This article was originally published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans—and engages with them—about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. This story has been updated on the Texas Observer website.
The Texas Medical Association on Tuesday called on the Republican Party of Texas to cancel its in-person July convention scheduled to take place in Houston, one of the country’s fastest growing coronavirus hot spots.
The latest development comes one day after The Texas Tribune reported on the Texas Medical Association’s sponsorship of the convention, an indoor gathering that is not requiring masks of the 6,000 people expected to attend. On Monday, TMA told the Tribune that it would not rescind its sponsorship. But at the time TMA had not yet called on the Republican Party to cancel its convention.
In an open letter to party leadership Tuesday, Dr. Diana Fite, TMA president, cited the growing number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in Harris County as a reason for the Texas Republican Party to cancel its Houston convention. The county has the highest number of cases and deaths in the state.
“The daily chart of active cases in Harris County has been nearly a straight line upward for the past two weeks,” Fite wrote. “As an emergency physician in Houston treating patients with COVID-19, I speak from firsthand experience: It would be best for the health of your conventiongoers and the residents of Houston for the RPT not to hold its biennial convention there as planned.”
TMA said it made $5,000 contributions to both the Republican Party of Texas and the Texas Democratic Party in exchange for a brief video advertising TMA’s mission at each convention.
“Our staff reassured RPT staff that TMA would advertise in a virtual gathering, but asked that if an in-person meeting would occur to please utilize CDC, state and local guidelines for social distancing and wearing masks,” Fite wrote Tuesday.
In an interview Tuesday, Fite said a variety of factors influenced TMA’s decision to send a letter to the Republican Party of Texas, including pressure from members after the Tribune’s story published.
“We were hearing from a lot of members and some of our board members were concerned,” she said. “And so we definitely want to discuss that situation. We had just heard very recently that the event was going to be held in Houston.”
On Monday evening, Dr. Dona Murphey, a Harris County physician scientist, created a petition on MoveOn.org demanding that TMA withdraw its contribution to the Texas GOP convention or “docs will boycott” TMA.
“It is utterly reckless for a medical organization to be complicit in an event that defies CDC recommendations and the broad consensus of physicians and public health officials on multiple counts,” Murphey wrote in the petition’s description section. “The TMA must withdraw its support of the Texas GOP convention.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, the petition has garnered nearly 1,000 signatures.
Fite said Tuesday that it is still “not in the plans” to reconsider TMA’s agreement to sponsor the convention if the in-person event continues as planned. She said she hopes the RPT will cancel in response to TMA’s letter.
“And then we won’t have to change our decision which we might not do, that would be up to the Board of Trustees of the Texas Medical Association and the membership input,” she said.
Fite’s letter mentioned that TMA previously canceled its own in-person convention in May, stating that “like the RPT, a sizeable fraction of the TMA annual convention consists of longtime activists and leaders — men and women who are now at that age where they are particularly susceptible to the worst that a case of COVID-19 can deliver.”
Protecting the group’s elderly members was “among the reasons” TMA canceled its May convention, Fite said, and is urging the Texas GOP to do the same.
“This is just not the time to bring thousands of the party faithful from around the state to an indoor meeting in a county that, as I write, reports more than 18,000 active COVID-19 cases,” Fite said.
The Republican Party of Texas acknowledged it had received TMA’s letter Tuesday.
“We thank them for their support of our convention and for sharing our concern for our fellow Texans,” RPT Chairman James Dickey wrote in a press release. “We are taking all input from those involved with our Convention, including that from our Party leadership and our delegates, very seriously.”
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