April 20, 2020

Race Back to Normal

Governor Puts Faith in Higher Power for Texas Comeback from Dead
as Georgia Jumps to Front of Pack in Coronavirus Resurgence Derby

MIKE HAILEY

Texans began to come out of hiding in a snail-like creep on Monday as the opening day of an economic revival that Governor Greg Abbott says God is leading through scientific scrambling and a religious adherence to social isolation standards in an epic battle with the coronavirus.

But the Lone Star State - whether by divine intervention or sheer coincidence - fell behind Georgia as the new week got under way in a competition among southern governors to see who can get their economy back on track the fastest after more than a month in the pandemic stranglehold.

As the COVID-19 death toll in Texas reached or neared projected peaks here, the first visible hints of a gradual reopening that Abbott announced on Friday were evident on the storied boulevard that links the Colorado River to the state Capitol in downtown Austin.

The heart of the Capital City appeared to be crawling back to life with a majority of the parking spaces taken during the lunch hour today on the stretch of Congress Avenue between 6th Street and the statehouse that's crowned a towering hill for 134 years five blocks away.

It had been almost impossible to find a place to park on the street anywhere in that vicinity at that time on any weekday before local leaders shut the city down four weeks ago in the infant stages of the coronavirus siege here. But people who ventured into downtown Austin could walk or drive from the Paramount Theater to the Capitol without seeing a single car parked on Congress in the middle of the afternoon during the final week in March and the first two in April.

While the lion's share of Americans will be going to be staying as far away from each other as possible for months, the sight of life down in one of the nation's most vibrant and youthful cities seemed to reflect a growing sentiment that the worst has passed in the worst public health crisis in more than 100 years.

The overriding question now is whether the first states out of the gates in the lockdown liberation movement are setting themselves up to be the new epicenters of a malady that's been as a highly unpredictable as it's been deadly and contagious.

Will the peaks that are products of educated guessing by some of the world's finest minds turn out to be false negatives that lay the framework for a second wave that's a more vicious killer than the first? Will all the scientists and doctors and political leaders who are worried that states like Texas are rushing back to life when it still isn't safe prove to be prophets?

Abbott is a true believer in a growing theory that the coronavirus curve has been flattened in the state that he'd led for more than five years. The Republican governor who's been mentioned as a potential presidential candidate in 2024 captured a slice of the spotlight last week when he outlined a Texas reopening timetable that appear to put Texas at the front of the economic revival parade.

But the Abbott plan that was portrayed as a fast track by the standards of the coronavirus era is actually extremely deliberate - with state parks opening back for business on Monday with strict social distancing and face-covering requirements. Texas Doctors have been given the green light to start performing surgeries for conditions that aren't emergencies later this week when retail establishments that hadn't been deemed as essential will be able to put employees back to work with the sale of goods and services on a to-go basis only until Abbott says otherwise.

Then just when Texas thought it had the inside lane, Abbott found himself upstaged by Republican Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia with an order that will allow gyms, barber shops, beauty salons, tatoo parlors, bowling alleys and a long list of other business to reopen on Friday.

Kemp plans to let people start eating in restaurants and going to the movies in theaters again around the state one week from today. The bars and amusement parks will remain closed in Georgia, however, and there will be no live concerts there either under the dramatically relaxed Kemp directive that still requires stringent social distancing in public places, employee screening for virus symptoms and selective mandates for masks and gloves.

Not to be outdone by leaders in other red states, Republican Governors Henry McMaster of South Carolina and Bill Lee of Tennessee are going to let a significant number of businesses in their respective states reopen next Monday.

Abbott credited the Lord for the collective effort that's made it possible for the state to get the virus death tally here on a downward spiral that could begin sometime this week if hasn't already peaked. The Texas leader suggested in a conversation Sunday with Prestonwood Baptist Church pastor Jack Graham that God has been inspiring the discoveries of innovative drugs and tests that will make it possible for an eventual return to life as normal.

"Put your faith in God," Abbott declared. "God will bring you through this and Texas will once again rise up to be the number one economy in the United States of America."

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.

04-14-20: Virus Remap

04-13-20: State Virus Rights

04-08-20: Mystery Trend

04-07-20: Virus Target Peaks

03-30-20: GOP Remake-19

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

01-29-20: Hit List Refine

01-23-20: Ballistic Review

01-01-20: Blue New Year

01-01-20: Make My Day

Copyright 2003-2020 Capitol Inside