June 24, 2020
Abbott Could Declare Masks to Be Patriotic Duty
in Rebuke to Pandemic Milking for Political Gain
By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor
Governor Greg Abbott is escalating coronavirus testing that President Donald Trump is planning to cut in Texas where a second outbreak is out of control and some high-ranking Republicans are fueling the surge with a blatant disregard for safety protocols.
Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw - the president's most prominent and unconditional loyalists in Texas - appeared to be flaunting their defiance of Abbott's plea for a united team effort with their behavior last weekend at a Houston-area tea party event that was devoid of masks and social distancing.
U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady - a Montgomery County Republican who's also wrapped himself in the president - also attended the Kingwood Tea Party with dozens of other conservatives who were either undaunted by or oblivious to the fact that the virus was transforming the nation's fourth largest city into the new COVID-19 epicenter in the United States.
Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen could have been referring specifically to Crenshaw and Patrick this week when he called out people who are abusing the nation's founding values of freedom and liberty with a collective attempt to milk them for political gain.
While Bonnen didn't name names, the Trump disciple duo fit the description of Texans who are refusing to do their part to help fight the virus that's raging in their home base of Harris County where almost 2,000 new cases were recorded in Harris County on Tuesday.
The Republican governor set the stage for the second outbreak that's much worse than the first with a premature reopening that he staked on incorrect assessments that created a false sense of security among younger Texans. After pandering to the hard right for a month, Abbott appears to be taking the pandemic seriously again by giving cities and counties the opportunity to impose restrictions that he's been afraid to order statewide.
But the governor's dependence on personal responsibility as a pandemic cure has failed miserably as a consequence in large part of the collective spurning of common-sense standards for political gain in a state where the number of new coronavirus cases has soared 110 percent in the past week alone.
Texas reported 5,489 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday when daily records were shattered in GOP strongholds like Montgomery, Bell, Midland, Ector, Wichita, Smith, Parker, Guadalupe and Victoria counties. Records were demolished on Tuesday in Dallas, Hidalgo, Cameron and Nueces counties as well.
The state new case count on Tuesday represented a 24 percent increase over a record that Texas set this past weekend when the Kingwood Tea Party hosted the virus protocol-abandoned event. Texas broke the record for new infections again on Wednesday with 5,551.
Montgomery County - the most Republican major population center in Texas - reported 92 new cases after setting a record with 71 on Saturday. The Midland-Odessa area made history as well on Tuesday with 129 new infections in Midland and Ector counties combined - a 93 percent increase over the previous daily record this past weekend.
The Texas health care system appears to be on the verge of a meltdown with the state cracking the record for virus infection hospitalizations on Wednesday for the 13th day in a row.
The only silver lining in the dramatically darkening Texas clouds is a slight but significant boost in testing that the state ramped up more than a week after a predictable coronavirus resurgence in the wake of Memorial Day weekend protests and parties. Abbott had pretended to ignore the new outbreak when he announced the reopening's third phase faster than expected early this month.
But Trump is throwing a major wrench into the testing initiative in Texas with the federal government's decision to severe funding for more than a half-dozen sites based on the president's theory that the virus will go away if Americans quit getting tested as much.
Trump may not be aware that diagnostic testing didn't exist during the last major pandemic in 1918 when the Spanish Flu killed more than 650,000 Americans. Doctors in Texas and other states weren't even required to report influenza cases to local health authorities until the deadly second wave was peaking late that year.
Texas is not alone now, however, with the virus spiking at alarming rates in other southern states with Republican governors including Florida, Arizona and Georgia - swing destinations that Trump must win to keep the White House for four more years.
Hard-line conservatives who've mocked and berated Abbott are following the president's league with their opposition to masks behind the phony freedom facade that the outgoing state House speaker highlighted.
Bonnen argued that the people who are opposed to masks and shunning social distancing rules are going to prolong the pandemic with the collective cold shoulder to guidelines that the federal government has endorsed at the same time the president is encouraging the resistance.
The cities that failed to enforce social distancing during the Spanish Flu crisis had the highest death rates in the nation by far. The cities that had the most restrictions fared substantially better. The Americans who refused to abide by mask orders when the Spanish Flu were raging across the nation were branded as unpatriotic slackers.
Abbott might get more people to play by the rules if he started calling out slackers instead of catering to them.