First things first: Mississippi exists. And so does Paris.
Mississippi was crushed by Hurricane Katrina, but nearly all of the attention went to Louisiana (particularly New Orleans). The Clarion Ledger reported they were hit by widespread power outages lasting for days during the recent cold snap. They rushed to end their mask mandate before Texas, and few people noticed. I felt a little recognition is due.
Similarly, stupid decisions – and, as I’ll get to, Abbott made some decisions yesterday that were blatantly idiotic – are not restricted to the United States. Paris’ Mayor, for example, is currently furious about announced weekend lockdowns in her city, decrying the notion as “inhumane“. The French edition of The Local explains that she thinks people need to be able to get out and do things on the weekend, despite the lockdown being targeted exclusively to COVID-19 transmission hot spots, Paris being a high transmission point, difficulties getting French citizens to accept vaccination, and a mask mandate which is being haphazardly enforced.
“….(A)nd a mask mandate which is being haphazardly enforced” brings us around tidily to Governor Abbott of Texas.
Texas put a statewide mask mandate into place on July 2, 2020. This happened only after a delay of months; Texas was the fifth state to announce it would be putting one into place, with Governor Abbott at the forefront of those taking action to stem the spread of COVID-19 in the middle of March. Unlike other states, the announcement wasn’t quickly followed with the restriction; instead, Abbott listened to the attacks from the White House for daring to take the disease seriously while the President was trying to downplay it as well as the condemnations from neo-anarchists who improperly define patriotism as being allowed to do whatever they want. Abbott accepted that his role was not that of a leader, and he did what he was told. After announcing the intent for a mandate, two and a half months passed – and, most importantly, President Trump finally acknowledged the obvious as thousands of Americans died daily – before Abbott put the mandate into effect.
But “into effect” sounds more useful than it truly was. As a transplant to Texas, I have had the opportunity to travel within the state. During the time of the mask mandate, I haven’t been willing to do more than a day trip out for a few hours, returning home afterward. But a drive of a few hours in one direction provides a fairly large footprint, one the size of many smaller states. While living in Plano, I have been to Dallas, Arlington, Fort Worth, Denton, Waco, Bryan and many smaller surrounding towns and cities.
Plano has been excellent about obeying the mask mandate. Everyone wears them inside, and most people wear them outside… more than 90% if they’re standing outside in a line, down to about 50% if they’re exercising or walking through a parking lot. Watching someone don a mask ten feet before entering a store has become a common occurrence.
Dallas has been very good about masks. Denton, the same. Arlington and Fort Worth have been less consistent, but are still positive… I’d say about a 90% compliance indoors, down to about 75% outside in a line and 50% while exercising or walking around.
Then there’s Bryan, where it was about 75% indoors on our one trip out there; and Waco, where it was maybe 25%. Maybe 10% of customers were masked when we stopped for gas between Bryan and home, with a similar experience at a stop on the return from Waco.
Simply put, the mandate hasn’t mattered because many local law officers and business owners haven’t been enforcing it. Ending the mandate isn’t going to matter when people aren’t listening to it.
That suggests the doomsaying about ending the mask mandate is greatly overblown. I firmly believe it is, that it’s being used to score political points. But is it completely inaccurate? No.
Let’s be clear: many people are going to die because of Abbott’s pander to the Trumpists (and, because I do think Mississippi deserves acknowledgement, Reeves’ similarly idiotic decision.) While the mandate has done little to restrict people, there are nevertheless many who firmly and irrationally believe that they are firm defenders of law and order even as they promote and excuse an attempted coup. This subgroup will be walking around outside and standing in lines while proudly telling everyone about how happy they are not to have to wear a mask anymore. There will be e-mail and phone campaigns organized by the anarchists (heavily influenced by pseudo-conservative talk radio pundits) to pressure stores into relaxing their mask requirements in the cities. Club and bar owners, after suffering for more than a year and often in danger of losing their businesses, will be opening fully and will be competing to get as many people in the door… and because the people who are most likely to take stupid risks right now are those who campaign against masks, that is going to mean many of those bars will be breeding grounds for infection.
It gets worse. The greatest impetus for mask wearing, in my experience and from watching the mechanics at play in different areas, seems to be peer pressure. As enough people start wearing masks, others decide to do so. The trend has been steadily increasing as people get used to seeing others wearing them. Anything done to reverse that trend is dangerous and can lead to places which have been generally compliant relinquishing that trait.
Simply put, cases are going to rise. And while the majority of those who are going to be infected will be those who are demanding all safety measure be removed, there will be transmission to those who are trying to maintain safe measures. One family member heading to a bar will infect others, and an infected child will transmit it to other children at their school. The caseload will grow, and deaths will follow.
The actual case numbers – both in terms of daily infections and daily deaths – are currently higher than when Abbott enacted the mandate, and far higher than when he initially sounded the alarm and declared one necessary. This, again, screams that the decision is purely political, with Abbott continuing to hand his authority to the most aggrieved malcontents in his party.
Make no mistake: all states are going to have to “open up” at some point. The time to do so will be a matter of contention: should it be when new statewide cases drop to 100? 10? 0? After 20% of the population is vaccinated? 50%? 90%? But doing so prematurely, particularly after being directly warned against it, exposes a governor who is reckless and dismissive of the inherent dignity of human life.