HOUSTON – Texas continues to grapple with worsening conditions during the coronavirus pandemic. Daily cases reported Tuesday crossed 10,000 in the state, even as bars remain closed and Gov. Greg Abbott’s mask mandate remains in place.
Amid coronavirus concerns, the Texas Education Agency announced new guidelines to ensure children are able to go back to school in the fall and the in-person Texas Republican Party Convention at George R. Brown Convention Center remains planned for July 16.
Abbott answered questions live on KPRC 2 about various topics related to the pandemic, Tuesday. Here’s what we asked him and his responses:
Question: The TEA just released new guidelines. What do parents need to know about precautions on campuses and could these plans change before August?
Abbott: The most important thing for parents to know about is that we’re putting public safety first and flexibility second. What I mean by public safety is we want to ensure that when schools open, the safety of children, the safety of parents, the safety of teachers, all will be the primary consideration.
With regard to flexibility, that means, that there may be sometimes even perhaps when the school year opens, when it’s not going to be possible for children to go to the classroom because of an outbreak of COVID. In that case, it’s going to be incumbent upon the school to make sure they have the flexibility for the students to be able to successfully have remote learning opportunities, working with the teachers.
Those programs are articulated by the TEA and understand that the TEA has been working for months with superintendents, with educators to make sure they have a plan that will work for school districts. But we do want to provide school districts with a level of flexibility, to make sure they will be able to provide the appropriate and safe setting for everybody involved in the school.
Question: The TEA says that based on your recent executive order, masks will be mandatory in school buildings. Would you like to end that order before school starts and if so, what will it take?
Abbott: I would love to have that mask order end before school begins and let me tell you what it would take. Understand the context in which we are talking right now and that is today, Texas set an all-time record in the number of people testing positive, an all-time record in the number of people who were hospitalized, and an all-time record in the number of deaths.
So what it’s going to take is to turn those numbers around. What we need is for everybody watching this show right now to understand that COVID0-19 is spreading more dangerously and more rapidly across the state of Texas than it ever has. Anybody can contract it, any time, anywhere in the state of Texas. So, we need everybody to join in on this effort, to make sure they are wearing a mask because the last thing we want to do is to shut Texas back down.
We will not have to shut it down if everyone will follow this very simple rule and that is, just get a mask like this, wear it, make sure that you don’t get COVID-19 and you don’t give it to anybody else.
Question: Yesterday, you told another news outlet that some county judges and mayors who want to enact ‘stay home orders’ are the same people refusing to enforce your executive orders. Does that include any elected officials in the Houston area?
Abbott: So I have received what seemed to be kind of like a form letter, from a couple of mayors — one was the Austin mayor — and it seemed very similar to a letter I received from the Houston mayor and some other officials, primarily from the large cities across the state of Texas, that ask for additional shutdown measures and asking in the alternative to give them the authority to completely shut down and lock down their jurisdiction for a period of time.
And I find that frustrating in this sense, and that is, for most of these officials, no action whatsoever to enforce the executive orders that are in place. The reason why I emphasize that is these executive orders were established by doctors with the understanding that if they were complied with, it would reduce the spread of COVID0-19.
A quick example is, for many mayors, maybe all of them, I’m unfamiliar with any effort they ever undertook to shut down any bar where it was clear from just an eyeball view that there was a violation of the orders that are in place. But also, they are saying we need to reduce the capacity of restaurants, of retail centers and things like that. No mayor has sent me any information saying that there’s any type of spread of COVID-19 in any of those types of establishments or that they’ve taken any effort to close down those types of establishments.
Bottom line is, we need better, stronger enforcement. If the current rules are followed and applied, we will not have to shut Texas back down.
Question: We are hearing of mounting pressure on the Texas GOP to cancel next week’s in-person convention in downtown Houston. Do you support the party’s plan to move forward?
Abbott: I know that they continue to look at it and, you know, the facts that we see today contribute to that. As we may see in the coming days, as we get even closer to the convention, the reality is that there will be more people testing positive both in Texas as well as in Houston. There will be more hospitalizations in Houston and there will be more deaths.
So, I think that the party leaders that make the determination based on issues like this, they will continue to weigh all these facts and we’ll see how things progress. But, I know that they want to put public safety first. I know that they don’t want to compromise the health or safety of anybody. But, I also know at the same time, that they need to find ways in which to conduct the official business that must be conducted by the party.
Question: But if they ask you, Governor, will you tell them to move it to a virtual convention?
Abbott: I would ask that they take into consideration the health and safety of everybody who would be attending and make sure they conduct it — whether it be in-person or online — in a way that secures and protects the safety and health of everybody.