It’s time for leadership in Texas on COVID-19.
Nothing — listen to me — nothing is more important in Texas right now than adequately responding to COVID-19. Not education finance, gun safety, climate change or immigration overhaul. In the post-2016 world we live in, and as a former candidate for our state’s top job, I’m tempted to criticize the governor, but the truth is we can’t play “knee-jerk” politics anymore. This virus doesn’t care which political primary you voted in. Regardless of politics, we must follow sage advice to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Along those lines, here are some suggestions for Gov. Greg Abbott.
For starters, the governor should declare a “Handshake Holiday.” I know it sounds simple, but people living in the “Friendship” state need an excuse to not be so nice. He can put a spin on it by making the Handshake Holiday a fun, elbow-tapping thing. But we all need to stop shaking hands! Furthermore, any indoor convention or event that attracts large numbers of out-of-state or out-of-country guests should be canceled through the next few months.
In addition, he should educate the public about the need for 14-day self-quarantines, which should be considered a great public service and applauded by the governor. We also need to emphasize that if you live with someone at risk, perhaps an elderly person or someone with health issues, then everyone in the household should avoid public spaces whenever possible and maintain vigilant hygiene.
And let’s invest money to prevent Texas from becoming the next locked-down Italy. If he cannot secure funds another way, the governor should call a special session of the Texas Legislature now to get authority to tap the state’s $12 billion “Rainy Day” fund. If needed, he can quickly allocate funds to hot-spot health crises, such as to build temporary housing for people with COVID-19 with nowhere to go when hospitals are full.
During the session, the governor should expand Medicaid. I’m not making a political point. Even though it could take months for the funds to appear, if COVID-19 spreads across Texas, our state’s health-care staff, medical budgets and health facilities will be under unprecedented pressure. In the past, Gov. Abbott has reasoned that Obamacare is a “massive expansion of an already broken and bloated Medicaid program” and has refused to accept billions of federal dollars for our state. But this rationale is no longer relevant. The potential cost of managing the largest uninsured population in the nation — and during a pandemic that could last for months if we don’t correct mistakes already made — requires Medicaid expansion. For Gov. Abbott, COVID-19 can be the perfect explanation to expand Medicaid while at the same time maintaining his party’s strongly held beliefs. Moreover, county judges from major counties in Texas who oversee health care to the uninsured will be the first to applaud his leadership and courage.
As with Hurricane Harvey, if COVID-19 spreads across Texas, our government and health-care resources could be overwhelmed. If so, we should look again to our state’s citizens — maybe not manning fishing boats this time but regular, everyday folks among us — for that same “all-hands-on-deck” response. The governor should consider how he can utilize a citizen-led response to this potential health-care crisis. For example, neighborhood teams can be organized to deliver baby supplies, medicine or other necessities to quarantined families. A little planning at this juncture will go a long way.
Friday Gov. Abbott formally declared a state of disaster that “allows the state to effectively serve the people of Texas without hindrance or delay,” he announced. “When Texans come together, there is nothing we can’t overcome — and it is up to all of us to work proactively and collaboratively to respond to this challenge and protect public health.” This action includes empowering the Office of the Texas Attorney General “to pursue cases of price-gouging and ensure that offenders are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” But it’s also an opportunity to think outside the box.
We cannot play the “normal” political theater with COVID-19. I can say with confidence that Texans — regardless of political opinion — stand behind our federal, state and local leaders as they lead us through this pandemic. There is one more thing we can do, and it’s something many Texans did during Hurricane Harvey and even more recent natural disasters, and that’s pray. Pray for our state, our leaders and our frontline health-care workers. And pray not out of fear but out of faith.
Harvey taught us that we are better together. So let’s stay together.