Texas isn’t ready to go maskless

Summer Merkle | Cartoonist

Isn’t there still a pandemic going on?

Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday that mask wearing would no longer be mandatory in the state of Texas starting next Wednesday. County officials can impose stricter guidelines if hospitalizations reach over 15% for seven days in a row, but that’s all they are: guidelines. A county judge cannot fine someone for not wearing a mask, even with a county mandate, and a business cannot be penalized in the same situation.

The pandemic is far from over as even Abbott recognized during the press conference.

“To be clear, COVID has not, like, suddenly disappeared,” Abbott said as he pushed for more individual accountability rather than government oversight.

According to the Texas Tribune, more than 200 Texans are dying each day from COVID-19, and that number was over 300 prior to the delays in reporting caused by Winter Storm Uri. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is still urging Americans and businesses to stay vigilant with masks and social distancing.

“With these statistics, I am really worried about more states rolling back the exact public health measures we have recommended to protect people from COVID-19,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said during a White House briefing Monday. “At this level of cases, with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained.”

Texas officials echoed the same sentiment.

“We are highly recommending that people need to follow the science,” Texas Medical Association President Dr. Diana Fite said. “They need to follow what the CDC recommends at this point … and those who are the categories that can get vaccinated need to do that as soon as possible.”

Texas is nowhere near herd immunity. According to the Texas Tribune, 75% to 90% of the population must be vaccinated, while the state is only at 6.8% as of Monday. Children under 16 are still not approved for vaccination, and that population makes up 23% of the state.

If you give someone a chance to shirk their responsibilities without any perceived consequences, most people will do it. Humans by nature are lazy and care more about themselves than others. If it’s easier to go into the grocery store without a mask (since H-E-B isn’t requiring masks starting next Wednesday), many will take advantage.

The only thing keeping some people accountable is the risk of being punished. The state is not ready to give up on masks. The last time restrictions were lifted was Sep. 21, and after hospitalizations had fallen for two straight months, they rose from October until the beginning of February.

While Gov. Abbott may be ready to reopen so he can prepare for another run at the governor position in 2022, he is putting Texans in danger with reckless policy decisions and overeager actions.