Commentary: You know we’re in trouble when bar owners are more responsible than the president and governor. It was a sad day on March 19 when Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered bars in the state to close. Sad but understandable.
The governor’s actions were generally hailed as an appropriate response to a virus that was spreading throughout Texas and had already overwhelmed hospitals in New York City. Slowing things down to buy time to get an action plan in place made sense and bar owners, employees and patrons largely agreed.
The problem is that while businesses were shut down and 40,000,000 people lost jobs, the Trump Administration failed in its most important job: keeping Americans safe. What transpired has been the worst governing failures in American history. At a time when we needed leadership, we were stuck with a blunderer-in-chief; no plan was enacted and local officials were left to fend for themselves.
Hospitality industry employees struggled to file for the promised unemployment benefits and others have yet to receive the $1,200 stimulus checks. The money intended to help small businesses like bars ran out quickly with much of it going to big companies.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo issued an order on April 22 requiring residents to wear a mask and $1,000 fines for non-compliance. The president made masks a culture war and the governor issued an executive order prohibiting cities and counties from enforcing fines on residents for non-compliance.
Despite not meeting CDC guidelines for opening businesses and under pressure from Trump where saving the economy became more important than saving lives, Abbott succumbed and instituted “Open Texas.” On May 22 bars could operate at 25 percent capacity.
Still not meeting the administration’s own guidelines for a safe reopening, Abbott increased bar capacity to 50 percent on June 3 and — wait for it — still not meeting CDC guidelines, to 75 percent on June 12.
While the president and governor were urging businesses to go full speed ahead with the reopening, bar owners took a more responsible approach. Several Houston area bars did not open at all, feeling it was not safe to do so. Despite not being required to, several made the difficult decision to close after employees tested positive for the virus.
Buddy’s voluntarily closed. Owner Christopher Barry said, “We just learned that five of them (employees) have tested positive for COVID-19. Still, it feels the most responsible thing to do to close the bar down for today, allow it to be deep cleaned by a professional service and then have all of the employees tested before returning to work.”
And in the White House, Trump says if we stopped testing we wouldn’t have as many cases.
Blur Bar also voluntarily closed. Management said: “We value the safety of all of our customers and accordingly we have decided to close the club for UP TO two weeks due to some members of our staff having tested positive for the Coronavirus.”
In the meantime, the president suggests injecting yourself with Lysol, drinking bleach, and shining a light up your ass.
Other bars that closed out of an abundance of precaution for the safety of its staff and patrons were Houston’s Ripcord, Neon Boots, Crocker, Tony’s Corner Pocket, and Pearl, and Galveston’s Rumors and Soundbar.
In the interim in Tulsa, Trump held a rally with no enforcement of social distancing or masks.
Hamburger Mary’s voluntarily closed to evaluate their safety measures and asked all employees to be tested for COVID-19 before returning to work.
This while Texas Republicans are planning a massive in-person convention in Houston, now the nation’s virus hotspot.
One must admire these bar owners for doing the responsible thing despite the enormous expense of voluntarily closing only weeks after having been closed for over two months. Who can afford to go that long without an income?
Thanks to the incompetence of the president and his enablers like the governor, we can kiss goodbye to a return to normalcy anytime soon. If only the powers that be in Washington and Austin had taken as quick and decisive action when they had a chance to make a difference, as bar owners and Hildalgo did.
But what we got were lies, denial and wishful thinking. “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine,” said Trump in January. And “Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away. I hope that’s true.”
It wasn’t true but that didn’t stop Trump from repeating his delusional thinking last week when he said, “I think we’re going to be very good with the coronavirus. I think that, at some point, that’s going to sort of disappear, I hope.”
As we face an urgent matter of public health and public safety we are stuck with an inept president. Republicans know it but seem to be living on another planet. So, we have 130,000 dead Americans and who knows how many more to come? It’s possible that people you know who were celebrating July 4th will be dead by Labor Day.
Here on earth, the reality train must have reached Abbott as he defied Trump’s desire to stay on course and reopen businesses. He reclosed the bars and a week later, issued an executive order making the mandatory wearing of facemasks. Hidalgo is now the poster child for “I told you so.”
That train hasn’t made it to Washington as the Trump campaign plans more rallies without social distancing and masks and prepares a new message for Americans regarding the virus: “We need to just live with it.”