In school, we are taught to listen to the science about various issues. Thus, I should not have to explain why, one year later, COVID-19 is still a significant problem that plagues our daily life.
But there is a glimmer of hope. While it does appear that the future looks hopeful with regards to the pandemic, after reaching 300k new cases in a single day on January 8, new case counts and daily deaths have dropped rapidly throughout the country. Furthermore, vaccine production has been increasing and expanding at rapid rates; the Biden administration hopes to have enough vaccines for all adults by May.
We have gotten through the worst part of the pandemic, but it should go without saying that we still must remain vigilant.
However, some states have been lessening COVID restrictions in response to the drop in cases and deaths. This is not necessarily a bad thing; businesses do need to reopen at full capacity and eliminate safety protocols: it is possible to operate safely while returning to some sense of normalcy. But, on March 10, Texas and Mississippi insisted on removing their statewide mask mandate, joining twelve other states that do not mandate masks. Additionally, businesses have been allowed to reopen at 100% capacity. Texas will be the most populous state to not require a mask mandate.
There should be no explanation as to why this decision is reckless and problematic. For starters, we have only just begun to round the curve on the virus. While Texas is second in vaccines administered per state, 2.6 million fully vaccinated citizens is still less than 10% of Texas’s population. There is no scientific doubt that masks have significantly prevented the spread of COVID-19, and lifting the mask mandate while a significant portion of Texans have not been vaccinated seems almost like a death sentence.
Combine that with businesses at full capacity, and you have optimal conditions for COVID-19 to spread. Furthermore, Texas and Mississippi have been identified as “red zone” states in February, meaning the states have a COVID positivity rate—percentage of COVID-19 tests that return as positive—of over 10%.
Ultimately, I worry that lifting the mask mandate will only result in unnecessary tensions at various levels and more time to defeat COVID.
Firstly, businesses still have the right to mandate a mask on their grounds; most major retailers across the country will continue to mandate masks, as will local businesses, but I can imagine that certain customers will not take this decision well after the statewide mandate has been lifted. There have already been incidents with certain customers not taking a restaurant’s mask requirement lightly across the country, so I have no doubt that these incidents will only continue to rise in states without a mask mandate.
Secondly, lifting the mask mandate will continue to exacerbate the political issue of COVID-19, which should not be a political issue at all. In fact, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has threatened to sue Austin County and Travis County for continuing the mask mandate over Abbott’s orders.
Finally, and perhaps most relevant, is that this easing of regulations will affect all of us. I’m sure we all long for some return to normalcy, but doing it now when COVID cases are finally decreasing is not the sound decision. If this trend of lifting mask mandates and operating at full capacity continues, it will only exacerbate the issue until a vast majority of the population is vaccinated, and put unnecessary risk on certain people.
If I have not convinced you that this is a bad decision, ask yourself this: would you be comfortable walking around Wilson Hall filled with maskless peers?
I think we all know why we still have to social distance, wipe down our desks, and wear masks six months into the school year.