Texas Official Defends Response to Uptick in Virus Cases

Visitors, some wearing masks to protect against the spread of Covid-19, walk along the River Walk in San Antonio last week. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick defended his state’s handling Wednesday of a spike in Covid-19 cases, claiming it did “all the right things” when it started reopening in May and that deaths – not confirmed cases – are the key metric.

Patrick, a 70-year-old Republican, blamed the spike in new cases on younger Texans not being careful during an interview with Dr. Marc Seigel on SiriusXM’s Doctor Radio channel.

“I did not see my grandkids for six weeks,” he said. “We as seniors were careful, we did not spread it as quickly to each other.”

Patrick said he is “not surprised at this acceleration of new cases” due to “the protesters, millions of people under the age of 30 or 25 being on the streets for a month,” implying that the nationwide protests by mostly young people over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police has helped the disease spread.

Initially viewed as having “flattened the curve” after local officials imposed stay-at-home orders in March, Texas has become a hotspot for new infections after Republican Governor Greg Abbott ordered the state’s phased reopening starting May 1.

The Department of State Health Services reported 159,986 confirmed cases and 2,424 deaths as of Wednesday morning. Heavily populated counties have experienced 200% to 300% daily increases in infections since May, with Dallas County reporting new daily highs of 601 cases and 20 deaths Tuesday.

Saying he “didn’t want to make this political,” Patrick criticized governors from Democrat-led states for “making this a competition” regarding death counts that he says Texas has the least of per capita.

“We all want to save lives across the country and we are all in this together in all 50 states,” he said. “We have had 2,300 deaths since yesterday. In comparison to everyone else, we have one of the lowest death rates in the world. In the United States, the only places that have less deaths than Texas are Utah, Oregon, Guam, Puerto Rico and West Virginia. They are all very small places considering we have 29 million people.”

Patrick’s conciliatory tone comes one week after he deemed Democrat New York Governor Andrew Cuomo “probably the biggest fraud” in the country after Cuomo blasted Abbott for “playing politics” with the virus in opening too early.

“He had about 6,000 people die in nursing homes, we have had less than 1,000,” Patrick said June 5. “That is on top of the other people who have died in New York. He short-changed the people of New York and cost people their lives. How dare he come on and point his finger at any other governor?”

Cuomo’s comments came one day before Abbott ordered bars in Texas closed again and reduced restaurant capacity back down to 50%.

Patrick also disputed “misinformation” that Texas hospitals were dealing with limited bed space and near-capacity intensive care units, saying he has been told by hospital officials that they can handle the surge in new patients.

“They have the ability to flex and add ICUs if needed,” he said. “But last Wednesday the [Texas Medical Center] — without anyone signing off on it … they put out a letter saying ‘we are about to be overrun, we are 97% full, we can’t take anymore people,’ and it caused quite a stir. The next day, the individual CEOs had their own press conference saying ‘no, no, no, that is incorrect, we can handle this.’”

Patrick said the same doctors announced Tuesday that “we were really at 72% capacity” after looking at the data.

Patrick has sharply criticized Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Patrick told Fox News that Fauci “does not know what he’s talking about” when he criticized Texas for “skipping over” certain steps when it reopened after stay-at home orders were mandated in March.

“We haven’t skipped over anything,” Patrick said Tuesday. “The only thing I’m skipping over is listening to him … he has been wrong every time on every issue.”

The Texas Democratic Party dismissed Patrick’s comments as “political rhetoric” Wednesday. State Representative Donna Howard of Austin said Texas Republicans are irresponsibly trying to practice medicine rather than listening to doctors.

“The fact is that we have continued to struggle in the state, with our leadership, and with many of our Republican colleagues in particular, to allow science to trump ideology,” she said at a press conference. “We see this time and time again, with women’s healthcare, with vaccinations, with expanding Medicaid, with the things that are being recommended to us by scientists, by doctors, by people who actually know the fields that they’re talking about.”

Howard expressed hope that stay-at-home orders will not be reissued, but admitted Austin-area government and public health officials are considering it.

County and city leaders across Texas have pleaded all June with Governor Abbott to order individuals to wear masks and to reinstitute stay-at-home orders, to no avail.

Travis Bubenik contributed to this report.

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