The following editorial published in the Houston Chronicle on June 17:
One thing could stop Texas’ COVID-19 spike. Why is Gov. Greg Abbott blocking it?
Gov. Greg Abbott, it’s time to stop sending mixed messages on COVID-19. We understand the need to ease Texas back to normalcy, but as our economy reopens the pandemic’s reach is spreading too.
The latest numbers show an alarming upswing in cases and hospitalizations across Texas. On Tuesday, the number of reported cases increased by 4,487. That includes older cases that hadn’t been previously reported, but even leaving those aside, it was the largest one-day increase in new cases on record.
The number of people hospitalized due to COVID-19 also reached a single-day record of 2,518 patients, which is putting a strain on many facilities in the state’s largest cities, including Houston, San Antonio and Dallas.
In Harris County, COVID-19 hospitalizations reached an all-time high last week, according to County Judge Lina Hidalgo. As of June 10, hospitals in the 25-county Houston region were using 88 percent of their ICU capacity.
More than 2,000 Texans have died from the insidious virus, with 48 deaths reported on Tuesday alone.
Even as the numbers rise, too many of our fellow Texans are letting up on the very safety measures that helped flatten the curve and allowed states to reopen. That is likely contributing to the spike in cases, and could lead to a surge that overwhelms hospitals and results in more deaths.
Governor, as the leader of the state, you should be setting an example.
Instead of dismissing concerns about the rise in cases, pay attention to the eye-popping numbers and the doctors who are warning us all to stay vigilant. “We can’t get comfortable with this virus,” Dr. Faisal Masud, medical director of critical care for Houston Methodist, told the Houston Chronicle this week. “This is not letting us go.”
Listen to nine mayors of your state’s biggest cities who are begging you to allow them to mandate masks, a safety measure shown to reduce COVID-19 transmission.
“We should trust local officials to make informed choices about health policy,” wrote the mayors, who include Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. “And if mayors are given the opportunity to require face coverings, we believe our cities will be ready to help reduce the spread of this disease.”
Perhaps you thought you had good reason to overrule local officials, such as Hidalgo, when they first tried to pass ordinances requiring face masks in public.
However, it is clear now that many in the public won’t take necessary precautions unless ordered. Don’t let yourself be bullied by fools equating a mask mandate to tyranny. Nothing in the U.S. Constitution allows people to endanger other people’s lives by helping sustain a deadly pandemic.
We were heartened to see that on Wednesday, you gave your blessing to Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff’s plan to order businesses to mandate customers and employees wear face coverings as of June 22. That’s a start.
Now go a step further and give local officials back the power to require residents to wear masks when they are outside and near other people. That would not take away anyone’s liberty – any more than requiring people to wear seat belts or stop at red lights.
What it would do is send a clear, unequivocal message to all Texans that we cannot let our guard down. And we each must do our part to save lives.