Dallas County Chief Executive Asks Texas Governor to Reclose State

In this April 24, 2020, file photo, manicurist Rhonda Simpson, left, polishes nails for her customer Faith at the reopened Salon A la Mode in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

DALLAS (CN) — Dallas County’s chief executive pleaded Sunday with Republican Governor Greg Abbott to reinstitute stay-at-home orders for 30 days and order mandatory masks and social distancing as Texas’ confirmed Covid-19 cases continue to set new daily records.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins — a Democrat — asked Abbott to enact the measures statewide “or at the very least” for specific regions.

“If not, please rescind your prior order restricting local control and allow Dallas County to implement the above recommendations in an effort to slow the spread of the rampant and devastating Covid-19 virus,” Jenkins wrote in a letter. “Lives depend on swift action.”

County judges in Texas are the elected head administrator of each county — they have no judicial duties.

Abbott has been heavily criticized for reopening the state too soon in May after local officials imposed stay-at-home orders in March to mitigate the disease’s spread. Texas was largely viewed as having successfully “flattened the curve” early in the crisis, but it has become one of the country’s hotspots as cases have spiked since Memorial Day and set new highs for several consecutive days.

The Department of State Health Services reported 143,371 confirmed cases and 2,366 fatalities on Sunday. Dallas County reported 570 new cases Sunday, a new daily record.

Judge Jenkins further asked Abbott to begin fining individuals who refuse to wear masks in public or who refuse to socially distance from others. He wants restaurants to again be closed to dine-in service with only take-out or outdoor service instead. He also wants the reclosure of gyms, public pools, movie theatres, concerts “and other social venues or activities that do not allow strict physical distancing or masks to be strictly worn.”

Jenkins’ request come two days after Abbott ordered bars closed again and reduced restaurant capacity back down to 50% from 75%. The capacity reduction also applies to museums, libraries and outdoor activities, including sporting events, swimming pools, water parks, zoos, rodeos, river-rafting businesses and amusement parks. One day earlier, Abbott halted the state’s latest reopening phase and suspended elective surgeries to free up hospital beds.

After weeks of refusing to wear a face mask and being upbeat about reviving the state’s economy, Abbott admitted last week that he would shut down the state again as a “last resort.”

Abbott was in Dallas on Sunday and appeared with Vice President Mike Pence at megachurch First Baptist Church and later at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Abbott’s entire delegation was seen wearing masks.

Abbott admitted to the dire situation in the state, saying at a press conference the disease “has taken a very swift and very dangerous turn” in mere weeks. He nonetheless said it was “remarkable” that Texas still has the second lowest death rate of the “28 most affected states” in the country.

Pence declined to answer questions about shortcomings in the early federal response to the disease, saying instead that he is “focused on the future.” He pledge to increase testing in the state and to continue funding two drive-up testing sites in Dallas. The hour-long press conference was largely self-congratulatory with only three questions from the media being asked before it ended.

Judge Jenkins and the governor have engaged in – at times petty – public bickering over the crisis since April. It started over a temporary, military-run hospital at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center downtown that was intended to house recovering Covid-19 patients.

Abbott made public a letter to Jenkins threatening the closure of the facility after he heard reports that Jenkins did not plan on using it. Jenkins responded publicly that the reports were false, while Abbott responded publicly that the county never called his office about it. The temporary hospital was later dismantled.

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