Texas Medical Association to State GOP: Cancel your convention

The Republican Party of Texas (RPT) has plans to go forward with a full, in-person state convention in July. The Texas Medical Association has two words for the state Republican Party – cancel it.

The convention is scheduled for July 16 – 18 at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston. There is to be no mandate for the attendees to wear facial masks, with 6,000 Texans anticipated to be in attendance. “All systems are go, folks. This is happening,” Kyle Whatley, the party’s executive director, said Tuesday during a tele-town hall, noting the convention program is already being printed. As you know, Houston is a coronavirus hot spot right now and that decision is being called into question. The number of attendees anticipated is half the number of those who would be expected in a normal convention year, without a pandemic raging through the city of the convention site.

State health officials sounded the alarm, especially when it became known that Party officials are not requiring facial masks. Keep in mind that Harris County is under a facial mask mandate. Yesterday, Harris County Commissioners voted to extend the county’s disaster declaration until August 26, granting Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo continued emergency powers until then. Hidalgo is currently under quarantine herself, having been exposed to the coronavirus by a staff member.

David Lakey, the former commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, said he believes large indoor gatherings of more than 100 people are not advisable at this time.

“I think, right now, I wouldn’t hold a group larger than 100 individuals,” he said. “I think people need to be very cautious about making — especially in the month of July — any plans for a big conference.”

The Texas Medical Association (TMA) expressed hope that the convention attendees would wear facial masks and practice social distancing. At the time that the TMA was raising concerns about such a large indoor gathering, the fact that the association sponsors the Texas Republican convention was printed in an article published by the Texas Tribune. The TMA represents more than 53,000 Texas physicians and medical students. It said its $5,000 sponsorship wasn’t in danger of going away. “The agreement will not be revisited,” Brent Annear said in an email Monday.

He added that despite the fact that the GOP organizers won’t require attendees to wear masks, TMA “encourages everyone who goes anywhere to wear masks.”

“To our Republican friends — and our Democrat friends (and independents and those of other parties) — we say wear a mask, wash your hands, stay socially distant if you must be in groups, and stay home if you can,” Annear said.

The convention lists more than 30 sponsors, including big names like Comcast, Verizon, and Union Pacific. It should be noted here that TMA also gives the same sponsorship to the Democrat convention, which was held virtually this year. Dr. Lakey spoke to the importance of the TMA being involved with both major parties.

But Dr. David Lakey, the former commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, said it’s “important for the Texas Medical Association to be involved in both political parties in order to have the voice of health and the many public health issues, such as vaccines and Medicaid and maternal morbidity, to make sure that both parties understand that these issues are important.”

“If [TMA] totally dropped sponsorship, they lose the ability to address the multitude of health issues that we have here,” Lakey said.

On Tuesday, TMA announced its decision to call on the Texas GOP to cancel its in-person convention. Is its financial support in question now, if the Party moves ahead with its convention plans? The TMA president is an emergency physician in Houston and she is sending a more aggressive tone about the association’s objections to the convention plans. She said the association’s financial sponsorship would apply to a virtual convention.

In an open letter to party leadership Tuesday, Dr. Diana Fite, TMA president, cited the growing number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in Harris County as a reason for the Texas Republican Party to cancel its Houston convention. The county has the highest number of cases and deaths in the state.

“The daily chart of active cases in Harris County has been nearly a straight line upward for the past two weeks,” Fite wrote. “As an emergency physician in Houston treating patients with COVID-19, I speak from firsthand experience: It would be best for the health of your conventiongoers and the residents of Houston for the RPT not to hold its biennial convention there as planned.”

Dr. Fite points to pressure from members after the story in the Tribune was published and the fact that the convention is being held in Houston. Is this getting political? Yes. I think that is a fair conclusion as this all plays out. She said the financial sponsorship is still not in question if the in-person convention happens but another doctor has created an online petition on MoveOn.org. The petition threatens TMA with a boycott by doctors if its GOP sponsorship remains in place. As of Tuesday, the petition had 1,000 signatures.

On Monday evening, Dr. Dona Murphey, a Harris County physician scientist, created a petition on MoveOn.org demanding that TMA withdraw its contribution to the Texas GOP convention or “docs will boycott” TMA.

“It is utterly reckless for a medical organization to be complicit in an event that defies CDC recommendations and the broad consensus of physicians and public health officials on multiple counts,” Murphey wrote in the petition’s description section. “The TMA must withdraw its support of the Texas GOP convention.”

Fife mentioned that TMA’s own in-person convention, scheduled for May, was canceled. She expresses concern for more elderly members who faithfully attend these conventions, both in the TMA and in the GOP. She points to the increased health risks for them.

State Party Chairman James Dickey is taking everything under consideration. He said the Party has plans for an online convention, if necessary.

Party chair James Dickey said Tuesday that the State Republican Executive Committee will meet Thursday to consider options for the future of the event, which he assured includes an “ultimate contingency plan” to move the event online.

“We have prepared for an online convention as the ultimate contingency plan if we are forced by a government order at any level and not able to hold our convention in person,” Dickey said during a livestreamed announcement Tuesday evening. “We’ve had that plan in place since the beginning of the pandemic so that we can be fully prepared for any turn of events.”

I don’t think large gatherings are a good idea, whether indoors or outdoors, at this point in time. Just as I am opposed to the big protests and violence happening by radical Marxists and other agitators all in the name of racial equality, I am opposed to a state convention, too. It puts an unnecessary exposure to the coronavirus in play for thousands of people. We’ll see just how much sway liberal activists in the TMA hold. This event certainly exposes them as political creatures dressed in white coats.