April 18, 2020
Lockdown Critics Thumb Nose at Virus
Restrictions at Capitol Demonstration
Governor Issues New Coronavirus Orders
By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor
Prodded by President Donald Trump liberation tweets, several hundred people rallied at the Texas Capitol on Saturday to decry the extension of the coronavirus lockdown that Governor Greg Abbott softened but refused to cancel the previous day.
The protestors took a page from conservatives in Michigan and Florida when they crowded together on the south steps of the statehouse in downtown Austin in collective defiance of statewide social distancing mandates and and local orders that require people to cover their faces in public places.
Waving American flags and signs that demanded an immediate reopening of the economy while lamenting the sacrifice of individual freedom in the pandemic's midst, the Capital City dissidents chanted in unison at times and stood idly at others during the demonstration that went on for about two hours. The crowd outside the Capitol burst at times into a chorus of calls for the firing of Anthony Fauci as the federal official who's had the most prominent role in the U.S. coronavirus response.
The lion's share of the protestors paid no attention to outside observers who were clearly identifiable as a result of masks and gloves they were donning. But a small group of women who'd gathered at the gateway to the pink granite building at Congress Avenue and 11th Street shouted together at some people who were passing by with the claim that they were breathing their own "excrements" by sporting masks in compliance with the ordinances that the city and Travis County imposed this week.
Several other women at the historic intersection were wearing masks and armed with signs that expressed their support for the right to choose whether to have abortions.
The turnout for the anti-coronavirus limitations demonstration in Austin this afternoon was considerably smaller than some of the anti-abortion rallies that have taken place on the south grounds of the Capitol complex when the Legislature has been in session.
The protestors showed no apparent concern for the real possibility that the unprecedented restrictions on businesses and social movement could be prolonged if the gathering and others like them triggered a spike in the number of coronavirus cases as a consequence of an exponential increase in the rate of exposure to COVID-19.
None of the people who converged on the statehouse today gave the impression that they'd been glad to see that the Republican governor had modified the statewide shutdown orders on Friday to allow retail businesses that weren't initially designated as essential to reopen next week as long as they provided goods and services to go with curbside service or deliveries.
Abbott also declared that doctors and hospitals could resume so-called elective surgeries that aren't considered emergencies or necessary to save lives. The governor said that he would announce a second-phase in a gradual Texas economy restart on April 27.
Abbott has found himself in a no-win situation with his handling of the state's response to a disease that had claimed 462 lives in Texas by mid-afternoon with more than 18,000 confirmed cases. Democrats complained that the governor's vague timetable for an economic revivial would be premature in light of the last-place ranking in terms of testing availability on which the reopening hinges.
But Republicans on the hard right are accusing Abbott of killing the Texas economy by taking cues from Democratic counterparts in other major states - citing new studies that indicate that the pandemic had peaked in Texas three days ago and had proven to be less of a threat than the common flu.
Abbott ordered schools across the state to remain closed for the remainder of the spring semester and gave state parks the green light to reopen as long as visitors had their faces covered and abided by social distancing principles that the federal government recommends.
Some of the state's most prominent hard-liners greeted the revised Abbott order with statements that were dripping with saracasm.
Abbott "did not present a plan for reopening Texas, instead he announced a strike force of politicians, lobbyists, and businessmen who will develop a plan," Empower Texans chief Michael Quinn Sullivan said in an email Saturday morning.
Former state Senate Republican Konni Burton - one of the tea party's orginal leaders in Texas - cited unemployment statistics that have skyrocketed with more than 1.2 million Texans filing claims for jobless assistance with the state by the close of business on Friday.
"But yeah, let's slow roll this re-opening by first allowing people back in state parks...while wearing masks," Burton tweeted on Friday.