Texas hits two-year mark for statewide COVID-19 disaster declaration

Two years ago, on March 13, 2020, Governor Greg Abbott released his first proclamation declaring a state of disaster in all 254 counties of Texas in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since then, the declaration has been continuously renewed on a monthly basis.

Under the Texas Disaster Act Chapter 418 of the Texas Government Code, this statement served as the basis for the governor’s many pandemic-related executive orders, including the first he issued on March 19, 2020. ordering a state lockdown.

Abbott’s order banned social gatherings of more than 10 people, closed gyms and door-to-door dining at restaurants, banned guests from visiting long-term care facilities and closed schools.

Although not mentioned in the text of his first order, violations were still punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or up to 180 days in jail – a punishment that Abbott would later ban after such punishments. actually happened.

The types of orders issued by Abbott in accordance with the statement range from restricting individuals to restricting the government as COVID-19 cases fluctuated in the state and among major challengers Abbott faced who criticized him. for lockdown measures.

Fluctuating COVID-19 cases

When his first statement was signed two years ago, Abbott cited “30 confirmed cases of COVID-19” in the state in addition to “50 Texans with pending tests.”

Today, the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) reports that there have been nearly 5.5 million cases of the virus in Texas and 85,000 deaths from COVID-19.

Cases have largely accumulated over four separate waves in the state: the first peak in July 2020, the second in January 2021, the third in August 2021 with the Delta variant, and the fourth in January 2022 with the Omicron variant.

The Trump administration’s “Operation Warp Speed,” which pushed for the rapid development and release of a COVID-19 vaccine, led to the widespread rollout of vaccinations under the Biden administration in early 2021, as the second wave was just beginning to decline.

Since then, the DSHS reports that nearly 20.5 million people have been vaccinated, including 17.3 million people “fully vaccinated” and 6.4 million people receiving a booster dose.

Changes to COVID-19 Executive Orders

After a month of ’15 days to slow the spread’ and Texas saw no skyrocketing cases of the new virus originating in Wuhan, China, Abbott slowly began rolling back its lockdowns and ‘opening up Texas “.

On April 27, 2020, he issued a Executive Decree setting out the “strategic plan to open up Texas,” in which the governor asserted, “Individuals are encouraged to wear appropriate face coverings, but no jurisdiction can impose civil or criminal penalties for failure to wear a covering -face.”

He executed this provision in mid-June, when he announcement that Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff rightly discovered a loophole in the ordinance: local governments could not impose a mask mandate directly on individuals, but they could order businesses to require individuals wear a face covering.

During an interview, Abbott reiterated, “We want to make sure that individual liberty is not infringed by government, and therefore government cannot require individuals to wear masks.”

Weeks later, as cases in the state continued to rise, Governor individuals ordered wear masks or face fines of up to $1,000 per violation.

As Abbott weighed lockdown measures later in the year, he shifted to using trigger orders where certain restrictions would only apply to hospital regions of the state that reach certain COVID- 19.

In March 2021, when the second wave of cases was in steep decline amid the rapid distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, Abbott announcement the end of its statewide mask tenure and most of its other restrictions. However, a trigger order to allow localities to adopt restrictions based on the number of hospitalizations was left in place.

Like Abbott’s previous orders from the early months of the pandemic that rolled back restrictions, its March 2021 order also imposed new restrictions on local governments that prohibited them from issuing mask mandates to individuals and businesses.

In late July 2021 – just as the number of COVID-19 cases began to rise again with the Delta variant and as Abbott faced a growing number of Republican challengers – Abbott issued another executive order ending the remaining trigger order.

Legislative response

In the spring of 2021, state legislators met in the 87th regular legislative session and had the opportunity to revise the law underlying Abbott’s disaster declaration and executive orders.

Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) has proposed legislation that would require greater legislative oversight for widespread disaster declarations that passed the Senate by a near-unanimous vote.

But this bill never saw the light of day in the House.

The lower house has proposed another piece of legislation from Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock) that would have outlined a “pandemic disaster law” to go alongside disaster law but specify permitted government responses to a disease.

Burrows’ legislation did not originally include substantial new legislative checks on the executive, but some were added in the process.

After Burrows’ bill was approved by the House, Birdwell introduced the bill in the Senate and replaced his alternate version, which the Senate again approved.

Burrows rejected the changes in the House and sent the bill to a conference committee where the bill died.

A few small changes were made to the Disaster Actbut no substantial legislative control was added.

Unless the governor calls a special session and puts the item on the agenda, the next opportunity lawmakers will have to make changes to the Disaster Act will be in the spring of 2023 during the 88th session. legislative.

About James Almanza

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