May 9, 2020
Abbott Indicates Texas Has Harnessed Virus
in Credibility Gamble in Publicity Stunt Wake
By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor
Governor Greg Abbott suggested in El Paso on Friday that Texas had the coronavirus under control in a thinly-veiled attempt at spin as the border city experienced the largest increase in infections in a single day and new hot spots emerged in rural areas around the state.
As the Republican governor accelerated the state's reopening with an early green light to beauty salons and barber shops, Abbott said in a television interview that the COVID-19 rate of growth was "very slow and very contained" in Texas and El Paso in particular.
Abbott acknowledged in the interview with the ABC affiliate KTVA that outbreaks have been erupting in meat packing plants, jails and some nursing homes. But Abbott gave the general impression that the coronavirus no longer posed a threat to Texans as seriously as it had since it surfaced here two months ago.
The governor's optimistic rhetoric flew in the face of reality - however - as El Paso set records on Friday with 86 confirmed coronavirus infections and the number of patients who were hospitalized and the count of cases requiring intensive care and ventilators as well.
Abbott also stated incorrectly that anyone in El Paso could get tested for the coronavirus for free at a site there connected with Walmart. But the El Paso news station KVIA pointed out after Abbott's appearance that the testing at Walmart had been restricted to health care workers, emergency services personnel and law enforcement authorities.
After receiving overwhelming support from Texas voters for the emergency actions that he's taken during the pandemic, Abbott had gutted his own authority when he hastily revised a statewide shelter-in-place mandate on Thursday in an attempt to make it appear like he'd freed a hair salon owner from the Dallas County jail.
The governor effectively turned an executive order into an official recommendation when he added a provision that prohibits anyone from being incarcerated for refusing to abide by the emergency restrictions that he's had in place for the sake of protecting the public health.
While violators could still be subject to fines, the gubernatorial decree is meaningless now for all practical purposes without the threat of enforcement in a state where offenders know they can ignore penalties without having to worry about landing behind bars.
While Shelley Luther's confinement in the Dallas jail had been the culmination of an obvious publicity stunt that was hatched as a way to pressure the governor, Abbott appeared to fall for the ploy when he modified the stay-at-home edict after an apparent heads up on a Texas Supreme Court ruling that ordered her release.
Luther is a suburban nightclub singer who's had financial support during the ordeal that she initiated from right-wing conspiracy theorists who've accused a long list of political and business leaders and entertainment celebrities of a "deep state" plot to undermine President Donald Trump and his re-election bid this year.
Abbott has been branded as a hypocrite by local officials across Texas since rushing to Luther's defense in an apparent state of panic and blasting law enforcement officials in Dallas for complying with an order that he'd imposed himself.
"WHEREAS, under Section 418. 173, failure to comply with any executive order issued during the COVD-19 disaster is an offense punishable by a fine not to exceed $1,000, confinement in jail for a term not to exceed 180 days, or both fine and confinement," Abbott declared in Executive Order No. GA-14 that he implemented on April 2.
But Abbott has expressed disbelief and outrage by a Democratic state district judge's decision to sentence Luther to seven days in jail when the jurist could have ordered her to remain behind bars for six weeks as a result of the governor's order.
The statewide death toll cracked the four-figure mark on Friday for the first time with 1,049 fatalities by noon on Saturday according to the Department of State Health Services. Almost 38,000 people in Texas have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past seven week.
But El Paso Mayor Dee Margo - a former Republican state lawmaker - isn't buying into Abbott's assertion that the coronavirus has been curbed here with tentative plans to press the governor for a more limited and deliberate expansion of businesses in Texas.