It is the battle that won’t end. To mask or not to mask, that is the question. Most of us have made up our minds about if we will or will not wear a mask in public. Leave it to the politicians to beat a dead horse.
The arguments on how or how not to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus have gone by the wayside in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. After the mass protests in the streets since his death, it is impossible to not notice the hypocrisy in how the issue of facial masks is discussed. Public officials across the country were quick to voice support for protesters and many didn’t even bother to condemn the violence and property destruction that resulted during many protests. So, you can’t blame those who do not choose to wear a mask in public after protesters march side by side in large groups and many are not wearing a mask but are given a free pass. This is especially true for those who live in places that are not experiencing a public health crisis due to the coronavirus. Should a person out and about in Montana be as diligent about wearing a face mask as a person on a New York City subway? I think common sense tells us that the answer to that question is no.
Governor Abbott is serious about re-opening Texas. Many businesses are in Phase Three of the state’s re-opening plan. As the state continues to ease restrictions of occupancy in business establishments like dine-in restaurants and bars, Texas is seeing an increase of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. The increase in hospitalizations has the big city mayors sounding the alarm – they want to mandate facial masks and have the power to fine people if they don’t wear them. Currently, the governor’s executive orders have essentially made mitigation mandates put into place by city and county officials toothless. No fines or jail time is allowed to enforce the local mandates.
The first case of COVID-19 in Texas was recorded on March 12. Since then there have been 93,206 confirmed coronavirus cases and 2,020 deaths in Texas, as of this morning. The population of Texas is 29 million, so, while all deaths from the coronavirus are tragic, I’d say Texans have done a pretty darn good job of mitigating the coronavirus outbreak.
Tuesday the governor addressed concerns about a rise in cases and hospitalizations over the last few days. Municipal leaders are calling for stricter safety requirements. He said that Texans can continue to work together to keep each other safe.
“As we begin to open up Texas and Texans return to their jobs, we remain laser-focused on maintaining abundant hospital capacity,” said Abbott, a Republican. “The best way to contain the spread of this virus is by all Texans working together and following simple safety precautions.”
On Tuesday, the Department of State Health Services reported just over 2,500 COVID-19 patients in Texas hospitals, the highest single-day total since the pandemic began and nearly 67 percent more than on Memorial Day in late May. State and local leaders have pointed to the holiday weekend as one likely cause for the increase.
The increase in hospitalizations is important to keep an eye on but so far the availability of beds has kept pace with needs. There is a concern that new patients are younger and healthier than initial groups of patients. Is this a result of mass gatherings at protests? If so, doctors and nurses may want to look in the mirror and reflect on their public support and participation in those protests, all in the name of social justice activism.
Statewide, there are still thousands of hospital beds and ventilators available. But in some of the largest cities, including San Antonio, Houston and Dallas, the surge is pushing new limits. In Harris County, some hospitals said late last week that their intensive care units were near or above capacity.
Bill McKeon, CEO of the Texas Medical Center, said the group’s number of COVID-19 patients has nearly doubled from its previous peak in late April. Many of the patients admitted now are younger and generally healthier, but are still susceptible to serious illness or death from the disease.
Tuesday the mayors of the nine largest cities in Texas wrote a letter to Governor Abbott asking for more power to enforce local mandates. Have you noticed the strong streak of authoritarianism that has emerged in local officials during the pandemic? Even in Texas, it has proven so. Of course, most of the large cities are governed by Democrats. They are bucking the governor’s executive orders that leave enforcement of their local efforts toothless. Specifically, they request “authority to set rules and regulations” when it comes to face masks in public.
The letter is signed by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, Austin Mayor Steve Adler, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, El Paso Mayor Dee Margo, Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams, Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere and Grand Prairie Mayor Ron Jensen.
The letter asks Abbott to consider allowing each city’s local officials to decide whether to require the use of face coverings in order to prevent the spread of the virus.
“We think you would agree that a healthy economy starts with healthy people,” the letter states. “If you do not have plans to mandate face coverings statewide, we ask that you restore the ability for local authorities to enforce the wearing of face coverings in public venues where physical distancing cannot be practiced.”
The governor continues to ask Texans to wear masks and social distance, as well as avoid large gatherings. He made it clear that he is not inclined to allow local officials to be empowered to jail those not abiding by instructions. There are other ways for them to handle mitigation.
“I make clear on a daily basis around the entire state of Texas that wearing a mask is very important, and local officials send that message,” he said. “Putting people in jail, however, is the wrong approach for this thing.”
He said local officials wanting to slow the spread of the virus have other tools at their disposal. For example, while they can’t impose fines related to masks, they can fine businesses or individuals for violating rules on gatherings, he said.
The governor is right. People have to make their own decisions and face the consequences. Police departments across the state have publicly stated that they have no intention of enforcing mandates for facial masks. They have enough on their plates without having to stop and arrest or fine people for a failure to wear a mask in public.