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Jenkins Urges Statewide Safety Requirements in a Letter to Abbott

In a letter on Sunday, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins urged Gov. Greg Abbott to enforce stricter mask wearing and social distancing mandates.EXPAND
In a letter on Sunday, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins urged Gov. Greg Abbott to enforce stricter mask wearing and social distancing mandates.
Mikel Galicia

Dallas County’s new coronavirus cases continues to rapidly climb. June 1, the county counted 220 new cases. Sunday, the number jumped to 570.

The disturbing trend prompted Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins to write a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott on Sunday. In it, he urges Abbott to impose statewide social distancing and mask-wearing mandates.

“Our ability to control the spread and impact of COVID-19 in our community is critical to our ability to allow our shared constituents to stay safe and thrive,” Jenkins wrote.

Throughout the pandemic, Jenkins and Abbott have butted heads over the capacity of local and state governments to enforce safety requirements. Jenkins has condemned Abbott for being too lax with regulations. Abbott has criticized Jenkins for measures that landed Dallas hair salon owner Shelley Luther in jail.

Over the weekend, Jenkins said he discussed the proposals with the Public Health Committee, a team of epidemiologists, infectious disease doctors and other health experts.

In the letter, Jenkins states that local leaders should be allowed to enforce public safety rules. He also asks Abbott to reinstate the state’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” policy for another 30 days.

If Abbott refuses to apply comprehensive safety mandates statewide, then he should consider lifting an order that restricts local governments from doing so, Jenkins wrote. That way, Dallas County can enforce health experts’ recommendations.

“Lives depend on swift action,” Jenkins wrote.

Abbott's office did not respond to requests for comment.

Jenkins outlined 10 proposals for the governor to consider implementing statewide. In addition to the statewide mask mandate, it calls for businesses to limit capacity to 50% and for the closure of establishments such as movie theaters, bowling alleys and gyms. It also recommends increased restrictions on public gatherings and for restaurants to revert to takeout and patio seating only.

Dr. Philip Huang, the director of Dallas County Health and Human Services, said the recommendations are the next best thing to fully shutting down the economy again. He also emphasized the importance of wearing masks to slow the spread of coronavirus. Monday, the county health department reported the county's latest record high of 572 new cases.

Universal mask usage has flattened the curve in other countries, Huang added.

"It's not a political thing," Huang said. "It’s public health, and protecting our families and neighbors and community. And if this is what it takes to also be able to open things up, then that seems like a pretty fair trade-off.”

On June 27, the county health department tweeted a video of Huang demonstrating the correct way to wear a mask.

“This is the proper way to wear a facial covering,” he says in the video, pointing to a mask that fully covers his mouth and nose.

Jenkins' letter is consistent with the latest public health guidance, said Dr. Erin Carlson, an associate clinical professor in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation at the University of Texas at Arlington. Each of his 10 proposals can be traced back to one of the three basic tenets of infectious disease control: social distancing, mask wearing and hand washing.

Despite all the advancements in modern medicine, Carlson said it was those same defenses that helped to beat the Spanish influenza pandemic more than 100 years ago.

"We still only have three weapons in this battle: We have social distancing, we have face masks and we have hand washing," Carlson said. "And that’s as simple as it is if we’re going to prevent disease."

Friday, Abbott closed bars statewide and limited restaurant seating capacity to 50%. His order also exempted churches from imposing an occupancy limit.

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that there is a significant risk of coronavirus transmission at church services. Last month, it reported that two people who had attended an Arkansas church service in March spread the disease to at least 35 congregants. The outbreak resulted in three deaths.

Last Sunday, Abbott joined Vice President Mike Pence in attending a service at megachurch First Baptist Dallas. The Texas Tribune reported that Abbott wore a mask throughout.

Although Abbott has been reluctant to institute sweeping mandates, he’s allowed local governments to order businesses to require mask wearing for customers. Last Friday, Denton City Council passed an ordinance that requires face masks to be worn inside all local businesses, according to NBC-DFW. Tarrant County passed a countywide mandate requiring the same earlier that week.

More coronavirus-related deaths have followed North Texas’ spate of single-day highs. Over the weekend, an Irving resident in his 80s with no underlying health conditions died, according to county health officials. Monday, an Irving man in his 40s with underlying conditions also died from the disease.

As of Sunday, there have been 352 COVID deaths in Dallas County, 42 in Collin County, 225 in Tarrant County and 37 in Denton County, The Dallas Morning News reported.

Huang said that Texas' ever-climbing numbers of coronavirus cases is "very alarming."

"We have record-high numbers of hospitalizations and ICU hospitalizations and new admissions," he said. "And if they continue to increase at this rate or go even higher, it’s very concerning."

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