Texas Democrats React to Abbott’s Plan to Reopen State

The signs are going to go on, but will they come?
The signs are going to go on, but will they come? Aaron Pruzaniec / Wikimedia Commons
We may all be in this together, but our opinions about it are breaking down along predictable lines. Monday afternoon, Gov. Greg Abbott debuted his plan to reopen Texas' restaurants, retailers, malls and movie theaters, despite the ongoing coronavirus crisis in the state and around the world. In North Texas and around the state, Democratic leaders questioned Abbott's advice.

"There's no one who likes the current situation. Every person wants to get the state and the economy moving again. But every rational person should want to ensure that we're doing it safely. While the country has been self-isolating, we in Congress have passed a number of bills intended to support Americans," El Paso U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar said Monday afternoon during a conference call following Abbott's announcement. "So we're offering an economic lifeline to small businesses, to families, cities, counties, hospitals, nonprofits, etc. We want people to be able to weather this storm until it's safe for governments to reopen."

Abbott is sending service industry and retail workers — some of Texas' lowest-compensated workers — out of lockdown in a state that has both the highest number of people without health insurance and the highest uninsured rate in the country. Abbott could expand Medicaid to help mitigate the risk for those who will head back to work. He's given no signal that he's willing to do so.

"You're supposed to test, trace, quarantine and care," Dallas state Sen. Nathan Johnson said, pointing to state officials' plan to track infections in order to further open the state. "The governor does have the power and could right now push aside many years of political inertia and expand Medicaid in this state. We do need to care for these people, we do have a moral obligation to do it and everybody feels that sense of urgency right now in these kind of scary, pandemic times."

Without widely accessible medical care, Johnson said, the state is putting itself at undue risk.

"It's not just about caring for people (because it's the moral thing to do), it's about containing the contagion," Johnson said. "People who don't have healthcare are not going to get tested. Yes, the tests are free. The treatment is not. Why go get tested if you're going to find out that you're sick and you can't get treated? You'd rather just not know so that you can go to work."

Those who've been relying on unemployment benefits as they teach their kids and care for older relatives are now at risk for losing those benefits should they choose to stay home.

"I'm thinking of folks in my circle who have had to take their senior citizens out of a nursing home, to be in a safer environment at home," Austin state Rep. Celia Israel said. "If they now have to go back to a retail job or another job and put their loved ones back in a nursing home, are they going to be safe? Are they going to be eligible for unemployment benefits? The Texas worker has been hurting through all of this, and I want insurances for them if they can't go back to their jobs."

"Statewide, we saw a day-to-day jump of 967 cases this weekend, one of the highest ever. The data directly contradicts what Gov. Abbott is saying, which causes great concern." – Chris Turner

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Grand Prairie's Chris Turner, the chairman of the Texas House Democratic caucus, pointed west of Dallas for evidence that Abbott was jumping the gun.

“We all want businesses to safely reopen as soon as possible, and that’s why I’m disappointed we did not hear more details on how Texas’ COVID-19 testing would increase. We’re near last in the nation on per capita testing and Gov. Abbott didn’t present a clear plan how that’s going to change, even though experts agree that widespread testing is essential to any reopening plan," Turner said. "(C)ases continue to increase — for example, last week Tarrant County reported a weekly high number of nearly 800 new cases.

"Statewide, we saw a day-to-day jump of 967 cases this weekend, one of the highest ever. The data directly contradicts what Gov. Abbott is saying, which causes great concern. An incremental approach makes some sense, but until we have proven additional testing capacity and an actual downward trajectory in new cases, the plan is not actually based on data or science.”

Despite Abbott's claims about increased testing in the state — he said the state would soon be able to meet its goal of 25,000 tests per day — Texas has still tested only about 1% of its 29 million residents, according to the Department of State Health Services.
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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