Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said Friday that efforts to expand mail-in voting during the coronavirus amount to a "scam by Democrats to steal the election" and claimed that people younger than 65 are at more risk of dying in a car wreck on the way to vote than they are from dying from the new coronavirus because they voted in person.
"There is no reason — capital N, capital O — no reason that anyone under 65 should be able to say I am afraid to go vote," Patrick, a Republican, said in an interview with Fox News. "Have they been to a grocery store? Have they been to Walmart? Have they been to Lowe’s? Have they been to Home Depot? Have they been anywhere? Have they been afraid to go out of their house? This is a scam by the Democrats to steal the election."
Texas has been locked in a legal fight over whether it has to expand who is eligible to vote by mail during the coronavirus pandemic. Democrats and multiple voters have sued the state, saying it's dangerous to require people to wait in line and cast ballots on machines shared with other voters while the virus is spreading. GOP state officials have opposed the effort, however, saying that mail-in voting is vulnerable to fraud.
Patrick repeated those worries about fraud Friday while also dismissing any fears people might have about going to the polls if they aren't eligible for a mail-in ballot. Patrick noted that the vast majority of people dying from the virus are older. Currently in Texas, anyone 65 or older or with a disability is eligible for a ballot.
"This idea that we want to give you a disability claim because I am afraid to go vote — if you are under 65 — is laughable," Patrick said. "You have more chance of being in a serious auto accident if you are under 65 on the way to vote than you do from catching the virus and dying from it on the way to voting. This is the greatest scam ever."
As part of Gov. Greg Abbott's attempt to begin reviving the economy, myriad Texas businesses were allowed to reopen Friday. That included bars, bowling alleys and aquariums at limited capacity. Restaurants also now can operate at 50% capacity; they've been permitted to operate at 25% capacity since May 1.
At bars, dancing and other close-contact interactions are discouraged, and customers should be seated at tables. For bowling alleys, bingo halls and roller skating rinks, customers must be kept 6 feet apart, including between bowling lanes and people playing bingo.
The Texas Restaurant Association said this week the rollout was too slow and threatened to close some restaurants for good. The group projects it could lose as many as 30 percent of Texas' estimated 50,000 restaurants.
“Moving to 50 percent (of customers), certainly anytime we can move in the right direction and increase capacity, that's a good win for our restaurants. It's just simply not enough,” association President Emily Williams Knight said. “We are working very hard now to lay out the plans to move restaurants to 75 percent in the next phase and think of lots of creative solutions to keep guests safe ... No restaurant can make it on 50 percent occupancy."
The new standards don't apply in El Paso and Amarillo, which have seen a recent increase in coronavirus cases.
The new rules for Texas allow youth sports leagues to resume in June and professional sports leagues to apply to hold events without spectators. Still undecided is how colleges will approach the 2020 football season in the fall.
In a Friday interview with Austin television state KXAN, Abbott said he hopes college football will play will play a regular season.
“My prediction is yes, we’re going to have college football beginning as scheduled on schedule with at least some level of fans in the stands,” Abbott said.
The University of Texas announced this week it would bring students back to campus for an Aug. 26 opening of the fall semester. But school officials released no plans for how they will dictate social distancing in classrooms or how the university will handle residence halls and sports.
Texas reported 1,181 more cases of the coronavirus Friday, an increase of about 2% over the previous day, bringing the total number of known cases to 53,449. Hardeman County reported its first case Friday; over 85% of the state’s 254 counties have reported at least one case.
Harris County has reported the most cases, 10,283, followed by Dallas County, which has reported 8,273 cases.
As of Thursday, at least 740,181 viral tests and 60,252 antibody tests have been administered.
The state has reported 40 additional deaths, bringing the statewide total to 1,480 — an increase of about 3% from Thursday. Harris County reported six additional deaths, bringing its total to 216 deaths, more than any other county.
As of Friday, 1,578 patients are known to be hospitalized in Texas. That’s a decrease of 102 patients from Thursday.