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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott thinks the record number of new coronavirus cases in his state is "unacceptable." But he has not taken meaningful action to curb the virus's spread.

"To state the obvious, COVID-19 is now spreading at an unacceptable rate in Texas, and it must be corralled," the Republican said at a Monday press conference.

"We must find ways to return to our daily routines as well as finding ways to coexist with COVID-19," Abbott said, suggesting an increase in testing in hot spots. "Closing down Texas again will always be the last option."

But despite Abbott's somber new tone, he continues to block some of the most basic steps to reduce transmission. While he encouraged Texans to wear face masks, he said he would not require it because "maintaining a level of flexibility is important in a state the size of Texas."

Last week, Abbott let some local officials begin issuing fines to those who refuse to wear face coverings when they can't maintain social distancing. But that came after he had banned other locally imposed face mask requirements.

In an executive order he issued on April 27 allowing restaurants, cinemas, and stores to reopen, he wrote, "No jurisdiction can impose a civil or criminal penalty for failure to wear a face covering."

Just a few days ago, Abbott suggested that the only reason for spiking numbers of COVID-19 cases in Texas was the behavior of 20-somethings. "They are not wearing face masks, they're not sanitizing their hands, they're not maintaining social distancing," he said. "And as a result, they are contracting COVID-19 at a record pace in the state of Texas."

But Abbott had earlier sent a message to Texans that they need not take social distancing requirements seriously.

Last month, a Dallas salon owner was sentenced to a week in jail and fined for reopening her business in violation of Abbott's stay-at-home order and several court orders. After she turned down a chance to avoid jail if she agreed to close the salon until the expiration of the governor's order, Abbott amended it to eliminate jail time as a punishment for violations and had her released.

He rushed to reopen the state's economy in May, even though cases numbers were already climbing and the state had not met federal criteria for reopening. In a private call with state legislators early in the month, Abbott acknowledged that "pretty much every scientific and medical report" predicted reopening would "lead to an increase in spreads."

Texas reached a daily record of 4,430 new positive cases on Saturday — its fourth new record in five days — and its ninth consecutive daily record for most hospitalizations. While Abbott suggested last week that the increased positive tests were just a sign of increased testing, public health experts have debunked the claim.

Murray Côté, a professor at Texas A&M, told Time magazine: "I think it's a true increase in the number of cases. It's not just attributable to testing. ... the rates are indicative of the relaxation."

According to the state's Department of State Health Services, there have been more than 114,000 cases and about 2,200 deaths due to the coronavirus in Texas.

A week after Abbott bragged of "abundant" hospital capacity and a "laser-focus" on maintaining it, some Texas communities are now struggling to meet the need for hospital beds.

On Monday, Texas Children's Hospital announced that it would admit adult patients to help address the rapidly growing number of COVID-19 cases in the Houston area.

"We are moving very fast and we are moving very fast in the wrong direction," Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner warned on Monday. "The course that we are currently on is not in the best interest of our city or state."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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