After hinting for days at a big plan to restart the state’s economy, Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced on Friday that he had formed a “strike force” to oversee a phased opening of businesses.
At a press conference, Abbott said he had seen “glimmers that the worst of COVID-19 may soon be behind us,” thanks to residents’ social distancing efforts. Infections are “stabilizing” and the death toll is not as bad as expected, the Republican governor added.
“We have demonstrated that we can circle the coronavirus,” Abbott said.
Critics were quick to jump on the vagueness of the plan and warned that the slow pace of coronavirus testing in Texas – the worst in the country, by one point – paints an incomplete picture of the severity of the crisis. To date, the state has only conducted 3,660 tests per 1 million residents, according to the independent COVID Tracking Project.
“It’s like saying, ‘The parachute slowed our rate of descent, so now it’s safe to take it off,'” State Representative Julie Johnson, D-Dallas, said of the eagerness to Abbott to reopen businesses.
At the press conference, Abbott said that over the next week he will reopen state parks, free up hospitals to resume surgeries and allow retailers to provide curbside pickup services. He also promised to announce additional measures on April 27 and again in May.
While Abbott has pledged to have medical experts and data guide the rollout, critics accuse members of his “strike force” of suggesting he is more beholden to business and political interests.
Austin banker and top Republican donor James Huffines is chairman of the group, while lobbyist Mike Toomey, former chief of staff to GOP Gov. Rick Perry, will lead its staff.
While the task force has medical experts, including former U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner Mark McClellan, it also includes Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who suggested last month that older adults should be prepared to die of COVID-19 if it meant protecting the economy.
U.S. Representative Julian Castro, D-San Antonio, said the nominations suggest the governor is more eager to reward political allies than listen to public health experts.
“He was very vague about everything,” Castro said of Abbott. “It’s not a plan. It’s a hope.”
On Friday, Abbott also said the state was preparing to dramatically ramp up testing with help from the private sector. He was otherwise vague on details other than saying the expansion would come in late April or early May.
“We’ve been hearing for weeks that there are ‘encouraging signs’ more testing is coming, but that never seems to be happening,” said state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, who chairs the Texas House Democratic Caucus. “We need to dramatically increase testing right now.”
Stay on top of San Antonio news and views. Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.