Abbott Shares Plan to Reopen Texas Economy, but Critics Say He's Playing Politics, Moving Too Fast

click to enlarge Gov. Greg Abbott shows off an executive order during a recent press conference. - INSTAGRAM / @GOVERNORABBOTT
Instagram / @governorabbott
Gov. Greg Abbott shows off an executive order during a recent press conference.
After hinting for days about a grand plan to restart the state's economy, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday announced he'd formed a "strike force" to oversee a phased opening of businesses.

During a news conference, Abbott said he'd seen "glimmers that the worst of COVID-19 may soon be behind us," thanks to residents' social distancing efforts. Infections are "leveling off" and the death toll isn't as dire as once predicted, the Republican governor added.

"We have demonstrated that we can corral the coronavirus," Abbott said.

Critics quickly pounced on the vagueness of the plan and warned that Texas' slow rate of testing for the coronavirus — the worst in the nation, by one count — gives an incomplete picture of the severity of the crisis. To date, the state conducted just 3,660 tests per 1 million residents, according to the independent COVID Tracking Project.

"It's akin to saying, 'The parachute has slowed our rate of descent, so it's now safe to take it off,'" State Rep. Julie Johnson, D-Dallas, said of Abbott's eagerness to reopen businesses.

During the news conference, Abbott said within the next week he'll reopen state parks, free hospitals to resume surgeries and allow retailers to provide curbside pickup services. He also promised to announce additional steps on April 27 and again in May.

While Abbott pledged that medical experts and data will guide the rollout, critics charge the membership of his "strike force" suggests he's more beholden to business and political interests.

Austin banker and top Republican donor James Huffines serves as chairman of the group, while lobbyist Mike Toomey, former chief of staff to GOP Gov. Rick Perry, will lead its staff.

While the task force boasts medical experts including former U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Mark McClellan, it also includes Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who last month suggested elderly people should be prepared to die from COVID-19 if it meant protecting the economy.

U.S. Rep. Julian Castro, D-San Antonio, said the appointments suggest the governor is more eager to reward political allies than listen to public health experts.

"He's been very vague about everything," Castro said of Abbott. "It's not a plan. It's a hope."

On Friday, Abbott also said the state was preparing to dramatically ramp up testing with private-sector assistance. He was otherwise vague on details other than saying the expansion would come in late April or early May.

"We have heard for weeks that there are ‘encouraging signs’ more testing is coming, but it never seems to happen," said state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, who chairs the Texas House Democratic Caucus. "We need to dramatically increase testing right now.”

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