JCRC hosts townhall
By James Russell
Special to the TJP
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins updated local Jewish community leaders from synagogues, social service agencies and other groups about the county, state and national response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Zoom townhall was hosted by the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ Jewish Community Relations Council April 22 and was moderated by JCRC Chair Cindy Moskowitz.
Jenkins addressed how houses of worship proceed with services, explained how new laws meant to fight the virus impact the county, working with vulnerable communities and reopening businesses.
“We’re trying to get a meeting with Gov. Greg Abbott’s chief of staff and lieutenant governor with Temple Emanu-El Rabbi David Stern and others so they can ask some of these questions,” he said. “It’s a real existential threat if we don’t do this right.”
Jenkins emphasized he has “scratched, clawed and lobbied every day for more testing,” which is key to gauging the spread of virus in the community. “We need to get out to these health deserts. When people don’t have a primary care doctor, they’re in these deserts where people haven’t been tested.”
County officials went to Duncanville Health and Rehab, a nursing home which had only two reported cases of the virus. “After testing the 80 residents, we left with 20 positive cases,” he said. “You think you have two cases, and then you think you have six after four people die. But then you have 30,” he said. “It’s happening to poor people.”
The county receives about 200-300 test kits a day, “but we need more testing,” he said. Texas has among the lowest test rates in the country, even as the state government is preparing businesses to reopen, and the World Health Organization warns of a second wave of the virus in the fall. Abbott has already allowed retailers to offer what he’s calling “retail-to-go.” Nonessential stores from jewelry shops to car dealerships were closed under the statewide shelter in place ordinance. The new retail-to-go rule allows stores to offer curbside pick up for customers. On Monday, Abbott announced that the stay-at-home order would expire April 30. A voluntary Phase 1 reopening of movie theaters, restaraunts and will begin May 1.
However, Jenkins urged caution. Even as reopenings are phased in, his thinking is just because you can go somewhere doesn’t mean you should.
Still, he said, elected officials are under tremendous pressure from multiple people with conflicting views on how to proceed with getting Texans back to work.
When asked about the correlation between an increase in pandemics and hate crimes, Jenkins explained he is watching closely if the county’s response to the nationwide rise in violence against people of color, especially Asian Americans, mirrors the nation’s rate.
Elected officials, including President Donald Trump and Sen. John Cornyn, both Republicans, have referred to the latest strain of coronavirus as the “Wuhan” or “Chinese virus” after the city in China where the virus appeared last year. Public health and medical researchers believe it likely originated in the Middle East, however.
Civil rights groups and others say the rhetoric is not only inaccurate but dangerous.
Last month, in Midland, a man stabbed three Chinese Americans because he believed they were spreading the virus. The FBI labeled it a hate crime and warned in a report of an increase in crimes against Asian Americans due to the spread of the disease.
The county has not seen incidents like in Midland or the higher numbers across the country. But county staff remain aware. One of Jenkins’ staffers is dedicated to promoting and insuring equity for all communities, he said. He also speaks regularly to county Sheriff Marian Brown, Dallas Police Chief Renee U. Hall and law enforcement officials.
“Leaders can call on people for reason and compassion and acceptance, or they can make some of their neighbors the boogeyman,” he said.