I thought it was a joke when I read the tweet a few days ago from Greg Abbott, the Texas governor, explaining that he has decided to do away with all Covid-19 restrictions - including masks. I thought it was either a joke or some kind of attention-seeking outrageous statement, designed to elicit a reaction from the populace or from the President.
But no. Google tells me that it's all true and that Texas isn't the only state in which it's now possible to live life as though the pandemic had never happened - with shops, businesses, restaurants and beauty salons all open and serving customers in droves. Missisippi, Michigan, and Louisiana are doing it too, whipping the sticking plaster of pandemic restrictions off their citizens with sweeping abandon.
Living as I do in England, where our vaccination program has been far swifter and more successful than America's (about the only thing we've done right so far) but where we're still confined to our houses unless we're taking essential exercise or buying essential items, watching footage of people in these states going about their regular business was like watching film footage of a strange dream world.
I have been to Texas. I've walked along the beach at Galveston in dazzling sun, whale-watched on boat trips from the sparkling blue harbor, pottered around the thrift shops in Houston's old town and marveled at the scale of its city center, its parks and wide streets. I loved my time there. But it is not a quiet backwater. It's a state on a scale I hadn't been able quite to perceive until I visited. It is full of people. Taking away all restrictions entirely will doubtless create a festive, party-like atmosphere in the short term, which will make it even more full of people. And without distancing or masks, those hordes of people will be able to spread the Covid-19 variation of coronavirus between themselves at a terrifying speed.
I can't understand the logic in opening up the state, or any state, so soon. Yes, there have been 78 million vaccine doses administered - the Biden government is hurrying to make sure that life-saving inoculations are happening as fast as possible. But people are still dying of Covid-19. The pandemic hasn't gone away yet. So far, it's infected more than 28 million people and killed 500,000 across the United States, and it's morphing all the time - there are new variants popping up all the time, which may be less resistant to the current virus. It seems like madness to throw all caution to the wind just at the point where science and medicine might be starting to get the problem under control at last.
Biden has made the same point. He does not think that public health measures should end yet, anywhere in the US. "The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking that...everything's fine, take off your mask, forget it," he said this week, as senior health officials warned that the virus program is being thwarted by the speedy spread of more contagious virus variants.
The director of the CDC, Rochelle Walensky, is on the same page. "Now is not the time to release all restrictions. The next month or two is really pivotal," she's said, agreeing with President Biden. She said there's a potential for a fourth wave of cases if the population isn't careful. That there are enough vaccines to make sure everyone is inoculated, but that this task won't be complete until May. Surely that's the earliest date at which restrictions should be fully removed?
It seems like madness to me, watching from afar. We all want our lives back. But surely we should want them back properly, permanently, and not just until the premature easing of rules sends the whole country back into a surge of cases?
The decision's been made, though. I guess we'll just have to watch how it plays out.