After Gov. Greg Abbott announced a new executive order steering toward a more open Texas, citizens responded with frustration at still being separated from their loved ones or still being at the mercy of local officials. One citizen proposed another strategy to fully reopen Texas.

While Abbott specifically mentioned his mask mandate and reopening businesses, he stopped short of discussing long-term care facilities.

In a prior interview, Mary Nichols of Texas Caregivers for Compromise detailed the suffering of those in nursing homes and assisted living facilities—and their loved ones—since Abbott’s mandates last year. His latest executive order leaves it to the Texas Department of Health and Human Services (HHSC) to decide what happens next for those in long-term care facilities.

In her February interview, Nichols said there are hundreds of facilities that do not recognize the authority of HHSC.

“I wasn’t expecting him [to] address long-term care facilities, so I’m neither surprised nor disappointed,” Nichols told Texas Scorecard after Abbott’s announcement. “But Texas is not open 100 percent as long as there are 1,223 nursing homes and over 2,000 assisted living facilities still operating under emergency rules.”

“Don’t our loved ones count?” asked Stephanie Kirby, whose special-needs son is in a state-supported living center. “They are human beings!”

Other concerns were expressed about Abbott’s order.

“Better than I thought it would be, but Texas is certainly not 100% open,” constitutional law expert and former State Rep. Matt Rinaldi tweeted. “Texans are still subject to the threat of reimposed restrictions and mask mandates by Democrat county judges if the 15% hospitalization threshold is triggered. This is a pretty big albatross for business that appears to be permanent.”

Abbott’s new order allows county judges to reissue mandates if hospitalizations for the Chinese coronavirus in any of the state’s 22 Trauma Service Regions is higher than 15 percent for more than seven days. It would be reversed if it remains 15 percent or lower for the same consecutive number of days.

For Chris Polone, co-founder of the group Children of Liberty—an alliance of businesses that receive more than 51 percent of their revenue from alcohol sales—Democrat county judges aren’t the only concern.

“We have Judge [Glen] Whitley, and that boy is a joy to work with,” Polone said sarcastically of Tarrant County’s Republican county judge. “He’s actually upset Greg Abbott has eliminated the mask order. So, I have no doubt in my mind that [if] hospitalizations [hit] 15 percent [in] any of those metropolitan counties, they’re going to shut [businesses] down.”

Polone adds that for businesses that do live events—such as his establishment, Rail Club Live—Abbott’s order falls short of providing the atmosphere they need to operate.

“It makes it very hard for us to forecast and book,” Polone said. “You book a $10,000 artist, and let’s say when that show comes up, and hospitalization rates are above 15 percent … all of a sudden we’re in limbo, and we just went from 100 percent capacity to 50 percent capacity.”

Another Way Forward

Regarding long-term care facilities, Dr. Richard Bartlett of West Texas advises that the best approach is for public health services to use their messaging power to promote a therapy Oxford University published a study about last month.

“They should employ all of their resources to inform long-term care residents, and their families and providers of care at long-term nursing home centers, of the fact that we have an early outpatient therapy strategy that’s 90 percent effective at keeping people out of the hospital, including patients that are at high risk,” he said. “With that fact being promulgated, we should see freedoms restored to all Texans.”

The strategy he’s referring to is inhaled budesonide.

“It is the talk around the whole world right now that we have something that’s 90 percent effective against COVID when you use it as an early therapy,” Dr. Bartlett said. “Overall, because of herd immunity and early outpatient therapy strategies with inhaled budesonide for early therapy, we are on the end of COVID.”

Overall, Dr. Bartlett praised Abbott’s move.

“The governor is totally appropriate [in] no longer going with things that do not have randomized controlled trials showing 90 percent benefit, like social distancing, and masks, and hand washing,” he told Texas Scorecard. “Although those are all good, there are no randomized control trials, which are the crème de la crème, top-drawer, top-shelf, definitive answer for what is the scientific fact.”

So, are hospitalizations are the best metric to decide if mandates can be reissued or not?

Dr. Bartlett replied, “As a doctor who works in the emergency room, I know it’s up to a doctor’s individual judgment whether to hospitalize a patient or not. It is subjective to some degree, and so there are patients that are put in hospitals by some doctors that would not be put in hospitals by other doctors. That’s a fact. And that’s not just with COVID.”

He emphasized the positive effects of inhaled budesonide should be the focus.

What about Local Governments?

In regards to long-term care facilities, Nichols has previously said local governments aren’t following the expanded guidelines Abbott and HHSC issued last September.

While Tarrant County ended their countywide mask mandate for businesses, Polone isn’t comfortable with local officials having the power to reissue mandates.

“We’re operating under a ‘good old boy’ system,” he said of county commissioners statewide. “As much as those commissioners will turn around and say they have your best interest in mind, unfortunately, history has proven otherwise.”

Polone said his business has lost its liquor license from the Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission for disregarding statewide mandates, and the business also has $30,000 worth of citations from the City of Fort Worth—merely for reopening.

“We have no citations in regards to violating safety procedures,” he explained. “We only have citations in regards to opening our business.”

He’s also had warrants issued for his arrest because he won’t pay those citations. After this experience, he doesn’t want Texans to forget all officials have done in the past year.

“And now it just seems okay; we’re opening it up, we’re removing the mask mandate, and everything is forgiven and forgotten,” Polone said. “And that’s a problem.”

Legislation needs to be put in place to make sure that that type of stuff can never happen again.

Polone was asked if he meant just restricting local authorities or the governor. “All the above,” he said. “It’s important.”

Recently introduced House Bill 3 would limit local officials’ power during a pandemic emergency but increase the governor’s and federal government’s authority.

“It isn’t a solution to anything,” Rinaldi told Texas Scorecard. “The solution is to eliminate all restrictions since the evidence shows reducing business capacity or wearing masks has no material effect on the spread of COVID.”

Citizens may contact their state representative or state senator.

Robert Montoya

Born in Houston, Robert Montoya is an investigative reporter for Texas Scorecard. He believes transparency is the obligation of government.


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