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Coronavirus in Texas

Analysis: Greg Abbott’s critics lose political clout as Texas COVID numbers climb

The governor is increasing restrictions as the coronavirus worsens in Texas, and is beset by trolls from inside his own party for doing so. But for the first time in this pandemic, he's ignoring them.

Protesters gather at the south gate of the state capitol to protest against government mandates on wearing face masks in b...

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The trolls are real.

Gov. Greg Abbott is feeling the derision of restive activists in his own party.

They’re noisy — and powerless. They work with the same machinery used by trolls on social media, who labor in the hope that public shaming of their enemies might give them the leverage to shape the world, or some corner of it.

The Texas trolls want to ignore the governor’s latest restrictions for wearing masks and keeping social distance and closing bars as the measures of the pandemic worsen. Abbott folded when confronted by people protesting business closings in May but this time is ignoring them, and responding to the coronavirus as a big deal — a task worth his government’s time and attention.

And his tone is gaining urgency.

“I knew that it wasn’t going to be popular,” Abbott said Thursday evening during an interview with KTEN-TV in Sherman. “I knew that it was even counter to what even I wanted, but also I knew that it was something that had to be done. The coronavirus is spreading so rapidly across the state of Texas, the last thing that we want to do is shut Texas back down. The only way we can prevent Texas from being shut down is for everybody to adopt this practice of wearing a face mask.”

By noon the next day, in an interview with Lubbock’s KLBK-TV, he was unequivocal.

“Things will get worse, and let me explain why,” Abbott said. “The deaths that we’re seeing announced today and yesterday, which are now over 100, those are people who likely contracted COVID-19 in late May. The worst is yet to come as we work our way through that massive increase in people testing positive.”

He said he didn’t want to order people to wear face masks but added that the next step, if they don’t wear them or the numbers rise, would be a lockdown.

Meanwhile, a handful of county Republican Party organizations have censured Abbott for his restrictions, a group that includes local parties in Denton, Montgomery, Ector, Hood, Harrison and Llano counties.

Give them their due. Self-styled liberty activists successfully shouted Abbott into a corner during what had to be his worst-ever hair day in May. Shelley Luther, owner of a Dallas hair salon closed by the orders Abbott had put in place, opened anyway and was jailed after refusing to abide by a court order telling her to close. After the considerable hubbub that followed, Abbott removed the punishment provisions from his COVID-19 orders, effectively vindicating Luther and others who were ignoring them.

That’s a big reason that ignoring his orders or refusing to enforce them seems to work with some people. Examples include Denton County Sheriff Tracy Murphree and Midland Mayor Patrick Payton. Those two are hardly alone.

When Luther and others were protesting, the state was coming out of its first round of restrictions. The COVID-19 numbers looked better than some expected, including Abbott, who began loosening his orders after just a month. Luther and others didn’t think he was going fast enough and found the right mix of civil disobedience to speed him up.

But this time, Abbott seems to be holding his ground, even with people from his own party openly defying or ignoring his COVID-19 restrictions. He’s including more counties in his orders now. He’s reinstated, for many places, a ban on elective surgeries that might direct medical staff and resources needed for COVID-19 patients.

The difference is in the numbers. More than 10,400 Texans are hospitalized now. More than that — 9,782 — were diagnosed with COVID-19 on Wednesday. That same day, 105 people died — the first time Texas topped 100 deaths in a day.

Those are lagging indicators, a way of saying many of the people who will die in Texas next week are already sick right now. A governor who has preferred the sunniest outlook available is saying openly that things are going to get worse before they get better.

Who cares what the trolls think? There’s a pandemic out there.

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