AUSTIN (KXAN) — Facing rising COVID-19 cases and strained health care resources, elected Democratic leaders across Texas sent a collective message to Gov. Greg Abbott: “help or get out of the way.”
Greg Casar, an Austin City Council member, uttered those particular words during a virtual news conference Friday morning that largely echoed what the other city, county and school officials said. In total, 15 officials joined to call on the governor to allow for more local control again when it comes to implementing COVID-19 health and safety measures.
“I work with our public health authority and hospitals and issue orders that match their guidance based on science and based on doctors,” Travis County Judge Andy Brown said. “The governor is trying to take that away from us, trying to take away our ability to establish basic public health guidelines and codify this. We cannot allow this state interference.”
Earlier this week, Brown defied the governor’s order and implemented a mask mandate again for public schools and county-owned buildings. The move mirrored what many other leaders did across the state, including Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins. Jenkins filed a countersuit against Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to block their challenge against his county’s mask mandate.
“Unfortunately, we’re in a lawsuit because our hospitals and our people desperately need some time to get bed capacity and our doctor capacity up so that our hospitals won’t be overrun,” Jenkins said.
He said there are currently no ICU beds left for children in the 19-county area surrounding Dallas.
“This is not a battle between Gov. Abbott and local leaders who happen to be Democrats or school board members or even Gov. Abbott and families,” Jenkins said. “We are all on team public health, and every person needs to understand the enemy is the virus. It’s not each other.”
Abbott’s executive orders include preventing any government entity, like a city or a school district, from requiring people to wear masks. KXAN reached out Friday morning to the governor’s office for comment about the Democratic leaders’ latest requests. Renae Eze, Abbott’s press secretary, provided a response Friday afternoon.
“Texans have learned and mastered over the past year the safe practices to protect themselves and their loved ones from COVID, and do not need the government to tell them how to do so,” Eze said.
“Removing government mandates, however, does not end personal responsibility or the importance of caring for family members, friends, and your community,” she added. “Vaccines are the most effective defense against contracting COVID and becoming seriously ill, and we continue to urge all eligible Texans to get the vaccine.”
Eze also highlighted additional assistance provided by the governor recently.
“Governor Abbott announced earlier this week additional actions the state is taking to mitigate the recent rise in COVID cases, including recruiting and deploying over 2,500 medical personnel, opening additional antibody infusion centers, and increasing vaccine availability across the state,” Eze said. “It’s time these local leaders start directing their resources to help their fellow Texans.”
Other speakers Friday included elected leaders from Houston, San Antonio, Waco, El Paso, Edinburg and Denton.
Johnny Livesay, who works as the director of operations at Austin’s Salt & Time restaurant, also criticized state lawmakers for enacting Senate Bill 968 earlier this year, which prohibited Texas businesses from requiring vaccination information from customers. That particular law caused two Austin restaurants this week to backtrack from requiring people to show proof of vaccination to dine indoors.
“For us we’re a fully-vaccinated restaurant, but our guests, we’re not mandating that they are fully vaccinated. We want to make sure that they’re able to be safe,” Livesay said. “Our ability to do that really depends on our local authority having the ability to make mandates that we can enforce. If we can’t enforce them, it pretty much undermines our ability to do our business safely.”