Three days have passed since Collin County Judge Chris Hill broke away from his fellow county judges in Dallas, Denton, and Tarrant County and allowed nonessential businesses to remain open if they’re following Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive orders and CDC’s COVID-19 guidelines. McKinney Mayor George Fuller has brought city council members together once again for a special city council meeting Friday morning, the second in a week, to extend his more restrictive shelter-in-place order, which requires nonessential businesses to close despite their best efforts to follow the guidelines.
Hill called Collin County’s financial health essential to the public’s health in his Tuesday morning declaration. Fuller claimed public health trumps financial health and followed with a more restrictive order Wednesday evening to slow the spread of COVID-19 in McKinney. He was hoping other cities would follow suit in a domino effect. He’d been inspired by Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, both of whom initiated strict shelter-in-place orders that close nonessential businesses.
Now McKinney is proving to be a leader in the county’s COVID-19 battle. They recently set up a COVID-19 hotline — (972)547-9000 or email at COVID19@mckinneytexas.org— and a website dedicated to providing residents with factual coronavirus information, including the rising number of positive cases as more people get tested. So far about 444 COVID-19 tests have been given in Collin County and 20 percent of those are coming back positive, according to the mayor.
“[The coronavirus has slowed its growth,” said Charlie Phillips, a council member at-large. “Can’t say it’s related to people staying home or becoming warm. But we’re down below doubling every three days. I think it’s working. I hope it’s working. I’d like to see [the shelter-in-place order] remain in place until April 7. Hopefully temperatures keep rising and people stay home and stay away from each other.”
Some medical experts have projected April 7 will be the peak infection for the coronavirus in North Texas. UTHealth experts in Houston calculated May 12 will be the end of COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, it is still extremely difficult for people to get tested in Collin and other North Texas counties, so no one truly knows the extent of COVID-19’s spread across Texas or when it could possibly end, especially if counties and cities are issuing less-restrictive ordinances that may not be containing the spread.
“My daughter has had symptoms for five days, and I have been unsuccessful in getting her tested because of her age,” Fuller said. His daughter lives near the Dallas Art Institute where she attends school. “I know intimately how many people are not getting tested. I lost a friend to COVID-19, and he was only tested when he was admitted [to the hospital].
“I know there are tons of people around who have not been tested. There are young people who can’t get tested.”
Fuller’s close friend, Landon Spradlin, was a fellow blues musician and his guitar brother. He’d recently returned from a trip to England. Fuller announced his death on Facebook shortly before his revised shelter-in-place 7-day order was uploaded online Wednesday evening.
“Landon was an amazing blues player and singer that loved life and people,” Fuller wrote on Facebook. “It is a bit surreal to be in the middle of all that is happening concerning the Coronavirus on the legislative side of things and have it sneak up and take the life of someone I have known for over 30 years.”
A few sister cities have followed McKinney’s example. Frisco and Princeton mayors have issued similar shelter-in-place orders in hopes of keeping North Texas from reflecting the COVID-19 nightmare exploding in New York City, Fuller told the gathered council members, many of whom weren’t sitting six-feet apart as the CDC recommends. “I know there are a number of cities doing so in the next day,” he claimed.
Fuller is facing resistance and feeling pressure from some conservatives to end his shelter-in-place order soon and allow nonessential businesses to reopen. One conservative group recently put out information that claimed Fuller’s order wasn’t legal and claimed the county judge’s order supersedes the mayor’s. The mayor disagreed and warned that they will enforce it once council members voted to extend it.
“I have a real problem doing this for two weeks,” Mayor Pro Tem Rainey Rogers said. “I think it’s a very fluid situation. President Trump is meeting with governors this weekend. Let’s do this week by week. We can do these meetings. We’re not doing a whole lot. Let’s meet next week and extend it another week. But to give no hope to people…
“We got an email from a lady yesterday,” he added. “I called her. She opened up her business several years ago … ‘I’ve got $6. Rent and rent on the place where I do business is coming due. I’m a single mom.’ What do we tell her? Just hold on for another two weeks. That’s not fair.”
Fuller agreed that it’s hard on everyone and pointed out that his business is also bleeding money. He said he wants to get everyone back to work as quickly as they can, but the decision to lift the shelter-in-place order must be “based on the science” and “not based on partisan politics.”
“That moment comes from medical experts, not the political people,” Fuller told Rogers.
District 1 Council member La’Shadion Shemwell took a more abrasive approach with his response: “The United States is the epicenter for the coronavirus, so who cares about the businesses when everybody is dying? If everybody dies, there will be no businesses.”
Thankfully, Congress cares. The Senate voted unanimously Thursday to pass the $2 trillion COVID-19 relief package to help American workers and small and large businesses weather through the shutdown and hopefully rebuild after the apocalyptic virus finishes running its course. The House followed suit with its passage Friday. President Trump is expected to sign it at the time of this writing.
The “cure can’t be worse than the disease,” the conservative right warns and Rogers pointed out at the council meeting Tuesday afternoon and reiterated again Friday morning.
But no one really knows when the shelter-in-place orders will end and nonessential businesses can open to the public again without continuing the spread of the virus. The Dallas Morning News dropped an editorial Friday encouraging Gov. Abbott to issue a state-wide shelter-in-place order similar to the one Fuller has issued in McKinney. With a majority of Texas counties still not affected by COVID-19, it’s move the governor will probably continue resisting.
At the Friday morning meeting, Frederick Frazier, a council member at-large, claimed he’d just come from a dope house arrest in Seagoville to attend the special council meeting. Like other conservatives, he was curious about exactly where we are right now with the coronavirus since the U.S. now leads the global pandemic pack and called a doctor who works with the Trump administration.
“He said we are nowhere close to where politicians are telling you,” Frazier warned. “‘I am here at ground zero (in New York), and you will not believe what is going on.”
Frazier, a 24-year Dallas police veteran, pointed out that he has an 82-year-old mother who gets groceries delivered to her home, and he has a mother-in-law with an immune system disorder who watches his three children so he can continue working in law enforcement. “When I have a doctor tell me that we are not even close, and if we need to meet next week [to extend the shelter-in-place order], I’m here for it. I’m good with that,” he said.
McKinney’s shelter-in-place order is now set to expire April 3.
Update: Derek V. Baker, a lead realtor at Conservative Move in McKinney, has filed a temporary restraining order against Mayor Fuller Friday afternoon to keep him from extending his shelter-in-place order.
The judge granted it, but it isn’t enforceable until she signs the order. On Monday afternoon, she plans to set a bond amount and date of temporary injunction, according to court records.
“I regret that I, as mayor, and our city staff will now be diverting energy and resources to defend this lawsuit when there are such greater issues we are dealing with,” Fuller posted Friday on Facebook.