Governor Abbott said that he would be making decisions based on “doctors and data.” But, since he made that statement it appears that he is listening more to someone else—instead of the doctors and data.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told multiple U.S. Senate Committees on Tuesday that “there is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control, which in fact, paradoxically, will set you back, not only leading to some suffering and death that could be avoided but could even set you back on the road to try to get economic recovery.”
Likewise, Governor Abbott has not been following the data either. When announcing phase I of reopening, he said that we would need two weeks of data to see how reopening affected the spread of the disease. However, a week later he announced speeding up parts of Phase II and decided that Phase II will go ahead as planned without waiting for the data to come in. Governor Abbott is not following the will of the people either. In a recent poll conducted by Nexstar Media/Emerson College, a majority of Texans are uncomfortable heading to restaurants and gyms, even with spacing precautions in place.
Instead of listening to the doctors, the data, or the people—Governor Abbott has chosen to listen to the President who continues to downplay the seriousness of this disease, suggests questionable cures, and buries crucial information from local leaders and the public. Worse yet the President is now pushing the CDC to revise death counts to remove COVID-19 deaths of “individuals who either do not have confirmed lab results and are presumed positive or who have the virus and may not have died as a direct result of it.” The President’s political demand is at odds with most public health and data experts, who agree we are under-counting COVID-19 deaths.
Worse than blindly following the President, Governor Abbott has chosen to hypocritically criticize local officials like Judge Lina Hidalgo, who have shown leadership during this pandemic by making tough decisions to keep their counties safe.
Judge Hidalgo issued a stay at home order for Harris County on March 24th. The same day, I was one of 65 Texas House Democrats who sent a letter to the Governor asking him to do the same. The Judge’s leadership saved thousands of lives according to the Kinder Institute at Rice University. A week later Governor Abbott issued what was essentially a stay at home order, though he muddled it by refusing to call it such at the time. The data bears out that Judge Hidalgo made the right call—COVID-19 Cases in Houston began to decrease by mid-April, while cases continued to grow in the rest of Texas.
Because of the pandemic over 2 million Texans have had to file for unemployment, and according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 1,608,000 Texans have lost their employer-sponsored insurance (ESI). Thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) over half (881,000) of those individuals are eligible for tax credits to purchase healthcare through the marketplace. This is because the ACA allows people to sign-up anytime after a major life event such as marriage, birth of a child, a family death, or loss of employer coverage. If, you unfortunately have lost your ESI please visit healthcare.gov to see if you qualify for the marketplace’s special enrollment period.
Regrettably, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is leading a legal case seeking to dismantle the ACA, with the support of President Trump, Governor Abbott, and multiple Republican state Attorneys Generals. That case is currently in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. Though a decision is not expected till early 2021, it is alarming that a state-wide elected official is actively trying to remove affordable healthcare options from millions of Texans during a pandemic.
Of the remaining 1.6 million newly uninsured, 328,000 will be eligible for Medicaid. However, 400,000 will have no financial assistance in purchasing affordable health insurance, meaning they will have to pay approximately $1,697 a month plus up to a 2% monthly administrative fee for them and their families through COBRA. If Texas was to expand Medicaid, an additional 30,000 of those newly unemployed and uninsured Texans would be able to qualify for Medicaid, as well as the 1.5 million Texans who fell in the coverage gap even before the pandemic.
While I was a member of President Obama’s State Legislators for Health Reform, that helped develop and pass the ACA, and have authored a bill the last 4 sessions to expand Medicaid in Texas. Governor Abbott has prevented over a million and a half Texans from getting Medicaid by fighting against expansion while both the state’s Attorney General and as Governor.
Governor Abbott’s meddling into local control has had some dire consequences in the Harris County Jail. In late March Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, along with Judge Hidalgo, tried to implement a strategy to decrease the County Jail population, rightfully fearing that the jail could be a hotspot for COVID-19. To appear tough-on-crime, the Governor’s intervened to prevent Harris County from moving forward with their plan, thus putting politics before public health. About a month and half later on May 14th 104 jail staff and 662 inmates have active confirmed COVID-19 cases, and one inmate has died at the Harris County Jail. In early April, the Legislative Study Group (the progressive House caucus that I chair) wrote about how we can not let our county jails become hotspots. Click here to read that report.
Moving forward, Trust the Experts
Director of the CDC Dr. Robert R. Redfield told Senators on Tuesday that, “we are not out of the woods yet.” That is why I want to stress to all of you to please continue to:
- practice social distancing;
- only go out in public when necessary;
- when you do go out wear a face mask; and
- wash your hands and avoid touching your face.
There are people whose work requires them to go out to help us all stay safe, healthy, and fed. We can help those essential workers by staying home. If we work together, we can do our best to minimize the number of deaths by following the recommendations above and encouraging our friends and family to do the same.