In the face of recent spikes in COVID-19 cases, Texas A&M professors analyzed the impact of the virus’ spread, predicted its course in the state of Texas for the months to come and commented on some of the missteps of politicians.
On March 31, Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order that closed gyms, spas, tattoo parlors and in-person classes at schools while also discouraging going to restaurants and encouraging social distancing. On April 27, the governor issued another executive order allowing several businesses to open again. Throughout the summer, the state has been implementing a phased reopening plan. Currently, the state of Texas is under a mask mandate.
As cases continued to surge in mid-July, Abbott and epidemiology professor Rebecca Fischer commented on the current situation. Fischer said that Texas had originally done well in containing the spread of coronavirus. However, School of Public Health dean Shawn Gibbs said the state still could have done more, starting in spring during the initial outbreak.
“One of the things we would have liked to have seen is earlier adoption of some of the face masks guidelines [and] earlier adoption of the social distancing restrictions, including limiting capacity of people in facilities,” Gibbs said.
School of Public Health associate professor Murray Côté attributed this lack of earlier adoption of health guidelines to a lack of initiative.
“I don’t think the willingness to [take action] was there,” Côté said. “You sort of get molded into this ‘Well, we have a low number of cases, so we’re doing the right thing, so we don’t need to do more than that, because then it would look excessive.’”
Gibbs and Fischer also said they credited reopening bars and Memorial Day social gatherings with the sharp increase in COVID-19 cases in Texas.
“When you’re looking at the contact tracing and you’re talking to the individuals about how they got infected, most of the time it’s those high-risk events such as going to bars, going to parties, going to house parties and just individuals not taking the social distancing as serious as they should have,” Gibbs said.
Côté said there was another potential cause to this increase: quarantine fatigue — a colloquial term for the weariness of being forced to stay at home and self-isolate from others.
“We’ve been at home ... we have an opportunity to go out, we think it’s not going to affect us and we change our behaviors accordingly,” Côté said.
Despite the growing number of cases in the U.S., Gibbs said public health safety measures have been turned into political conflicts.
“People tend to see wearing a face covering now as a political statement, whereas what a face covering actually does is it just protects the environment from the wearer,“ Gibbs said. “So, the reason why you ask someone to wear a face covering is the same reason why a healthcare worker would wear a surgical mask while they’re performing a procedure: it’s to not contaminate the environment they’re working in.”
Côté said some of the advice provided by the School of Public Health can counter what people believe is their right.
“We want you to wear masks. We want you to wash your hands,” Côté said. “We want you to social distance and these have all been proven scientifically that they can stem the transmission of the pandemic... and when you see the numbers that come up related to us forgetting to do this or not willing to do this, it has consequences. People kind of ignore the science and they go after the politics.”
Governor Abbott said on Month Day that Texas has yet to see the worst of the pandemic. Gibbs said he agrees and urges fellow Texans to hold themselves accountable.
“The best thing that we can do to try to protect each other and try to get back to some semblance of normality in the next year or two is to make sure we’re social distancing and we’re wearing our face coverings, that we are behaving responsibly and that we are taking responsibility for our own actions and the actions of those around us,” Gibbs said.
Côté said he hopes A&M students and faculty will follow University and state guidelines throughout this next semester and pull through this pandemic.
“We’ll get through this. I’m convinced that Aggies will do this, because we do the right thing,” Côté said. “We’ll be okay.”