North Texans trying to maneuver through the coronavirus pandemic are being deluged with conflicting messages from their elected officials.
The lack of a unified approach from our federal, state and local officials have left residents to digest disparate information to determine the ferocity of the COVID-19 threat.
How safe is it to go outside? Opinions vary, and every elected leader has a doctor or scientist to back up their moves. The different approaches don’t help residents who need consistent guidance on how to navigate life in the coronavirus era.
Before I continue with politics, I want to praise the response of the American people to the COVID-19 pandemic and the problems it’s caused with the economy and other aspects of life.
Health care workers and first responders have been outstanding. They’ve risked their health and given their lives to save others. Essential workers have been just as tremendous, many of them getting sick with the virus as they make sure the country has enough food, can get around when necessary or even buy things like a cup of coffee. In an abnormal situation, they’ve provided enough normalcy to keep the rest of us from going stir crazy, or worse.
Then there are the people who heeded the advice of the health experts and stayed home for more than a month. It played out amid family members and friends getting sick. Some of them died.
Shoppers walk through NorthPark Center mall on Friday, May 1, 2020 in Dallas, Texas. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order requiring Texans to stay at home expired on Thursday, allowing businesses to reopen under certain conditions as soon as Friday. Stores, restaurants and movie theaters may open as long as they maintain only a 25% occupancy and follow social distancing. Under those guidelines, malls can also open but food courts, play areas and interactive displays or settings must remain closed. (Ryan Michalesko/Staff Photographer)(Ryan Michalesko / Staff Photographer)
The sacrifice made by Texans resulted in mitigating the impact of the virus and has set the stage for the comeback of the state’s economy, which was the envy of the nation before the pandemic struck.
But our elected leaders differ on the timing for putting the North Texas economy back in motion.
On Friday, as the first phase of Abbott’s plan to reopen economy began, various businesses were allowed to open. That same week Dallas County had its highest number of daily positive coronavirus infections since the pandemic began. According to the county, nearly 80% of the new infections are in people who are working essential jobs.
On Sunday, Dallas County reported a staggering 234 new positive cases, bringing the total to 4,133.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott holds the Governor’s Report to Reopen Texas book during a news conference where he announced he would relax some restrictions imposed on some businesses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Monday, April 27, 2020, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)(Eric Gay)
County Judge Clay Jenkins and others urged Abbott to delay allowing Dallas County businesses to reopen, using the rising number of Dallas County infections and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines as evidence that the risk of contracting the virus is still too great to have additional folks leave their homes. Scientists recommended at least 14 days of declining new cases before easing up on stay-at-home policies.
Jenkins, a Democrat, has a stay-at-home order for Dallas County that expires later this month, but local actions are superseded by Abbott’s reopening plan .
Abbott is using a different metric. In response to the rising number of new infections in some parts of Texas, the Republican governor says the more important statistic is the rate of new positive cases, as well as the rate of hospitalizations, for the entire state. Abbott said last week that both are on the decline. He contends that Texas is heading in the right direction and ready to start the economic revitalization process.
Still, Texas has lagged behind most of the nation in testing for the coronavirus, so as testing for the virus increases, the raw number of cases will rise. Abbott is banking that the March and April mitigation tactics, along with continued caution from Texans, will keep the rate of positive test results down, even as the raw number of new cases increase. Abbott said that he submitted his plan to Dr. Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator for the White House’s coronavirus task force, and that she approved of it.
His metric does appear to satisfy CDC guidelines that call for a “downward trajectory of positive tests as a percent of total tests within a 14-day period (flat or increasing volume of tests).”
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins removes his mask before a press conference at the Dallas County Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management in Dallas on Tuesday, April 28, 2020. ÒThing one that we havenÕt met is two weeks of steady decline,Ó Jenkins said to residents wondering if it is safe to resume normal activities as businesses begin to reopen. He also said it was the deadliest day for the county with 10 new COVID-19 deaths and the highest confirmed amount of new cases in one day: 135. (Lynda M. Gonzalez/The Dallas Morning News)(Lynda M. Gonzalez / Staff Photographer)
But Jenkins disagrees with Abbott, saying the increased number of positive cases in Dallas Country, even as the infection rate decreases statewide, still presents too much of a risk for Texans, particularly the elderly and those with preexisting conditions that would make contracting the virus deadly.
Jenkins said Sunday that county testing shows no appreciable difference in Dallas County coronavirus infection rates, but he conceded that he didn’t know how tests done by private labs impacted the county’s new infection rate.
With Texas leaders on different pages, it’s been up to business owners to digest the conflicting messages and decide on their own whether to stay inside a little longer or take Abbott’s cue and reopen.
Between now and when COVID-19 is defeated, there will be many decisions about how to proceed with the economy and other aspects of everyday life.
Abbott has held several conferences with state and federal lawmakers, including a call last Friday. Participants had to submit questions in advance. Their devices were muted and they couldn’t follow up after the governor’s answers.
And this weekend local leaders, I’m told, were discussing ways to make clearer to residents how safe it is to go about their business.
The fact that there’s some dialogue is progress.
Is it too much to ask our elected leaders to reach a consensus on the best way to keep us safe?