County Judge Clay Jenkins is urging the public to listen to the science and the medical experts and avoid public places that they don’t absolutely need to visit. At his first public appearance since Gov. Greg Abbott announced plans to reopen portions of the Texas economy, Jenkins announced the most cases (135) that Dallas County has recorded in a single day, as well as the most deaths (10) in a single day. Those included an otherwise healthy 17-year-old and two people in their 30s.
He accepted and acknowledged that the governor’s rule would be law but also presented it alongside data that show Dallas County’s caseload has not dipped for two weeks. That’s the measure the Trump administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have urged governors to use as they contemplate reopening their states. Abbott seemed comfortable allowing businesses to operate based on the statewide numbers, a confidence that doesn’t appear shared locally.
Dr. Philip Huang, the head of Dallas County Health and Human Services, said the new caseload is “certainly worrisome” and opening up the economy before a two-week decline in cases was “very concerning.”
Jenkins said testing was insufficient to quickly identify and contain the spread of the coronavirus, and he is surprised that things like movie theaters were included in the first round of openings. (It does not appear most movie theaters will exercise their right to open.) As of April 28, Dallas County had tested 25,228 people—.95 percent of its 2.6 million population—and the judge’s request for capacity to perform 6,600 more daily tests at Parkland and UT Southwestern had not been fulfilled.
“Regardless of what you think or what I think, on May 1, we’re going to see more and more businesses open, and we’re going to see more and more movement out there, and we’re going to see more and more opportunity for asymptomatic COVIDs to bump into you and get you sick,” Jenkins said. “The question you have to ask yourself is, What’s the best decision for me and my family? Just because the law allows you to do something, or open your business, doesn’t mean you’re going to.”
From April 12 to April 18, Dallas County averaged 97 daily cases of COVID-19 and had 33 total deaths. From April 19 to April 25, the county saw an average of 84 daily cases and 21 total deaths. Three days into this week, the county is averaging 110 daily cases, with deaths on pace to meet or exceed 30.
“Clearly that is not two weeks of decline, right? Even if you wipe out this week and take last week, last week would be our first week of arguable decline,” Jenkins said.
Abbott could have allowed urban counties that are seeing significant community spread to enact rules stricter than the state’s. But he didn’t. And so now restaurants and movie theaters and libraries and museums can open to 25 percent of their capacity, beginning Friday.
In an interview with CNN’s Don Lemon on Monday night, Mayor Eric Johnson also accepted the governor’s new order, but he stopped short of Jenkins’ stern language about personal responsibility and staying home. Johnson was asked whether he believed the governor made the right call. He said, “The reality is we are where we are now,” and said he would ask the city to “do everything we can to continue to socially distance and continue to practice good hygiene.
“So, my thinking now has shifted to how do we make these new orders that are going to take effect on Friday work? And how do we make them successful?” Johnson continued. “Because being successful on this case means saving lives. It means that we are — we’re not going to have people die who don’t need to or shouldn’t be passing away needlessly.”
Jenkins said he had lobbied Abbott to allow larger counties to make their own rules, similar to how the governor let municipalities enact restrictions in March that led to a patchwork of stay-at-home orders. He said the order ran counter to what local medical professionals believe to be safe for Dallas at this time and noted that the “trends are not encouraging.” He said he hoped the city of Dallas would work to enforce the provisions of Abbott’s order, which limits capacity, includes hygiene requirements, and requires restaurants and other newly open businesses to maintain proper physical distancing.
“What I’m telling you — you can dislike me, dislike everything I stand for, but still the safest thing for your family is to listen to the health experts on the ground who have the degrees and have spent their life preparing for this moment,” Jenkins said. “The people who know what they’re doing, that’s who you need to listen to.”