Moore County Judge Rowdy Rhoades presides over commissioners court that repeals mask order and curfew.
Photo: Moore County News Press

April 30, 2020

Inauspicious Start

Coronavirus Death Toll Hits Highest Point Yet in the Lone Star State
on Day Before Reopening Launch that Many Businesses Will Forego

The Governor's Report to Open Texas

MIKE HAILEY

Texas is poised to get back in business on Friday at the pace of a watermelon crawl after recording a record-breaking number of deaths from coronavirus infections on the eve of the reopening that Governor Greg Abbott announced at the start of the week.

The Republican governor had justified the timing of the economic resurgence plan on a decline in the COVID-19 fatality rate despite warnings from experts who said that it wouldn't be safe to start easing lockdowns and restrictions on businesses until June.

But the death toll has taken a sharp turn in the wrong direction since the Abbott plan's unveiling with 27 fatalities on Wednesday and 42 more on Thursday before hitting an all-time when the coronavirus claimed 50 more lives in Texas in a 24-hour period that ended at noon on Thursday. The high mark here until now had been on April 15 when 46 people died in Texas as victims of the virus.

The Department of State Health Services recorded 1,033 new confirmed cases in the same span of time - the third highest daily count in Texas since the virus surfaced here early last month. The number of positive coronavirus tests in Texas since the lunch hour on Wednesday was higher than it had been in one day since 1,441 people tested positive on April 10. The case count had reached four digits for the first time on April 8 before subtle rises and falls in the past two weeks.

But that won't be stopping the evaporation at midnight tonight of a shelter-in-place order that' Abbott imposed statewide 28 days ago. Stay-at-home orders that local leaders in the state's largest cities and county judges had implemented in March will expire as well when the clock strikes twelve on Thursday.

People will no longer have to wear masks or makeshift face-coverings in the state's biggest population centers and across the state from the border city of Laredo to Moore County near the northern edge of the Panhandle in northwest Texas.

With Dumas as the county seat about 45 miles north of Amarillo, Moore has been one of the smallest and most remote places in the U.S. with a mask mandate that Republican County Judge Rowdy Rhoades instituted more than a week ago in the midst of a coronavirus outbreak outbreak at the JBS meat packing plant in the nearby town of Cactus.

Moore County has been hit by the virus has hard as the state of New York from a per-capita perspective with 327 confirmed cases or one for every 68 residents there. One person has tested positive in New York for every 64 people there as the epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S. But New York has had almost 10 times more people die from coronavirus infections than Moore County where only three deaths have been recorded so far partly because a significant number of the people who became extremely ill ended up in hospitals in Amarillo and other cities that could handle the overflow.

But the governor's orders superceded local directives that conflict with them - so the Rhoades and other members on the Moore County Commissioners Court voted in a special meeting today to cancel the face-covering requirement along with a curfew there for juveniles.

Texans probably shouldn't be expecting to see any substantial effects on the state's economy any time soon, however, in the initial phase of an Abbott plan that's giving restaurants, theaters, retail operations and malls the green light to reopen on Friday at a maximum capacity of 25 percent.

None of the major theater chains plan to open again as quickly as the governor has said that they can amid a prevailing sentiment that they'd be losing money and creating an atmosphere for another outbreak. Some restaurants do plan to be open for business on Friday while a large percentage apparently plan to hold off until the next phase of the governor's plan takes effect on May 18 barring an upsurge in virus deaths that experts are predicting now.

Researchers that have been tracking the virus at the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington are projecting that the death tally will jump by 65 percent in the next week with a forecast of 1,288 fatalities by June 7. The University of Texas COVID-19 Modeling Consortium had projected that the state's death toll would peak two weeks ago before shifting it back steadily to its current estimate of May 12 before the rate of the daily fatality increases start going down again.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Texas was nearing the 29,000 mark on Thursday evening with 812 deaths so far according to a separate team of scientists at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

CONSIDER THE SOURCE

Mike Hailey presents state politics with a personal touch. He's the only Texas Capitol journalist who's been to the dark side and back - having worked for two major newspaper bureaus before signing on as press secretary for Bob Bullock - the most powerful and legendary political leader of his time in the state. Hailey's Comment, which is published in Capitol Inside on a regular basis, is a direct reflection of that experience.

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04-07-20: Virus Target Peaks

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03-25-20: Doomsday Tax

03-23-20: Fiscal Hemorrhage

03-19-20: Political Casualties

03-12-20: Closed for Business

03-05-20: Salvation Show

03-01-20: Blue Wave Sign

02-19-20: Mad at Trump

02-18-20: Senate Special

02-05-20: Handshake Play

02-04-20: Trump Shadow

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