This story has been updated throughout since it was originally published.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins on Tuesday made the case for North Texans to stay home despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to reopen the state’s restaurants, malls and movie theaters.
Jenkins said the county has yet to meet two significant milestones most public health experts have suggested are necessary to restart the economy after it came to a sudden halt in March as part of the region’s response to the coronavirus.
First, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths have not declined for two consecutive weeks. Second, there is also not enough testing in Texas to identify new hotspots, he said.
“We’re going to have to survive and thrive underneath these orders, whether we agree with these orders or not,” Jenkins said, after announcing the largest single-day increase in confirmed cases here — 135 — and that the death toll reached 94.
While last week saw a drop in the daily average of new cases and deaths, the numbers are climbing back up this week.
“The trends are not encouraging,” he said. “My prayer is that this has been some sort of strange three days and it’s going to drop precipitously tomorrow.”
Jenkins’ comments came a day after Abbott announced his plans to allow the state’s stay-at-home order to expire April 30 and to allow some businesses to open up to 25% capacity. Abbott made clear Monday that his decision trumps any local order in conflict, effectively voiding Jenkins’ requirement that Dallas County residents stay home until May 15.
Abbott’s plan does suggest people older than 65 and who have underlying medical conditions stay home and for others to limit trips. When people do go out, they should continue to practice social distancing and wear a face mask. There are more specific guidelines — not mandates — for restaurants, malls and movie theaters.
During his announcement Monday, Abbott suggested his plan was in part based on social distancing practices already successfully in place at some retail locations such as grocer HEB and Home Depot that had helped stem the spread of the virus.
However, Jenkins pointed to new data released by the county Tuesday that found 77% of nearly 700 people confirmed with the virus and who shared their occupation worked in settings that were still open, including grocery stores.
Jenkins said he wouldn’t try to circumvent the governor’s order and put additional restrictions on businesses in Dallas County. However, he was planning a Tuesday-evening phone call with business leaders to discuss how they can work together to enforce the 25% capacity rule and other suggestions in the governor’s plan, some of which Jenkins agreed with.
One of the points in Abbott’s plan that Jenkins highlighted as a point of agreement: creating a two-week buffer between phases to study whether there is a surge in new cases.
Jenkins, a Democrat, has publicly tangled with Abbott, a Republican, several times over how to best manage the public health crisis. Jenkins said he spoke with Abbott on Friday to better understand what the governor was planning to announce Monday.
Since the beginning of the outbreak, Jenkins has stressed personal responsibility, noting that enforcing his stay-at-home order would always be difficult. He stressed repeatedly Tuesday that it was even more important now to practice self-discipline to keep families safe.
“It’s up to all of you, both business owners and individuals, to make really good personal responsibility decisions,” he said, adding later that he and his family will only dine out in a public restaurant again after local scientists and health doctors tell him it’s OK to do so.
“You could dislike me, dislike everything I stand for, but still, the safest thing for your family is for you to listen to the health experts on the ground, who have the degrees and have spent their life preparing for this moment,” he said.