For the first time since Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson put much of North Texas in novel coronavirus hibernation in mid-March, the range of activities Dallas residents are allowed to undertake grew significantly last week. Next week, thanks to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, the list of things Texans can do is going to get wider still.
Thanks to Abbott, you can now, if you choose, go shopping anywhere you want, as long as you're willing to pick up your goods curbside. You can also seek out an elective medical procedure, as long as the hospital or facility you get it from is doing its part to conserve personal protective equipment and space for potential COVID-19 patients. The new governor-granted leeway even covers abortion procedures, previously subject to a back-and-forth court battle during the early weeks of the pandemic.
Texans can also go to state parks, provided they don't gather in groups of more than five and they cover their faces.
The state's disaster declaration — to which Dallas has hitched its star — expires May 12, but the orders issued under that declaration are getting broader and broader. Monday, Abbott plans to announce his plans to further open the state.
Throughout last week, the governor dropped breadcrumbs about his plans on conservative radio. Abbott promised listeners that "many different types of business" would get the go-ahead, including hair salons and restaurants. Counties with few cases are likely to see more types of businesses open than counties — like Dallas, Harris and Tarrant — that have had major outbreaks of COVID-19.
Abbott says the lessened restrictions will be in place in early May. Regardless of what the rules are in a given city, Texans are going to face the same questions then as they do now: How much risk are they willing to tolerate, and what do they feel is necessary?
"We need to exhibit grace towards each other, especially those who don't agree with us." – Clay Jenkins
"We need to exhibit grace towards each other, especially those who don't agree with us. You're going to see more and more of this, especially as things move on," Jenkins said Thursday.
According to polling released Friday by the Texas Tribune, Texans disagree — largely along party lines — about how successful the state has been at containing COVID-19.
Among Texas Republicans, 47% of those polled by the Tribune think the virus has either already been contained or will be contained enough in the next few weeks to allow activities like social gatherings, office work and sporting events. Only 12% of Democrats have similar expectations. Of the poll's Democratic respondents, 46% think the state will be able to return to most activities in the few months, and 28% think they will return in the next year.
“It’s a serious crisis, at the very least a big deal. And while we’re concerned about the damage to the economy, it’s such a public health risk that that takes precedence now," said Daron Shaw, a government professor at the University of Texas at Austin and co-director of the poll, according to the Tribune. "When you’re talking about the people in the middle willing to go along with what the government is doing, there’s a general sense that Americans will do a lot to deal with it.”
The poll reports a similar partisan split in what Texans believe is a greater risk to the country. A majority of Republicans, 55%, believe staying home too long is a bigger threat to the country than not staying home long enough, while 83% of Democrats polled believe the opposite.
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.