Mayors Plead with Abbott For a Mask Policy With Teeth

We get it – it’s difficult to know what’s a recommendation and what is a rule when it comes to the state and local response to COVID-19. It’s also difficult to know what best practices are truly important with so many mixed messages. Today’s bullet points examine this, and other things:

  • Mayors plead with Abbott for a mask policy with some teeth;
  • Jenkins, Abbott spar about local control;
  • Hospitalizations and ER visits continue to rise;
  • My Black Receipt movement encourages supporting Black-owned businesses.

Mayors Plead with Abbott For a Mask Policy With Teeth

Nine mayors in the cities hardest-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic signed on to a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott Tuesday that pleaded with him to allow individual cities to make the rules when it comes to mask-wearing since situations can vary from city to city.

The letter, which is signed by Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, Austin Mayor Steve Adler, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, El Paso Mayor Dee Margo, Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams, Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere and Grand Prairie Mayor Ron Jensen, stresses that since the state hasn’t affixed any penalty to not wearing a mask, many in their cities “are still refusing to wear these face coverings even though these coverings are scientifically proven to help prevent the disease from spreading.”

“We should trust local officials to make informed choices about health policy,” the letter says, adding that a “one-size-fits-all approach is not the best option.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, the governor set in place fines and possible jail time for violators of executive orders, and expected cities and counties to enforce those restrictions. But just weeks later, he blocked officials from doing so, and then reiterated that stance again later.

At a Tuesday press conference, Abbott signaled that he would likely not listen to the mayors, adding that he allows them the ability to control infection in other ways, such as fining individuals and businesses for violating rules on gatherings.

“I make clear on a daily basis around the entire state of Texas that wearing a mask is very important, and local officials send that message,” he said. “Putting people in jail, however, is the wrong approach for this thing.”

You can read the full letter here.

Do you agree with Abbott, or disagree? Let us know in our survey about local and state response to the pandemic.

Abbott Spars With Jenkins Over Local Control, Says Hospitals Can Handle Current Surge

Abbott began his press conference by discussing the state’s new daily high Tuesday – 2,622 new cases, plus an additional 1,476 inmate cases that were previously diagnosed by Texas Department of Criminal Justice but only just reported to health officials in Anderson and Brazoria counties, made the total for the day 4,098.

But Abbott insisted that businesses were better prepared to deal with COVID-19 than they were in the beginning.

“Businesses have learned safe strategies both for their employees as well as their customers to make sure that they’re preventing the spread of COVID-19,” Abbott said.

“There are three strategies that everyone can use that will go a long way to slowing and reducing the spread of COVID-19,” he said. “One is to wear masks, two is to use frequent hand sanitizing, and three is to maintain these safe distancing practices.

“He may have been offended by my honesty.” – Clay Jenkins

He did acknowledge that despite an early misfire of messaging by the World Health Organization that has since been clarified, presymptomatic people and asymptomatic people can spread the disease.

“You may have it and not know it,” Abbott said.

“We are here today to let Texans know about the abundant hospital capacity that exists to treat Texans who may test positive for COVID-19,” Abbott told reporters.

Abbott, executive vice chancellor for health affairs at the University of Texas System Dr. John Zerwas, and Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt all said that while the increase in numbers was concerning, it was expected, and happening at a manageable level – but Hellerstedt did say that the possibility of a flare up and resurgence of the virus that would tax hospitals “is still very real.”

Right now, though, available beds are still relatively plentiful, Abbott said.

“Even though there are more people hospitalized, we still remain at the lowest threat level to our hospital capacity,” he said.

Zerwas gave a presentation on hospital bed availability, explaining that there are 14,993 total beds available in Texas out of the state’s 54,844 beds.

The day before, Abbott told several media outlets that he felt the blame for the resurgence fell on people in their 20s.

“We are beginning to see for the month of June an increase in the number of people testing positive who are in the age group the 20s, meaning between the age of 20 and 29,” Abbott told one news station. “People of that age group, they’re not following these appropriate, best health safety practices.”

In Dallas County, according to the June 16 aggregate report, cases among 18 to 40-year-olds and cases among 41 to 64-year-olds are almost even, at 41% and 38%.

When asked whether he would respond to the nine mayors, Abbott instead turned his ire to Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, who had apparently also requested the ability to craft a mask policy with more teeth.

“Putting people in jail, however, is the wrong approach,” Abbott said, adding that he believes Jenkins wants to do just that. He also criticized the mayors and other county judges, saying that he feels they weren’t using all the tools at their disposal.

“He should not be stoking hysteria.” – Greg Abbott

“I don’t want to quarrel with the governor. Sunday night, the Governor’s staff asked me: ‘Do you have any idea what is specifically causing the increase?’ Jenkins said in a statement in response to Abbott’s criticism.

“I answered: ‘Yes. Increased activity and human contact. Loosening of masking and social distancing. Both brought about by the Governor’s decisions to accelerate opening and limit our local ability to enforce recommendations from Governor or medical experts.’

“He may have been offended by my honesty,” he added.

Jenkins said in his statement that he did not intend to jail anyone for not wearing a mask, nor did the city of Dallas.

