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Katherine McCabe / Gavel Media

Ending Mask Mandates Puts Vulnerable Communities at Unnecessary Risk

“State mandates are no longer needed,” said Texas Governor Greg Abbott on March 2 in a statement lifting the mask mandate and all COVID-related restrictions. Masks are no longer needed? Did I read that right? Are Texas politicians really continuing to ignore science and insist everything is fine, as Texas surpasses 45,000 deaths and a reported 2.4 million cases since the pandemic began? Yeah, I’m sure that can’t be right.

But sadly, it is. On March 10, the mask mandate was lifted in Texas and the state fully reopened. As a proud Texan, my first instinct was to thank God my mom is one of the few Texans vaccinated. My next thought was instantly to pray for the safety of every one of my fellow Texans. Having spent much of 2020 in Texas, I’m not exaggerating when I say it looked like some people didn’t even seem to know we are in a pandemic. Every time I left the house, I was overwhelmed by fear. With such lax restrictions in place, I had to accept the high risk of going anywhere and everywhere. Simply put, Republican legislators are failing at protecting their constituents. 

Black and brown communities have already faced the worst of COVID-19 impacts, and lifting restrictions will only exacerbate these disparities. Already rocked by the winter storm Ted Cruz used to justify a quick tropical getaway, people are suffering and struggling to survive. Abbott lifting restrictions is a direct attack on the safety and well-being of working-class and minority Texans. Can the Texas politicians who resemble GOP puppets more than they do elected officials even pretend to care about working-class Texans?

Essential workers are another group destined to bear the dangerous consequences of reopening Texas. Abbott’s order leaves already poorly-protected essential workers even more vulnerable, specifically those still not eligible for the vaccine such as retail and restaurant employees. As someone who has worked as an essential worker in Texas during COVID-19, this feels like a slap in the face. Our services are important enough to be deemed essential, but not important enough to protect the people serving you. 

The science speaks for itself, and Texas is not ready to be open. Abbott boasted a successful vaccination rollout as an adequate reason to lift restrictions, but Texas is currently ranked 46th in vaccination rates among U.S. states. Masks are proven to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and public health experts have warned against lifting restrictions, concerned about the potential increase in cases. And yet, Texas politicians have proceeded towards reopening.

Unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated occurrence. Maryland, Mississippi, Connecticut, Arizona, West Virginia, and Wyoming have followed suit in lifting restrictions. Intentions to lift mask mandates are rapidly spreading amongst Republicans. Easing restrictions before it is safe makes a clear statement: appealing to certain political constituencies is more important than human life. People are dying as a consequence of lifting these safety protocols. The lacking empathy and value for human life that these Republicans hold is evident. 

With a new administration in the White House, it is easy to let out a sigh of relief, hoping for better days and representation. Despite the temporary comfort Biden’s time in office has brought, now is not the time to let up on Trump’s minions. We must continue to hold politicians accountable. I refuse to live in a world where people like Ted Cruz can escape responsibility from the pain, suffering, and oftentimes embarrassment that they have caused. Even with Trump out of office and banned from Twitter, our country is at a crossroads. Prioritizing self-interests over democratic duty did not end with Trump, and the wave of easing restrictions is emblematic of a greater breach of conduct within the Republican Party. 

The consistent disappointing response to COVID-19 in Republican states is representative of the party-over-duty sentiment amongst politicians. Over the course of the past year, Republicans have hindered legislation aimed to provide aid for those suffering because of the pandemic. They are quick to call stimulus checks "free handouts," but drag their feet when it comes to corporate tax breaks. The easing of restrictions just contributes to a long pattern of personal interest, whether that be economic, reelection, or any other motivation, getting in the way of truly helping people. 

Holding public office means advocating for the well-being of your constituents, and Texas legislators have failed to do so. As we pass one year since lockdown started, I can’t help but remember and honor the sacrifices made and lives lost due to COVID. It truly saddens my heart to watch more unnecessary suffering and death unfold due to unempathetic politicians. With a slipping approval rating, Abbott is out of touch with the needs of his voter base, or maybe just willfully ignorant. Nevertheless, Texas deserves better. 

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Environmental Studies and Political Science major. Texas girl that loves listening to Taylor Swift on long walks.