Officials In Galveston, Dallas And El Paso Are At Odds With Abbott Over Reopening

The governor’s reopening order supersedes local decisions to keep some businesses or public spaces closed because of the pandemic.

By Jill Ament & Rhonda FanningMay 1, 2020 7:42 am, , ,

Since the coronavirus outbreak began in Texas, state and local officials have had to make difficult decisions to protect Texans’ health and safety. Some of those decisions have had dire economic consequences.

Now, as Texas starts to reopen some businesses through a statewide order from Gov. Greg Abbott, the state begins a test to see if it can restart the state economy without jeopardizing public health. Abbott’s order permits all retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters and malls to reopen at 25% capacity, and they must follow social-distancing and sanitation guidelines.

In Galveston County, public beaches are also reopening. John Wayne Ferguson, a reporter for Galveston County Daily News, told Texas Standard host David Brown on Friday that some Galveston city leaders are at odds with the governor about that decision. They had wanted beaches to remain closed this weekend, but state orders supersede local ones. As a result, city leaders are urging residents to continue to practice social distancing, especially in anticipation of possible population surges now and during upcoming summer holidays.

“Some city leaders are now just telling people that live on the island to be careful,” he said. “Maybe do your shopping in grocery stores and other places now.”

In Dallas County, some local officials say reopening will exacerbate the continued rise of COVID-19 cases there. On Thursday, the county reported the largest number of cases since data collection began.

Nic Garcia is county government and politics reporter for The Dallas Morning News. He told Texas Standard that County Judge Clay Jenkins is concerned. Jenkins is in charge of the county’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.

“This week, our numbers are dramatically back up,” Garcia said. “That is giving Judge Jenkins real, real pause. ”

Part of the disconnect between local officials like Jenkins and Gov. Abbott, Garcia pointed out, is that they seem to be using different sets of data to gauge the state of the pandemic in Texas. Garcia said that confuses everyone, including reporters and the public.

“I think we’re going to see a real tussle among elected officials over what data really matters here,” Garcia said.

In El Paso County, COVID-19 cases have risen sharply, and officials worry that the reopening is happening too soon despite how much the closures have hurt the local economy.

Angela Kocherga is news director for KTEP public radio. She told Texas standard that the Fort Bliss Army installation in El Paso is continuing its stay-at-home orders, despite what the state is doing. And officials in neighboring Las Cruces, New Mexico, are urging their residents to avoid El Paso especially during the upcoming Mother’s Day weekend.

Kocherga said that the contradiction between state and local officials sends a “mixed message” to the public. In an interview, one public official, El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego put it to her this way:

“My message of containment and my message of supporting public health has now faded completely,” Samaniego said. “Dad said you could go out and play and Mom said ‘No.'”

Web story by Caroline Covington.

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