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Dallas County Judge Says New COVID-19 Restrictions Are An Opportunity To 'Be Patriotic'

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins at a press conference in front of a seal for the state of Texas.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins.

Clay Jenkins urges personal responsibility for wearing masks and limiting gatherings as his county surpasses an important threshold for COVID-19 hospitalizations.

From Texas Standard:

Dallas County is returning to more COVID-19 restrictions beginning Friday.

County Judge Clay Jenkins told Texas Standard that the move is necessary because for more than seven consecutive days, more than 15% of patients at area hospitals are being treated for COVID-19. Passing that 15% benchmark means Jenkins now has authority, through state executive order, to limit capacity in public spaces and restaurants. He also has the the authority to consider limiting some elective surgeries that aren't deemed life-saving. He expects the restrictions to last at least through December.

Despite the COVID-19 fatigue that has set in for many, Jenkins says the rollback is an opportunity for residents to be patriotic and focus on protecting their own health and the health of others.

"It's time for us all to renew our strength and to commit to a shared sacrifice this holiday season," Jenkins said. "The essence of patriotism is to do things that are not necessarily the most convenient or enjoyable thing for you to do at the moment, but to protect not just you and your family, but your broader community of people you don't know – and your country."

Jenkins says those sacrifices include avoiding crowds and wearing face masks. Those, plus the new restrictions, are necessary to help slow the virus' spread, he says.

He says getting this message across effectively is challenging because it's often at odds with messages and actions by the governor. Gov. Greg Abbott has recently said he isn't considering another state shutdown, amid pressure from the White House. The loophole in state orders that keeps bars open is also a problem, Jenkins says. He suspects Abbott is weighing the consequences of more restrictions on Texas' economy, but argues that a strong economy requires good public health.

"What's good for public health is good for the economy. Remember, the doctors aren't saying 'Shut down the economy'; They're saying, close this silly bar loophole that lets people stay out and dance until two o'clock in the morning," Jenkins said. "The only other business restriction they're talking about are crowd sizes and not eating indoors in restaurants."

A vaccine is on the horizon for Texans. Jenkins says in Dallas County, health care workers treating COVID-19 patients will be first in line later this month, as well as nursing home residents and staff. Then, vaccines will go to the most vulnerable early next year. Vaccines for the general public will follow that. But he says we can still act to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the meantime.

"We just have to hold on a little bit longer. Be patriotic now. Make America strong now and and don't let our guard down and slip into fatigue and selfishness," Jenkins said.

Jenkins faced criticism recently for apparently not following his own guidelines during an October wedding he officiated. Photos were published of him not wearing a mask during the event. He says the mask came off only for a potion of the vows during what was a mostly remote ceremony. The event was also cleared by doctors beforehand. He says focusing on what appear to be missteps by him and other officials deflects from the importance of personal responsibility during the pandemic.

"Focus on what you should do. Don't focus on the mistakes of others. Don't let someone else's mistake somewhere else be an excuse for you not to be patriotic," Jenkins said.

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Caroline Covington is Texas Standard's digital producer/reporter. She joined the team full time after finishing her master's in journalism at the UT J-School. She specializes in mental health reporting, and has a growing interest in data visualization. Before Texas Standard, Caroline was a freelancer for public radio, digital news outlets and podcasts, and produced a podcast pilot for Audible. Prior to journalism, she wrote and edited for marketing teams in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. She has a bachelor's in biology from UC Santa Barbara and a master's in French Studies from NYU.
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