Nearly three months have passed since Collin County Judge Chris Hill began complaining about the accuracy of the county's COVID-19 dashboard. He didn't understand why the state estimates weren't accurate and matching his calculations.
“It’s got to be better than this,” Judge Hill said in August. “I know that the state has its hands full. And I’m sensitive to that. I’m sympathetic to that. But it has to be better. It can’t be like this.”
He also seems to be the only county judge in the area complaining about the state's COVID-19 numbers and seeking to remove the dashboard. Denton, Dallas, and Tarrant counties all have dashboards available for the public with the state's estimations. In fact, Collin County was the only county that voted to include a disclaimer, modified a couple of times, seemingly to sow doubt about the state's COVID-19 calculations:
Warning: Collin County is providing COVID-19 numbers and data as a convenience to our residents. However, because we have been made aware of inaccuracies in the Department of State Health Services’ reporting, we must advise residents that Collin County has no confidence in the data currently being provided to us.
So it's no surprise that on Monday, Judge Hill's wish was finally granted when commissioners Darrell Hale and Cheryl Williams joined him and voted 3-2 to gut the COVID-19 dashboard. They plan to remove all the showcased data except for the hospitalization numbers "since the governor has made some of his latest orders contingent upon those percentage rates," Judge Hill said.
They plan to replace the missing data with links to where people can find it on the state's website even though they claim the data is faulty.
"So let me understand the motion on the table," said Commissioner Susan Fletcher, who along with Commissioner Duncan Webb voted not to remove the dashboard. "We will purposefully give less information to the public because we are concerned about the exact accuracy of the numbers, is that correct?"
"I don’t think there has been any question about our lack of confidence in the numbers for about four months now," Judge Hill replied. So in other words--yes.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic erupted in March, Judge Hill hasn't been fond of Gov. Greg Abbott's plan to contain it. When the governor ordered nonessential businesses closures in March, Judge Hill proclaimed that all businesses were essential and refused to close them even if it meant protecting the health of older residents or people with pre-existing conditions.
“To protect the financial well-being [of our local economy], it is critical that we keep people at work,” Judge Hill said in late March.
As far the governor's mask mandate, Judge Hill has also struggled with it like many people in rural Texas, despite the current coronavirus surge leaving critically ill rural patients without care, according to an Oct. 20 Texas Tribune report. It's as if wearing a face mask has become a political statement instead of a health one.
Judge Hill has never publicly stated how he feels about the governor's mask mandate. But he's been known to use the heart emoji on Facebook posts from supporters who complain about face masks. "Can you please unmask Collin County?" one supporter asked recently on Judge Hill's Facebook campaign page before delving into a litany of false information about masks disproven by medical experts.
Though Judge Hill was surprised when he caught COVID-19, not many readers seemed to be surprised by the news and pointed out that it is more likely to happen when you refuse to wear a mask. "The selfishness and hubris he exhibited refusing to wear a mask and poll greeting," one commenter wrote on Local Profile's Facebook page. "How many did he infect (and how many will they then infect) and will they all be as lucky as he with a mild case?"
In late October, commissioners voted 2-1 to keep the dashboard until Commissioner Webb and Judge Hill could return.
After quarantining with his family, Judge Hill seemed to be in better spirits on Monday when he returned to the court and triumphed in his battle to remove the COVID-19 dashboard. "I just don't think we should be providing bad information," he said shortly before the vote.
Commissioner Cheryl Williams agreed, saying, “If they get something that adds up, I’d be more than willing to have a discussion about putting it back up.”
But Commissioner Webb disagreed. He pointed out that the state is continuing to work on their numbers and trying to make them more accurate. "I’ve had more emails on this one issue than I have had on anything else in the last two years, all with the comment that some information is better than none," he said.
Commissioner Fletcher reiterated those same concerns a few times during the meeting.
"We have public health responsibilities, and feel strongly that even if it isn’t 100 percent accurate, I think there is a fair degree of accuracy and these numbers are available and they still are the official numbers that the state is providing," she said.