As Texas wades into the murky, medically inadvisable process of "reopening" itself amidst the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, newly leaked audio of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott shows that state leaders are well aware of the health risks inherent with prematurely relaxing measures designed to help slow the virus's spread.
"It's almost ipso facto — the more that you have people out there, the greater the possibility there is for transmission [of COVID-19]," Abbott told lawmakers during a recent conference call, per audio obtained by Texas political news site Quorum Report.
Audio of Abbott's admission that easing the state's stay-at-home rules will virtually guarantee an increase in infections was released just as the governor announced that hair salons and barbershops can begin operating Friday, contingent upon dubiously enforceable social distancing rules. Gyms may reopen May 18.
Despite Abbott's likely infectious capitulation, some Texans have already taken it upon themselves to push the envelope even further. On Tuesday, Dallas salon owner Shelley Luther was fined $7,000 and ordered to spend a week in jail for contempt of court, after she refused to temporarily close her business and shredded a cease-and-desist court order late last month. Incredibly, Luther was given an opportunity by state District Judge Eric Moyé to simply apologize for her actions, and walk away with just the fine, but she refused — despite the fact that Abbott had publicly announced his plans for allowing salons to reopen in the coming weeks just minutes earlier.
Meanwhile, the fact that Abbott's orders specifically encourage — but do not mandate — people wear masks means that places like one Hillstone Restaurant Group business in Dallas can require that their employees not wear crucial face coverings while working because, according to one employee, "face masks don't complement the restaurant group's style or level of hospitality." According to CBS News, employees who nevertheless insisted on wearing the extremely medically encouraged face masks claim they were retaliated against by management.
Currently, Texas has over 33,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with nearly 1,000 fatalities to date. Given the eagerness by Abbott and others to push for more exposure and fewer protections, it seems a safe bet that those numbers will only go up from here.