By Kate McCormick
Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced his plan last week to lift his state’s business restrictions and mask mandate — and a handful of states are following suit.
In his announcement, taking place at a Mexican restaurant in Lubbock, Texas, Abbott cited lowering statistics as the reasoning behind his decision. During his speech, he mentioned record low hospitalizations and active case numbers, as well as stating that “today is the lowest positivity rate we’ve had in four months.”
In his next breath, however, the governor disclaimed, “But make no mistake. To be clear, COVID has not, like, suddenly disappeared.” So which is it?
While it’s great that Texas is experiencing some of its lowest statistics in the past year of dealing with the pandemic, those statistics are exactly why the mask mandate and other precautions shouldn’t be lifted yet.
Spokeswoman Renae Eze stated that “all Texans should follow medical advice and safe practices to continue containing COVID,” but wearing masks has been one of the baseline medical advisories for the past twelve months.
Other states like Mississippi, North Dakota, Iowa and Montana have also announced plans to lift mask mandates and become lenient in business restrictions. Pandemic fatigue is understandable, but, as Abbott said, COVID-19 has not disappeared. Rolling back a mask mandate all together will effectively diminish all of the progress Abbott cited for his decision in the first place.
Not to mention, making mask wearing an individual responsibility rather than a statewide mandate is undoubtedly going to cause more people to be less compliant with these common sense safety protocols. Citizens of Idaho, a state that strongly suggests but does not widely mandate masks, burnt their face coverings at the state capitol as part of an anti-mask rally.
As cases inevitably rise, the healthcare workers we applauded and supported will be faced, yet again, with an influx of cases, putting them right back in harm’s way.
Lifting the state mandates backing up protocols like mask wearing will also put retail and essential workers at higher risk. Even with mandates, there have been countless stories of belligerent customers refusing to wear masks, so imagine how that issue will expand when there is no longer a mandate supporting the policy.
Spokesman for Retail Industry Leaders Association Jason Brewer released a statement saying, “Going backward on safety measures will unfairly put retail employees back in the role of enforcing guidelines still recommended by the CDC and other public health advocates.”
I, and many others, can fully understand both the desire for the pandemic to be over with and the economic need for businesses, small businesses especially, to be running at a higher capacity. I’m sure many people can see the appeal of an approach similar to Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont’s, who will keep his state’s mask mandate in place while allowing select businesses to open at full capacity.
There is no 100% perfect answer that is going to benefit or appeal to everyone, but the top priority needs to be public safety, and the CDC has made it clear that areas with mask mandates and other safety regulations in place have slower cases and death rates.
Dr. Anthony Fauci has mentioned that the United States shouldn’t begin to reverse restrictions until the rate of daily new cases falls below 10,000. According to CDC data, as recently as March 6, 2021, there were 57,586 new cases in the U.S.
Being in a pandemic is frustrating and anxiety-inducing and overwhelming — that goes without saying, but prematurely taking away the protocols designed to reduce cases is going to prolong and exacerbate the issue, putting even more lives at risk.