform essential governmental functions, or to operate essential businesses.

All non-essential businesses operating within Dallas County are required to cease all activities at facilities located within the county. However, businesses can continue operations consisting exclusively of employees or contractors working from home.

In contrast, Harris County Judge Hildalgo (Houston and surrounding areas) has chosen to not issue a shelter in place order, as of her press briefing Monday morning. She left the option open, if needed, but for now she is going with the governor’s original orders. Two major urban areas in the state, two different choices. As testing increases in Harris County, she may find herself changing her mind sooner rather than later.

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