This story has been updated.
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff dismissed claims made by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Tuesday that local stay-at-home orders conflict with the governor’s executive orders.
“This is not unlike what we’ve seen from the agency’s office recently, in terms of firing off a political letter like this,” Nirenberg said. “And so on the merits we’re not concerned, but it doesn’t stop the AG from seeking a cheap political headline.”
Paxton sent a letter to Nirenberg and Wolff earlier in the day in which he stated that provisions of local orders about houses of worship, reopened businesses, and face coverings clashed with what Gov. Greg Abbott outlined in his May 5 executive order.
“We trust you will act quickly to correct these mistakes to avoid further confusion and litigation challenging these unconstitutional and unlawful restrictions,” Paxton wrote.
City Attorney Andy Segovia said that the local orders align with Abbott’s orders.
“Every time there’s a revision, or direction, or guidance, we have complied with that direction and guidance, and again we’ll continue to do so,” he said at a media briefing accompanied by Nirenberg and Wolff.
For example, Abbott encouraged people to wear face coverings, though he specifies that local jurisdictions cannot impose fines or jail time for failing to do so. Under local orders, masks are required for all residents 10 years and older in public places where social distancing is difficult, but the mandate is not enforced by jail time or fines.
Segovia said that he may revisit the language in the local orders pertaining to face coverings, but he believes it aligns with the governor’s order.
The City’s order does not limit how many people may visit a place of worship service at one time, nor does it have jail time as a potential penalty for violations of the order.
“Our order has to be read [in a way that is] as consistent as possible with … and supplemental to the governor’s [order],” Segovia said.
The County order says that essential businesses, a category in which Abbott includes places of worship, shall limit the number of people in an establishment to maintain social distancing. It also says violations may be punished with up to 180 days in jail; Abbott eliminated jail time as an option on May 7.
Larry Roberson, the civil division chief at the district attorney’s office, said the governor’s order supersedes that of the County. He also pointed to the last section in the County order that states any existing or future provisions in the governor’s executive orders “shall be automatically incorporated.” Roberson included that section in anticipation of future executive orders from Abbott, he said.
“To the extent there is any conflict, it incorporates the new issues the governor issues,” Roberson said. “We did that to anticipate the fact that we may not be able to respond as quickly as the governor issues them.”
Segovia said that he would be surprised to see Paxton sue the City and County over the matter, but Wolff was not as confident.
“I don’t necessarily think it’d be unexpected,” Wolff said. “We receive criticism from the state all across a number of local issues, so who knows what they may do? … I don’t know what to expect out of them.”
Nirenberg was quick to clarify that local officials had no quarrel with Abbott.
“Our conflict has never been with the governor,” he said. “We’ve been in full compliance with the orders of the governor, even though we were more descriptive at times to issue guidance for our community … Our conflict is with the political interpretation of the orders from the attorney general’s office.”
Paxton’s threats are a “sorry, sorry way to do business,” Wolff said. The attorney general sent similar letters to officials in Travis County, Austin, and Dallas County.
The discussion of Paxton’s letter dominated the daily media briefing by Nirenberg and Wolff on a day when health officials reported 22 new cases of the coronavirus. The total case count reached 1,942. There were no new deaths to report, Nirenberg said, but 66 people are in the hospital, 43 of which are in intensive care and 27 on ventilators.
The San Antonio Metropolitan Health District continues to monitor nursing homes, and there are now 19 people housed at the River City Care Center, Nirenberg said. The Eastside nursing home acts as a central space to care for area nursing home residents and staff members who test positive for coronavirus.
Fifteen area nursing homes have had their residents and staff tested so far, Metro Health Director Dawn Emerick said. On Monday, Abbott directed the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, the Texas Division of Emergency Management, and the Texas Department of State Health Services to test all nursing home residents and staff.
There have been 30 residents and 24 staff members at eight congregate settings – not including Southeast Rehabilitation and Healthcare center – that have tested positive as of Tuesday, according to Metro Health data. As more testing is done, more positive results will appear in these congregate settings, Emerick said.