On May 18, 2021, Gov. Greg Abbott lifted mask mandates across Texas, prohibiting government entities from enforcing the usage of masks. People across Texas took to social media to share their discomfort at the announcement — a notice that comes after 14 months of hard adjustments, distance from loved ones and insurmountable grief.
Throughout the past year of the ongoing pandemic, masks have become a necessity when leaving the house; they are a staple in our wardrobes, shielding our faces and protecting us from the airborne droplets that easily spread COVID-19. Though many people, at first, opposed the simple cloth and/or surgical masks, they soon became the number one tool for defense across the world — and they worked.
Abbott’s decision comes at an incredibly vulnerable and critical time. With roughly 43% of the population inoculated with at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, Texas is headed along the right path to reopening. But now, when Texas COVID-19 cases are just beginning to die down, is not the time to stop wearing masks.
Despite both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) updated guidelines suggesting fully vaccinated people (people who have gone two weeks since their second COVID-19 vaccination dose) can stop wearing masks and the numerous indicators pointing to the lack of transmission from fully vaccinated people to others, masks should continue to be a staple in our lives until Texas — and the world — fully defeats the groundbreaking virus.
Abbott's decision to prohibit government entities, such as public schools, including our beloved campus itself, to enforce masks is a dangerous move that could potentially lead to a rise in cases. When Abbott reopened Texas in March of 2021, only one year after the declaration of a national disaster due to the virus, cases suddenly sprung up again and countless people were hospitalized. Some survivors of the virus even reported cases of Long COVID, a condition where survivors continue to experience symptoms after recovering from the initial stages of the virus.
The wearing of masks hasn’t just protected those around us from COVID-19, they also have allowed for flu cases to drop to an all-time low. In other countries around the world, such as South Korea and Japan, masks had been adopted long before the ongoing pandemic as a sign of courtesy, shielding the wearer from spreading malaise in public. Masks have proven to combat common colds, the flu and COVID-19 itself. Texas, along with the rest of the U.S., would largely benefit from continuing this trend.
Although masks are not the only tool utilized in preventing the spread of COVID-19, they are by far the most accessible compared to vaccination or self-isolation at home.
Harmony Stone, a microbiology senior, says while Texas State is not at fault for lifting its mask requirements, the university did not do a stellar job in enforcing masks in the first place. Stone believes not much will change regarding mask-wearing on campus.
“I don’t think Texas State did a very good job when they did require [masks] anyway, and enforcing those rules,” Stone says. “I don't think too much is going to actually change as far as people wearing [masks] except [that] they're gonna be wearing it less in the classroom.”
Contrary to Stone's expectations, masks should continue to be enforced as the state, and the rest of the world, continues getting vaccinated. Children younger than 12 are not yet eligible for the vaccine, but are capable of carrying and suffering the consequences of the virus; meaning that as they return to in-person classes come fall, the likelihood of outbreaks in classrooms may skyrocket once more.
Stone also states there is a social taboo regarding masks that will linger as we ease out of the pandemic. In Texas — and across the U.S. — mask-wearing has become a controversy: the people who put on their masks, and who continue to wear them today, were donned with the nickname "Sheeple" by those who refused to have their masks on.
"They're going to have to understand that some people are going to look at them differently, even if they're following, you know, safe procedures and the CDC says they can do this or that," Stone says. "So, if for no other reason, let's not be socially ostracized, like, I prefer people to keep wearing them, but, you know, I can't control what other people choose to do."
It is because of these health and safety guidelines, combined with the enforcement of masks, that Texas State has not seen any significant outbreaks on campus. Thanks to these measures, case rates have steadily declined, and it is because of these victories that masks should continue to be enforced until Texas, along with the rest of the country, reaches herd immunity.
Texas is heading in the right direction in combatting this pandemic, but there is still the home stretch ahead — and safety needs to remain the first priority.
- Valeria Torrealba is a public relations senior
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