The Pandemic Isn't Over Yet

Everyone’s tired of COVID-19. We’ve been riding it out for a full year at this point, watching the infection numbers and death toll continuously rise as we wondered when this all might end. Fortunately we’ve seemed to reach some kind of inflection point—though frustratingly slow, vaccination rollout is well underway, and the CDC just approved a third vaccine from Johnson & Johnson. And with warmer temperatures around the corner, even the most COVID-cautious among us are imagining a spring and summer of semi-regular outdoor activity.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott doesn’t want to wait that long, though.

Per Abbott’s statement, all businesses in Texas will be able to open at full capacity in a week. His executive order is also eliminating the state’s mask mandate in an effort to “rescind most of [his] earlier executive orders.” For Abbott, this is a triumph—just a couple weeks ago he was caught flatfooted amidst Texas’ deep freeze, appearing on Fox News to erroneously blame the Green New Deal for his state’s massive energy crisis. Now he’s doing what roughly every conservative politician and pundit has said should be done since the beginning of the pandemic, public health and safety be damned.

Abbott’s announcement is really just compounding his stupidity, though. His new executive order comes just one day after a study found that Houston, the largest city in Texas, is the first U.S. city to record every type of major COVID-19 variant from around the world. Abbott claimed that 5.7 million vaccines have been given in Texas, but KHOU 11 News reports that as of Tuesday just 1.9 million people are fully vaccinated—less than seven percent of the state’s population. Businesses will still have the option to turn away customers who refuse to wear masks. Even still, one could easily argue this is the absolute worst time to lift the mask mandate and other COVID-19 restrictions. Waiting at least a few weeks would surely allow for more millions more vaccinations, especially with the CDC approving a third for public use. With new variants floating around one of the state’s largest population hubs and such a small percentage of the state’s population immunized, Texas could be ripe for an uptick in infection rates.

Public endangerment doesn’t matter to most governors, though. Their states need to get back to work, they say, lest they waste the idle human capital stock. Not to be outdone by Abbott, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves announced he’d be rescinding his state’s mask mandate as well. The restrictions are just being lifted in red states, either—Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker said Monday that his state would reopen in-person dining to full capacity effective next week. Baker’s announcement was at least couched in the language of a phased rollout with tempered percentages, but it does little to quell the fear that he and other state lawmakers are breaking into their end zone dance at the 20-yard line.

Incompetent government leadership was one of the primary reasons for massive failures during the early months of the pandemic. Elected officials were more concerned with winning public relations battles than actually offering guidance to help keep people safe (here’s to you, Andrew Cuomo). Thousands of deaths could’ve been prevented with swifter mask mandates and lockdown orders. Instead, many threw hissy fits over their personal freedom to order two for $20 appetizers at Applebee’s and were encouraged by the Trump administration while doing so. Now, with an administration actually interested in doing something about the pandemic, state governors who full-throatedly endorsed reopening then are actually reopening now. Pandemic time is a flat circle, but still.

There are plenty of reasons to feel optimistic about COVID-19, but the virus is far from gone—ask any healthcare worker who’s been fighting it for months or any scientist who’s been studying it. New variants are still being discovered and understood. We’ve seen infection rates spike time and again in places where people don’t wear masks or observe simple distancing guidelines. Doing so when the light at the end of the tunnel is in plain view feels more than a little like tempting fate.