Dallas County commissioners Tuesday extended a disaster declaration over the coronavirus pandemic at a meeting that included a racially-charged debate over the judge who jailed a salon owner.
Doctors told county commissioners that social distancing and facial coverings are still strongly recommended to stop the spread of the virus because they have not seen sufficient evidence the pandemic is under control.
“We want to see 14 days of decline in these indicators, and when we see it, then we’ll feel comfortable,” Dallas County Health Director Dr. Philip Huang said.
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Commissioners agreed to extend the disaster declaration in a 4-to-0 vote, with Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins abstaining.
The commissioners ordered Jenkins to abide by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s re-opening plans, and to consult commissioners before Jenkins issued any further orders for Dallas County. Commissioners complained in the past that Jenkins imposed rules without keeping them in the loop.
“The public deserves that wholehearted explanation of why we are doing this and then we vote it up or down and we talk about that,” Commissioner J.J. Koch said.
With the restrictions, Koch went along with the extension, even though he said there is too little attention paid to the consequences of economic hardship caused by the pandemic.
“There is a great blindness right now to the other forms of death and destruction that we are necessarily unleashing on our population,” Koch said.
Koch engaged in a racial charged debate with Commissioner John Wiley Price over a resolution Price proposed in support of District Judge Eric Moye.
The judge jailed North Dallas salon owner Shelley Luther for contempt after she refused to apologize for opening her salon against coronavirus restrictions.
Price said Moye was humiliated and received death threats, while black business owners followed the rules.
“But there was a different approach with them and their opening up than this one. I'm not even dealing with her,” Price said.
Koch voted against the Price resolution supporting Moye, even after Commissioner Elba Garcia inserted a compromise to remove much of Price’s language about Republican politicians who supported Luther.
“It takes out the racial strife angle. The only thing that you thrive on, the only oxygen that you can find in this situation,” Koch said. “If this was an African American business owner, you wouldn’t say boo.”
The disaster declaration extension carries no additional regulations or enforcement power, but provides the basis for relief programs that were also approved by county commissioners Wednesday.
The programs include housing assistance and cash to smaller cities in Dallas County with coronavirus relief money the county has received from the federal government.