Texas, please stop embarrassing me

Gov.+Abbott%E2%80%99s+rollback+of+mask+mandates%2C+as+well+as+allowing+businesses+to+open+at+full+capacity%2C+threatens+to+accelerate+COVID+spread+even+further.

Photo: Lucia Thorne

Gov. Abbott’s rollback of mask mandates, as well as allowing businesses to open at full capacity, threatens to accelerate COVID spread even further.

By Camryn Ciancia

As proud as I am to be a Texan, attending school in Boston has forced me to reflect on the state that I love—and it’s become apparent just how flawed my home state’s local government and elected officials can be. 

When COVID-19 exploded in the U.S. last March, no one in my North Dallas suburb took it seriously. When we got our “extended spring break,” other high school seniors and I went to a party to celebrate. I had my pseudo-high school graduation in late May, where I walked across the stage in front of my family and teachers—still maskless. Despite the rising cases throughout the month of June 2020, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott continued to downplay the virus, saying at the time “rising number of hospitalizations does raise concerns,” but that “there is no reason right now to be alarmed.” It wasn’t until July 2 that Gov. Abbott ordered a statewide mask mandate in counties with 20 or more active cases of COVID-19. 

Texas is a strange place, geographically speaking—with major cities and entirely-remote areas within a short distance from each other. There are diverse populations and people of all walks of life throughout the state. It makes sense that Gov. Abbott constructed his mandate to only include counties that had twenty or more active COVID cases, considering there have been towns in Texas that haven’t even reached double-digit cases—even a year into the pandemic. 

With the mask mandate in place, Texas began to see a decline in cases in August. By October, businesses were able to start operating at an increased capacity of 75 percent. Nevertheless, there were many Texans hesitant or resistant to wearing masks and obeying social distancing policies. There is no denying that many people in Texas are anti-maskers and do not like the restrictions that were placed upon them. Downtown Austin fell victim to many “Shed the Mask, Don the Flag” demonstrations to try to combat the original mask mandate from the governor this past summer. 

With vaccines beginning to roll out, it seemed like we could see the light at the end of the tunnel. How many times have we all heard “Stay vigilant, keep washing your hands, and wearing your mask! This is going to be over so soon”? Gov. Abbott’s rollback of mask mandates, as well as allowing businesses to open at full capacity, threatens to accelerate COVID spread even further.

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Texas made national headlines in February with record-breaking winter storms and power outages. During the week of the treacherous storms in mid-February, there was a decrease in COVID cases across Texas, a result of a sharp decline in testing. However, medical professionals predicted that an increased infection rate could happen due to the frenzied nature of the week leading up to the storms, as well as forced immobilization of vaccine administration. The New York Times reported about 2,400 new cases on Feb. 18, then an increase to 10,300 new cases Feb. 23, as testing resumed. 

This led to some seriously embarrassing decisions by the Texas government. Senator Ted Cruz made news when his family disgracefully fled to sunny Cancun instead of supporting the millions of his constituents living without power or heat. Gov. Abbott kept quiet on the crisis prompted by the storm until he went on Fox News and primarily criticized the Green New Deal while refraining from acknowledging how his administration failed to prepare Texans for the critical weather. Watching all of this unfold from my college dorm 1,500 miles away, I felt frustrated knowing my family was suffering as the state government did nothing about it.

Once Texas warmed up and people began to recover from the storm, Gov. Abbott announced the “reopening of Texas” on March 2. As of March 10, masks can come off and businesses can resume normal operations at 100 percent capacity. A lot of people were ecstatic, but my family, friends, and I were simply disgusted and worried.

“It is clear from the recoveries, from the vaccinations, from the reduced hospitalizations and from the safe practices that Texans are using, that state mandates are no longer needed,” the governor said. His press secretary commented later, “Removing state mandates does not end personal responsibility when it comes to caring for family, friends and the community.” 

Less than 7 percent of Texans are fully vaccinated. It wasn’t until a week after the governor’s shocking announcement that my 71-year-old grandparents were able to get their second dose of the vaccine. My mother is a single parent and an hourly employee who (literally) cannot afford for my sister to catch the virus at school and spread it to her. The governor made an uninformed decision to release citizens from doing the one thing that is keeping people safe.

At a time when new variants of the virus are still emerging and the CDC recommends double-layering face masks, why would the governor try to appease people who never took the virus seriously in the first place? 

Big universities in Texas continued to play football, public schools are at full capacity, and music venues like Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth remained open to unmasked country music fans. “Texans keep working,” they say, but will Texas keep working when there is an inevitable spike in cases? The mindset that Texas is rid of this infectious disease is worrying, especially when the virus is still actively destroying families and communities across the nation. 

Unfortunately, Texas isn’t the only state that is lifting the mask mandate, despite only 7.6 percent of the nation’s population being vaccinated. Mississippi recently announced that they would end the mask mandate, joining Oklahoma, Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, Arizona, and Montana and a handful of other states that do not have a statewide mask ordinance. The lifted regulations in other states will certainly have an impact on states like Massachusetts, which are still trying to be cautious and mitigate further spreading of the virus. 

I have the privilege to reflect on Gov. Abbott’s decisions from a state and college that is choosing to keep the community I live in safe. I don’t get to go to parties or football games, or even have people visit my room without a mask on. This is part of the sacrifice Emersonians took when deciding to attend college in Boston during a pandemic. I wish that my beloved home state of Texas would recognize the impact they are having on the rest of the country, as we will not see a decrease in cases from the lack of the mask requirement. 

It isn’t fair to high-risk individuals and frontline workers trying to remain healthy that Texans can choose to abandon their masks, have parties and large gatherings, and go back to being irresponsible despite the pandemic’s risk to the community. This decision by state officials to enforce less virus precautions is enabling the people that aren’t behaving safely and will continue to keep COVID-19 around.