EDITORIAL: Looking up

Abbott’s news offers hope, but recovery will be slow

Gov. Greg Abbott gave Texans good news Monday, saying he already is planning to ease some restrictions he had imposed to reduce human interaction that might spread the coronavirus. Abbott said he will offer details on several issues later in the week, such as whether or not schools should reopen or simply cancel classes for the remainder of the spring semester.

They currently are closed until May 4, about a month before the semester ends. Many schools and districts already have declared that they will finish the semester with the remote learning programs they are using now.

Abbott’s focus, however, was on the economy, which perhaps is the most fragile element of Texans’ lives subject to his stay-at-home orders.

At Monday’s news conference, the governor announced $50 million in federal loans to help businesses continue paying their workers. He added that in the coming days he will announce strategies to allow some businesses to reopen in order to revive the economy. He warned, however, that it would be a “slow process,” and his decisions will be “consistent with data, with medical analysis, as well as strategies about which type of businesses will be able to open up.”

Abbott was motivated to start thinking about a return to normalcy by news that transmission rates of the disease — the time it takes for the number of cases to double — are slowing down. That doesn’t mean the threat is over. Cases of COVID-19 continue to grow, albeit more slowly. As of Monday some 14,000 cases have been confirmed in Texas, with 287 deaths. Out of 254 counties, 178 have reported COVID-19 outbreaks; they include Cameron, Hidalgo and Willacy counties in the Rio Grande Valley.

Health officials say there surely are more cases, as most tests were performed on people who were showing symptoms of the disease, and many people who catch it don’t show signs strong enough to warrant testing. Only about 133,200 Texans had been tested as of Monday, in a state of nearly 29 million people, according to the Department of State Health Services.

It is prudent, therefore, to be conservative in reopening public movement. New cases are being reported every day, and allowing people to interact too soon might increase the transmission rate and negate any progress that has been made.

Certainly, the governor feels pressure to do whatever he can to mitigate the economic damage this viral pandemic is causing. Many businesses have closed, and some might never reopen. Bailouts like the loans Abbott announced Monday cover only a fraction of the economic losses that already have occurred, and since many workers have been furloughed or laid off, thus losing income, the commercial rebound will be gradual.

Abbott’s announcement offers hope to many that the worst part of this global pandemic — at least with respect to this state — might soon be behind us. We look forward to learning the governor’s plans for helping our state turn the economic corner; but with the bug still out there, we can only hope that those plans aren’t premature.