Question for Fauci: Why are Texas's cases still declining weeks after their mask mandate was lifted?

The correct answer is the one he won’t give. Namely, mask mandates may encourage compliance at the margins but they won’t affect what the great majority of residents do. Most people will wear masks voluntarily to protect themselves or others. Hardcore resisters won’t wear them and will dare the cops to penalize them for it. It’s only the third group, the people who dislike masks but aren’t weirdly ideologically committed to not wearing them, who might be convinced to don one by a mandate.

But that’s a small group, I suspect. Small enough that, even if cases are rising within that cohort now that the mandate has lifted, they might be falling statewide overall due to other mitigating factors.

We’re not going to see Fauci come within a hundred miles rhetorically of undermining masks at this stage of the pandemic, though, so instead he’s forced to answer the question by stressing that why curves rise or fall is complicated (true), that sometimes there’s a lag between the time restrictions lift and cases start to rise again (also true), and that it may be as simple as Texans doing more things outdoors lately (also also true). Watch, then read on.

Texans doing more things outdoors because the weather is accommodating (temps in the 70s lately) is also my pet theory for why cases are low not just there but in nearly every southern U.S. state right now. The major exception is Florida, which is beset by the more contagious British variant, but even Florida’s not experiencing the sort of harrowing spike in cases that Michigan, another state with many cases of the British strain, is enduring. Cases in Florida have risen modestly over the past three weeks but are still lower than they were in late February. In Michigan, cases have soared to the point where they’re not far off their winter peak.

As for Texas, I noted three days ago that the daily average in cases was the lowest it’s been since last June. Since that post, the average has declined further and is now below 3,000 cases per day. At the height of the winter surge, Texas averaged 23,000 cases, which makes for an 87 percent(!) decline. On March 10, the day the mask mandate and capacity limits on businesses were lifted, the state was averaging 4,900 cases per day; cases are down 43 percent since then. To top it all off, Texas’s positivity rate dipped below four percent yesterday for the first time since May 30 of last year:

Is Fauci right that that trend could change? Well, sure. The forecast for Austin this Thursday and Friday calls for temperatures north of 90 degrees, which will drive locals indoors and into less ventilated spaces. And as the good news about falling case counts and rising vaccinations spreads, more people are destined to let down their guards about precautions. Gallup finds worries about the pandemic at their lowest rate nationally since COVID arrived last March:

Less anxiety about infection means more risk-taking, which means more spread. At the same time, Texas continues to vaccinate thousands of residents each day, which means less spread. The breakneck pace of vaccinations in the U.S. right now is so encouraging, in fact, that even a doomsayer like Fauci is predicting that we won’t see a “fourth wave” of COVID. Not nationally, at least. I’ll leave you with this.