Abbott Criticized for Ban on Covid Mandates as Cases Soar in Texas
AUSTIN, Texas – The dilemma seemed familiar. A prominent and ambitious Red State governor, who had taken a firm stand against mask warrants and other aggressive measures to tackle the spread of Covid-19, suddenly found himself on the defensive as cases and hospitalizations were skyrocketing in his state.
First it was Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida. Now it is Texas Governor Greg Abbott who comes under fierce criticism as intensive care beds fell to single digits in Austin and health officials in San Antonio called his level of risk a ‘a notch below the critical level. But Mr Abbott remains steadfast in his refusal to enact a statewide mandate as he bars local officials from doing so in their own communities.
Fear and frustration arise as schools are set to reopen in the country’s second most populous state, raising fears of further spread of the virus.
“The governor has shown a complete disregard for life and safety in defiance of clear medical directives and risks the safety of our children and the recovery of our economy,” said Mayor Ron Nirenberg of San Antonio.
In a statement, a spokeswoman for Mr Abbott said he was focusing on personal responsibility, but she did not address details of the state’s Covid crisis.
“Governor Abbott has been clear that we must rely on personal responsibility, not government mandates,” the statement said. “Every Texan has the right to choose for himself and his children whether he will wear masks, open his business or be vaccinated.”
He added that although all eligible Texans have been asked to be vaccinated, the vaccine itself “will always remain voluntary and never forced in Texas.”
Despite his current hard line, Mr. Abbott has had varying approaches to the pandemic.
Its previous statewide restrictions, enacted in March last year, included a mask mandate, as well as limiting social gatherings to 10 people and closing some businesses such as gyms. Those that remained open were operating at limited capacity.
The state lifted warrants last March, citing the presence of vaccines and its own projection that seven million people in the state would receive an injection by mid-March.
But in the months that followed, with the Delta variant shattering optimistic projections across the country, coronavirus cases steadily increased until the state reached its current status: more than 12,000 new cases per day in average, an increase of 134% over the past two weeks, and nearly 8,000 hospitalizations, according to a New York Times database. Only 44 percent of the state’s residents are fully immunized, which is well below the national average of 50 percent.
“Over the past few weeks, Texas has been at the forefront of the resurgence,” said Lauren Ancel Meyers, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin and director of the university’s Covid-19 model consortium.
The number of coronavirus-related hospitalizations in the state is expected to climb to more than 15,000 by the end of August, according to the university model.
Last month, in response to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reversing its previous recommendation that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks indoors in high-risk areas, Mr Abbott doubled down in the opposite direction. He issued an executive order banning local governments and state agencies from mandating vaccines and reaffirmed previous decisions to ban local authorities from imposing masks.
The governor also claimed that schools could not promulgate mask warrants for students, a move that some public health experts say could lead to a further increase in cases.
“It’s very likely that if students and parents show up on day one with coronavirus, it could exacerbate this,” Ms. Meyers said. “Current state law prohibits schools from requiring face masks, so the hands are kind of tied locally within schools with what we can do.”
The issue is both a public health issue and a political issue for Mr Abbott.
Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University in Houston, said Abbott had had to walk a difficult political path throughout the pandemic. The governor’s initial restrictions on business and other aspects of daily life at the start of the pandemic caused a backlash among grassroots conservatives who hate government interference and who also form the core of the primary electorate. republican.
Mr Abbott was able to rebuild much of that support after lifting restrictions when Covid declined, Professor Jones said, but would again risk causing friction with Republican primary voters if he reimposed regulations.
“This definitely works in favor of the Republican primary voters,” he said of the governor’s strategy, noting that Mr Abbott’s goal is to win overwhelmingly in the 2022 Republican primary against two Tory challengers. – former State Senator Don Huffines and former Republican Party Chairman Allen West. .
James Riddlesperger, professor of political science at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, said Mr. Abbott, who like Mr. DeSantis would have his own presidential ambitions, sees something similar.
“This is a very high-risk, high-reward strategy that he and other national Republican leaders are pursuing, where they just don’t believe the Covid crisis is going to cause the number of deaths that many health professionals suggest it might, ”he said.
Understanding the state of vaccination mandates in the United States
In Austin, local health officials have approved recommendations that, among other things, urge fully immunized people to wear masks and encourage partially and fully unvaccinated people to get fully immunized, stay home, and avoid gatherings. , unless an exit is inevitable. Under Mr Abbott’s ban on mask and vaccine warrants, however, local officials have no enforcement powers and can only recommend compliance.
In San Antonio, the virus is also wreaking havoc at medical facilities. The seven-day average of new cases there is 1,346, with 1,002 Covid patients hospitalized and 273 of them on ventilators, according to city data.
“I would say we’re in a pretty tough spot,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler said. “The numbers in our hospitals are approaching the highest we have seen during the entire pandemic. “
Mr Adler and mayors of other Democratic-leaning metropolitan areas say the policies Mr Abbott and other Republican leaders are adopting against warrants crush the powers local authorities have to fight the virus.
“He believed that people had the right not to be vaccinated,” Mr Adler said. “But I don’t think people have the right to endanger the rest of the community. “
Some officials are considering defying Mr Abbott’s executive orders. Nelson Wolff, the judge for Bexar County, which includes San Antonio, said he plans to implement a mask warrant for the county’s 5,000 employees this week.
Mr Wolff and the county commissioners are looking for legal niceties that would allow them to implement such a mandate in defiance of Mr Abbott’s directive.
In Houston, Mayor Sylvester Turner has previously circumvented the governor’s ban on mask warrants by ordering city workers to wear face coverings inside city buildings and when surrounded by other people and cannot distance themselves socially.
The mayor took action last week after a two-week increase in the number of municipal employees, including police and firefighters, sick with Covid.
“When I saw the exponential increase in the number of city workers falling ill, there was no way I would sit idly by and not at least make mandatory the measures that we know work. “Mr. Turner said on Sunday. “I know what this virus can do. “
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