On Thursday, March 11, the College Station City Council voted to repeal its mask mandate. But before you get mad at them, this was done in accordance with Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to ease COVID-19 restrictions statewide on March 10. Despite the vote ending the city’s mask mandate, many council members were opposed to Abbott’s order. Councilperson John Crompton called Abbott’s repeal “egregiously irresponsible.” Crompton went on to say, “It is totally out of line with all of the medical evidence. It is done to make a political point … I am so angry about this, and I feel so powerless about it when it’s such a wrong decision, and it’s such a selfish decision at the very time we need our residents to be kind to each other and engage in selfless service.”
Crompton is absolutely right. Another city council member, Bob Brick, said Abbott’s choice was “analogous to running a marathon and quitting a hundred yards before ending the thing.” Because some members of the council feel strongly about Abbott’s decree, they will meet on Monday, March 22, to consider encouraging Abbot to reinstate the mandate.
The city of Bryan did not even bother holding a vote, and considers its mask mandate as void having been effectively rescinded with Abbott’s order.
Always the black sheep, Travis County and the city of Austin both oppose the lifting of the mask mandate and continue to enforce local law over state law. As a result, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is suing the City of Austin for keeping its local mask restrictions in place despite Abbott’s order that “no jurisdiction” can enforce mask wearing. Travis County will continue upholding its mask mandate until at least March 26 when a verdict is reached.
The Texas State Teachers Association, or TSTA, and the Texas Classroom Teachers Association have both spoken out against Abbott’s ruling. TSTA President Ovidia Molina told Austin’s KVUE News, “Gov. Abbott needs to quit obeying his political impulses and listen to the health experts, who are warning that it is too soon to let our guard down without risking potentially disastrous consequences."
The Texas Educators Association, or TEA, has advised school boards to continue implementing the mask mandate and other COVID-19 precautions in schools. Ultimately, the TEA determined individual school boards could choose whether to follow its advice. Somehow publicly funded schools have the power to decide their COVID-19 policies, yet cities and counties don’t. Although its rushed and arbitrary implementation may muddy the waters, it’s clear Texas’s reopening gives a voice to businesses by depriving communities of their say. With gubernatorial elections around the corner, Abbott decided to make a drastic bid to secure conservative votes and save face after the winter storm blackouts. Any future success in dealing with COVID-19 will be in spite of Abbott’s actions to the contrary.
The president of the Texas American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, one of our state’s largest labor unions, Rick Levy said, “Working families in Texas, who have sacrificed so much to get us this far, deserve better than a governor who is about to repeat the same deadly mistake he has made before. Gov. Abbott, this isn’t a political play. It’s a matter of life and death.”
Not to mention, the mainstream medical opinion remains that people should continue wearing masks and reopening right now is premature.
We are setting ourselves up for disaster. Before March 10, Houston was the first city in the country where all six known variants of COVID-19 have been found. Many of the variants are more contagious than the unmutated COVID-19 and more resistant to currently available vaccines. For herd immunity, we need between 70 and 90 percent of the population fully vaccinated, but less than 11 percent of Texans meet that criteria as of March 21. Easing restrictions now only puts us in a position to undo the progress we’ve made.
Are we supposed to forget that everytime Abbott lifted restrictions, there were massive spikes in positive cases and coronavirus-related deaths? If the next increase follows those trends, it will be the biggest yet. The number of new cases per day in March have been similar to the number of new cases per day in September 2020 when Abbott lifted restrictions for the second time.
On the issue of preventing another spike, Abbott said, “Personal vigilance to follow the same standards is still needed to contain COVID[-19]. It's just that now state mandates are no longer needed to stay safe.” How are we supposed to uphold standards that were set and enforced by a state mandate by ourselves, when most of those around us will not continue without Abbott’s say-so? Abbott is pawning his responsibilities as governor onto his constituents who don’t have the power or influence to keep everyone safe.
I’m not really even angry with Abbott — I’m just disappointed and tired. People will die and COVID-19 will stick around for even longer. Abbott knows this fact. He just doesn’t care.
Zachary Freeman is an anthropology junior and opinion writer for The Battalion.