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Diana Fite

Mayor Turner asks GOP to not hold its convention

Good luck with that.

The city of Houston will deploy health inspectors to enforce COVID-19 restrictions at the Texas Republican Convention, and potentially shut down the event if guidelines aren’t followed, Mayor Sylvester Turner said Monday.

In a letter to Texas GOP executive director Kyle Whatley, Turner on Monday laid out a series of conditions the party would have to follow if it proceeds with an in-person convention at the George R. Brown Convention Center from July 16 to 18. The guidelines are aimed at limiting the transmission of COVID when an anticipated 6,000 people descend on the convention center.

Those conditions, according to Turner’s office, include denying entry to anyone who has tested positive for COVID or come in contact with a COVID patient between July 2 and July 15, requiring attendees to wear masks, and providing touchless hand sanitizing stations throughout the convention center.

Party officials also must limit attendance and seating capacity “or host smaller events in larger rooms,” and modify room layouts to “promote social distance of at least 6 feet.” The mayor’s letter did not include a specific cap on how many people can attend the convention.

Turner also said he is “strongly encouraging” the Texas GOP to call off the in-person convention, which he said is the only conference or convention in Houston that has not been canceled or rescheduled for next year.

“I believe canceling the in-person convention is the responsible action to take while we are in a critical moment in our battle against the COVID-19 pandemic,” Turner said. “I’ve not yet talked to a medical professional who has said that this is a good idea to hold this convention at this time.”

Echoing Turner’s message, Houston public health authority David Persse said “the wise, prudent thing to do would be for the Texas GOP to reconsider their position” to hold the event in person.

See here for the background, and here for a thread from the official Twitter account of the Mayor’s office that makes things a bit more explicit. I have a hard time believing that the health department will actually step in and order the convention closed because it would be one hell of a political bombshell to do that, but it’s not out of the question. The Trib adds some details.

According to the Houston Chronicle, Turner recently removed language from an executive order and effectively took away his own authority to cancel the convention.

Turner also called on event sponsors to push the party to move the event online, tweeting that all other conferences had already been rescheduled or canceled for the rest of the year. The Texas Medical Association, the state’s largest medical group, has called on the party to follow suit and withdrew as a convention advertiser.

“With or without masks, an indoor gathering of thousands of people from all around the state in a city with tens of thousands of active COVID-19 cases poses a significant health risk to conventiongoers, convention workers, health care workers, and the residents of Houston,” Dr. Diana Fite, TMA’s president, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, various other indoor conventions across the state have recently been canceled or moved online. The Texas High School Coaches Association announced Monday it is canceling its in-person, indoor convention scheduled for July 19 to 21 in San Antonio. The THSCA conference was expected to draw 5,000 attendees who would not have been required to wear face masks, according to the association’s rules.

“It was a tough call to make but in our efforts to support the preventative protocols set forth by our Texas school administrators, the UIL [University Interscholastic League] Executive Staff and governing authorities at both state and local levels, we are choosing to prioritize health and safety first,” the THSCA wrote in a press release.

The Texas Girls Coaches Association also canceled their convention for this week. The state GOP really is alone in their push to gather thousands of people into an interior space like this. I don’t fully understand why Mayor Turner amended his executive order removing his own authority to shut down a gathering like this convention, but my guess would be he was advised it would put the city in a precarious legal position to do so – basically, we’d get our butts sued for it and probably lose. Certainly, in every possible way, the cleanest solution here is for the GOP to decide on its own to cancel and hold their convention online instead. I don’t have any reason to think they’ll do that, but I’ll be happy to be proven wrong.

State GOP will have its convention

I hope they don’t kill any convention or hotel workers as a result. Beyond that, I don’t know what to say.

The Texas GOP’s executive committee voted Thursday night to proceed with plans to hold the party’s in-person convention in Houston later this month.

The State Republican Executive Committee, a 64-member body that serves as the governing board of the state party, voted 40-20 to approve the resolution supporting the in-person gathering. Thursday’s vote comes as the state grapples with a surge of coronavirus cases, with Houston serving as one of the country’s hot spots for the virus.

The SREC is scheduled to meet again Sunday to consider changing the party’s rules. Those rules will include a tweak that allows the party to act on an “emergency fallback contingency plan,” if necessary, to hold a virtual convention, party Chair James Dickey told members as he kicked off Thursday’s virtual meeting.

The convention, scheduled for July 16-18, will be held at the George R. Brown Convention Center, where roughly 6,000 people are expected to attend.

[…]

Over the past week, demands have mounted for the party to cancel plans for an in-person convention, with some Republicans stating they would not attend such an event due to safety concerns. Others have also cited concerns about the optics of attending a large gathering while small businesses in their districts remain shuttered under the governor’s orders.

Meanwhile, a faction of activists has argued that canceling an event focused on selecting delegates for the national convention and voting on the party’s platform, among other things, would not reflect well on a party that dubs itself the party of personal responsibility. Some have also suggested that a virtual convention could disenfranchise certain delegates.

On Tuesday, the party’s plans for an in-person convention looked increasingly uncertain, when the Texas Medical Association, the state’s largest medical group, called on the party to cancel the event, a reversal that came just one day after The Texas Tribune reported on TMA’s sponsorship of the convention.

After Thursday night’s vote, TMA announced it had withdrawn as an advertiser to the convention, arguing that face masks alone at such a large gathering were not enough.

“With or without masks, an indoor gathering of thousands of people from all around the state in a city with tens of thousands of active COVID-19 cases poses a significant health risk to conventiongoers, convention workers, health care workers, and the residents of Houston,” Diana Fite, the group’s president, said in a statement. “We are concerned not only for the City of Houston but also for the communities to which the delegates will return, giving the virus easy transportation to parts of Texas that have far fewer cases.”

See here and here for the background. Kudos to the TMA for backing out as sponsors, which they had initially said they would not do because of their need to engage with (read: lobby) Republicans directly. As noted, all this occurred on the same day as Greg Abbott’s mask order, which at least will mostly require attendees to wear them. Abbott’s order banned outdoor public gatherings of more than 100 people but had no effect on the much more hazardous indoor public gatherings. In typically wishy-washy fashion, Abbott expressed no opinion about whether or not this convention should be held in person or online.

There’s nothing we can do about the state GOP’s decision. They’re gonna do what they’re gonna do. But we can and should make sure that Houston First, the entity that owns the George R. Brown and the nearby Hilton Hotel, extends full health insurance coverage to all their workers who have to be there for this. If the Republicans insist on risking their own health, that’s one thing. But no one else should be made to suffer for it. The Chron has more.

Maybe that Republican convention won’t happen after all

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.

You can see a copy of the letter here. I mean, yeah. Anyone can see the logic in Dr. Fite’s argument. As the story notes, the RPT is actually thinking about it. Scott Braddock is on the spot.

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.