Lawmakers urge governor to order statewide shelter in place

Reps. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, and Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, are urging Gov. Greg Abbott to declare a statewide shelter-in-place order in response to the continued public health threat from COVID-19.

Vela made the plea via a letter addressed to the governor Tuesday. Joining Vela and Gonzalez in co-signing the letter were Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, and nearly a dozen other members of the House.

“As one of the largest states in the nation, we must act decisively and quickly to protect our fellow Texans and Americans,” Vela said.

“In order for us to stop the further spread of the virus in Texas, rapid and more severe restrictions are needed. We, therefore, call on you to adopt a stay-at-home order for the entire state of Texas,” Vela wrote in the letter.

Gonzalez issued his own plea directly to the governor. “Right now, we have too many competing measures and it’s confusing for individuals who live in one county and work in another,” Gonzalez said via a statement Tuesday.

“Governor Abbott should do more by issuing a statewide shelter-in-place order for a few weeks to help flatten the curve and make these measures more uniform across the state of Texas. We need clarity and leadership and I urge Governor Abbott to issue a shelter-in-place order now,” he said.

The two congressmen issued their public pleas for statewide action one day after Abbott extended an executive order requiring travelers entering Texas from certain hotspots elsewhere in the nation to self-quarantine for 14 days.

Initially, the order applied only to air travelers from the New York tri-state area, including New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, as well as those flying in from New Orleans. The governor said the quarantine orders would be enforced by the Texas Department of Public Safety, which would be stationed at airports throughout the state to intercept such travelers.

On Monday, Abbott expanded the quarantine restrictions to air travelers from California, Washington state and Louisiana, as well as those from Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit and Miami. State troopers were directed to enforce the quarantine along the Texas-Louisiana border.

However, Abbott has thus far been reticent to make such a statewide shelter-in-place order, saying he is relying on advice from experts, such as Dr. John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the Department of State Health Services, and Nim Kidd, chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, to inform his decisions.

The governor has also cited how the virus is spreading differently among Texas’ 254 counties, with some places — such as counties along the I-35 corridor and the Houston metro region — seeing higher numbers of positive cases, versus the state’s more rural areas, where some counties have reported no positive cases.

With such disparate realities at the local level, the governor has thus far preferred to leave shelter-in-place orders to local leaders. “It will be an aggregation of factors that weigh into the decision about whether or not stricter standards are needed,” Abbott said in a March 22 news conference when asked about the potential of issuing a statewide order.

“If we see strict compliance with the current standard, that means that the current standard is working well,” he said.

Abbott is expected to hold another news conference at the state capitol at 2 p.m. Tuesday.