“Rather, we made requirements out of the Governor’s recommendations only to have his attorney Ken Paxton write us a letter demanding we rescind our efforts and saying they didn’t want the Governor’s recommendations enforced or checked on,” he said. “I’m simply asking the Governor to lead on the masking requirement the medical experts say is the single most important thing we can do right now to prevent spread or allow local governments to lead on this important issue.”

In an interview with Fox4 in Dallas, Abbott continued to criticize Jenkins, calling him “two-faced.”

“The only reason why they want to increase requirements on people in Dallas County with regard to masks is so Judge Jenkins can play sheriff and go out and try to arrest people and put them behind bars,” he said. “He should not be stoking hysteria.”

Meanwhile, the confusion seems to be impacting local businesses, as several restaurants have reported positive cases among employees. Central Market parent company H-E-B recently ended its requirement for shoppers to wear masks, citing the difficulty in enforcing something that doesn’t have a law behind it.

“Without any guidance or rules from the local government like we had a couple of weeks ago, there is nothing to enforce,” H-E-B spokesperson Dya Campos said. “We would have to call [the police] for every conflict and use illegal trespass. It’s very difficult to deny entry. We request all customers wear masks and encourage it with messaging.”

Hospitalizations and ER Visits Continue To Rise

Dallas County health officials reported 306 new positive cases of the novel coronavirus Tuesday, bringing the total case count to 14,843. If new case counts continue apace, the county will breach 15,000 total cases today.

The county also reported eight additional deaths, bringing the total to 293.

Among the dead are a Dallas man in his 30s, a Hutchins man in his 40s, a Dallas woman in her 40s, two Dallas men in their 60s, a Dallas woman in her 70s. All had underlying high-risk health conditions.

In addition, two deaths associated with long-term care facilities were reported – two women in their 90s at Dallas facilities. Both died at those facilities. Of the 293 total deaths reported to date, over a third have been associated with long-term care facilities.

The county also reported that last week the COVID-19-related hospital admissions had increased to about 370, this week they have increased to 400. Emergency room visits have also increased, with the number for those with COVID-19-like symptoms reaching 25% of all visits, or 506, for the 24-hour period ending June 15.

In his evening newsletter, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson said that 25 hospitals reported their bed availability Tuesday. Of the 6,065 beds available, 64% were occupied.  Of the 927 ICU beds available, 67% were occupied, and of the 971 ventilators available, 333 were in use.

Of cases requiring hospitalization who reported employment, about 85% have been critical infrastructure workers including those in healthcare (14%), transportation (13%), food and agriculture – which includes grocery stores and places you can buy food (16%), public works (13%), finance (4%), communications (2%), teachers, real estate, and clergy (5%), and first responders (3%).

In the county’s June 16 aggregate report, most cases continue to be between the ages of 18 and 60, with the 18-40 age group accounting for 41% of the cases, and the 41-64 age group accounting for another 38% of the total cases. To compare with the last aggregate report, click here.

Close contact or community transmission continues to be the biggest risk factor for contracting COVID-19,  accounting for roughly 88.5% of all cases. Living in a long-term care facility, being incarcerated in the county jail, and working in a meat or food processing plant are a distant second, third, and fourth, at 3.9%, 3.3%, and 2%, respectively.

Of the testing done, positive cases accounted for 13.3% as of June 6, with 478 positives coming from 3,595 tests. Testing and positive test results of COVID-19 far outpaces any other respiratory virus – even if you combine them all.

Fourteen percent of all cases ended up hospitalized – 28% ended up in intensive care, and 16% ended up on a ventilator.

In a city-by-city breakdown, Dallas still comes in with the highest number of cases – 8,262, or 55.7%. Highland Park has 20 cases so far, and University Park now has 32.

Regionally, Tarrant County reported 144 new cases Tuesday, and 1 new death; Denton County reported 40 new cases; and Collin County 79 new cases. Statewide, 1,348,442 tests have been administered, with 93,206 testing positive in 229 counties, and 2,029 deaths so far.

‘My Black Receipt’ Movement Encourages Support of Black-Owned Businesses

One movement, spearheaded by five entities, will encourage consumers to buy from Black-owned businesses for roughly three weeks.

“The ‘My Black Receipt’ movement will activate an army of consumers to buy from a Black-owned business on Juneteenth (June 19) through Independence Day (July 4),” organizers said. “Participating is simple, buy Black, upload your Black receipt, and your purchase is added to thousands of others buying Black on these dates!”

The organizers will then validate each receipt and tally the spending done by Black consumers and their allies.

“We will demonstrate our collective buying power while using robust data,” the organizers explained.

To participate, visit myblackreceipt.com beginning on June 19. Enter your name, the name of the business where you made your purchase, the purchase amount, and then upload a photo of your receipt.

“Your purchase amount will be added to the purchases from other committed consumers who love Black-owned businesses as much as you! And, your name, the business you supported and your purchase amount will be displayed on the page,” the organizers explained. “Think, a petition, but it is composed of Black receipts!”

Black business owners can go here to be added to the preferred shopping list.

 

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, deputy editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at bethany.erickson@peoplenewspapers.com.

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