As a self-described “Texican” who has lived in the Lone Star State for many years, I am more than concerned by Governor Abbott’s call to relax our pandemic precautions on Wednesday. Against the overwhelming advice of the medical and scientific community, Abbott called to scrap the state-wide mask mandate and hopes to fully open businesses.
“We must now do more to restore livelihoods and normalcy for Texans by opening Texas 100 percent,” Abbott stated. “Make no mistake, COVID-19 has not disappeared, but it is clear from the recoveries, vaccinations, reduced hospitalizations, and safe practices that Texans are using that state mandates are no longer needed.”
I just announced Texas is OPEN 100%.
I also ended the statewide mask mandate.
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) March 2, 2021
I live in San Antonio, Texas, in a community that truly depends on tourism and business conferences. It’s been a difficult time for our hotels, our restaurants, our Ubers, and taxis. Many within these industries are looking forward to resuming business as usual.’ On Wednesday, bars and restaurants will allow their customers to enter without a mask. They’ll also be allowed to add tables and staff. I’m sure our two amusement parks – Six Flags and SeaWorld – will soon follow suit.
I’ll be one of the people who will continue to wear a mask in public despite the governor’s rule. While I am sympathetic to the economic fallout of the virus, I believe that public health and safety need to be prioritized. Our state is continuing to grapple with the fallout of an unprecedented winter storm, and to me, Abbott’s decision is both reckless and irresponsible. Now that President Biden has announced that every adult American can expect a vaccine by the end of May, now is not the time to take our foot off the gas.
Texas has had a state-wide mask mandate since July of last year, and throughout the pandemic, we have been able to salvage some measure of normalcy. Like many states, my family and I have been able to visit several local restaurants as long as we entered with a mask, took them off while eating, and adhered to social distancing. While it is obviously not preferable, it’s the safest way to be able to socialize in the midst of this virus.
The last time the governor relaxed restrictions, there was a huge cost. Last year, Governor Greg Abbott allowed large gatherings over Memorial Day, COVID-19 cases spiked especially at Texas beaches. With spring break starting next Monday and continuing for another two weeks, we’ll get a large influx of young people. Not to mention the families who went to our local amusement parks. A week later, COVID-19 cases cause a flood of people to go to their local emergency rooms.
In an interview with a TV station in Tyler, Texas, Governor Abbott said at the time: “On the other hand, we want to make sure that people are not getting overconfident because COVID-19 still exists in Texas and the U.S. today. And as people go out, if they suddenly stop using all these safe practices, it could lead to a spread of COVID-19.”
However, in a separate breath, Abbott defended his decision to relax restrictions: “We need businesses to open up,” he said. “The best way for businesses to open up is for people to continue these safe practices to help us to continue to contain the spread of COVID-19.”
Talk about double-speak. On one hand, Governor Abbott noted the possibility of increased COVID-19 cases after he relaxed the rules for Memorial Day, yet he also wants businesses to prosper with relaxed regulations.
Luckily, despite the governor’s order, there are some important sectors of society that can continue to uphold protective measures. School boards, for example, will decide their mask enforcement policies.
“While our educators have not been prioritized for the vaccine and while a vaccine is not yet available for students under the age of 16, school districts need to be able to continue their current protocols to ensure the safety of our students and staff,” Jodi Duron, superintendent of Elgin Independent School District, told the Texas Tribune.
But parents also play a role. My children are grown, but my co-workers have to decide if they want to have their children return to the classroom without a mask or make them wear it. I can imagine that they’ll encounter pressure from other parents who don’t believe in masks and think that the concerns of teachers are not valid. If this dismissive sentiment trickles down to children, I can imagine scenarios when a school bully rips off another student’s mask and makes fun of them.
With a lack of commonsense leadership, I am a believer in self-enforcement until we reach the capability to have COVID-19 under control. Yes, I want a return to normalcy where I can go to a San Antonio Spurs game or work with others at Geekdom, a co-working facility located downtown, but we are not there yet. Undoubtedly, there will be that small percentage who may consider us overly cautious buzzkills, but we have to ignore them. Mask up, we are not only protecting ourselves but others also.