Last Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that cities, counties and schools no longer can require face masks to be worn, starting June 4.
Locally, that is well past the end of the regular school year, so there is not much impact.
Masks currently are being worn in the Abilene ISD, and will be through the end of the school year, but not in the Wylie ISD.
“That doesn’t impact us a bit,” WISD Superintendent Joey Light said.
That prompted Light’s further comment on the need for more local control “in everything.” Local control has become a mantra throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in more rural Texas. It’s an issue that has been simmering for years.
In 2020, it boiled over, at times.
In a pandemic, though, it added to the divisiveness already gripping our country.
The size of Texas, many have argued, suggests one decision doesn’t adequately fit all. That certainly is a valid point of view.
Wearing face masks provided a great example, one that stirred debate since the pandemic started. The line separating shutting down or staying open shifted, and the debate became passionate.
Recommendations have changed rapidly. Remember early word from the medical side, advising not to wear a mask? That was due both to creating a shortage that would affect medical personnel needing them and there was question if that would stop the spread.
“They are not effective in preventing the general public from catching #coronavirus,” Surgeon General Jerome Adams tweeted.
Then that shifted dramatically. Doctors championed wearing a face covering, and “Mask Required” signs were posted everywhere, though enforcement never was possible and some ignored the request altogether.
The CDC recently said people who are fully vaccinated don’t have to wear masks indoors or outdoors. But, some argue, how do we know who is vaccinated and who isn’t?
The Texas State Teachers Association, in response, called Abbott’s announcement premature. The organization preferred a decision regarding face masks be made for the 2021-22 school year, not now.
But in West Texas, few face masks have been seen for a while on many district campuses. This changes nothing.
The Paramount Theatre, which perhaps has had the most stringent and longest lasting safety protocols in the city since reopening, no longer requires face coverings. It no longer will alternate seating by rows. However, an area of the auditorium will offer alternating rows for those who still want to socially distance.
That sounds fair enough and considerate to all.
According to Abbott, face masks still must be worn at the state’s living centers, such as Abilene State Supported Living Center, government-owned or -operated hospitals, jails and state-run correctional facilities.
Meals on Wheels has continued to ask volunteer drivers to mask up to protect clients.
Perhaps more telling in Abbott’s announcement was that fewer than 50% of Texans have been vaccinated, according to the Texas Tribune. In Taylor County, the fully vaccinated number is about 33%, but much higher for older residents (66.6% fully vaccinated for those 65 and older).
Interest in getting vaccinated is tapering here, according to local health district. Officials are disappointed.
Time will tell if the decisions made during a time of great unknown were the right ones. That will be true at national and state levels, as well as the local level.
A local doctor, sizing up the situation, last week offered two pieces of advice:
1. Do not abandon the increased health safety measures that were emphasized during the pandemic. Keep washing or sanitizing your hands, for example. Remember that older residents and those with health issues are more susceptible to illness that can be spread by contact.
2. As for masks, don’t throw those in the trash or, as we also have seen, on the street like cigarette butts. Save them. COVID-19 likely won’t be the last pandemic. And even during a severe flu season, mask wearing could mitigate illness spread at the office or in the classroom.
Even with differing viewpoints and politics entering into decisions — Abbott is up for re-election in 2020 and has endured statewide health and energy crises this past year — we are in this together.
Abilene Reporter News