There’s a cause for concern, but the world isn’t ending quite yet…
Texas has had a horrible start to 2021, rivaling the best of the nightmares that 2020 had to offer. Just last month, Texas Governor Greg Abbot was scrambling to restore power to millions of people in the deep-red state of Texas after a massive series of storms delivered a one-two punch to the entire state.
Texas was hit by an uncanny winter snowstorm, with temperatures now resting uncomfortably below zero, right after it had been slammed with rain the week prior. With subzero temperatures and millions without power, dozens, if not hundreds of people have died at the time of this writing, though it will take some time to get a full count of mortality. The damage to farm crops is being estimated at $600 million.
Residents couldn’t get access to food, medicine, or warmth. Some residents have taken to cutting up their fences to burn for wood in order to keep warm enough to stay alive in the sub-zero temperatures. Water quickly became scarce as the piping infrastructure collapsed in various places and residents in Texas and Mississippi are still without adequate water, with some collecting rainwater to drink and bathe with.
And it’s right on the heels of this that Texas Governor Greg Abbot announced that, considering that things are going reasonably well in the United States with the COVID-19 pandemic, Texas will now be opening up entirely, allowing businesses to operate at full capacity, and eliminating statewide mask mandates. Mississippi followed suit and now both states, who are still reeling in from the disasters that struck, are relaxing their mandates and taking the risk.
Great. I’m sure you can envision the total destruction ahead, as many media outlets have already picked up. But are we being a bit hasty with our condemnation of Texas and our stories of doom and gloom?
Let me be perfectly clear, here. From Texas mayors to the Centers for Disease Control, Texas has rightly been warned that this is a bad idea. And it very well could be a bad idea. When the CDC tells you you’re making a mistake about infectious diseases, you should probably stop and listen to them.
And 3 out of 4 Texas top medical advisors in Texas said they were not notified before the sudden removal of the protections. It seems like a bone-headed idea.
And the most nightmarish thought of all, the last thing we need is the nation having to deal with a newly evolved SARS-CoV-2 strain because Texas’ lack of restrictions allowed for a fertile breeding ground of COVID-19, one that might cause another mutation that can circumvent our best vaccine efforts.
This is the stuff nightmares are made of and Houston is the first U.S. city to record all of the current SARS-CoV-2 strains active in their communities.
But on the other hand, while it’s perfectly natural to have all of these fears, there’s really no telling how things will play out, as we’ve seen in other states.
Massachusetts has been one state with one of the strictest COVID-19 protocols in the country, yet, it still has a very high death rate per capita. Similarly, Arizona has virtually no health and safety protocols and they have a high death rate, as well, but Massachusetts actually has a higher death rate than Arizona.
If you were thinking about inferring that masks don’t work, trust me, I assure you they do work against respiratory viruses and the data seem to back this assertion up. But what if masks aren’t the only thing that protects us? What if there’s a lot more to this than just implementing policies and everything turns out well?
It seems the data back this assertion up also.
Here in Florida, we’ve been “opened back up” since September of 2020, and yet, we’re still 26th in the country at the time of this writing as far as deaths per capita go. Furthermore, our governor, Ron DeSantis, actually signed an executive order banning localities and counties from implementing mask mandates, stripping the power of local governments to manage themselves. In Texas, local governments can still implement COVID-19 mandates.
Back in April of 2020, right as the outbreak had been ramping up for only a few short months, Dylan Scott writing for Vox explained that Florida has a few advantages going for it that could explain why our worst fears hadn’t been realized quite yet at a time when New York and New Jersey were in turmoil.
We have an unusual climate that may or may not have helped us fend off outbreaks at the time. And contrary to what you might expect from Florida, our social distancing measures were taken very seriously, and living here, I can confirm this to be the case with my own two eyes. I can also confirm that mask compliance, even without a mandate, has gone surprisingly well, at least where I live.
And Florida isn’t a densely populated state, and neither is Texas or Mississippi. Our lack of density, the fact that our population doesn’t take a lot of public transportation, as well as other structural differences may have helped us throughout the pandemic.
And even if we look at total overall cases, we can take two states with seemingly opposite restrictions in regard to COVID-19, Florida and California, and see that having restrictions doesn’t automatically equal better outcomes.
California has been locked down throughout the pandemic and Florida has been open since September, yet, California has fared a lot worse throughout the pandemic than Florida has. California was rocked by a new strain, B.1.427/B.1.429, whereas Florida was not. Preliminary data suggests that the B.1.427/B.1.429 strain is markedly deadlier than other strains of SARS-CoV-2, as well.
California also couldn’t stop people from meeting with their families inside the privacy of their own homes, even if they could shut down restaurants.
Conversely, I recently went to the local bar here in Florida a few times to take photos of the expansive emptiness that awaited inside. Nobody was there. Even while being open, most of our establishments are still like a ghost town.
The point I was trying to make with this was that just because we’ve opened up, doesn’t mean people have gone out and gotten back to “normal” life. That might take a long time.
So where does that leave Texas?
Honestly, it appears as if it’s a toss-up. States are just arbitrary lines just like mandates are just guides that are imperfect, albeit very useful. It might go surprisingly well or it might turn out to be another extreme disaster on top of an extreme disaster that just happened. Would I prefer it if Texas had just waited to lift the ordinances that keep their population protected?
Of course, I would. It’s a silly idea to send the wrong message, especially right now when we’re so close to getting the rest of our population in the United States vaccinated. We saw what happened when President Trump did that and we’ve seen how the United States has stacked up poorly compared to the rest of the world.
But in the end, time will tell how this story plays out.
All I know is this. The data suggest strongly that masks work against respiratory viruses (who’d have thought?). Wear a mask. Practice social distancing. Wash your hands. Taking these common-sense steps can help us to ride this thing out and keep deaths as minimal as possible.
While regulations can only go so far, the ultimate defense against this virus is going to remain our responsibility as citizens. It’s on us to combat this thing and take it seriously.