Repealing mask mandate lift puts lives at risk, threatens safety of millions


Photo provided by Unsplash

Masks are laid out on a kitchen table. These are medical masks used to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced on March 2 that Texas will end its mask mandate and allow businesses to operate at full capacity starting March 10. Disregarding guidelines set by the CDC and warnings from the scientific community, Abbott has charted Texas on a collision course that will lead potentially lead to another massive rise in COVID-19 cases. 

Our staff believes that Gov. Abbott must reimplement a mask mandate to ensure the safety of Texas residents and slow down the spread of COVID-19. 

With a steady increase in vaccinations distributed by Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to the general public, COVID-19 cases in the U.S. have declined significantly, with cases as low as those before the summer spike. The CDC issued guidelines on March 8 detailing the restrictions (and liberties) Americans can enjoy after being fully vaccinated, some of which include small, indoor gatherings with no masks or social distancing and no testing and quarantining if exposed to the virus. However, this spark of hope in returning to normalcy must be treated with caution. 

As states like Texas loosen their constraints in response to the CDC’s statement, there no longer remains the question on whether the absence of mask mandates will alter the spread of COVID-19 in these areas. Following Gov. Abbott’s decision to “open Texas 100%” with no mask restrictions, the weekly average of COVID-19 cases recorded rose by 5 percent. With only 6.57 percent of Texans fully vaccinated, the sudden increase in cases comes as no surprise. And although it is undesirable to live under harsh regulations, Gov. Abbott’s poor judgement of Texas’ preparedness for no mask mandates will push back our progress to eliminate the virus.

As new, more transmissible variants of COVID-19 make their way into the U.S. and Texas, the need for “double-masking”, wearing a cloth mask on top of a surgical covering or N95, has grown too great to ignore. Masks, tried and true, continue to prove the most effective against limiting the spread of the virus. High-quality face protectives, especially those with multiple layers, are undeniably the best form of maximum protection. Nevertheless, the overall safety and wellbeing of Texans does not seem to be the most pressing issue for Gov. Abbott. As local health officials and politicians like Mayor Sylvester Turner and Judge Lina Hidalgo push to reverse this premature ruling and reinstall masks, the imminent danger of another COVID-19 outbreak looms over Texas. 

Although Gov. Abbott officially ended the mask mandate statewide and allowed businesses to open up to 100 percent capacity, many businesses have taken advantage of their ability to elect to enforce their own store-specific restrictions. Since Abbott’s announcement early last week, local spot Pico’s Mexican Restaurant has posted a sign on its door saying “Face mask or covering required upon entry” in order to keep both its employees and patrons safe and comfortable. Local grocery stores such as HEB and Kroger have both also said they will make no changes to their current restrictions and will remain aligned with the recommendations of the CDC in requiring customers, employees and partners to wear masks. 

Other Houston restaurants that will continue to operate under CDC guidelines and strict covid-safe restrictions include Dandelion Cafe, Kenny & Ziggy’s, Common Bond, The Union Kitchen, Coppa Osteria as well as all Goode Company establishments

While many conscientious Houstonians have applauded the businesses who are continuing to require face coverings, they have also received large amounts of backlash from a percentage of the general public. Arnaldo Richards, owner of Pico’s, said that he has gotten ugly remarks in light of his decision to maintain restrictions and has even received threats to call ICE on his employees. Unfortunately, threatening reactions like these have not proven uncommon, as Pico’s is just one of many restaurants receiving similar reactions

After Gov. Abbott announced his opening of the state, HISD released a statement confirming hopes that it would continue to require all students, staff and visitors to wear masks on district property and at all district events. As a staff, we applaud HISD for its insistence on continuing to keep its staff and students safe by continuing to require all safety precautions remain in place, so that the education system we have in place can continue to run as best and safely as possible. 

In order to save countless lives and protect the future of not only Texas but the United States as well, Gov. Abbott must reinforce the need to wear masks in the face of COVID-19. Lifting the mandate now would put a halt to the progress made so far in combating the pandemic. Masks must stay on.