In North Texas, Collin County Commissioners are passing the buck instead of collaborating with cities to enforce consistent orders to stay home to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
After Governor Greg Abbott’s recent executive order failed to clearly instruct Texans to stay home, Dallas, Tarrant, and Denton counties responded by issuing and amending countywide shelter-in-place orders.
In contrast, Collin County Judge Chris Hill first delayed taking any action, and eventually declared a week later, “All persons in Collin County are hereby ordered to stay home, except for travel related to essential activities.”
Hill did not provide a definition of ‘essential activity.” He further equivocated: “All businesses, jobs, and workers are essential to the financial health and well-being of our local economy and therefore are essential… Businesses that are able to remain open need to remain open.”
Collin County Commissioner Darrel Hale explained, “We’re giving freedom to allow people to decide for themselves what is most essential to them versus having the government tell them this is the things we deem essential for you.”
Lives hang in the balance. Texas recently reported 6,812 cases of COVID-19 with 127 deaths. Across the United States, there are 338,000 cases with nearly 10,000 deaths.
Families across Texas need leaders who put people over profits.
For my family, having an immunocompromised child, we decided to stay home when the first case was reported in Frisco. But around us, the thrum of business as usual continued. Home improvement stores were crowded, employees were called into work at retail shops, and organized teams are still practicing on “closed” fields.
A majority of states have stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders in effect, covering 75% of the population of the United States. With Florida, Nevada, and Arizona going under statewide orders this week, Texas remains the prominent holdout.
The Governor recently amended his statewide order to clarify essential activities and businesses, but devotion to the abstract ideals of limited government and personal freedom has resulted in a patchwork of conflicting and confusing public safety messaging that will cost lives.
This crisis demands action, not an abdication of the responsibility to lead. Stopping the spread of this disease is a collective action problem.
Hospitals and ICU beds fill quickly to capacity. Unwillingly, healthcare providers may not have the resources to care for all who need it.
Government exists to step in when selfish behavior endangers others. The Centers for Disease Control’s advice is clear: stay home.
Rather than follow the advice of every public health expert to isolate community members and shut down all but the most essential services as the pandemic explodes, Collin County Commissioners want to remain open for business.
This will be deadly for some.
Following the failure of the Governor and the County Commissioners to protect the public, cities within Collin County scrambled to issue stricter orders.
One day after Collin County’s official “Stay home, work safe” instruction, McKinney’s Mayor George Fuller signed an executive order requiring city residents to shelter in place. Other cities followed his lead.
Not only did the Governor and Collin County Commissioners delay publishing necessary restrictions to stop the spread of a pandemic, they also burdened city leaders seeking to enforce any meaningful restrictions to protect North Texans.
The State of Texas has been touting local control and local solutions, but state government will gladly override a local government’s ability to address fracking, taxation, and education.
Meanwhile, Collin County is a case study in the dangers of local control in emergency management. A laissez faire approach to public health endangers everyone.
Public safety demands leadership, and leaders must follow the facts and the science, not partisan beliefs. Those facts and that science is clear–the actions and pronouncements of the Governor and Collin County Commissioners are not, and that has endangered our North Texas community. The State and County governments must act in concert with Texas cities to preserve physical health over financial health.
It is a matter of life and death.
Sameena Karmally is an attorney and a Public Voices Fellow through The OpEd Project. She was the Democratic nominee for Texas House District 89 in 2014.