Texas Governor Gregg Abbott signed an executive order on Tuesday, Mar. 2, ending the statewide mask mandate and increasing the capacity of businesses and facilities in the state to 100%.
The governor explained in an official announcement that a statewide mandate is no longer required based on “recoveries, vaccinations, reduced hospitalizations, and safe practices that Texans are using.” He further expressed that citizens and businesses in the state of Texas have the freedom to make their own decisions and “determine their destiny.”
This recent order by the governor is yet another example of the controversy surrounding masking. Masks have been at the center of heated debate ever since the pandemic started. Despite calls from the scientific community about the benefits of masking, especially in enclosed public spaces, there has been a consistent backlash against masking, with many people and groups describing government mask mandates as an encroachment on individual freedom.
While this isn’t the first time Texas finds itself in a controversial position with respect to the pandemic and public health policy, the governor’s decision to scrap the statewide mask mandate comes at a very crucial time.
Based on the data, the pandemic is on a downward trajectory, and with accelerated vaccine development and administration, the end of the pandemic may well be in sight. However, it is important to remember that the pandemic is not over yet. The pandemic is still our reality, and we cannot be sure about its future.
If the last year has taught us anything, it is that the pandemic is not something to be taken lightly. The consequences of the pandemic have been far-reaching, not just in the U.S. but worldwide. Rescinding important public health policies like the mask mandate at a time when the United States may be in the process of working its way out of the pandemic is a very rash decision.
Global health crises can be very unpredictable, as we have seen with COVID-19. The scientific community can make predictions about the pandemic based on available data, but at the end of the day, no one can fully predict the course that the pandemic will take.
COVID-19 is still a relatively new virulent particle. There are so many things that we don’t know about the virus, including information about new strains of the virus that have been reported to be even more contagious.
While the scientific community tries its best to develop ways to combat the virus, it is our responsibility as the general public to ensure that our actions don’t exacerbate the pandemic. Statewide mask mandates and public policies enforcing social distancing are aimed at doing exactly this – keeping the virus in check until the scientific community expresses confidence in ways to fight the virus.
We are at an important juncture in terms of the pandemic. Yes, data suggests we may be able to transition out of the pandemic in the near future, but if we choose to ignore basic public health guidelines at this time, it could have detrimental effects on the course of the pandemic.
Optimism about the downward trend of the pandemic as well as vaccinations is justified, but not to the extent that we should relax all public health guidelines and go back to normal. The Governor’s executive order ending the mask mandate in Texas may be motivated by this optimism; however, we cannot suddenly pull the plug on masking and social distancing.
If we want to put the pandemic behind us, we need to follow basic public health guidelines like wearing masks and social distancing. We cannot let our guard down until the very end.