One month into reopening, Texas still has work to do
Reaching the one-month mark of Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan for reopening the state should be a time for careful evaluation, not irrational exuberance.
It is not the occasion for throwing packed pool parties, jettisoning social-distancing guidelines or trying to snatch the Republican National Convention from North Carolina. It’s not even a time to show up without a mask to a crowded march for justice.
Disregarding the medical and scientific advice that has gotten us this far in the battle against the new coronavirus pandemic only threatens to throw us back into more shutdowns and stay-at-home orders.
So, let’s take a deep breath — preferably into a mask if you are out in public — and review where things stand.
Abbott’s order allowed retail stores, dine-in restaurants, movie theaters, and malls to reopen May 1 at 25 percent of their listed occupancy while also following recommended social-distancing guidelines.
He later allowed hair salons, pools and gyms to resume business under similar restraints on May 18. He added bars on May 22 while permitting restaurants to expand to their dining to 50 percent capacity.
Abbott has pointed to the fact that Texas continues to have one of the lowest per capita rates of confirmed cases and of coronavirus-related deaths in the nation while touting his plan to contain deadly waves of infections in nursing homes, meat-packing plants, jails and prisons with “surge response teams,” made up of health workers, emergency response workers and the National Guard.
President Donald Trump and others, including Abbott himself, have praised the state’s process as a model for getting the economy back up and running.
It should be noted that the state has so far met only one of the four benchmarks the governor’s medical adviser set for continued reopening.
The state says it has reached the benchmark for health care capacity to treat COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization. It’s just over 80 percent of the goal for an average of 30,000 tests per day and is halfway to hiring 4,000 contact tracers to follow up with people who might have been exposed to the virus.
Texas is not yet close to meeting the requirement of 14 consecutive days of decline in newly diagnosed cases. After stringing together a seven-day stretch of falling cases from May 20 to May 27, the numbers started going up again through the end of the month.
Abbott has said that a rise in reported cases should be expected with increased testing, but it is his plan that set the 14-day standard and we are at least two weeks away from meeting it.
That doesn’t mean the plan is failing but it also doesn’t indicate unqualified success. And it certainly doesn’t warrant early celebrations or rushing into the next phase.
The governor should stick to his pledge to proceed carefully with decisions guided by “data and doctors.” That includes tapping the brakes when and where the numbers point to a resurgence of the virus.
It also means that Texans must keep up our guard on social-distancing, hand-washing and mask-wearing. As boring as it sounds, those personal actions remain the best tools for sustaining the reopening and recovery efforts.
That’s not what we saw over the Memorial Day weekend as some residents decided to clump together in large groups including a crowded pool party at a Midtown club and the city of Houston received 250 social-distancing complaints.
There also has been foolish talk of trying to grab this summer’s Republican National Convention from North Carolina. The apparent price is a guarantee to suspend social-distancing rules to accommodate a 10,000-person gathering without knowing what the state of the pandemic will be in late August.
Any city would love the economic boost from convention crowds, but a six-day mosh pit in a crowded arena is not a good prescription for public health.
There will be a time for a balloon drop, but for now, we all need to stick with the plan.