With Abbott On Deck, Democrats Roll Out Their Own Conditions for Getting Texas Reopened

Remember restaurants like Homewood? Those were the days.
Remember restaurants like Homewood? Those were the days. Brian Reinhart
Just because something's obvious doesn't mean it isn't true. Or easy to do.

Texas House Democrats' plan to begin bringing the state's economy out of hibernation is right in line with those trotted out by health experts across the state. It isn't groundbreaking, but it does extend beyond many of the state's current capabilities and is likely to exceed the ambition of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's plan.

Here's what Democrats want:

1. More coronavirus testing.
2. Expanded health coverage through Medicaid so Texans can afford coronavirus treatment.
3. Ample personal protective equipment for those battling the pandemic.
4. Solutions to the crisis through which residents of Texas' nursing homes are suffering.

"Texas needs to follow doctors' orders when it comes to fighting the coronavirus. We all want business to reopen as soon as possible, but that can only happen when it is safe to do so." – Chris Turner

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"Here's our concern today: On Tuesday this week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who, of course, is our country's top infectious disease expert, publicly warned that the nation was not ready to ease stay-at-home orders," said Grand Prairie Democrat Chris Turner, the head of the Texas House Democratic Caucus. "His stance has been echoed by Texas public health experts, doctors and hospital officials ... The bottom line is this: Texas needs to follow doctors' orders when it comes to fighting the coronavirus. We all want business to reopen as soon as possible, but that can only happen when it is safe to do so."

Texas currently ranks 48th per capita among U.S. states in testing, Turner said, and first in the rate of uninsured residents.

"Texas is near last when we should be first and first when we should be last," he said.

Dallas County doubled the testing capacities of its two drive-thru testing centers Thursday — to a maximum of 1,000 tests per day. Still, after more than a month of social-distancing measures being in place, those federally funded tests are available only to those older than 65, those with underlying medical conditions and those suffering from symptoms consistent with COVID-19 — all the groups, basically, who should be the last to stick their heads above ground as society begins to reopen.

"Without proper testing, we cannot identify, nor can we isolate individuals who may be among us, spreading the COVID-19," Rep. Senfronia Thompson said. "We need to continue following the recommendations of health experts. Isolate, except for when we are performing essential functions, and stay six feet apart so we don't end up being six feet under."

As Texans head back into public life, it is inevitable that more of us will become infected with the coronavirus. Those who catch the bug will need to seek treatment. Texas Democrats argue that more of that treatment should be covered by the federal government.

"There's many things that can be done during this crisis to bring people into health insurance," Rep. Garnet Coleman said. "As you all know, we have 5 million uninsured people in Texas. That's just a number that is too high. The rate of our uninsured is about 18%, which makes us one of the highest in the country. Last session, every Democratic member of the House voted to expand Medicaid."

Republicans failed to push the expansion through, but Abbott can himself elect to take the massive federal windfall that comes with expanding the program. Doing so would protect workers across the state, should they get ill from the virus.

Doctors and nurses who are treating their fellow Texans need protection, literally, if the state is to get back to business. According to a Texas Medical Association survey, more than 60% of doctors in the state have a week or less supply of N95 respiratory masks. More than half of doctors reported a similarly low supply of face shields and gowns.

While the governor's office has distributed millions of items of personal protective healthcare equipment to providers, local providers are being left in the lurch, according to Democrats.

"Reopening the healthcare economy by expanding the essential services really does make sense, there's something to that," Rep. Donna Howard said, "but it's got to be evidence based. We need to be carefully monitoring so that we can be nimble if a surge occurs and this monitoring requires not just adequate testing but adequate PPE."

Nursing homes around the state have been among the locations hardest hit by the virus. Thursday, Dallas County reported seven more deaths from the virus. Three of those deaths occurred in nursing homes. It's imperative that the state collect and distribute data from facilities across the state as it loosens restrictions, state Rep. Joe Moody said Thursday.

"To make informed decisions, seniors living in those facilities and their loved ones need accurate state information on the spread and fatality of COVID-19 in those facilities," Moody said.

Abbott is expected to reveal his plan for opening the economy on Friday.
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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