The Trump administration, which has long downplayed the threat of the coronavirus, is now calling on Texas to get its act together.
A White House report made public on Monday states that Texas “must intensify” its response efforts as it backslides into a “full resurgence” of COVID-19. This comes as the Lone Star State counts the second-highest number of coronavirus cases in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The report’s release prompted Texas Democratic leadership to call on Gov. Greg Abbott to enforce harsher statewide restrictions. In a statement Tuesday, Texas Democratic Party chair Gilberto Hinojosa said the governor “completely failed” to manage the coronavirus crisis.
“A true leader would understand the only way to save the economy is by stopping the further spread of this disease that has taken too many already,” Hinojosa said. “When you lose the Trump White House, you know just how abysmal Abbott’s response to the coronavirus has been.”
Democratic state lawmakers were also quick to pounce on the news.
“Even the Trump Administration is calling on Texas to do more to fight COVID-19. If @GovAbbott will not act, he must return authority to local officials so they can make the hard decisions necessary to protect Texans,” Arlington-Grand Prairie state Rep. Chris Turner said in a tweet.
Even the Trump Administration is calling on Texas to do more to fight COVID-19. If @GovAbbott will not act, he must return authority to local officials so they can make the hard decisions necessary to protect Texans. #txlege https://t.co/iGVR245Vtx— Chris Turner (@ChrisGTurner) November 30, 2020
Although the report was issued last week, it was published on Monday by the Center for Public Integrity. At the time of release, El Paso, Tarrant and Dallas counties, respectively, ranked highest in the number of new cases during a three-week period.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said he hopes Abbott will act to ensure a safer Texas. Local health experts have long been calling for many of the same things the report recommends.
Moving forward, Abbott’s office should release these weekly reports to the public, Jenkins said.
“There are people out there that even if the governor refuses to act, they would like to know what the experts say so they can then protect themselves,” he said.
The report states that the only way “silent community spread” can be stopped is with proactive testing efforts for asymptomatic carriers, as well as through concerted behavioral changes.
Texas leadership should act to ensure masks are worn and physical distancing is enforced by significantly reducing capacity in private indoor and public spaces, according to the report. Teachers, college students, hospital personnel, county workers and other “groups representative of the community” should be tested weekly.
While Texas may be in the “red zone” in terms of coronavirus levels, it actually ranks 34th in the country in cases per capita, the report shows.
The White House coronavirus task force recommends that universities returning in the winter require weekly mandatory testing of students. Also, it warns that some hospitals are running short on personal protective equipment supplies at a time when admissions are surging at “unsustainable levels.”
Renae Eze, a spokeswoman for Abbott’s office, told the Houston Chronicle on Monday that the governor is relying on hospital metrics to guide the state’s COVID-19 response.
“As some communities experience a rise in hospitalizations, the state of Texas is working closely with local officials to quickly provide the resources needed to address these spikes and keep Texans safe, including beginning distribution of the Eli Lilly drug to treat cases of COVID-19 in the hardest-hit communities and aid in reducing hospitalizations,” she said.
Tuesday, North Texas counted its fifth consecutive day of COVID-19 patients occupying more than 15% of hospital beds, according to the state's health department. Should that trend continue, a governor’s executive order will close bars and roll back restaurant capacity to 50%.
In July, Abbott issued a statewide mask mandate, but local officials are the ones responsible for enforcing it. Several Texas Republican sheriffs have openly stated they refuse to do so, including Denton County Sheriff Tracy Murphree.
Studies prove that face coverings save lives. CDC epidemiologist Robert Hahn estimates that up to 12,000 coronavirus-related deaths occurred between April and July because of President Donald Trump’s negative remarks and lies about masks.
Still, it doesn’t do any good to shame our neighbor for not following COVID-19 safety guidelines, Jenkins said. North Texas residents should just focus on what they can personally do to slow the spread.
“If we all looked at what we individually can do, it would be a little safer,” Jenkins said.
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