LUBBOCK, Texas — On Thursday evening, Lubbock Mayor Dan Pope publicly disclosed a copy of a letter he and other West Texas mayors sent to Texas Governor Greg Abbott.
The letter calls on the governor to let local cities have more flexibility in how businesses are allowed to open or ordered to close.
In March, the governor issued a series of disaster declarations as did Pope. The bottom line is that many so-called non-essential businesses in Lubbock were ordered to close. Other non-essential businesses were allowed to operate only with delivery, curbside service, drive-through service or take-out.
The closures were meant to slow the spread of COVID-19 or coronavirus. As of the time of this news article, 40 people in Lubbock or Lubbock County have died from the novel coronavirus. Lubbock has reported to date 481 total cases with 149 recoveries.
Even so-called essential businesses in Lubbock have been ordered to restrict how customers come and go in order to maintain distance between people.
Federal and local assistance programs have been announced for Lubbock area businesses.
Protesters in Lubbock put on a mock funeral on April 18 for small businesses – doing it in a way that did not violate social distancing rules. On Friday morning, Lubbock Lights was critical of the mayor and went so far as to refer to Pope’s actions as Pope’s Politburo.
However, an unscientific, unofficial poll on the KAMC Facebook page Tuesday evening found that more than twice as many people said “not yet” on reopening Lubbock. As of Friday afternoon, the vote total was 3,300 for “not yet” and 1,500 in favor of “reopen.”
Pope has repeatedly said his declarations have been in line with orders issued by the governor.
The letter on Thursday said in part, “In mitigating that risk, each city should analyze its own local, real-time data to surgically adjust its methods to mitigate the biological implications of the outbreak while navigating the economic implications of such mitigating measures.”
The governor has promised to re-open Texas in stages, responsibly and in a way that does not cause a spike in the number of new COVID-19 cases. A further announcement could come on Monday.
The letter from the mayors promised that local communities would find a way to maintain distance between people so as to slow the spread of COVID-19. But it also challenged the idea of essential versus non-essential business.
“Every business is critical in West Texas. Every business that can operate at low or mitigated risk should be operating,” the letter said.
Pope has been on the record for weeks saying he does not like the idea of picking and choosing which businesses are essential and which ones are non-essential. Every business is essential to somebody, Pope has said.
“I am in favor of re-opening Lubbock just as soon as we can do it safely,” Pope said to EverythingLubbock.com by phone on Friday afternoon, “I think we’ll get an opportunity to start doing that next week.”
The full text of the letter is copied below:
Dear Governor Abbott:
First, thank you for your leadership during this crisis. The weight of our state is on your shoulders, and there have been many difficult decisions made to protect Texans. We support you, and we pray for you often.
Second, we have heard you say that Texas is a state whose needs and solutions vary by geographic region. We agree and know it is vital to your leadership to hear directly from each region about its needs and solutions. As a region, we want to present to you with our thoughts on reopening West Texas.
Our cities have different needs and different approaches to address this crisis, but we agree on these important principles:
1) Every business is critical in West Texas. Every business that can operate at low or mitigated risk should be operating.
2) In mitigating that risk, each city should analyze its own local, real-time data to surgically adjust its methods to mitigate the biological implications of the outbreak while navigating the economic implications of such mitigating measures.
Each of our plans will rely heavily on the fact that physical distancing is the most important component in slowing the spread of COVID-19. In rural West Texas, we want to reopen with strict physical distancing measures in place. Each city can best determine how to implement these measures in their own city. Our citizens are learning this new way of life and are ready to make the changes necessary to go back to work.
Many of the businesses in our rural communities are defined under state guidelines as “essential” businesses. They are operating with social distancing and increased hygiene practices. Businesses that are not currently open, but that could adopt these same operational changes should be allowed to operate as low-risk businesses.
Where Texans can be safely working, we want them to work. Every business that can mitigate risk should be allowed to be open and participating in our economic recovery. Thank you for listening to the voices in West Texas. We are ready to implement these changes and begin to reopen West Texas.
[signed] Anthony Williams, Mayor Abilene; Patrick Peyton, Mayor of Midland; Ginger Wilson, Mayor Amarillo; David R. Turner, Mayor of Odessa; Shannon D. Thomason, Mayor of Big Spring; Brenda Gunter, Mayor of San Angelo; and Dan Pope, Mayor of Lubbock.