By Chris Tomlinson, Staff writer
Thousands of Texans are falling ill, hundreds will suffer disabilities, and dozens will die because of a small group of people who were too selfish, vain or greedy to slow the COVID-19 pandemic.
The irony, of course, is these super-spreaders of disease and disinformation also set back the economic recovery they promised to kickstart.
Anti-government libertarians and anti-science conservatives made the most political noise in April and late May. They convinced our cowardly leaders in Austin to ignore the experts, overrule local authorities and reopen Texas businesses before the public health system was ready.
Sure, Gov. Greg Abbott initially promised to follow White House guidelines but threw them out. He didn’t wait until we had enough contract tracers or testing. When the infection rate doubled, he broke his promise and kept reopening more and more businesses.
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On May 29, I warned that June could be the most consequential month in our lifetimes, and sadly, I was right. The answer to whether Americans can be trusted to act responsibly in the face of a debilitating disease is, unfortunately, a bold case no.
Remember when Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called on senior Texans to risk their lives for the good of the economy? He wasn’t asking; apparently, he was telling. His push to reopen has put us all at higher risk after the state ordered hospitals to stop elective surgeries.
The percentage of positive cases compared to the total number tested, known as the positivity rate, is skyrocketing, proving undoubtedly that the pandemic is worsening. Abbott said he would have to roll back the reopening of businesses if the rate exceeded 10 percent. He did not act until it was nearly 14 percent.
The disease is closing in on us. HEB grocery stores are watching staff fall ill. Small-town Texas is seeing the coronavirus take hold. Oil and gas operations centers report infected staffers. Essential workers deserve hazard pay because they are getting sick.
Pity the epidemiologists and the infectious disease doctors. They have spent their careers preparing for this moment, doing the research, running the models, understanding human behavior. When their time to shine came, our craven politicians shut them down, and now they can only watch in horror.
Texans should be angry. We saw what happened in China, South Korea, Italy, Spain, Germany, Washington, New York and Michigan. We could have prepared, but our leaders put slogans and ideology ahead of facts and science.
Abbott and Patrick caved for their whack-job supporters and the money, of course. They did it for folks like Steven Hotze, a Patrick supporter who sued Abbott to reopen the state and stop contact tracing.
Patrick, meanwhile, booked time on Fox News to kowtow to President Donald Trump, who still thinks the problem will go away if we just stop testing so much. Thanks to our elected leaders, Americans are banned from Europe, and Texas has become the nation’s COVID-19 basket case.
Hospitals are filling up, businesses are re-shuttering, workers are remaining at home, and the jobless claims keep piling up. Every time someone celebrates the positive economic growth rates month-over-month, they need to look again at how we are doing compared to last year.
Where are our leaders now? Patrick is missing in action, and Abbott does his best to avoid tough decisions for fear the fringes of his party might get upset. Meanwhile, the majority of Texans have to deal with idiots who refuse to wear masks and have to contribute to the health care and economic costs of those who refuse to act responsibly.
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Leadership matters. When I was a sergeant, my evaluation report included a section on moral courage. The Army defined that as doing the right thing when it was hard and unpopular. Texas needs moral courage by the barrel right now.
Community spread is out of control. We need to shut down non-essential activities that gather more than 10 people in the same room and then test like mad. No more 100-person choirs singing at political rallies.
We’ve got to isolate the ill until we get to a 5 percent infection rate. Epidemiologists say we need at least 30 contact tracers per 100,000 people. Texas has 10.8 thanks to the state putting a Republican crony in charge. No reopening until we get staffed up.
Lastly, and this has always been Center for Disease Control protocol, a non-partisan public health professional should take charge with daily briefings. No more politicians speechifying. Texans need a daily science class until we stop infecting one another.
To save the economy and Texas businesses, our leaders must start respecting science now. Our lives and livelihoods depend on it.
Tomlinson writes commentary about business, economics and policy.