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Galveston County Refuses To Enforce Gov. Abbott’s COVID-19 Restrictions Amid Surge

The move comes as Governor Greg Abbott has reimposed business restrictions in nine southeast Texas counties.

KTRK / Pool Footage
Galveston County Judge Mark Henry at a press conference on Dec. 22, 2020.


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Galveston County officials said they will refuse to enforce business restrictions imposed by Gov. Greg Abbott, as surging COVID-19 cases in nine southeast Texas counties have triggered fresh lockdowns.

The governor's order requires the immediate closure of bars and restricts restaurant capacity at 50%. It also bans elective surgeries to keep hospital beds open for critically ill patients. The counties affected include Galveston, Brazoria, Chambers, Liberty, Jefferson, Orange, Hardin, Jasper and Newton.

Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said he could not enforce the order even if he wanted to.

"I talked to the sheriff this morning," Henry said. "He has no resources available to go police this. I talked to the district attorney. He cautioned everyone against filing charges, because he probably won't take them."

The governor ordered the rollback citing Executive Order GA-32, effective Oct. 14. Under the terms of the executive order, the state can reimpose business restrictions on a multicounty area designated a Trauma Service Area in which the number of COVID-19 hospitalized patients account for more than 15% hospital capacity for seven consecutive days.

Under the governor’s order, those counties need to lower the number of COVID-19 patients to less than 15% of hospital capacity for restrictions to be lifted.

But Henry argued the governor based his order on flawed information.

"We have tried to explain that Galveston County is in a trauma service area that extends from Brazoria County to the Louisiana state line up to Jasper (County)," Henry said, "and to try to impose a one-size-fits-all solution for that large of a geographic area is really ridiculous."

The county judge added that he sent multiple communications to Abbott asking that Galveston County be exempted, but said his requests had been ignored.

His comments came during a press conference Tuesday that included James Clark, president of the Galveston chapter of the Texas Restaurant Association, who asserted that restaurants are already among the most heavily regulated industries in the state in terms of health and safety.

"The average restaurant is spending anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 a month on PPE and COVID protocol-related equipment to enhance the sanitation environment within our spaces," Clark said. "And reducing of capacities and closing of bars is going to push the consumers out of these safe-regulated spaces. It's going to put them into unregulated spaces, which promotes an environment of spread."

State Rep. Mayes Middleton, R-Wallisville, said he planned to fight to restrict the governor's emergency powers in the upcoming legislative session.

"We've got to reform our 1975 Disaster Powers Act," Middleton said, "and limit it. I don't know exactly what that limitation looks like – could that be 30 days and the legislature comes into session, I don't know – but rest assured, we're working on that, and we've got to get that done."

Abbott’s office and the office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton did not respond to requests for comment.