No Mas(ks)

Governor Greg Abbott of Texas, photo by World Travel & Tourism Council

I wrote in the comment section yesterday, and while I did not expect to revisit my statement, developments suggest I do so. For those of you who haven’t seen the original remark, I’ll repost it here:

Governor Abbott opened up Texas today, partially. He did so in a way that was better than some, but which I still find far too permissive. Specifically, most retail stores, theaters and restaurants will be able to open again, but only with 25% of their normal capacity.

This sounds like it’s a reasonable idea. It’s not.

First, let’s address the theaters: 1/4 capacity means that people will still be seated closer than six feet from each other. Assuming that there are three seats between individuals in a row, there will still be people closer than three seats away in the aisles before or after them. This is all independent of the preliminary indications – yet to be conclusively proven OR DISPROVEN – that the aerosolized tiny droplets may be able to infect; if that is the case, the simple recirculation of air in an area with multiple people is enough to render an area dangerously infectious, and it grows worse with the duration of time an infected person is in that area.

…Like, say, an hour and a half to two hours.

Restaurants have a much better ability to maintain distancing with 1/4 capacity, and they are more familiar with maintaining sanitary conditions than theaters (as anyone who’s walked on a theater floor can tell you.) That said, they still fall down in two areas which are shared with theaters: cleaning and masks.

In any place where one will be eating, whether it be meals or movie snacks, the requisite masks are not going to be worn, which will dramatically increase the odds of catching the disease from someone infected. More; while staffers are likely to pay attention to sanitization rules, they’re not likely to be as thorough as they should. These are people who have experience at wiping down tables, and they’re going to be as careful as ever… which is generally NOT going to include wiping down the edges and underside of tables or the undersides of seats, or salt and pepper shakers or sugar packets.

Retail has the most leeway. It’ll be easier to maintain quarter-capacity and distancing rules there, and if both purchaser and clerk are wearing gloves and masks they’ve no reason to remove them. But “quarter capacity” really means very little for retail, as it is extremely rare for retail stores to be visited by more than a quarter of their fire marshal-allotted capacity at a given time, outside of the boundaries of large sales. And, of course, the aerosolization question remains paramount.

All of that said, I sympathize with the people who need to go back to work. It’s possible that this limited opening will be enough to allow a semblance of normalcy without causing enough of an upward spike in covid-19 cases to overwhelm Texan medical systems. I certainly hope that’s the case. I’m just not expecting it.


I thought I’d covered all of the salient points of Abbott’s decision. There were some other issues addressed… for example, enforcement is shifting from the state level to the local level, which means that anti-quarantine sentiment among local officials will result in virtually no enforcement of restrictions; and rural areas that don’t have 5 cases (yet) within their borders can move immediately to 50% capacity. But for the most part, I felt that the focus would be on the aforementioned aspects of Abbott’s “opening up” plan.

Then I visited Facebook, and had my limited faith in humanity tested once again.

The part of Abbott’s statement which was garnering the most attention among the pro-Trump members of my “friends” circle dealt with one item I’d thought negligible: he had overridden any local penalties for failing to cover one’s mouth in public during the pandemic.

The same people who had long insisted local leaders know more about their areas than state or federal officials were gleeful at the Governor’s override of local authority. It was a matter of freedom, they said. He was letting Texas be Texas again.

I admit, I’ve only been here for about twenty years. I am a transplant from New Jersey, by way of the Navy. That said, I am very fond of my adoptive home state and I have never found Texans to self-define as “stupid”, “rude” or “reckless with the lives of others”.

To be fair, many people I saw who were celebrating did not explicitly say they were going to stop wearing masks; only some of them did. But the support they garnered makes me suspect they’re far from alone in their intent.

This, for the record, is exactly why mask mandates are needed. It’s not for the people who might accidentally forget while going jogging by themselves, it’s for the people who will walk into a restaurant and speak very loudly in an attempt to demonstrate that they’re too self-confident and strong to wear some cowardly mouth covering. In other words, it’s for the habitually overcompensating who are ignorantly going to get others killed.

Not all of them will do so, but the chances of transmission increase dramatically when even one of the people in a infected / potential recipient pair fails to wear a mask. Once the disease has reached a population which has minimal social distancing, no masks, and other flawed containment policy, the disease will spread quickly. That will be the point when some of the newly infected will start to die.

I believe that Abbott was pushed into this decision… by the declining tax revenue from a badly damaged oil industry, by the increasing cost of unemployment coverage, by pressure from his Lt. Governor and the Trumpist wing of the Texan Republican party (a very large wing, due in no small part to the influence of talk radio in the state) and lastly by a federal administration which was already demanding states open for business as a last-ditch effort to keep Wall Street buoyed enough to allow them to limp to a win in November. I recognize that Abbott had significant pressure… and I also recognize that he utterly failed in the face of such pressure.

I have every reason to expect a dramatic increase in both covid-19 cases and associated deaths in Texas. If and when that happens, Abbott will bear much of the blame… and not just from those of us who saw this coming. From every person who has a loved one, whether friend or relative, die or receive permanent injury from the virus, Abbott will get the blame. This is particularly true among the group which is cheering the loss of mask restrictions. Abbott is counting on them for re-election, but I expect he will learn that among that group, nothing is ever their fault and the same people who are declaring him their savior will be refusing to vote for him in November.

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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.