Government leaders in the state’s major metropolitan areas are appealing to Gov. Greg Abbott to allow them to issue new mandatory stay-home orders to help fight the surges in COVID-19 their cities are experiencing. Houston/Harris County, Dallas County, Bexar County and Travis County all want the state’s reopening rolled back in advance of the July 4 holiday.
“Give us back our tools,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said on Monday. “I think people can see what we had and how we utilized them worked. Give them back to us. Because the situation is more critical now than then, and we had more tools at our disposal then than now.”
A letter from Travis County Judge Sam Briscoe to Abbott states, “the rapid increase in cases has outstripped our ability to track, measure and mitigate the spread of the disease.”
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins sent a similar letter to Abbott in which he suggested mandatory masks and physical distancing enforced with fines, another “Stay at Home, Stay Safe” order for 30 days, full closure of restaurant dining rooms, a 10-person limit on indoor gatherings and closing social venues like gyms, bowling alleys, public pools and theaters.
Eight Texas Congressional Democrats on Monday issued a statement to Abbott noting there are currently no mandatory requirements for face masks in public or caps on capacity in restaurants, bars or any other business.
“Municipalities and their local law enforcement agencies must be allowed to listen to their health care experts and institute whatever measures are needed to bring the coronavirus under control,” they said. “Governor Abbott took important steps to mitigate the virus’ impact, but it’s not enough. The status quo is unacceptable, and counties must be allowed to decide for themselves what is best for their citizens.”
Abbott has been stepping up his public appeals for people to stay home and wear masks when not at home, but he remains opposed to instituting mandatory orders. He favors more targeted methods to control the spread of COVID-19.
In a TV interview on Fox 4 News Monday, the governor bristled at Jenkins’ request saying, “he seems to want to continue to force poverty on people by having a stay-at-home order that will crash all of these people who are now out working earning a paycheck.”
Abbott has paused further reopening of Texas businesses. On Friday, he ordered all bars closed and rolled restaurant operations back to 50%.
After going weeks without any enforcement of occupancy orders, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission a week ago began undercover investigations of bars and restaurants for violations. More than 15 bars around the state have had their alcohol permits suspended as a result of that enforcement.
The state’s initial stay-home orders were issued at local levels. Abbott took that power from local elected officials in April.
COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have been on an upward trajectory for the last two weeks. The increased spread has threatened to overwhelm hospitals and testing capabilities.