Wednesday, March 3, 2021

A Huge Mistake

Just when things were looking up…

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas said on Tuesday that he was ending his statewide mask mandate, effective March 10, and that all businesses in the state could then operate with no capacity limits.

“I just announced Texas is OPEN 100%” he tweeted on Tuesday afternoon. “EVERYTHING.”

Mr. Abbott took the action after federal health officials warned governors not to ease restrictions yet because progress across the country in reducing coronavirus cases appears to have stalled in the last week.

“To be clear, Covid has not, like, suddenly disappeared,” Mr. Abbott said. “Covid still exists in Texas and the United States and across the globe.”

Even so, he said, “state mandates are no longer needed” because advanced treatments are now available for people with Covid-19, the state is able to test large numbers of people for the virus each day and 5.7 million vaccine shots have already been given to Texans.

Speaking to reporters at a Chamber of Commerce event in Lubbock on Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Abbott, a Republican, said that most of the mandates issued during the peak of the pandemic in the state would be lifted; he did not specify which mandates would remain. He said top elected officials in each county could still impose certain restrictions locally if hospitals in their region became dangerously full, but could not jail anyone for violating them.

“People and businesses don’t need the state telling them how to operate,” he said.

Texas is among the worst states in vaccination rates, and especially in the poor and minority communities. But to someone with presidential fever dreams and a desperate need to find something else to talk about other than the way the state totally fucked up the electrical grid with their “FREEDUM!” vulture-culture off-the-grid system that was totally unprepared for a cold snap despite being warned ten years before after the exact same thing happened, he needed something to make his political donors and sycophants happy. That’s the only reason I can think of for doing this. But as a friend of mine who lives in Texas said, “It’s a huge mistake and people are gonna die. But since they’re poor and most likely Democratic voters, he doesn’t care.”

It’s not like they haven’t tried this before to get in the good graces of Trump and the folks who think good public hygiene is an assault on their rights and fee-fees.

The timing of Abbott’s announcement is hard to parse. It’s been known for months that the vaccines will soon be widely available, meaning the frustration at containment measures like business limitations and masks will soon ebb as we achieve herd immunity through effective inoculations.

This is one reason Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Monday that states should be cautious about scaling back containment measures. Another was the spread of more contagious variants, three of which have already been confirmed in Houston, Texas’s largest city.

“At this level of cases with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained,” Walensky said. “These variants are a very real threat to our people and our progress.”

It’s clearly not the case that Texas has achieved sufficient immunity to disregard these concerns. The state has done one of the worst jobs in the country of vaccinating its residents, though that was negatively affected by the recent winter storm. That’s the asterisk to the Biden announcement, of course: Vaccine ability doesn’t mean uniform ability to quickly distribute it.

Abbott is instead appealing to the ability of Texans to take necessary precautions on their own, an optimism that recent history suggests is not warranted. Abbott announced a stay-at-home order in late March, moving quickly to lift it once Donald Trump’s administration began advocating for broad reopenings. By summer, Texas had become an epicenter of new case spikes nationally. Abbott implemented a mask mandate on July 2, when the state was seeing about 6,300 new cases a day. Over the next few weeks, as existing infections became symptomatic, new case totals topped 10,000. By early September, though, they’d fallen again.

In early October, Abbott began scaling back restrictions on restaurants and bars. Nationally, a third wave of cases was just beginning, and Texas ended up seeing more than 23,000 new cases a day and, at the worst moment, more than 336 new deaths each day.

Even with the millions of doses of the vaccines that are coming, a spike in Texas means that instead of getting them to places where they are needed, we’re going to be spending time, money, lives, and shots in a place that could have avoided a new spike in the first place.

I fully expect the idiot governor of Florida to follow the lead.