It's no secret that Texas is having trouble getting a handle on the coronavirus. Cases are surging and plans to reopen the economy just got rolled back. In a virtual conference on Wednesday, state Democrats called Gov. Greg Abbott's response to COVID-19 reckless and urged him to mandate the use of masks statewide.
"If they mandate masks, we can stop the spread," said Rep. Toni Rose, of Dallas.
Recently, Abbott has commended counties for mandating masks. But back in early June, he issued an executive order saying local governments could not impose fines or criminal penalties on people who do not wear masks in public.
These inconsistencies have been frustrating for local government officials. Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, of San Antonio, said the governor is forcing policymakers to solve riddles in order to create policy on COVID-19.
Fischer said what Abbott has done — rolling back on reopening and suspending elective surgical procedures — still falls short of what needs to be done to slow the spread of the virus significantly. He said it doesn't matter if hospital beds are freed up if there isn't the medical staff to support the people who need them.
Citing recently published research by Goldman Sachs, Rep. Donna Howard, of Austin, said a statewide mask mandate could save the Texas economy $87 billion.
Money aside, Howard said a mask mandate is also supported by medical data, pointing to a recently published collaborative study that included Texas A&M University and the University of Texas. The researchers found that masks prevented over 66,000 infections in New York City in less than a month, concluding that face coverings are critical to slowing the spread of COVID-19.
Howard added that Abbott needs to step up to the plate in his response to the outbreak or step aside.
Throughout most of the pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country's top infectious disease expert, has stressed the importance of masks. But not everyone trusts Fauci's coronavirus advice. On Tuesday, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said the Lone Star State didn't need Fauci's expertise.
"He doesn't know what he's talking about," Patrick told Fox News.
Patrick's comments came after Fauci criticized Texas during testimony in front of a U.S. Senate committee on the country's response to the outbreak. Fauci said the recent surge in Texas cases could be attributed to the state "skipping over" certain reopening guidelines. But Patrick disagrees, saying Texas has not skipped over anything.
"The only thing I'm skipping over is listening to him," Patrick said.
Texas Democrats also sounded off with criticism concerning the GOP's scheduled convention in Houston this month.
Howard said that having an in-person, indoor convention during a surge in positive COVID-19 cases is irresponsible. Currently, there is no mask requirement for the convention, which is expected to draw up to 6,000 attendees.
On Tuesday, The Texas Tribune reported that the Texas Medical Association, the same organization sponsoring the convention, called on Republicans to cancel the event. So far, state GOP leaders have shown no interest in heeding the advice of their event's sponsor either.
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Although it was not ideal, Rose said state Democrats moved their convention online, so she doesn't know why the Republicans wouldn't do the same. Fischer said if the governor wanted to cancel the convention, all he would have to do is send out a tweet. Rose argued that if Abbott cared about Texans, he would cancel the event.
Wednesday's press conference came the day after Fischer sent an open letter calling on Abbott to engage the state's Legislature in his COVID-19 response. In the letter, Fischer said that while the Legislature granted the governor emergency powers, the law does not grant Abbott unilateral authority to act without their input.
"It becomes harder to deny the truth: Gov. Abbott took a gamble on our state's response strategy and Texas lost," Fischer said. He added that the Legislature has been asking for a seat at the table since March.
This past weekend, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins sent a letter to Abbott also urging a statewide mask mandate, as well as a social distancing mandate. Toward the end of June, the Dallas County Commissioners Court passed an order requiring businesses to mandate the use of masks. The order is set to expire on August 4.