On Friday, the death cult leaders in my home state of Texas will be partially reopening the state after a month-long de-facto stay-at-home order. The order, issued on March 31, was set to expire today, April 30, much to the excitement of a handful of people who would rather be able to make other people get back to work than keep their families alive.
The Texas Tribune laid out the terms of the reopening, which Gov. Greg Abbott announced this Monday (emphasis mine):
First to open Friday: retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters and malls. But they will only be allowed to operate at 25% capacity. Museums and libraries will also be allowed to open at 25% capacity, but hands-on exhibits must remain close.
Abbott said his new order “supersedes all local orders” saying those businesses must remain closed. He also said his order overrules any local government that wants to impose a fine or penalty for not wearing a mask — something the latest statewide rules encourage but do not mandate.
Abbott stressed that his order “gives permission to reopen, not a requirement,” and businesses can stay shuttered if they would like.
If things go well, with “two weeks of data to confirm no flare-up of COVID-19,” Texas might open more businesses, and let the first set of businesses operate at 50% capacity.
But Texas, along with other states run by Republican governors, should not be opening. Earlier this month, it was deemed the second-worst state for COVID-19 testing; as of Wednesday, a mere 1.09% of residents had been tested for the virus. Texas’ health experts say we’re not testing nearly enough to allow businesses to reopen. From the Tribune again (emphasis mine):
Abbott made the announcement during a news conference at the Texas Capitol, which he began by saying he would let the stay-at-home order expire because it “has done its job to slow the growth of COVID-19.” While the spread of the virus in Texas has slowed down throughout April, the number of cases is still increasing day to day, and it is unclear if the state has yet seen its peak.
Comparatively few tests happening. No confirmation that Texas has peaked in cases. No mask order to help prevent the spread of the virus while people sit in air-conditioned movie theaters and walk through shopping malls. This order is a death wish, but to our elected officials, it’s a saving grace.
“Just as we united as one state to slow COVID-19, we must also come together to begin rebuilding the lives and the livelihoods of our fellow Texans,” Abbott said at this Monday press conference, backed by Texas’ top death cultist, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
To be clear, reopening Texas businesses has nothing to do with “lives and livelihoods” and everything to do with preserving an economy that has allowed powerful and rich people like themselves to stay powerful and rich. From Patrick’s March 23 Fox News appearance on Tucker Carlson’s show:
You know, Tucker, no one reached out to me and said, ‘As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?’ And if that’s the exchange, I’m all in. That doesn’t make me noble or brave or anything like that. I just think there are lots of grandparents out there in this country like me…
And from Patrick’s April 20 Fox News appearance (this one a contradiction of his initial message that he wasn’t telling old people to sacrifice themselves for the economy):
There are more important things than living. And that’s saving this country for my children and my grandchildren and saving this country for all of us. And I don’t want to die. Nobody wants to die. But man, we got to take some risks and get back in the game and get this country back up and running.
Texans have been risking their lives, but these aren’t the people whose livelihoods Patrick and Abbott want to “rebuild.” They don’t care about the people who have actually been laid off or furloughed during the pandemic—people who, if their employer decides to operate at 25% capacity, will no longer be eligible for unemployment benefits if they feel it’s unsafe for them to return to work, or if they aren’t able to find childcare while schools remain closed for the rest of the year. (The Texas Workforce Commission is reportedly still figuring the benefits thing out, while the state is offering, lol, free online childcare training, as if this is a workaround for people who can’t find childcare at all.) It’s easy to say that you’re willing to risk death when you’re not among the underpaid working-class people who’ve had few choices to stay home during the pandemic, and these are the exact people who will have to go back to work should their employers say so.
There is no normal to return to. I recently spoke to a Philadelphia nurse who’s on the novel coronavirus team at her hospital. She’d been out sick for two weeks with a case of what her doctor suspected to be the virus. She told me that the new normal at her hospital is limiting patients to one visitor who will take them home, having them stay overnight without company, and making them wait in their cars before being ushered into examination rooms — and that’s just the beginning of what must change in healthcare right now. She looked at the people protesting stay-at-home orders and wondered if they were willing to let their parents die just so they could go back to “normal,” because that’s what it may cost them.
I started quarantining in early March. I’ve been lucky compared to the rest of my family, who are either considered “essential” and are thus constantly exposed to other people, or have been furloughed for at least a month. I don’t want my 62-year-old mom to continue working with people who might start going to malls and restaurants because they need a reprieve from weeks indoors. I don’t want my 63-year-old dad to go back to his restaurant because his bosses are more concerned with making money than keeping their workers safe. I can’t imagine what it feels like to be watching this disastrous statewide plan unfolding from hundreds of miles away, unable to better protect the people you love.
My dad’s restaurant isn’t reopening yet, but at this moment I am arguing with him, telling him that it would be safer for him to stay home anyway. When Texas partially reopens tomorrow, I won’t be changing my behavior. I won’t be going to the malls, or to the small businesses whose books and food and tchotchkes I’ve enjoyed over the past decade. I won’t be changing my grocery store habits, keeping our trips to once a week. I won’t be seeing my parents beyond the end of their driveway, despite my dad now telling me to come over so we don’t have to argue over text. I will still be doing what I can to keep the people I love safe, or safer, while Texas businesses reopen.
I’ve worked from home for years, and continued to do so during the pandemic. I don’t have to worry about going to work where shoppers aren’t mandated to wear masks and gloves. I don’t have to worry about where else the people who enter my store or restaurant have gone. I won’t have to choose between losing unemployment benefits and protecting those closest to me. But millions of Texans do not have this privilege.
As Texas goes back to work, Abbott and Patrick and their friends will remain safe while working class Texans suffer. This has always been “normal,” but just as the pandemic has further widened systemic inequality in employment, healthcare and education, so too will it show just whose “livelihoods” were “rebuilt” because of the people sent back to work to perish.
Photo via ericwg/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0) Remix by Samantha Grasso