Since the beginning of the pandemic, Abbott’s statewide responses have shuttled between restrictions instituted too late, and measures relaxed prematurely. While the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finally recommended on April 3 that Americans wear masks, it was another three months before Abbott issued a statewide mask mandate.
On May 22, Abbott allowed bars in Texas to reopen at 25% capacity, and on June 3 he increased capacity to 50%. But only three weeks later, as Covid-19 cases surged, he again ordered his state’s bars to close. He said at the time, “If I could go back and redo anything, it probably would have been to slow down the opening of bars.”
In October, Abbott again relaxed restrictions on Texas bars, saying “It is time to open them up.” He added, “If we continue to contain Covid, then these openings, just like other businesses, should be able to expand in the near future.” Once again Texas saw a massive surge in cases. On January 5, Texas posted a single day record of 31,007 new cases. By mid-January, half of the state’s ICUs were full.
More than a year into this pandemic, we know which public health mitigations work. This week, the CDC published a report of the effect of mask mandates and indoor restaurant dining. The researchers found that mandating masks was associated with a decrease in daily Covid-19 case and death growth rates within 20 days of implementation. In-restaurant dining was associated with an increase in daily Covid-19 case and death rates.
The coronavirus is a relentless and opportunistic pathogen that flourishes when we let our guard down. It will not simply go away when we get tired of it. We ignore that fact at our great peril. When Abbott instituted a mask mandate in July, he said, “Wearing a face covering in public is proven to be one of the most effective ways we have to slow the spread of Covid-19.”
He was right then, and he is wrong now.