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Surges In COVID-19 Cases Cause Friction Between Local Leaders, Governors

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Texas Governor Greg Abbott is sticking with a plan for a phased reopening. Austin, Texas, would rather not. Mayor Steve Adler extended a stay-at-home order yesterday amid news of rising coronavirus cases. Mayor Adler's on the line. Good morning, sir.

STEVE ADLER: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: And I guess we should mention this can only be stay-at-home advice, actually, right? You can't give an order.

ADLER: That's certainly the conventional wisdom. We've been preempted by the state. So at this point, I can just make recommendations to the community and recognize that the community actually chooses what happens, regardless of what the governor allows or doesn't allow. Our individual choices add up to what our community response is.

INSKEEP: Well, how serious is the increase in cases where you are?

ADLER: You know, it's at the beginning of what looks like a little surge to us. Our confirmed cases are up 90% this week over last week. Our new hospital admissions up% 58 week to week, hospitalized patients up 50%. We're up on ICUs and ventilated patients. Our doubling time has gone down by 58% over the last week.

INSKEEP: Well, now let me ask what's going wrong here because the state did lift its stay-at-home order. Businesses are allowed to reopen, but they're supposed to do it certain ways. People are supposed to maintain social distance. There have been a lot of changes. What's not working?

ADLER: I think what's happening here is that people just are not wearing face coverings, and they're not social distancing the way that I know that we can. I think it's possible to try reopening the economy. But if you're going to do that, you have to do these other things, as well, or you put that at risk. And people are confused. They just don't know at this point if it's really important to wear face coverings or not because I think they're feeling like they're getting mixed messaging not only from state leadership but from national leadership. So we're just not getting the vigilance that we need on these efforts.

INSKEEP: I guess we should mention that Governor Greg Abbott declined to order the use of face masks. The CDC, I believe, has recommended them. But President Trump declines to wear them. Do you see a lot of face masks around Austin?

ADLER: In places. You know, you'll go into some of our grocery stores, and everyone's wearing a mask, employees and customers alike. But you go into other places - restaurants or some of the clubs - you go in, and you see - you don't see any. When we started opening up the economy and when the governor took away from cities the ability to make it mandatory, more and more people stopped wearing them.

INSKEEP: So you have to rely on persuasion with people in this circumstance. And you did write an open letter on Sunday because hospital admissions have gone up so dramatically in Austin. And you said, quote, "We have some decisions to make and tradeoffs to consider." What is the tradeoff that citizens of Austin have to consider?

ADLER: Well, at a high level, the tradeoff is one of economy vs. people's health and people's lives. But I don't know that that's the tradeoff we have to hit right now. I think we can open up or at least try to open up parts of the economy if people would just wear the face coverings. I know it's inconvenient. I know it's hot. I know it's a nuisance. I know it's all of those things. And it's hard to do, and people don't like it. But at the same time, our community has to decide just how much we value the lives of folks in our community that are over 65 and older. We have to decide how much we value the lives of the communities of color that are suffering disproportionately because of this virus.

INSKEEP: Mayor Steve Adler of Austin, Texas, thanks so much.

ADLER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF JULIA KENT'S "IMBALANCE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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