Starting on March 10, Texas will lift its state-wide mask mandate and will allow businesses and other public places to open with no capacity restrictions. This move comes as a result of Governor Greg Abbott’s desire to “open Texas 100%.” The decision, which was made without consultation from Texas’ top healthcare advisors, also drew strong condemnation from Biden and other federal government officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci. It also goes directly against the CDC’s guidelines for safe COVID-19 practices.
Abbott cited the struggles small businesses and individuals who are still left unemployed are facing during the pandemic. While these concerns are completely valid, lifting a mask mandate would in no way interfere with the ability of small businesses to open safely. If anything, a continued mandate would decrease the likelihood of businesses having to close due to outbreaks among employees and customers. Such intermittent closures greatly harm small businesses as store owners are left scrambling to shut down their store and then waste more time and resources to get their business back up and running again after things are safer. Keeping a requirement that businesses can stay open, but only at 50% capacity, would be much more beneficial to the economy in the long-run. These are just some of the reasons Governor Abbott’s order simply does not make sense.
The governor claimed that the loosening of restrictions was in response to low hospitalization rates and improvements in vaccine rollout. While coronavirus cases are leveling off from a terrible winter peak, they are still at levels similar to that of summer and early fall. It’s also important to note that the daily case rate has begun to plateau instead of continuing on its decline, which many health officials point out is a worrying trajectory for the disease.
Additionally, Texas has made progress in its vaccination efforts but still ranks 47th out of the 50 states in its per capita vaccine distribution rate. Less than 10% of the state has been vaccinated, leaving the possibility of a resurgence still open. In addition, the new UK variant is known to be more transmissible and is currently spreading in the US. With only 50% of elderly citizens vaccinated, there still exists the dangerous opportunity for deadly outbreaks in nursing homes and senior centers.
The governor’s official executive order still encouraged all citizens to wear a mask wherever six feet social distancing is not possible (although those who choose not to cannot be penalized). In a March 4 interview, he encouraged Texans to wear a mask and mentioned that he would continue wearing a mask himself. The governor greatly emphasized the need for personal responsibility as opposed to statewide mandates at this point in the pandemic. His removal of the mask mandate seems to be an effort to appease Texans who don’t believe in the science behind wearing a mask, while his encouragement to still wear one directly contradicts the consequences of his executive order.
The truth is that while we can say people should be responsible for themselves, many people look up to the government for guidance. If the government isn’t taking the virus seriously enough to require people to wear a mask, then people will have no motivation or concern to actually wear one. It’s clear that Abbott is trading lives for political points here.