OPINION — Leadership is thinking about others, not just about yourself. Leadership is not standing in the middle, it is making the tough choices even when you know you will be criticized and ridiculed. We, as a City and as elected officials have been challenged to make all the right decisions to protect the health and safety of all our citizens. The last thing any of us want to do is take rights away from our citizens. We hear you and we understand your concerns about government overreach. I have always stood and will fight hard for less regulation and government oversight in our businesses and lives. Have we made all the right decisions? Time will tell and history will be the judge. There is no playbook or guiding document on how we combat this novel virus.
I look at it this way, football teams have great strategies and playbooks. Each game is approached differently and yet they don't win every game. Because you cannot control every single aspect of the game, or in our case, control every single citizen. Nor do we want to control the citizens. Ultimately, we would like for the citizens of San Angelo to band together and take personal responsibility to protect not only themselves and their families but every person and family in the Concho Valley. But, as we live in a nation of free will, that is simply not attainable.
I know that our local health authority and our city attorney, in conjunction with myself as mayor and our city council, have worked every day to try to make the right decisions with the information we have. Have we gotten it one hundred percent right? I don't know, but what I do know is we have worked tirelessly to do the right thing for all citizens and what we felt was the right decision in regard to protecting the health of our community.
During this global pandemic, the decisions made on a state and local level have been called into question. The 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives state governments the authority to control the health, safety and welfare of the community, including spread of dangerous diseases within their jurisdictions. These powers allow them the authority to take public health emergency actions such as setting quarantines, business restrictions or wearing masks. In a similar fashion, the state of Texas has given authority over the management and control of public health and infectious diseases to local health departments. Due to the nature of the pandemic, COVID-19 qualifies as a disaster and a local health emergency.
Our local health expert is not an elected official but is a highly qualified doctor and medical professional. His advice and direction is paramount during this pandemic. His role of local health authority is specifically meant for times like these. With his guidance and expertise, we collectively collaborate on the best course of action for our community.
When governments make safety mandatory, people pay more attention. We have some great state and local examples.
In 1985, the State of Texas required front seat passengers in vehicles to wear seat belts. The purpose: to help reduce deaths in car crashes.
In 2010, voters came out in strong support and voted for a ban on smoking in San Angelo. The purpose: to help improve the health of the community.
In 2020, during this coronavirus pandemic, health experts have stressed the importance of wearing face coverings. The purpose: to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 between humans. Governor Abbott signed an executive order on July 2 requiring all Texans, in counties with at least 20 COVID-19 cases, to wear face coverings in public where social distancing is not feasible.
We are not choosing to make decisions to take away individuals’ rights or civil liberties. We are not asking citizens to do anything that we don't believe will help stop the community spread of this virus.
What we do know is that over the last month we have seen a surge in positive cases in our community. On June 5, we had 13 active cases. As of July 3, we have 231 active cases. Community spread of the coronavirus is now a fact. People are getting together for parties, celebrations, cook-outs and many other types of gatherings. We all miss seeing friends and family. But it is because of the increase in gatherings that the virus is spreading rapidly through our community.
We know there are many people who disagree with the actions taken by the governor and local authorities. We also receive many comments from citizens who are supportive of the actions we are taking to protect the health of our community. We are relying on the advice of the Centers for Disease Control, the State Department of Health Services and our own local professionals in making health decisions for our community. All of these sources state that wearing masks, canceling large events and maintaining social distancing are necessary measures to slow the spread of COVID-19. One of the primary goals with any action we take is to protect the capacity of our local hospitals and the overall health of our community.
We have been working with both of our hospitals throughout this pandemic to make sure they have what they need. On June 5, we had zero patients hospitalized with COVID-19. Four weeks later, on July 3, we have 27 patients hospitalized with COVID-19. Since March, 63 people have been hospitalized with COVID-19 in San Angelo. Very early on in this pandemic we executed contracts with several hotels in town should we need them for overflow capacity from our hospitals. The situation with COVID-19 has continued to evolve daily. What was permitted to be safe one week may not be possible the next.
In the Declaration of Independence, it states that governments are created to protect their communities. “LIFE...liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Life comes first, before rights. Without life...liberty and the pursuit of happiness lose their meaning.
Brenda Gunter is the mayor of the City of San Angelo. Contact her at [email protected].