Ronald Reagan once said, “Government’s first duty is to protect the people, not run their lives.” But as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, local governments seem to have forgotten this principle.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the implementation of new rules and restrictions, like social distancing guidelines, advanced a meaningful public health objective. But after months of shutdowns, fear and loss, the continuation of some restrictions may be the very things that hurt us the most.
Although Gov. Abbott’s plan to reopen the state began in May, one Texas county recently returned to square one of the pandemic.
El Paso County is under a two-week shutdown following a sharp rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations. The new stay-at-home order requires residents to stay home except for essential services. But that’s not how local officials first responded.
Initially, the county judge issued a countywide curfew and staying home was only a suggestion. Within days, those efforts weren’t enough to please elected officials, and the city council requested that certificates of occupancy and licenses be revoked from businesses who repeatedly fail to comply with the COVID-19 regulations.
Ultimately, this attempt failed, but it didn’t stop city officials from pursuing another enforcement mechanism. Now, El Paso officials are threatening to impose huge fines on people and businesses. Businesses are facing a $1,000 fine for violating the ordinance. Meanwhile, individuals face a fine of $250 for failing to wear a face covering or a $500 fine for violating other provisions of the ordinance.
In a time when people and businesses can least afford it, local governments continue to threaten to take what they have left. While continuing the best health practices is imperative for keeping people safe, shutting down the economy again is not a valid option.
As a result of the government-mandated shutdowns, more than 8,900 Texas businesses have permanently closed with more 5,300 more businesses on the brink of the same fate. Another shutdown would surely cause more closures and higher unemployment.
The Texas economy is on the road to recovery after the steep downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and government-mandated lockdowns. But it still has a long way to go.
Texans should be able to practice personal responsibility. Instead, local governments continue to think they know best by telling people what to do. While their first duty is to protect us, that does not give them the right to run our lives.