The number of coronavirus cases is soaring in Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott recently rolled back some of his reopening plan. It's a move the mayor of League City, Texas, welcomes.
"I realize people have to work and I know we don't want the economy to shut down, but what good is the economy if there's nobody around to spend money?" Mayor Pat Hallisey told Morning Edition host David Greene. "So it's a practical matter."
At the end of June, Abbott began ordering bars and restaurants to close or reduce seating capacity again as new cases began surging.
"I think that there's been some resistance to how serious we're going to take this. And at the end of the day, personal responsibility to your own actions is really the bottom line of this," Hallisey said. "We can have all the rules and laws but people have to wake up and realize this is a serious threat to their personal health and nobody seems to be exclusive."
League City, which sits about 30 minutes outside Houston, is the largest city in Galveston County. In the county, COVID-19 cases have more than doubled over the past month, and many of the new cases are affecting people ages 20 to 40, according to Hallisey.
"We were really happy that the governor came in and shut down the bars," he said. "Not that they were the whole problem, but they were a contributing factor to it. We see a lot more young people coming down with this."
Dr. Joseph Varon, a pulmonologist at Houston Methodist Hospital, said most of the patients he sees tell the same story: They didn't take the virus seriously enough.
"Everybody wants to be out, and it's funny because then you see them in the hospital sick, almost connected to a respirator, and then they tell you, 'Yes, I screwed up. I didn't wear my mask. I didn't keep my social distancing. I was in a big meeting,'" Varon said. "We see that every single day. If you come around with me and spend some time just looking at the patients, every patient has the same story."
Hallisey said he agreed with Varon, adding that the spread of the virus is "out of control." He's encouraging everyone to "take every precaution that we can take to keep this contained." But he also said he's seeing more people wearing masks — not only in League City, but also in Houston.
"We're seeing it in Houston because what happens in Houston happens to us," Hallisey said. "We have probably one of the greatest medical centers in the world but they're almost at capacity. So we're imploring people please, take this serious, wear your mask, continue to social distance, and only go out if you have to."
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Right. So that's the picture in California. Now, another state experiencing a massive surge in cases is Texas. Just yesterday, the state reported more than a hundred new deaths from COVID-19. It's the first time a daily death toll in the state reached to triple digits. A steady stream of coronavirus patients has become almost routine for emergency room doctor Joseph Varon, a specialist in pulmonology at Houston Methodist Hospital. Dr. Varon called the situation out of control. He described this similar pattern among the majority of his patients.
JOSEPH VARON: Everybody wants to be out. And it's funny because then you see them in the hospital sick, near death, almost connected to a respirator. And then they tell you, yes, I screwed up. I didn't wear my mask. You know, I didn't keep my social distancing. I was in a big meeting. We see that every single day. If you come and round with me and spend some time just looking at the patients, every patient has the same story.
GREENE: Now, one of the fastest-growing hotspots in Texas is Galveston County. And Pat Hallisey is the mayor of League City, which is the largest city in Galveston County, and he's on the line with us this morning. Mayor, welcome. And thanks for taking time for us this morning.
PAT HALLISEY: Good morning.
GREENE: So I know Houston is really the epicenter of the outbreak in your state right now. League City, as I understand it, is about 30 minutes away, and you're seeing a surge as well. Can you just describe the situation right now?
HALLISEY: Well we are experiencing a surge. You know, two months ago, we thought this was under control. And in fact, it was not. Our fastest-growing age population for the coronavirus is the 20-to-40 group. We were really happy that the governor came in and shut down the bars, not that they were the whole problem but they were a contributing factor to it. We see a lot more young people coming down with this. In fact, I had a neighbor across the street that, within a five-day period of time, passed away from this coronavirus. So it's hitting...
GREENE: Ah, so sorry.
HALLISEY: ...Pretty close. Well, me, too. And it's very close to home. You know, I think that there's been some resistance to how serious we're going to take this. And at the end of the day, personal responsibility for your own actions is really the bottom line of this. We can have all the rules and laws, but people have to wake up and realize this is a serious threat to their personal health.
And nobody seems to be exclusive. You know, we went through our period of old folks' homes that were hit with it - nursing homes that were hit hard.
HALLISEY: And we saw that population go. You know, we just recently, in the last two weeks, governor issued a mandatory mask order. And the truth is, people are adhering to that, and that's important.
GREENE: They are? You're seeing people in your city mostly wearing masks?
HALLISEY: Yes, we are. And we're seeing it in Houston because what happens in Houston happens to us. And we have probably one of the greatest medical centers in the world, but they're almost at capacity. So we're imploring people - please, take this serious. Wear your masks. Continue to social distance. And you know, only go out if you have to. And I realize people have to work. And I know we don't want the economy to shut down. But you know, what good is the economy if there's nobody around to spend money? So it's a practical matter.
GREENE: Well, what - can you talk to me about the governor, Greg Abbott? I mean, he opened the state up, and I know you've said it was a bit premature. Do you have confidence that he has the leadership now to keep things as closed as they need to be for as long as they need to be closed? I mean, I know you're saying you see a lot of people in masks. But given that we're seeing these numbers, given what we heard from that physician in Houston saying people are coming in and near death saying, gosh, I wish I had social distanced - I mean, is it going to take more action from officials and not just rely on people?
HALLISEY: We're going to see. And I'm not critical of the governor. He has said since the very beginning that science would drive his decisions, and he's got a slew of doctors up there. And I think he's done that. When he opened the economy - you know, hindsight is 20/20. And we can say, maybe it was too soon; maybe it wasn't. But there was a big push across the country to get the economy open, and I get that. And I think he got that. And he said he would not do it all at once. He didn't. He staged it in over about a three-week period.
You know - and there is no playbook for this. There's absolutely no way to know what's coming next at us. Most public officials are just about as confused as you can be because you do everything that science tells you to do, and yet it doesn't seem to be enough. And I think second-guessing people's decisions at this point is kind of counterproductive. You know, what we need to do is address what's in front of us today, and that is that this virus is out of control. I agree with your previous speaker. And we need to continue to take every precaution that we can take to keep this contained.
GREENE: How are your hospitals holding up, Mayor?
HALLISEY: Well, they're holding up all right. We still have some capacity left. But you know, in Galveston County, we have plenty of room. We have a a big hospital system down here with the University of Texas, which is doing most of the testing. So it's holding up pretty well. But you know, if this continues on the way it's going, we can see where those beds will be filled and everybody will be panicking.
GREENE: Mayor Hallisey, I'm very sorry for your neighbor and your loss...
HALLISEY: Thank you.
GREENE: ...And I will be thinking about your city.
HALLISEY: Thank you.
GREENE: Pat Hallisey is the mayor of League City, Texas. Thanks a lot for your time.
HALLISEY: You bet. Thank you.
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