THE GROCERY STORE – A shopper must be very careful these days, what with the coronavirus around. I have wrapped myself in Glad from head to toe, wear three masks and avoid buying Asian food. Wait. The grocer is telling me to stop spraying Clorox on my apples. The problem in Texas is not the virus, but knowing what to do, which laws to obey, what exactly is “essential,” the buzz term of late, along with “social distance,” “plateau” and our president’s proclamation: “It’s a Democratic hoax.” And what is our state government doing? While most governors issued state-wide stay-in-shelter orders, Gov. Greg Abbott did nothing, citing “local control,” an odd stance for someone who has overruled local laws and ordinances for everything from plastic bags to Uber, Lyft and cutting trees. “I am governor of 254 counties in the state of Texas. More than 200 of those counties in the state of Texas still have zero cases of people testing positive for COVID-19,” Abbott said on March 23. He said cases of COVID-19 are increasing in places in urban settings like Dallas, Houston and Austin, but not in the state’s more rural counties.
So it was left to local leaders to take charge. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, along with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, issued their own orders closing schools, prohibiting more than 10 people to gather, etc. So did leaders in Dallas, San Antonio, Austin and many other Texas cities. However, in Collin County (McKinney), County Judge Chris Hill ruled that all business are essential, and nothing should close. Abbott eventually issued an opaque state-wide order to stay at home, except that he said it didn’t actually mean to stay at home. Four Houston preachers, led by a local right-wing gadfly, protested that houses of worship should be considered “essential” and thus free to flout the no-more-than- 10-people gathering order.
However, a few days later, Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton issued another proclamation excluding churches from the order. It overrode any local orders which had banned in-person religious services. Jared Woodfill, the attorney representing the group, hailed Abbott’s new order as protecting the “sanctity of the First Amendment.” He also accused Hidalgo of picking “winners and losers” It was all very confusing and potentially dangerous. At one church in Washington state, nearly every member of a 60-person choir tested positive or exhibited coronavirus symptoms after meeting for practice, according to the Los Angeles Times. (If you do decide to go to church, pray you don’t get the virus.) Gov. Abbott also decreed that the Texas border with Louisiana, where the virus went, well, viral, would be monitored by DPS troopers to prevent an influx of diseased Cajuns. Maybe we should just build a wall.
Other governors are sending out mixed messages. Vermont Gov. Phil Scott first ordered in-person operations of non-essential businesses to close. Then, two days later, “to provide further clarity,” the governor ordered Walmart and other big box stores to halt sales of “non-essential” products in their stores, such as video games and exercise mats. So Vermont shoppers in those stores will have to figure out what is, and is not, essential. I suppose they will find shelves of magazines, dog collars and motor oil roped off, and hear, “Clean out aisle five – bathrobes, books and barbells. Open up parts of the produce section. Carrots are essential, but close the kale.” Florida Gov. Rick Scott tops the list. He sent out three different orders of what was to close due to the coronavirus. Each one contradicted the previous order.
Houstonians were left in a daze. They were told to stay away from close contact at city parks. You could jog in parks but don’t get within 6 feet of muggers. That order didn’t work and – get this – city workers had to go out and take down the basketball hoops. Schools were closed, so were restaurants except they could sell take-out food from the curb, which included mixed drinks, and drive-thru orders. (Buy stock in any company that makes Styrofoam.) Many grocery stores are doing deliveries, but be careful that they get your order correctly. Last week I was delivered 45 cabbages. Tell the deliverer to just slow down and throw out the bags. DO NOT have them come in and stock your freezer.
We were left to decide just what is essential. Barber shops and beauty parlors were closed, but furniture stores and bodegas remained open. Bars had to close, but liquor stores were open. Cafes or restaurants within hospitals or medical facilities were excluded, so for a tasty meal, hop down to your local hospital. Try eating Jell-O and oatmeal while wearing a mask. Gun stores are considered essential. Grave diggers could still go to work, which leads us to an embarrassing situation. UT-San Antonio sent out an email to all donors telling how the school was closed because of the deadly coronavirus. Then it asked for donors to remember the school in their wills. An apology email followed within hours.
Here I am still at the grocery store. Shelves that once contained cleaners, anti-septics and toilet paper are bare. Can anyone explain why there has been a run on toilet paper? It has been around since 1891 when Seth Wheeler patented perforated toilet paper on a roll. What a breakthrough! At last people could go to the bathroom. I see there is no Corona beer for sale here. It was declared non-essential under a Mexican government order aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus. Maybe if the brewer changed its name. Gyms, massage parlors, tattoo studios, piercing studios and cosmetology salons are not deemed essential, but weather forecasters can go to work, at least there is 10 to 20 percent chance of it. So we can’t buy flowers or get a haircut, but liquor stores and gun shops remain open. Our ERs may be receiving even more customers. By the way, what’s a bodegas?
Ashby is non-essential at email@example.com