Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner sounded equal parts furious and bewildered on Tuesday when he laid into Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to rescind the statewide mask mandate and to reopen Texas businesses to 100 percent capacity starting next Wednesday.
“There’s no reason for the decision that he made today,” Turner said. “Absolutely none. Except, maybe, you’re trying to appeal to a group that will find favor with you saying ‘Take the mask down.’ But what about the rest of us?”
In Turner’s view, Abbott’s latest move is the latest in a long line of bad decisions to thrust Texas into the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
“Why must Texas always be in the national news for making decisions that go contrary to science, and the medical professionals and data? You tell me how many other states are doing the same thing, saying no to masks,” Abbott said. “Why must we always be out front on these types of decisions. We were just out front with the winter storm!”
“It’s a national embarrassment,” he said.
Turner made clear that while he didn’t think it was time to kick every pandemic-inspired limitation on local businesses to the curb, he was most angry about Abbott’s choice to cut the mask requirement. “I can understand easing some of the restrictions. I can understand that, but not rolling back the mask order,” he said.
Abbott’s latest move to roll back coronavirus restrictions was predicted by many thanks to hints the governor made in recent press conferences and on social media in the past few days. Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo sent a joint letter to Abbott before his announcement Tuesday begging him not to lift the statewide mask mandate.
Turner said that he was told on a conference call with local officials that leaders in Austin, Travis County, San Antonio and Bexar County are all on the same page and also requested that Abbott think twice before publicly dismissing one of the cheapest, most effective ways to keep COVID-19’s spread to a minimum.
One thing Turner made clear is that he will still require the use of face masks "when it comes to our city facilities and venues."
"But once you get past city-sponsored, produced [or] licensed events... I don't know how much more authority we have," he warned, "Because back in April when the governor stepped in, he took away much of the power that local officials had." Turner stressed that his legal team is currently poring over Abbott's new executive order to figure out what exactly the city can do to encourage mask wearing. "Anything that will allow me as the mayor of the city of Houston to say 'Put your mask on,' I will do just that," he said.
Similarly to how Hidalgo lambasted Abbott
for seemingly using his announcement “to distract Texans from the failures of state oversight of our power grid,” Turner sure thinks the timing of Abbott’s decision is suspicious, and likened it to the poor choices in past years that left Texas unprepared for February’s fatal winter storm.
“I am disgusted,” Turner said, “by things that are foreseeable and preventable, and I’m disgusted by leadership, ten years ago, that could have taken prudent steps, but didn’t, and now there are people — thousands — with busted water pipes and no water.
“And on the cusp of that,” he continued, “two weeks later, for the governor to be making this decision after failing to act years ago?”
Turner said his outrage is on behalf of the people “who may end up in the hospital, and may end up dying” from catching the coronavirus if more Texans start going about their day-to-day lives without masks on in public. “Those are the ones who I’m speaking for.”
“Now, he’s the governor, but even the governor should be held accountable,” Turner said, “and people should call him out when he makes the wrong decision.”