Abbott’s Statewide Orders Limit Options For Local Officials Trying To Curb Spread Of COVID-19

HOUSTON, TEXAS - JUNE 08: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (Center R) approaches the line for people to attend the public viewing for George Floyd outside the Fountain of Praise church on June 8, 2020 in Houston, Texas. Floyd ... HOUSTON, TEXAS - JUNE 08: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (Center R) approaches the line for people to attend the public viewing for George Floyd outside the Fountain of Praise church on June 8, 2020 in Houston, Texas. Floyd died May 25 while in Minneapolis police custody, sparking nationwide protests. A white police officer, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with second-degree murder, with the three other officers involved facing other charges. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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July 22, 2020 8:28 a.m.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) held back on supporting a shelter-at-home order for a Texas county that has been dealt a staggering blow by the coronavirus and that’s scheduled to begin Wednesday.

While Abbott acknowledged in an interview with CNN affiliate KRGV Tuesday night that some counties continue to experience “record breaking” numbers of positive tests and hospitalizations as well as “far too many deaths” — he said a mandated stay-at-home order was not enforceable.

The new emergency order, issued earlier this week by Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez, includes a curfew, travel limitations and a requirement for facial coverings for Hidalgo residents. 

It states that it is “highly encouraged and recommended” that all commercial businesses discontinue their activities, unless they are essential, providing necessary supplies or services related to health and safety. The order excludes curbside, drive-thru and takeout services from its recommendation for closure.

The situation has grown so dire that Hidalgo County officials threatened Tuesday to criminally prosecute people who refuse to quarantine after testing positive for the coronavirus.

“There are parts of the orders which I have the complete latitude to enforce, such as the curfew,” Abbott told KRGV. “That is the authority that the local County judges always have been including right now, and it’s my understanding that in Cameron and Hidalgo County they intend to be enforcing curfews. That is one of the strategies to make sure they reduce the number of people out and about.”

But the governor’s response stopped short of agreeing that a stay-at-home requirement was the best answer to the panic at hospitals as beds fill up. According to CNN, Abbott’s office had also said earlier Tuesday the mandate lacked the legal authority and was more of a recommendation.

Earlier this week, a spokesman from Abbott’s office, John Wittman told the Texas Tribune in a statement late Monday that the order “has no enforcement mechanism,”  which made it “simply a recommendation for those to stay home if they can, which Governor Abbott supports.” 

Under Abbott’s current statewide orders, local governments cannot enforce their own stay-at-home orders. Wittman also clarified that “this order does not force businesses to shut down in the Rio Grande Valley.”

Cortez said the mandate was a response to a frightening reality that hospitals are quickly hitting capacity. 

“Unfortunately, our hospital rooms look like war zones because there are just so many from so many sick people there,” Cortez told CBS News.

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