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Abilene mayor: ‘We will find the way forward’ from COVID-19 crisis



ABILENE, TX – The COVID-19 crisis came with no handbook, manual or set of instructions.

We are following the best scientific theories we can find, but fact-based propositions are still months away.

Safety and health concerns are paramount, moving forward, even as we try to avoid a widespread economic decline. The approximate $4 trillion allocated by the federal government recently was vital, but just as with duct tape and baling wire, it wasn’t the final answer.

Your community leaders responded, assessed and targeted our most susceptible Abilenians. Stabilization efforts involved the United Way of Abilene and Community Foundation of Abilene.

United Way expanded outreach, increasing 2-1-1 Call for Help hours and partnered with Food Bank of West Central Texas, City Lights and Christian Service Center: providing funds for food, shelter and clothing.

They worked with the Abilene ISD, Alliance for Women and Children, Boys and Girls Clubs and the YMCA, providing free day camps for children of essential workers. They partnered with the Regional Victims Crisis Center, American Red Cross, New Beginnings and FaithWorks, allocating about $500,000 for efforts to keep our community safe and productive.

CFA was host of its fourth annual Abilene Day of Giving, raising some $1.3 million. For the many nonprofits that had to cancel their spring fundraising events, these funds will provide a lifeline to these essential organizations. Nearly 3,600 Abilenians donated their time, talent and treasure. What a testament to Abilene’s compassion and resiliency.

Abilene and Wylie ISDs have worked together to ensure students in our community can continue to learn and can continue to eat breakfast and lunch. Abilene ISD has handed out more than 80,000 meals to children across the city, and Wylie ISD has stood up its own feeding program.

In mere days, both school districts developed and launched online learning platforms. Both school districts loaned thousands of tablets to students who didn’t have devices, giving them the ability to continue learning from home. Internet provider WesTex Connect set up hot spots, providing free internet access to those who lack it at home.

Our health care heroes led us through challenging conversations as we were stunned by early data predicting hundreds of deaths in our community and estimated demand for hospital beds exceeding capacity.

The president, our governor and local officials responded with shelter-in-place orders designed to prevent these issues by flattening the curve. We can all be thankful that Texas was successful, but that does not mean that the state or Abilene will reduce infections over the long term. Absent a vaccine or another cure, infections will continue until we develop herd immunity.

However, robust data suggest we will be able to manage the trend and not overrun our medical facilities. On the other hand, our healthcare industry is forever changed, both financially and operationally. Healthcare facilities lost 50 percent of their revenue overnight with the elimination of elective surgeries.

Texas leads the nation in hospital closures.

Going forward, COVID-19 will be an unwelcome guest. Public use of masks and increased use by physicians and hospital staff of personal protective equipment will be routine, possibly for years. Virtual medicine or telemedicine with your physician is here to stay.

Visitation to hospitals and nursing homes will remain restricted for the foreseeable future. The drumbeat of universal healthcare or Medicaid expansion will increase, due to the rapid rise in numbers of people who have only catastrophic-care or no insurance. The number of uninsured has skyrocketed in Texas. Sadly, it is part of the new normal.

Economically, we made safeguarding jobs a priority. The Development Corporation of Abilene set aside $3 million in loans for local manufacturers and industries. The Abilene Chamber of Commerce targeted education and access for small business, expanding services to non-Chamber members.

They created a one-stop-shop website,, established a COVID-19-Compliant Business Partner pledge identified by the hashtag #WorkSafeABI and offered free webinars. The chamber worked with the Small Business Administration to secure more than $50 million in loans for local businesses.

I am thankful for all those organizations and their contributions to the team. I appreciate the individuals who have gone weeks without an off-day while serving our community.

Though uncertain of the specific pathway, we will find the way forward, and we will do it with the same compassion, grace and dignity that have defined Abilene for more than 130 years.

Godspeed to you and yours.