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'In hindsight': Gov. Abbott says he should've delayed the opening of bars

Following a week of rising cases and hospitalizations across the state of Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Friday that he’s scaling back the state’s reopening plans

Following a week of rising cases and hospitalizations across the state of Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Friday that he’s scaling back the state’s reopening plans, which includes closing bars and reducing capacity at restaurants.

He joined WFAA to answer some questions about COVID-19.

Governor your executive order came today while Texas is seeing one of the highest positivity rates in the country, according to Johns Hopkins. Where did the reopening plan go wrong?

Well, first the reopening plan was premised on two key things – one is data and the other is doctors. At the time of the reopening, Texas was experiencing a downward trend in positivity rates. In fact, it was about a month into the reopening on May 26, we had the lowest positivity rate that we had since the early stages of this entire process. And on that date, we only had 589 people test positive.

In just the last 30 days, the number of people testing positive has increased tenfold, hospitalizations have increased 3x and that positivity rate went from 2.47% just 30 days ago, to more than 11.6% today.

What we have seen in following the data, is that there are certain different types of locations that have led to the spread of the coronavirus. And hence, our order focusing on those locations – one is bars.

Listen, bars are one of those types of settings that are not made for a pandemic. Bars invites people to gather together, to drink and to have conversations and things like that. And that is the opposite of the type of practices that are needed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The same is true for these other locations, in which we had a targeted solution to try to limit the spread of the coronavirus as much as possible, while allowing other business to operate as robustly as possible.

If you could’ve done something differently over the last couple of months, what would it had been?

You know, I think that’s an easy thing to pinpoint. If I could’ve done anything differently it would’ve been to delay the opening of bars. The opening of bar, if I recall correctly, was around the Memorial Day time period. And in hindsight, that should’ve been delayed. Especially, now knowing how rapidly coronavirus could spread in the bar setting.

So, how do you correct that situation now as we move forward to avoid the opening and closing of business?

Sure. So, we don’t want to go back and forth. We want to close down in targeted ways obviously using hindsight, but also the data that we have. Closing bars is an appropriate strategy. These other things that we have identified where spread was coming from, are the appropriate strategy. Now what we have to do is we have to continue on a daily basis to monitor the data, and get information from doctors and all of the counties across the entire state to learn what is the cause of outbreaks. And then, to strategically work to contain those outbreaks. 

If I could you give one quick example -- we had a massive outbreak in Amarillo just a month ago and we surged resources in such a way that was able to contain the outbreak in that entire region. We will be using that same strategy across the state of Texas to contain this outbreak right now. 

Today’s executive order only closes bars, rafting and tubing businesses. But Texans can still go to gyms, amusement parks, bowling and movie theaters and more. What do you say to critics who say today’s order does not go far enough?

So again, today’s order was based upon the data and confirmed input that we had from doctors – whether that be the doctors that work with me or doctors who are the public health authorities at the local level. Know that we will be continuing on a daily basis to gather information from public health authorities at the local level to determine what may be the cause of any other outbreaks and spread of the coronavirus. If we are able to identify other causes of outbreaks, we may have to take action to curtail those activities also.

Last month, we saw Shelley Luther, a Dallas salon owner, blatantly defy the guidelines you put in place and reopen her business. She was celebrated and even you defended her. She raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in her effort. We spoke to Shelley Luther earlier today governor, and she’s against this new order and plans to work with bar owners to protest it, even if it means keeping their doors open. What will you do to force bars owners to follow the rules when Shelley Luther didn’t have to? 

Well, first I can empathize with the frustration. Anybody who has a business, who need to earn a living from that business has to be incredibly frustrated. But we also need to make sure that these businesses operate in ways to ensure that they don’t spread the coronavirus.

With regard to bars in particular, the situation they are in is they receive the alcohol they sell from distributors. And distributors will not distribute alcohol to bars that are not authorized to be selling alcohol.

The mayor of Colleyville has refused to follow Tarrant County’s new mask order. But he told us today if you make it a requirement, he would follow it, which would keep the citizens of Colleyville safer. Why not mandate masks statewide for the safety of your citizens – no different than let’s say, seat belt laws?

So, we considered a statewide mask order and we wanted to make sure that whatever order we take is based upon data, as well as the information that we are getting from doctors in a particular area. And the information that we got is that while we all know that wearing a mask is one of the most effective ways to slow the spread of the coronavirus and we strongly encourage everyone to wear a mask so that we can contain COVID-19, we also know that there are still some counties in the state of Texas that have zero cases or less than five cases of COVID-19. 

And so, if I were to put a statewide order in place that would tell farmers and ranchers in some of these rural settings that you got to wear a mask to go out to milk a cow or round of your steers, that just wouldn't make any sense whatsoever. 

Why not do it for cities with a population of more than 500,000?

So again, we don't look on a population basis, we look at where the outbreak basis is. If you look at the strategies in place right now, the way this is done is now more than 60% of the population in the state of Texas is under a mandatory mask order. And so, this is going to have a positive effect on reducing the spread of COVID-19. 

And I got to go back and emphasis this, because of the magnitude of the spread, which is now worse than it’s ever been in the state of Texas, actually staying at home is safest thing you can do. If you do go out, you should follow the safe practices that we did adopt in March in April, and that is to wear a mask, sanitize your hands and to keep your distance. If we don’t do that, we will continue to see this spike in the number of people testing positive, a spike in the hospitalization rates and it will lead to further expansion of COVID-19.

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