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Monday, 29 June 2020 22:52

Texas City and County Leaders Ask Governor for Authority to Implement Local Stay-At-Home Orders

Written by Cassandra Pollock and Juan Pablo Garnham, The Texas Tribune


As Texas grapples with soaring coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, local elected officials in some of the state’s most populous counties are asking Gov. Greg Abbott to roll back business reopenings and allow them to reinstate stay-at-home orders for their communities in an effort to curb the spread of the virus.

Officials in Harris, Bexar, Dallas and Travis counties have either called on or reached out to the governor in recent days, expressing a desire to implement local restrictions for their regions and, in some cases, stressing concerns about hospital capacity.


Local governments across the state implemented stay-at-home orders, which generally direct businesses deemed nonessential to shut down, to varying degrees in March before the governor issued a statewide directive at the beginning of April.


Abbott’s stay-at-home order expired at the end of April, when he began announcing phased reopenings in the state and forcing local governments to follow his lead.


Since then, a number of local officials, many of whom have been critical of Abbott’s reopening timeline, have argued that the jurisdiction to reinstate such directives is no longer in their hands.


“If you are not willing to take these actions on behalf of the state, please roll back your restriction on local leaders being able to take these swift actions to safeguard the health of our communities,” Sam Biscoe, interim Travis County judge, wrote in a letter to Abbott on June 29.


Biscoe asked Abbott “to roll all the way back to Stay Home orders based on worsening circumstances,” further cap business occupancy, mandate masks and ban gatherings of 10 or more people.


On June 29, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner issued an impassioned plea for Abbott to let cities and counties make decisions for themselves.


“We need more tools. If I had my ultimate ask to him I would say restore to local governments, to mayors and county judges, all the tools that we had in March and April. Give us back our tools," he said. "Because the situation is more critical now than then and we had more tools at our disposal then than now.


"And I will tell you it is frustrating, because when people are reporting locally and nationally, they are talking about the city of Houston, as well as other cities. I would like to have the ability to do what is in the best interest to the city of Houston to get on top of this virus.”


Officials in Bexar County also wrote a similar letter to the governor June 29, saying “the ability to tailor a response and recovery that fits the San Antonio region’s need is vital as we look forward to a healthier future.”


“Our region’s hospital capacity issues and economic circumstances require stronger protocols to contain the spread of this disease,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg wrote.


The two asked Abbott to “restore the ability for the City of San Antonio to take additional local preventative measures, including potential Stay Home/Work Safe restrictions.” They also asked the governor to mandate face coverings for people who are outside a household and issue “clearer language that strictly limits social gatherings,” among other things.


Abbott, whose office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, took his most drastic move yet June 26 to respond to the surge in cases this month, ordering bars to close again and lowering restaurant occupancy to 50%. Before that order, bars were allowed to operate at 50% capacity and restaurants at 75% capacity under a phased reopening Abbott has led since late April---a process that at times has drawn criticism from public health experts and local officials who argued the state was reopening too quickly.


Later June 26, Abbott publicly expressed regret for the first time over his decision to let bars reopen, saying in an evening interview with KVIA-TV in El Paso that the “bar setting, in reality, just doesn’t work with a pandemic.”

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