LUBBOCK, Texas – The coronavirus seemed to have spared West Texas for a while. The cases were minor. Few had died. The worry during the spring focused on getting the companies up and running again.
In mid-June, the Texas Tech soccer team returned to campus. Local baseball tournaments have resumed. Hotels full.
Then people got sick.
In Lubbock, a city with a population of 250,000 and an exuberant college bar scene, more people have tested positive for the virus in the past three weeks than in the past three months combined. On the day Governor Greg Abbott started to reopen the state quickly, the city had eight positive tests for the virus two months ago. On Wednesday there were 1
The sudden jump, which focused on those over 20, reflected a strong and uncontrolled surge in the virus, which has hit Texas harder than many other places in the country. Contrary to the first weeks of the pandemic, when infections concentrated in the state’s mostly liberal cities, the virus has now reached the deep red regions of the state that have resisted aggressive public health regulation.
But for many conservatives, even for those who now have the virus on the doorstep, the resurgence has not changed the mind so much, it has even hardened it.
For these Texans, confidence in the government is gone when it was there from the start, and that includes some of the state’s leading politicians. On Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick from Texas for Tired of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s best infectious disease doctor. “I don’t need his advice anymore,” said Mr. Patrick.
This feeling was confirmed in front of a popular, newly opened hamburger restaurant in Wolfforth, Texas, just outside of Lubbock, where even Mr. Abbott, a Republican, was subjected to harsh criticism. “It appears he was influenced by Fauci and the left,” said Mark Stewart, who was with his wife, children, and several other families at a meeting for locals who went to school at home.
None of the group of 18 who squeezed around several outside tables wore masks or tried to stay away. “This is the first time we meet and we don’t care,” said Mr. Stewart’s wife Tamera, adding that other people could take precautions if they were together and stayed far apart. “Texas has all kinds. But we’re done with that. “
Such attitudes pose a daunting challenge for local leaders who are trying to contain a resurgent outbreak, especially in firmly republican areas, where mandatory public health measures can provoke rapid resistance.
And they could complicate an order by the governor, issued late Thursday, requiring the Texans, with few exceptions, to wear face covers in public, or be fined up to $ 250. The order applies to counties with more than 20 positive cases, ie for most of the state.
It is the kind of requirement that the conservative mayor of Lubbock, Dan Pope, an eighth-generation Texan, tried to avoid imposing on himself, and instead chose to demand compliance with his self-confessed voters.
“My approach has always been a personal responsibility,” said the Pope in an interview from a conference room on the ground floor of the city’s new city building. He said he would still enforce the governor’s mask decree.
The mayor, who was wearing a black Lubbock face mask, was working in the conference room and not in his 11th-floor office because his adult daughter, who lives in the city, had recently been tested positive for the corona virus. His younger brother was also infected, he said.
“I am clean about our health department, I think with great caution – I don’t want to be the type,” said Pope. “I ask our people to do this. Why shouldn’t I do that? “
This message is often heard by conservatives in Texas trying to balance public health concerns with fears that an aggressive government response could lead to a backlash. Mandates are associated with demands from leaders of the largely democratic cities of the state.
In the Houston region, top district manager Lina Hidalgo has called for a new and stricter arrangement for staying at home. Several other district leaders from large metropolitan areas, all Democrats, have also asked Governor Abbott to give them the authority to impose local blocks. He has so far refused.
But that did not win Mr Abbott’s support on the right. Instead, many conservatives have sharply criticized the steps Mr. Abbott has taken – such as closing bars and restricting restaurant services and making mask requests – in response to the huge increase in cases.
“It is very frustrating that our nation’s governor does not give a contrasting worldview to that of California or New York,” said Luke Macias, a conservative Republican political advisor in Texas, who said Abbott had no conservative vision of how to deal with the Crisis. “With Abbott, he tried to have his cake and eat it too. he doesn’t want to protect your individual freedom and then say he is. “
Prior to Abbott’s recent order, mayors in West Texas had blocked efforts to oblige residents to wear masks in shops, and in some cases linked their opposition with disgust to leaders in Austin and Washington.
“Free Americans and Free Texans must not allow a fragile, divided, and politically motivated body of lightweight values to dictate daily life,” Midland Mayor Patrick Payton said at a press conference on Wednesday.
Gabrielle Ellison was delighted to hear this news. Ms. Ellison is the owner of Big Daddy Zane’s, an Odessa bar that garnered national attention in May after teaming up with other Texas companies and reopening despite government restrictions with the help of men who carried assault rifles.
Ms. Ellison said she contravened the state order again and kept her bar open. She has joined a nationwide lawsuit over the governor’s closure.
“For me it’s a life and death situation,” she said. “I can’t feed my family. My bartenders can’t feed their families. “
If anything, she said, the aggressive growth of the Coronavirus cases in Odessa made her more confident about reopening. “It had a more positive impact,” she said. “We let people survive,” she said, adding, “let’s just let it go.”
In Lubbock, the closing of bars on Wednesday evening left a normally busy strip near the Texas Tech campus with no activity, even when the parking lots in front of the gyms in other parts of the city were full. Several local bars have announced that they won’t open again.
The city is deep in Trump country – the president won here with 66 percent of the vote – but it is also a university city. Household income is below average for the state, the mayor noted, while the number of people with a university degree is above average.
“We are some of the nicest people in the world,” said Jason Corley, a conservative who beat a moderate Republican to become a Lubbock County representative. “But once you make demands and tell them they’ll do something, you get another answer: you can’t tell me what to do.”
According to census figures, about a third of the city’s inhabitants are of Spanish descent, and about a third of the city’s total coronavirus cases have occurred in this community. Officials said they could not yet provide a demographic breakdown of the recent fall wave, which has more than 1,700 cases since June 15.
While many residents were confident of not being infected, others were more concerned.
Michael Machuca, 29, said he was concerned about the spread of the virus among the workers in the camp where he worked. “The whole night shift didn’t show up one day,” he said when he and his 6-year-old son poured bass into a local park.
The focus on bars came partly from what the city’s contact tracers learned about the outbreak in their interviews with young infected people, said Katherine Wells, the city’s director of public health.
Still, getting people to self-quarantine was a challenge, she said. And the virus has since spread to the community and has appeared in at least one nursing home.
The return of the virus to nursing homes was particularly demoralizing: the majority of the city’s 52 deaths occurred in these facilities, but city guides believed they had blunted this part of the early outbreak by the end of April.
While the Texas Tech campus remains closed, many student athletes returned to training in mid-June. In the soccer team alone, 23 players and employees tested positive for the virus, a head boy said, adding that everyone had recovered.
“When the governor opened the bars, the locks opened,” said Latrelle Joy, a member of the city council. “Now we are in a position where he closed these bars, but we have spread to the community.”
With the closings, the gatherings had shifted from bars to pool parties during the day and to house parties at night, officials said. Cases have now been traced back to these gatherings.
Despite the increase in infections among young people, many decided not to wear a mask before ordering a new mask this week. Or let them think about it.
“I left mine in the car,” said Ambroshia Pollard, 29, when she came out of a grocery store with her mother and month-old daughter. Still, she said, she took the virus seriously. “My brother’s friend understood. He is young, 21 years old, ”said Ms. Pollard. “I feel real and people should be more aware. We should also have masks. “
But many of their buyers came and went without them, as did guests in a Braum’s Ice Cream & Burger restaurant in Wolfforth and drinkers in the LBK brewery in downtown Lubbock. There groups of friends gathered for beer and cigarettes on the terrace and discussed the usefulness of the governor’s mask order shortly after their publication.
No mask in sight.