Abbott Comes After Jenkins at Hospital Capacity Press Conference

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott thinks Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins wants to throw people in jail for not wearing a mask.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott thinks Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins wants to throw people in jail for not wearing a mask. Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images
As far as actual news went, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's press conference Tuesday didn't provide much. There was still, despite record numbers of novel coronavirus infections and hospitalizations across the state, nothing to see here.

Doesn't mean it was an afternoon without fireworks. The governor was abundantly clear about what he thinks of how Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins is handling things here.

Here's what Abbott said about the new numbers: 

"It does raise concerns," Abbott said, "but, as was shown today, there is no reason to be alarmed."

Texas remains at its lowest threat level of hospital capacity, the governor said, and much of the uptick in positive tests can be chalked up to jail and prison settings. He acknowledged that some Texans may have failed to take proper precautions against COVID-19 over Memorial Day weekend, but said that that was on them.

"Every single individual in Texas has the unique ability and responsibility to make sure they don't get COVID-19," Abbott said. "You can go about a lot of your daily functions if you (take steps not to contract the coronavirus)."

After Abbott finished telling the assembled media how well the state's reopening was going. He took a few questions. Bob Garrett, The Dallas Morning News' Austin bureau chief, asked the governor what he thought about giving local officials like Jenkins greater authority to enforce policies like mask requirements.

"I think the Dallas County Judge wants to do — throw people in jail." — Greg Abbott

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"Putting people in jail ... is the wrong approach to this thing and that's exactly what I think the Dallas County judge wants to do — throw people in jail," Abbott said. "Judge Jenkins has had other tools of enforcement available to him ... and he hasn't lifted a finger to use those other tools."

Abbott said Jenkins is taking a two-faced approach to protecting Dallas County residents from COVID-19.

Jenkins office didn't return a request for comment from the Observer Tuesday afternoon, but the judge later released a statement on his own.

"I don’t want to quarrel with the Governor. Sunday night, the Governor’s staff asked me: 'Do you have any idea what is specifically causing the increase?'

I answered: 'Yes. Increased activity and human contact. Loosening of masking and social
distancing. Both brought about by the Governor’s decisions to accelerate opening and limit our
local ability to enforce recommendations from Governor or medical experts.'

He may have been offended by my honesty."
The judge says he has no desire to jail anyone for not wearing a mask.

"(W)e made requirements out of the governor's recommendations only to have his attorney Ken Paxton write us a letter demanding we rescind our efforts and saying they didn’t want the governor’s recommendations enforced or checked on," Jenkins said. "I’m simply asking the governor to lead on the masking requirement the medical experts say is the single most important thing we can do right now to prevent spread or allow local governments to lead on this important issue."

Dallas County has reported 14,843 COVID-19 infections during the ongoing pandemic, including 306 Tuesday. Since the virus arrived in North Texas three months ago, 293 residents of Dallas County have died from COVID-19. Eight of those deaths, ranging from a man in his 30s to two women in their 90s, were reported by Dallas County Health and Human Services on Tuesday.

Last week, according to DCHHS, Dallas County's hospitals treated about 370 COVID-19 patients a day on average. That number has risen to about 400, according to the county.
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young