Every time Clay Jenkins steps to the rostrum for a press convention, the Dallas County choose begins with a grim obligation: An replace on new circumstances of COVID-19 and a listing of the useless. No names are given, however the age, gender and hometown are recognized.
“Sadly immediately is our deadliest day of COVID so far. It’s also our largest day of COVID circumstances so far,” Jenkins mentioned finally Tuesday’s convention in a colorless media room on the county’s emergency operations heart. Days later, the county set a new record for the number of new confirmed cases.
The day’s deal with included 135 new circumstances of the illness, and 10 new deaths. They ranged from a 17-year-old woman from Lancaster to a 90-year-old nursing house resident from Dallas.
Past this somber recitation at the beginning of his information conferences, Jenkins makes use of the general public appearances to induce his 2.6 million constituents to make good selections. He presents epidemiology in easy language and recommendation. Final week’s convention got here on the heels of Gov. Greg Abbott’s announcement of plans to reopen Texas. The governor’s order overturned the choose’s plans to maintain the nation’s eighth largest county hunkered down for at the least two weeks longer.
“We will see increasingly more motion on the market. And we will see increasingly more alternative for asymptomatic COVIDs to stumble upon you and get you sick,” Jenkins mentioned. “And so the query that you just obtained to ask your self is ‘What’s the most effective choice for me and my household?’”
Jenkins mentioned he didn’t assume the science supported the choice to start out reopening companies so shortly. It wasn’t the primary time Democratic county choose had disagreed with the Republican governor, however Jenkins didn’t wish to dwell on the politics. As a substitute, he supplied a plea for residents to train good judgement and sit tight, delivered in his stolid drawl.
“It is not what we’re allowed to do, it is what public well being and what the CDC tells us we should always do,” he mentioned. “If as many people as attainable will comply with that, that is the surest strategy to get our economic system transferring once more.”
No Stranger To The Highlight
Of all of the folks in North Texas, Jenkins has been maybe probably the most public face within the regional coronavirus response. He earned reward — and a few criticism — for moving early and aggressively to sluggish the unfold of the virus, charting a path that put his county forward of the state in addressing the general public well being menace.
Working within the highlight throughout a public well being disaster is just not new for Jenkins. In 2014, when an Ebola outbreak put Dallas on edge, his response was nationwide information. He navigated the second with the identical calm and detailed public messaging and give attention to following the recommendation of infectious illness specialists.
That recipe for dealing with public well being emergencies was set in 2012, when Jenkins approved aerial spraying to kill mosquitoes in an effort to fight West Nile virus within the county. The choice drew criticism and put him at odds with a political ally, however Jenkins says public well being consultants have been clear: With out the spraying, extra folks would get sick.
“I made my peace early on in coping with public well being emergencies, that my job is to comply with the science, after which to behave decisively as a result of science is the playbook,” Jenkins instructed KERA in an interview. “It is what we’ve to place our religion in in a public well being emergency.”
When COVID-19 Hit Dallas County
In late January, as the primary U.S. circumstances of the novel coronavirus have been confirmed in Washington State, then Illinois, California and Arizona, Jenkins grew more and more involved. Even because the president downplayed the virus’ dangers, Jenkins started consulting well being consultants and making ready, “as a result of we knew if it obtained right here, it will be dangerous,” he says.
In mid-March, with 5 confirmed circumstances in Dallas County, Jenkins declared a public health emergency and commenced issuing a collection of more and more restrictive orders. Two weeks later, he issued probably the most restrictive stay-at-home order in Texas, prodding different counties — and the governor — to comply with swimsuit.
When neighboring Collin County’s order didn’t go so far as Jenkins wished, he referred to as them out. Whereas county judges, the highest elected officers in county authorities, are given nice authority in occasions of emergencies, their authority stops on the county borders.
“I am certain I ruffled quite a lot of feathers and harm emotions. And that was not my intention; my intention was to save lots of as many lives as attainable,” Jenkins says.
Tarrant County Choose Glen Whitley says he will get alongside effectively together with his counterpart in Dallas County, however Jenkins’ fashion can come throughout as less-than-collaborative.
“I believe Clay feels very adamant about what he’s doing, and he feels he’s doing the appropriate factor,” Whitley says.
Whitley recounted a name with a bunch of North Texas county judges when he says Jenkins instructed everybody he was ordering face masks be worn in public in Dallas County, and instructed the remainder of the judges they need to do the identical.
“To me, that’s not sitting down and speaking via one thing and asking folks’s recommendation, it simply says ‘Right here, I’m gonna do, I would like you to comply with me,’” Whitley says.
The masks order additionally set off tensions on the Dallas County Commissioners Court docket, which pressured Jenkins into an emergency assembly to elucidate himself. Commissioners John Wiley Worth and JJ Koch grilled Jenkins for issuing the order with out sufficient session of them and different native officers.
These pitched battles have develop into a daily a part of conferences of the five-member county governing board. Commissioners Court docket conferences in Dallas County have grown more and more tense, as Worth and Koch discover themselves more and more at odds with Jenkins’ authority and cautious method. The choose says he values their views.
“It is asking quite a lot of elected officers when the regulation says in unprecedented occasions the choose has nice authority and discretion,” Jenkins says. “This factor is lasting an extended, very long time. And so I’ve to exhibit grace and do my finest to listen to these voices that do not essentially agree with me.”
‘Life-And-Loss of life Choices’
The stepson of a Baptist minister, Jenkins says his religion has stored him centered. He reads Bible verses for 15 minutes each morning when he wakes up. All through the day, he seeks counsel from a broad vary of sources.
“It’s quite a lot of life-and-death selections day-after-day, and that may be a burden. However I am surrounded by individuals who give me good recommendation,” Jenkins says. “I had an imam, a rabbi, and two pastors name me immediately. And every of them prayed with me and I prayed with them.”
Ultimately although, whereas he seeks solace in religion, Jenkins says he’ll proceed to root his county’s coronavirus response in science.
— to www.keranews.org