When the number of new coronavirus cases in Texas began to rise in early November, the mayor of Austin urged residents to avoid socializing and traveling, especially as the holiday season approached.
“We need to stay home if you can,” Mayor Steve Adler (D) said in a Nov. 9 video. “We need to try to keep those numbers down. This is not the time to relax.”
Days before he offered that warning, Adler had hosted at a downtown hotel for his daughter and about 20 guests. Then, he and eight wedding guests took a private jet to Cabo San Lucas, where they stayed together in a timeshare.
After the Austin American-Statesman first reported Adler’s trip, which he had not previously disclosed to the public, the mayor apologized Wednesday for taking the trip to Mexico and setting a poor example as coronavirus cases spiked across Texas.
“I regret that travel,” Adler said in a video he posted to Facebook on Wednesday evening. “I wouldn’t travel now, I didn’t over Thanksgiving, and I won’t over Christmas. And no one should.”
His mea culpa is the latest in a string of apologies from public officials across the U.S. this week, after several city and state leaders have been caught flouting their own coronavirus warnings by dining out and attending parties after issuing guidance discouraging the public from doing those same activities.
California Democrats urged people to stay home — and then did the opposite at restaurants and holiday parties
Texas broke the nationwide record for new coronavirus cases reported in a day about two weeks after Adler posted the Nov. 9 video, when it reported 16,100 new cases on Nov. 25, about 1,000 more than the previous record. (California reported 18,350 new cases that same day, also breaking the previous record.)
Some areas of the Lone Star State have been hit harder than others. Near the border with Mexico and New Mexico, El Paso has resorted to airlifting patients to other cities as its hospitals have been overwhelmed with critically ill people. The state paid prisoners to move hundreds of bodies to mobile morgues in the city, then it deployed National Guardsmen to help.
El Paso was still grieving when the coronavirus arrived. Now, death has overwhelmed it.
As of early Thursday, more than 9,000 people are hospitalized with covid in Texas.
Yet even as the numbers mount, officials in the state have been inconsistent in enacting and enforcing coronavirus restrictions.
El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego, a Democrat, ordered a shutdown of the hard-hit city, but El Paso Mayor Dee Margo and the Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, both Republicans, challenged the legality of those restrictions.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) declared last month that he would not institute a statewide shutdown, even as cases spiked. He has issued a statewide executive order allowing restaurants to reopen at 75 percent capacity and allowed bars to partially resume business with permission from local county leaders. Even where bars have been ordered closed by county officials, many have kept their doors open under a loophole that allows them to be classified as restaurants if they serve food and alcohol sales account for less than half of their revenue, the Texas Tribune reported.
Although Adler defied his own advice to stay home when he took a family vacation in Cabo last month, the Democrat has asked Austin residents to stay home, practice social distancing and wear masks.
The Austin mayor said neither the wedding nor the trip to Mexico violated local or statewide coronavirus guidelines in place at the time. He told the American-Statesman that the wedding guests had taken rapid coronavirus tests before the event and said masks were provided for the attendees to wear at Hotel St. Cecilia.
He noted Wednesday that he took his trip when coronavirus numbers were lower and restrictions were looser than they are now, but he also said he feared that his actions would lead people to make poor decisions amid worse conditions.
“I recognize that my travel set a bad example,” he said. “I recognize that the fact that I took that trip, and at the same time was continuing to urge people to be cautious is confusing.”
Before the Cabo vacation and 20-person wedding, public health experts in Austin had been warning people to limit gatherings to no more than 10 people, the American-Statesman reported. The week after he returned, health officials recommended Austin residents avoid any nonessential travel.
“I’m sorry I took that trip,” Adler said Wednesday. “It was a lapse in judgment, and I want you to know I apologize.”