This interview was originally posted by Rhonda Fanning on April 20, 2020, for Texas Standard.
On Friday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced measures loosening restrictions on some parts of the Texas economy. State parks begin reopening on Monday, with partial lifting of restrictions on retail stores and surgery providers to follow.
On Sunday, state data showed a 4% increase over the previous day’s number of coronavirus cases. The total is approximately 19,000 in Texas. The statewide death toll totals just under 500 lives lost to COVID-19.
Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, who has appeared with Abbott as the governor announced COVID-19-related initiatives, told Texas Standard the loosening of restrictions comes with continued distancing guidelines.
“Parks were reopened today with some significant restrictions. You can’t be with anyone who isn’t your family member. You can’t be in groups larger than five. You must be social-distancing. You need to be wearing masks.”Speaker Dennis Bonnen
Bonnen said Abbott’s order provides a relief valve for Texans who have been stuck at home for weeks, and that a further loosening of restrictions would depend on how well the state is able to control the continued spread of COVID-19.
“We can’t quit social distancing, we can’t quit washing our hands.”Speaker Dennis Bonnen
Bonnen said protesters at the capitol this weekend, who called for state officials to remove all COVID-19 restrictions, have the right to express their opinions.
“Out of 29 million Texans, to have about 200 of them show up and not follow a single guideline, and say they’re outraged – I’d say the percentages are pretty much in the favor of the rest of Texans who take this seriously and want to get back to a normal life, want to get back to business, but want to do it the right way.”Speaker Dennis Bonnen
Abbott has responsibility for whether Texans become sick or die from COVID-19, Bonnen said.
“It’s hard when you’re responsible. It demands leadership, which the governor has shown. And it demands hard decisions. And when you’re not responsible, you can go protest with your children.”Speaker Dennis Bonnen
Bonnen said doctors and hospitals have had discretion to treat patients and perform procedures, even in the wake of Abbott’s initial order restricting elective surgeries. That order was interpreted by Attorney General Ken Paxton to mean that abortions, even those performed using medication, were not allowed under the order.
Abbott’s most recent order gives doctors even more discretion, Bonnen said. But the state will not provide the personal protective equipment, or PPE, that medical providers need to perform elective procedures, he said.
“It’s never been the state’s responsibility, or the federal government’s responsibility, to provide a hospital with PPEs to do their operations.”Speaker Dennis Bonnen
Abortion-rights advocates have sued the state over Paxton’s ruling that abortions could not be provided under Abbott’s initial order. Bonnen said the ongoing status of the attorney general’s ban on abortion is currently being decided in the courts. He did not address how the governor’s new order would affect abortion, other than to note that doctors have more overall discretion under the new rules.
Listen to the full interview in the audio player here.