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Politics

How We Got Here: A Timeline of Gov. Greg Abbott's COVID Policies

Students wearing red shirts and black pants walk up to school in Richardson ISD on first day of classes on Aug. 17.
LM Otero
/
Associated Press
Students in Richardson ISD walk to the first day of classes on Aug. 17.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s diagnosis with COVID-19 Tuesday — and his maskless political event in Collin County the night before — come as ICU beds in hospitals around the state grow increasingly scarce.

Abbott has made “personal responsibility” the hallmark of his pandemic strategy since removing the statewide mask mandate in March.

“Personal vigilance to follow the safe standards is still needed to contain COVID,” he said at the time.

More recently, Abbott announced a ban on local governments and schools from imposing their own mask mandates. The order drew a lawsuit from a disability rights group and defiance from several counties and school districts.

Personal responsibility and rejecting government restrictions is an appeal to Abbott’s political base, according to UT-Austin government professor Eric McDaniel. He said the AIDS epidemic taught us that politics and public health don’t mix.

“The Reagan Administration did not want to talk about safe sex,” McDaniel recalled. “Because their supporters didn’t want to talk about that. And not talking about that actually undercut the message of trying to prevent the spread of AIDS.”

Here are some of the major policy choices the governor has made since COVID-19 entered our lives:

Early Days Of The Pandemic

Initially, Gov. Abbott deferred to local officials for COVID precaution closures. Then, on March 19, 2020, he issued an executive order temporarily closing schools, bars, and gyms, along with restricting visits to nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Additionally, restaurants could no longer welcome dine-in customers, though the Governor’s order “allowed and highly encouraged” takeout and drive-thru food sales.

As TPR’s Dominic Anthony Walsh reported, “these restrictions were unpopular with a swath of the population. Their dissatisfaction was most prominently voiced by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who suggested that he and other elderly Americans were willing to die for the economy.

Spring 2020: Reopening Begins

In mid-April — about a month after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared a statewide disaster in response to COVID-19 — frustration was growing in Austin.

Outside of the state capitol building, protesters complained about stay-at-home orders.

“I’m sick of being told if I go outside and gather in a group of 10 or more that I’m gonna kill somebody or get killed,” one protester told KVUE News.

Soon after, Abbott made the decision to reopen.

“We’ve shown that we can both continue our efforts to contain the coronavirus, while also adopting safe standards that will allow us to begin the process of reopening business in Texas,” he announced on April 17.

After that announcement, Phase 1 of the governor’s plan to reopen Texas kicked off, and every two weeks a new phase began.

Reported by TPR’s Bonnie Petrie. For more, check out the full story here.

Summer 2020: Abbott Issues Statewide Mask Mandate

On July 2, 2020, Gov. Abbott issued an executive order requiring Texans to wear facemasks in most public settings, ...something very unpopular with hardline conservatives in his party.

Weeks later, he addressed the order at the Republican Party of Texas’ virtual convention.

“I know that many of you do not like the mask requirement. I don’t either,” he said in a recorded address. “It is the last thing that I wanted to do. Actually, the next to last.”

As KERA’s Bret Jaspers reported at the time, “The effort to shore up support among party activists comes as Abbott is under fire over his response to the coronavirus outbreak.” By July 2020, eight county Republican parties had formally censured the governor.

All Businesses Reopen At 100% Capacity 

In March 2021, Abbott lifted the statewide executive orders that limit occupancy for businesses and require Texans to wear masks in public spaces. The governor said businesses can limit capacity or "implement additional safety protocols" if they wish and that counties can restrict occupancy if COVID-related hospitalization rates in their Trauma Service Area rise above 15% for seven straight days.

Abbott was at Montelongo’s in Lubbock when he made the announcement, and explained “It is clear from the recoveries, from the vaccinations, from the reduced hospitalizations and from the safe practices that Texans are using, that state mandates are no longer needed.”

The changes began on March 10.

“It is now time to open Texas 100%,” Abbott said in Lubbock. “Everybody who wants to work should have that opportunity. Every business that wants to open should be open.”

The crowd at the restaurant cheered Abbott’s announcement, though he followed by saying it’s still up to individuals to be responsible with COVID-19 precautions.

“Removing state mandates does not end personal responsibility or the importance of caring for your family members and caring for your friends and caring for others in the community,” the governor said.

Blocking Mask Mandates And The Fight Against Local Governments And Schools

Abbott issued another executive order in May of 2021 prohibiting cities, counties, school districts, public health authorities and other government entities from requiring people to wear face coverings.

At the time, Travis County Judge Andy Brown criticized Abbott's order, calling it "irresponsible at best and dangerous at worst."

"By prohibiting school districts from taking common-sense steps to keep kids safe, the Governor has put our most vulnerable, young children, at risk ... By prohibiting local communities from having basic mask requirements in place, he has put at risk our public servants and essential workers, folks who have put the health and safety of themselves and their families on the line throughout the pandemic," Brown told KUT.

In July 2021, Abbott doubled down on his push to ensure COVID-19 vaccines and mask-wearing remained optional in the state. He issued an executive order that effectively voided nearly all of his previous COVID-related executive orders and combined some of them into one. The main takeaway: The state and local governments can’t require masks or vaccines. That prompted local leaders and school districts to push back, making their own plans in defiance of the governor’s orders.

This Month

Abbott announced Aug. 9 that Texas will bring in medical personnel from out of state to help treat COVID-19 patients. The governor also asked hospitals to voluntarily postpone elective medical procedures.

On Aug. 17, 2021, the governor’s office announced Abbott tested positive for COVID-19. His office said he was not experiencing symptoms and was receiving monoclonal antibody treatment. Abbott was vaccinated against COVID-19 in December. His diagnosis came as Texas was seeing its highest COVID-related hospitalizations and the governor was locked in several legal battles over whether schools, cities and counties can require masks.

KERA's Bret Jaspers, KUT’s Marisa Charpentier and Rachel Osier Lindley of The Texas Newsroom contributed to this report.