Texas cities say state is making pandemic worse

City officials in Texas say the state government has hampered their ability to fight the coronavirus outbreak, which is quickly turning into a crisis as hospitals fill up.

Local authorities say Gov. Greg Abbott (R) ‘s executive orders have limited his efforts to combat the growing number of cases; They are especially outraged by Abbott’s move to strip local police of the ability to issue fines to anyone who refuses to wear a mask in public.

“He had the authority and required [masks in public] Months ago, “Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo (D) told The Hill in an interview.” We had great compliance, because the police would show up and educate and people would get it. “

Five days after Hidalgo issued his order on April 22, Abbott used an executive order to prevent local governments such as Harris County, home to Houston and more than 25,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, from issuing fines.

“I no longer have the authority to functionally demand anything,” said Hidalgo. “All I have been able to do is issue recommendations. The whole time I kept my message that people really needed not to go to bars, restaurants and clubs. “

Abbott’s office declined to comment beyond the public statements it made.

Abbott has set an aggressive pace to reopen the state’s economy. It allowed hospitals to begin elective procedures on April 24. Restaurants and some local businesses reopened, albeit with limited capacity, on May 1. Bars and clubs were able to reopen, and restaurants were able to double their capacity on May 18. On June 3, bars could operate at 50 percent of their capacity, and restaurants and retail stores could operate at 75 percent of their capacity by June 12.

As more businesses opened, many Texans returned to normal. The Gulf Coast beaches near Houston thrived over Memorial Day weekend. Three Austin area parks around Lake Travis have closed in recent weeks due to overcrowding.

“It is only human nature. If it’s optional and you’re listening somewhere else that it’s okay to go back to normal life, of course it will, “Hidalgo said.” It makes a lot of sense, if you’re telling people that they can go out there and lead life as usual, there will inevitably be an increase in transmission. “

In more recent days, Abbott has issued more strident warnings about the virus threats, and on Friday announced that bars in the state would be closed.

He also urged Texans to wear masks in public, but mayors say that is not enough.

“The governor has always been saying that people should wear masks, the most important thing people can be doing, but still he took away the authority as cities to enforce mandatory mask rules. That hurts, ”Austin Mayor Steve Adler (D) told The Hill. “When the governor took away our ability to order it, more people stopped wearing masks.”

The spiral of health crises underscores a longer battle between conservatives who dominate the Texas legislature and liberals who run the state’s largest cities.

For a decade or more, the legislature and Abbott and his predecessor Rick perryRick Perry Coronavirus Report: Steve Clemons of The Hill Interview with Ernest Moniz Trump Issues Executive Order to Protect Power Grid from Attacks Why we need to make a rapid transition from fossil fuels to clean energy MORE (R) have passed a series of laws that prevent municipal ordinances in a wide range of public policy debates.

Some of those laws cover hot topics, threatening cities with funding cuts if they enact sanctuary policies for undocumented immigrants or preventing those cities from implementing stricter gun control laws. Others have covered more mundane topics, banning cities from enforcing cell phone bans while driving that are stricter than state hands-free law, or implementing bans on fracking.

A prevention law that Abbott signed in 2017 even prohibited cities from implementing restrictions on cutting trees on private property.

However, when large companies sought to force residents to face wars to cover themselves abroad or risk a fine, Abbott revoked those orders.

As daily case counts increased in mid-June, Abbott ceded some limited authority to cities: He allowed cities to require companies to require customers to wear masks, which was incumbent on business owners who would be hooked for fines instead of your clients.

“That is a good move. And is that more people in my city wear masks. It is not as good as before, and it is not as good as if the governor ordered the use of masks in the state, ”said Adler. “My businesses now understand, probably more than anyone, that if they are going to keep the economy open, then they are the ones that have to help prevent these numbers from going up.”

Epidemiologists and public health experts spent months warning against rapid reopens after the March and April blockades, fearful that the gains from those blockades could quickly unravel if residents returned too quickly to their normal routines.

That is exactly what has happened in Texas. The reopening of phase one in May led to a slight increase in the number of coronavirus cases. The reopening of phase two led to a steady increase across the state. Phase three has contributed to a dramatic increase.

“The public has heard many conflicting messages from the government at the federal, state and local levels. Because of this, the public has to make decisions about protecting their health on their own, “said Marilyn Felkner, an expert in public health at the University of Texas School of Human Ecology in Austin.” The population must take action to caution for a long time. “

Adler said his models show Austin averages 70 new cases per day, the point at which the city would need to shut down again to prevent its healthcare system from overflowing, within a week to ten days. Many of Houston’s hospitals have already reached their regular operating capacity and are now implementing augmentation strategies, Hidalgo said.

“The concern is that these trends that we are looking to project show that we would run out of all beds, including emergency beds in the next 10 to 40 days, and every day [that range] it gets shorter, ”said Hidalgo. “It is not elegant mathematics. In fact, trends are growing quadratically. The trends are not linear, so our projections are conservative. “

Political scientists say the prevention laws that now hinder the battle against the coronavirus are part of a decades-long effort, begun under Perry, the state’s oldest governor, to strengthen the authority of the governor’s office. A system that traditionally favored a weak executive, a powerful legislature, and largely independent cities has now been reversed.

Abbott has struggled to balance his authority with pressure from his conservative flank, and President TrumpDonald John Trump Miami-Dade will close the beaches during the weekend of July 4 by coronavirus fears that an Oklahoma reporter will test positive for COVID-19 after attending the Trump rally in Tulsa Trump criticizes the Governor of Illinois, Mayor for violence in Chicago calls for ‘law and order’ MORE, to reopen the state. Part of that pressure comes from Lt. Governor Dan Patrick (R), a raucous conservative who wields his own extraordinary power as leader of the state Senate.

“There are more important things than living. And that is saving this country for my children and my grandchildren and saving this country for all of us, “Patrick said in Tucker CarlsonTucker Carlson: Tucker Carlson sees big-name advertisers run off after comments about Black Lives Matter The Hill’s morning report: Treasury, Fed urges more spending, loans to ease the remains of COVID-19 Tucker Carlson leaving The Daily Caller PLUSFox News show in April. “I don’t want to die, nobody wants to die, but man, we have to take some risks and go back to the game and make this country work again.”

Patrick’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

“The state is now paying a public health price for its sensitivity to pressure from a mix of right-wing elected officials and opinion leaders in its own party, as well as a Republican base containing a significant faction that is somewhere between tired containment measures and skeptical about the severity of the pandemic, “said James Henson, who heads the Texas Policy Project at UT-Austin.

Amid growing cases, Abbott became the first U.S. governor to re-impose restrictions on companies that were allowed to resume operations on Friday. He ordered the bar, rafting and tube companies to shut down, and reduced the restaurant’s capacity from 75 to 50 percent.

“Right now, it is clear that the increase in cases is largely due to certain types of activities, including Texans who congregate in bars,” Abbott said Friday. “I know that our collective action can lead to a reduction in the spread of COVID-19 because we have done it before, and we will do it again.”

Hidalgo, Adler and other local officials have urged Abbott to give them more authority to restrict movement, require masks, and order some companies to reduce their capacity.

Abbott’s order on Friday gave them some hope, although they are waiting to see if he takes further action. They said they may have only days or a few weeks to substantially reduce the case curve.

“I will do everything in my power to avoid a crisis here. That will require community sacrifice, but I hope that other communities do not make the same mistake, “said Hidalgo. “Everything we can do, we are doing. But it just isn’t enough. “