First, there was this.
The Texas Medical Association is encouraging Texans to practice social distancing, stay home when possible and wear masks to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. But despite the potential mixed message it may send, the state’s largest medical organization said Monday it is not reconsidering its sponsorship of the Texas Republican convention next month. Some 6,000 people from across the state are expected to gather indoors without a mask mandate at the convention in Houston, one of the nation’s fastest-growing COVID-19 hot spots.
A spokesperson for TMA, which represents more than 53,000 Texas physicians and medical students, told The Texas Tribune that it will honor its commitment to the event.
“The agreement will not be revisited,” Brent Annear said in an email Monday.
He added that despite the fact that the GOP organizers won’t require attendees to wear masks, TMA “encourages everyone who goes anywhere to wear masks.”
“To our Republican friends — and our Democrat friends (and independents and those of other parties) — we say wear a mask, wash your hands, stay socially distant if you must be in groups, and stay home if you can,” Annear said.
Annear said TMA’s agreement with the Republican Party of Texas was set in stone “before the pandemic was a major issue here — before we hit any stay-home suggestions or mandates, mask policies or anything like that.”
And because the group signed on to the sponsorship before the pandemic began and “no conditions like that were discussed,” it will not back out of the agreement, he said.
“This low-rung sponsorship entitles TMA to have a brief video play for the conventiongoers that reminds them that Texas physicians are here to care for Texas patients,” Annear said. “We paid the same low-level sponsor amount to the Democrats for their convention, and we had a video play during their virtual convention with essentially the same message.”
Dr. Diana Fite, the president of the Texas Medical Association, wrote in an online letter to Texas physicians that they should encourage patients, friends and family members to “for your sake, for your neighbors’ sake, for my sake, and for your grandma’s sake, wear a mask, Texas.”
Earlier this spring, TMA canceled its own annual conference, TexMed 2020, which was scheduled to take place from May 1-2 in Fort Worth, and suspended the 2020 TMA House of Delegates meeting both in-person and online “until the crisis has subsided.”
See here for the background. I get the rationale for participating in the convention and have no quarrel with that. But my goodness, this is not a great look for the TMA. It’s really hard to make the case for wearing face masks, social distancing, avoiding risky behavior, etc etc etc, when you’re hanging out at a crowded indoor venue with a bunch of people who thinks mask wearing is a commie plot meant to bring down the President. It’s exactly this kind of mixed message that has gotten us into the trouble we’re in now. And boy, that’s some weak justification by the TMA.
But it turns out, there was another option. And so on Tuesday, we got this.
The Texas Medical Association on Tuesday called on the Republican Party of Texas to cancel its in-person July convention scheduled to take place in Houston, one of the country’s fastest growing coronavirus hot spots.
The latest development comes one day after The Texas Tribune reported on the Texas Medical Association’s sponsorship of the convention, an indoor gathering that is not requiring masks of the 6,000 people expected to attend. On Monday, TMA told the Tribune that it would not rescind its sponsorship. But at the time TMA had not yet called on the Republican Party to cancel its convention.
In an open letter to party leadership Tuesday, Dr. Diana Fite, TMA president, cited the growing number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in Harris County as a reason for the Texas Republican Party to cancel its Houston convention. The county has the highest number of cases and deaths in the state.
“The daily chart of active cases in Harris County has been nearly a straight line upward for the past two weeks,” Fite wrote. “As an emergency physician in Houston treating patients with COVID-19, I speak from firsthand experience: It would be best for the health of your conventiongoers and the residents of Houston for the RPT not to hold its biennial convention there as planned.”
TMA said it made $5,000 contributions to both the Republican Party of Texas and the Texas Democratic Party in exchange for a brief video advertising TMA’s mission at each convention.
“Our staff reassured RPT staff that TMA would advertise in a virtual gathering, but asked that if an in-person meeting would occur to please utilize CDC, state and local guidelines for social distancing and wearing masks,” Fite wrote Tuesday.
In an interview Tuesday, Fite said a variety of factors influenced TMA’s decision to send a letter to the Republican Party of Texas, including pressure from members after The Tribune’s story published.
“We were hearing from a lot of members and some of our board members were concerned,” she said. “And so we definitely want to discuss that situation. We had just heard very recently that the event was going to be held in Houston.”
Fite’s letter mentioned that TMA previously canceled its own in-person convention in May, stating that “like the RPT, a sizeable fraction of the TMA annual convention consists of longtime activists and leaders — men and women who are now at that age where they are particularly susceptible to the worst that a case of COVID-19 can deliver.”
Protecting the group’s elderly members was “among the reasons” TMA canceled its May convention, Fite said, and is urging the Texas GOP to do the same.
“This is just not the time to bring thousands of the party faithful from around the state to an indoor meeting in a county that, as I write, reports more than 18,000 active COVID-19 cases,” Fite said.
Sources: @TexasGOP leadership is leaning toward a virtual convention at this point. No confirmation now. The party’s executive committee will get an update from the chairman at 5:30 this evening #txlege #coronavirus
— Scott Braddock (@scottbraddock) 3:05 PM – 30 June 2020
I’ll post an update when I see one. This is clearly the right answer. It may be difficult for the GOP to switch to a virtual convention now, given that the real thing was scheduled to start July 16, but that’s on them. The risk/reward calculation is clear. They just have to recognize it.
UPDATE: Still in wait-and-see mode:
The Texas GOP’s plan for an in-person convention next month in Houston is looking increasingly uncertain as criticism mounts over plans to host thousands of people indoors as the new coronavirus surges across the state.
Party Chair James Dickey said Tuesday that the State Republican Executive Committee will meet Thursday to consider options for the future of the event, which he assured includes an “ultimate contingency plan” to move the event online.
“We have prepared for an online convention as the ultimate contingency plan if we are forced by a government order at any level and not able to hold our convention in person,” Dickey said during a livestreamed announcement Tuesday evening. “We’ve had that plan in place since the beginning of the pandemic so that we can be fully prepared for any turn of events.”
The State Republican Executive Committee, a 64-member body including Dickey and Vice Chair Alma Jackson, could take action ranging from mandating masks at what is expected to be a roughly 6,000-person event to relocating it to another city or moving the convention online.
State Rep. Sarah Davis, a Houston-area Republican, said it seemed “incredibly irresponsible” to hold such a large gathering and said she does not plan to attend this year’s event.
“I think it’s a horrible idea to proceed with holding the in-person convention,” Davis told the Tribune on Tuesday. “Houston is the last place we need to have a crowd of 6,000 gathering, given our COVID-19 positivity rate increases.”
Other Republicans, such as state Sen. Bob Hall of Edgewood, have brushed aside such concerns, arguing instead that Texans should return to some sense of normal in an effort to prevent further damage to the economy.
“Canceling the convention sends the exact opposite message that Republicans should be sending,” Hall said in a statement Tuesday. “There is no reason to cancel a gathering that will help unite Republicans behind a limited government platform.”
Well, good luck unifying your factions. We’ll see what they decide tomorrow night.