Why is the Harris County CEO extending lockdown while Texas reopens?

The goalposts continue to shift during the coronavirus pandemic lockdown. At a time when every state is now in the process of reopening to one degree or another, some local officials are finding it difficult to loosen their grip, even in the freedom-loving state of Texas.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced yesterday that today she will sign an order that will extend the county’s ‘Stay Home, Work Safe’ order until June 10. The first reaction in my home upon hearing this during the late-night local news broadcast (ok, it was just my husband and me) was what the what? This extension will have to be amended to comply with Governor Abbott’s order to reopen the state. Hidalgo will hold a press conference today to clarify her decision.

As a reminder for those who do not live in Texas, a county judge is not necessarily an actual judge. The title of County judge is given to the county CEO. In the case of Ms. Hidalgo, she is not a lawyer. It is a nonjudicial position. Ms. Hidalgo is a 29-year-old political newbie, a ‘progressive’ Democrat (think AOC) who embraces her inner Socialist. She can thank the blue wave created by Beto O’Rourke in the 2018 election cycle for her victory.

Here’s the thing about Ms. Hidalgo’s premise – Texans are not trying to “tempt fate”, they are just easing back into reopening the state and getting some sort of life back. We know there is no cure, there is no vaccine yet. The whole reason the state has progressed to Phase Two of reopening this week is that Texans have taken the coronavirus pandemic very seriously. We have done what is expected of us. We wear masks when necessary, we social distance when we are in public, and we’ve washed our hands raw. Texans are protecting Texans and no one is complaining about that. Texans are complaining about the heavy hand of authoritarianism from leftists who do not want to see a return to life as we knew it before the coronavirus pandemic.

According to Hidalgo’s office, the order will go through at least June 10. It will be amended to comply with the Gov. Abbott’s orders to open up more of the state. The Harris County extended order will strongly urge people in Harris County to take precautions against the spread of COVID-19 by staying home and working from home when possible.

She’s expected to announce the extended order in a news conference Thursday, May 21.

“The truth is that we are no safer today from this virus than we were in March,” said Judge Hidalgo. “There is still no vaccine, no treatment, no cure. Thanks to the people of Harris County we have already saved thousands of lives from this awful virus, but we must stay the course. I urge residents to continue to stay or work from home unless it is necessary to go out, and get tested if you feel you may have been exposed.”

Stay the course? Which course? The course that would have us remain home and businesses shuttered indefinitely or the course set by the governor that slowly and responsibly reopens the state? The latter course is the one that most Texans will choose.

One reason for Hidalgo’s latest decision to reissue a stay at home order may have to do with money. Shocking, I know, for a politician to have dollar signs in her eyes. When the Harris County Commissioner’s Court met Tuesday, May 19, the commissioners voted to extend the county’s disaster declaration through June 10. It was set to expire yesterday, May 20 and it’s all about FEMA money.

Previously set to expire May 20, the disaster declaration allows the county to adequately respond to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said during the meeting. The declaration was first issued March 11.

“What we’re using it for right now, most importantly, is reimbursements from [the Federal Emergency Management Agency], being able to submit those more easily and also, quick purchasing, obviously, in terms of issuing orders, the governor has pretty much taken that authority, so right now it’s a matter of being able to do the purchasing and the FEMA reimbursement,” she said.

During that meeting, one county commissioner, a Republican, pointed out that he thinks the county is approaching the recovery phase, not stuck in the emergency phase. He has requested reports from the county auditor’s office and county attorney’s office to be delivered during the next meeting outlining what purchases may need to be made by the county and if those purchases would be put in jeopardy if Harris County moves out of the emergency phase. Hidalgo pushed back, said Harris County is not in recovery yet and made comparisons to the days of the Spanish flu.

“It seems like we’ve done a pretty good job in the county with regard to the curve and our percentages that are being impacted,” Cagle said. “As you have said, everyone still needs to be careful and cautious and needs to be safe, but we still have a great deal of hospital bed availability; we have a great recovery rate, especially compared to the state and the rest of the nation; and our percentage of population [that has the coronavirus] is fairly low. … We’re now more in that recovery phase as opposed to the crisis phase.”

However, Hidalgo said while she was in favor of the reports, she believes the county is still very much in an emergency state.

“We’re not in recovery. We just had 118 new cases yesterday. … We had a pseudo army of 296 contact tracers as of yesterday. … We’re meeting virtually because … one of the council members came down positive at the city of Houston—the virus hasn’t gone anywhere,” Hidalgo said. “It’s a very strange thing; we’ve fallen into a bit of a new normal; but that doesn’t mean [we’re in recovery]. We may well be in the eye of the hurricane. I hope we’re not.”

Hidalgo said she was concerned that by lifting the emergency state, residents would become less cautious about their personal health, which could lead to future outbreaks. She added most other major Texas counties are likewise continuing to extend their respective disaster declarations into the month of June.

“If you look at the curves from the Spanish flu, you see one little curve and then there’s a much bigger one later because I guess folks thought they beat the first curve and they were done, and so that’s what we really can’t let happen,” Hidalgo said. “There’s no such thing as a halfway disaster [declaration]. We’re still in this disaster, [and] if things come back I may need this authority.”

Taxpayer money and the power to spend it is a hell of a drug, amirite? The Democrats on the commission (the majority) voted with Hidalgo. The commissioners will consider further extensions (!) of the emergency declaration at the next meeting, scheduled for June 9. Never let a crisis go to waste.