Climbing Infections Be Damned, Phase 2 of the "Open Texas" Plan Begins
Greg Abbott hits the gas, tries to outrun virus
Despite the percentage of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in Texas continuing to climb, Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday, May 18, pressed ahead with Phase Two of his "Open Texas" plan to restart the state's economy. The original benchmark for doing so was to be a 14-day sustained downward trajectory in COVID-19 numbers since his Phase One reopening on April 27, which has not occurred. Instead, Abbott cited a decline in the "positivity rate" – the percentage of COVID-19 tests returning a positive result, calculated as a 7-day rolling average, even though that's dependent on the number of tests and may not reflect at all a decrease in infections. The state had been combining serum antibody tests (showing past infections) with the nasal swab tests for current infections, which further renders the metric questionable.
The real metric Abbott is using, of course, is the approval of the Republican base that has declared COVID-19 an overblown pretext to deprive them of liberty. They were indeed pleased with the specifics of Abbott's latest executive order (GA-23) – office buildings and day cares could reopen immediately, restaurants and retailers can go to 50% capacity as of Friday, May 22, and bars and clubs can reopen at 25% capacity on the same date. Summer schools and camps are allowed beginning June 1. Even sporting events may resume soon, without spectators.
In theory, these are all subject to public health protocols (social distancing, masks, hand-washing, etc.) as laid out in numerous checklists on the Open Texas website (gov.texas.gov/opentexas). In practice, Abbott has eliminated jail time as a consequence for not complying with these protocols or capacity limits, and businesses can probably get away with ignoring them. Whether their customers are willing to do the same is far from certain; in recent state-by-state polling from The Washington Post, Abbott's coronavirus approval rating was among the lowest, trailed only by Georgia's Brian Kemp and Hawaii's David Ige.