Phase one of the reopening of Galveston County is in full swing. We’ve been handed the keys to the car, kids, and along with them comes the burden of personal responsibility.
Are we ready? We should be. We have no reason not to show up and show off right now.
How lucky are we, really, to live in an area that is home to some of the greatest scientific facilities in the world, including the University of Texas Medical Branch and the Galveston National Laboratory? And medical experts who speak calmly and rationally, from a place of science rather than conjecture or emotion? People such as Dr. Philip Keiser, the county’s local health authority, and Dr. Ben Raimer, interim president at the medical branch.
What does that mean to us? For one thing, it puts Galveston County at the forefront of coronavirus testing even at a time when the Texas Department of State Health Services ranked Texas at 49th in the country for tests conducted per capita.
When many states were still providing tests only for specific groups — those with preexisting conditions, obvious symptoms or suspected exposure — Galveston County hit a milestone in April when it started offering free tests to anyone over the age of 7.
Galveston County is in better shape than many other Texas locales, Keiser said.
“As best as anyone can tell, we’re positioned as well as anybody in the country,” he said. “UTMB continues to keep adding to the number of tests available.”
Whether you agree with all the regulations, some of them or none, our medical experts, mayors and other leaders have individually and collectively made recommendations to protect the public health. They’ve worked mostly in concert with Gov. Greg Abbott and President Donald Trump — not always seamlessly, not always in total agreement but with an eye toward the same prize: protecting the public and our first responders and health care workers and other essential employees, protecting the resources of our hospitals and stemming the spread of COVID-19.
Despite the 28 county COVID-19-related deaths that had been reported as of Monday and the 648 cases, on the whole the county has fared relatively well.
And why? Because of the folks and facilities listed above and others like them. Because our authorities acted quickly and in our best interest and because we listened.
We listened and we stayed home. We listened and we socially distanced. We listened and we stopped hugging and handshaking. Some of us donned masks. We listened to what our medical and political leaders said and we acted accordingly.
But the situation had to change. Economies around the world are collapsing and with such a deep dependence on tourism, Galveston and the county were on the brink, as well. So from a federal, state and local level, something had to give.
Restrictions are easing up, businesses are opening up, beaches are filling up. Some county residents think it’s too soon; others think it’s not soon enough. But right or wrong, it’s happening. We are free once again to enjoy our beaches, bistros and businesses, to a degree.
How we choose to respond to our restored freedoms will determine how quickly, or slowly, the push toward normalcy will progress. If we wash our hands and wear our masks and stay away from one another, more restrictions will lift in a week or two. If we don’t and COVID-19 cases shoot back up, the reopening will halt and maybe even regress.
It’s up to us, really.
So let’s not act like teenagers who are out joy-riding in the family car for the first time. We owe it to our leaders and the phenomenal medical minds in our backyard. We owe it to our health care workers, first responders and the essential workers who kept us up and running over the course of the stay-at-home orders. We owe it to our families, friends and neighbors. And to ourselves to not get sloppy and reverse the downward trend of coronavirus cases.
Left to our own devices after a long period of restriction, personal responsibility can be a burden and a double-edged sword: We want it, but can we be trusted with it?
Time will tell.
• Margaret Battistelli Gardner