COMMENTARY: Governor Abbott, tell Texas residents to stay home

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health and one of the most prominent figures in the media for the Trump administration, is begging the American people and governmental officials to dramatically diminish personal interaction and hunker down to prevent further spread of COVID-19.

White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx is calling on Americans to do their patriotic duty and stay home.

Larry Brilliant, the doctor who helped defeat smallpox, called COVID-19 the most dangerous pandemic of our lifetime.

If health experts and public officials are urging social distancing and imploring us to stay home, why isn’t Texas Gov. Greg Abbott taking more aggressive measures like other states to curb the spread of the virus? Texas needs a shelter-in-place order and we need it now.

What would have been considered a complicated, scientific phrase has become a rallying cry for the American people: “Flatten the curve.”

The “curve” scientists are referencing is the projected number of people who will contract COVID-19 over a period of time. Depending on the virus’ infection rate, it could be a steep curve in which the virus spreads quickly, causing cases to skyrocket, or a flatter curve allowing the health care system to gradually treat cases without pushing our medical system past its brink.

The faster the infection curve rises, the quicker the our health care system loses its capacity to treat people. As we’re seeing in New York City and Italy, more and more new patients may be forced to go without intensive care unit beds, and more and more hospitals may run out of the medical equipment they need to not only protect their healthcare professionals and staff, but also adequately respond to the pandemic.

A flatter curve, on the other hand, means a slower infection rate, giving our health care system the opportunity to treat patients without being overwhelmed, enough ventilators for patients and personal protective equipment for our frontline medical professionals.

States like Washington and Ohio that took aggressive measures earlyon are seeing a decrease in hospitalizations and a health care system that is managing the coronavirus crisis.

Washington State, which enacted a stay-athome order on March 23, reported a 20% drop in hospitalizations of people with coronavirus-related symptoms for the first time since February.

Ohio, a state similar to Texas with a Republican governor, also issued a shelter-in-place order on March 23. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine issued aggressive, sweeping measures like canceling sporting events and was first in the nation to declare a statewide school shutdown.

In comparison, Gov. Abbott has been slow to act, allowing counties to make their own decisions on stay-at-home orders, causing confusion throughout the state. On March 31, Gov. Abbott finally ordered increased social distancing guidelines and limited essential work statewide, but went out of his way to state his order is not a “stay-athome strategy.” This sends mixed messages and stirs confusion in this time of crisis when clarity is needed.

Testing continues to be a problem nationwide, but particularly in Texas where we are unable to see the scope of the pandemic due to lack of testing. Texas has one of the lowest testing rates at a per capita rate of just 124 people out of every 100,000, and one state health lab ran out of testing kits. While I am working with South Korea, Germany and other countries around the world to secure more testing kits for South Texas, in this global pandemic we are competing against the world for the same testing kits. Without adequate testing, a stay-at-home order is even more necessary.

Over the past few weeks I have appealed to Gov. Abbott several times to do more, including being one of the first in the Texas Congressional Delegation to call on him to issue a shelter-in-place order.

On Tuesday, I joined many of the members of the Texas Congressional Delegation in sending a letter to Gov. Abbott yet again requesting him to order a shelter-in-place order. Our request has yet to be addressed.

I appeal once more: Gov. Abbott, we need uniform, clear measures to tell people to stay home. Do the right thing and issue a stay-at-home order. I urge you to do anything necessary to flatten the curve and minimize the number of Texans who succumb to this virus.

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez represents Texas Congressional District 15, which extends from Hidalgo County to Bexar County.