Records: San Antonio lawmakers criticized Gov. Abbott’s COVID-19 response as cases started surging

Rep. Martinez Fischer to Gov. Abbott: 'You took a gamble on our state’s response strategy, and Texas lost.'

SAN ANTONIO – On June 7, when fewer than 1,500 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Texas’ daily count, Representative Diego Bernal’s communications director submitted a question on Bernal’s behalf to Governor Greg Abbott’s staff asking about the threshold for implementing a new stay at home order.

“It’s not that I want to go back to a stay at home order. I was really wanting to know what’s the threshold that slows us down, forces us to reconsider the current path,” said Bernal during a recent phone interview.

The following afternoon, during Abbott’s weekly call with members of the Texas legislature, the question went unanswered, according to Bernal, D-San Antonio.

Bernal, a former city councilman who now represents Texas House District 123, notes a pattern recently in which Abbott’s staff asks for questions to be submitted only to have the Governor not address them during subsequent calls with state lawmakers.

“Especially if they were challenging questions or questions that maybe put science ahead of the economy,” said Bernal.

On June 17, as new daily COVID-19 cases climbed over 3,000, Bernal’s staff again reached out to the Governor’s office and asked if Abbott was reconsidering his reopening strategy.

Bernal’s staff member noted that the positive test rate was nearing 10%, a threshold Abbott had previously warned about,

According to data compiled for Texas by Johns Hopkins University and Medicine, the state’s positivity rate has now climbed over 17 percent.

“We couldn’t ask questions. We were just there to listen,” said Bernal.

Not only did the state’s positivity rate continue to increase after Bernal’s inquiries, but so did the number of daily cases statewide and in San Antonio.

Texas has had several days recently in which the number of new cases exceeded 10,000.

The KSAT 12 Defenders reached out to Abbott’s office for more information on these weekly calls with legislators.

A spokesman for Abbott said via telephone last week there is often a time crunch with these calls and that the governor’s priority is to get out important information about the state’s response to the pandemic.

Records obtained by the Defenders show Bernal is not the only San Antonio state representative who has urged Abbott to go back to the drawing board in recent weeks.

In a scathing letter sent directly to Abbott on June 30, District 116 Representative Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, wrote that the Governor “took a gamble on our state’s response strategy, and Texas lost.”

Martinez Fischer, like Bernal, said Abbott failed to respond to his inquiries and concerns about the raging pandemic.

“It is in the best interest of our state that you give thoughtful deliberation to this request and, at a minimum, grant the members of the Texas House of Representatives the courtesy of a reply,” wrote Martinez Fischer, who urged Abbott to lean more on the Texas House to provide expertise in various areas related to the state’s COVID response.

Abbott, who so far has pushed back on requests to issue a second stay at home order, did issue a mandate on July 2 requiring people in most Texas counties to wear masks inside commercial buildings or in spaces open to the public when social distancing is not possible.

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