Greg Abbott’s COVID-19 Position is Cowardly—and Deadly

Texans Tuning into his COVID-19 Press Conference Needed Answers. Instead, he punted.

Governor Abbott held a press conference at 3 PM today to give Texans an update on COVID-19. Given the increasing commonness of calls for shelter in place in other municipalities, states, and countries around the world, as well as an increasing number of projections about the complete fallout in the State of Texas, many Texans wondered if he wouldn’t call for similar action.

Instead, he punted. Governor Abbott focused on making the case for local control by leaving shelter in place orders up to individual counties and municipalities in Texas, furthering a decentralized plan to deal with what is anything but a traceable issue. When a person contracts COVID-19, whether or not the person they are spreading it to lives in their own backyard or someone who lives a thousand miles away doesn’t concern the virus itself in the least. The virus shows no prejudice; only the people who get it and the people who manage it do that.

Maybe the best way to point out the governor’s incompetence is this:

Abbott’s two announced executive orders loosen regulations that would theoretically allow us to expand the number of nurses in Texas, and enable pharmacists to offer phone consultations. They also allow for more than one person to be treated in a room, creating more space for patients but also further condensing healthcare workers.

These are not even half measures. Expanding the pool of healthcare workers as much as possible is literally the very smallest step the governor could have taken to handle jumps in the COVID curve. Allowing pharmacists to advise people over the telephone might be innovative in “normal” times; it is less than the bare minimum given where we are today.

He additionally called for surgeons to cancel all operations that are not lifesaving, a call that makes all of this very real indeed in that serious, chronic illnesses will now take a backseat thanks to poor planning in the Texas healthcare system.

Abbott also provided very skewed information about the root causes of many of our issues. He told Texans that we should expect that more people will test positive in the next few days and that that is good and what is to be expected because it’s what will happen as the test rolls out.

While the number of people testing positive is indeed something to be expected, it also takes no responsibility for the fact that Texas is still entirely unprepared for the virus and could have flattened our own curve by more than what we will see. A lack of general healthcare contributes to crisis during an explosion of patients; when people are unable to get their illnesses treated because they cannot afford to do so, their conditions worsen until they require a hospital. At this point, not only will COVID-19 continue to spread because of Abbott’s inaction and failed leadership, but people who have other serious conditions will also fail to get the help they need and either suffer, sustain lifelong injuries that may debilitate them, or die.

Failures in the face of disaster take place years before you see them materialize. Abbott’s failure to prepare is what has hurt Texans most. The Governor is counting on the federal government to offer more funding to save us all, but notably, Abbott has turned down past funding from the federal government. His failure to expand Medicaid has left millions of Texans in a lurch for years (we are the least insured state in the country) and led to an extensive run of hospital closures. Our failure to fund residency programs and provide benefits for nurses and other healthcare workers has contributed to our shortage of healthcare professionals. Texas nursing homes are underfunded. Our “right-to-work” laws have left service workers so poorly prepared economically to respond to this disaster that they have no choice but to continue working; our failure to fund education programs makes it even harder for them to switch careers as the crisis continues. And state health agencies in Texas, as well as our education agency, have made a series of poor decisions over the years that completely undermine any confidence a reasonable person who has been paying attention might have in them.

Response and relief efforts have also been an unmitigated disaster. His failure to be visible or take action in the past ten days left an open flank for the virus to spread. His failure to shut down public schools statewide allowed for students to congregate and unknowingly carry COVID-19 to older populations. 

Abbott’s punt today left an open flank for COVID-19 to further infiltrate and invade Texas. At every turn, he has been incompetent, cowardly, and slow on the draw. Unfortunately, we will all pay for his mistakes.