On Tuesday, March 2nd, Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced that he would end the statewide mask mandate and would allow all businesses to operate completely and at 100% capacity.
The decision of the Texas government to jump from one crisis (the deep freeze that led to the death of dozens of Texans and the institutional failure of the power companies and government) to another (a free-for-all COVID extravaganza when only 11.6 percent of Texans have had one dose of the vaccine and 1.5 million fully have been vaccinated) is confounding.
The news was not just about adults going to the grocery store or bars or restaurants, however. It has major effects on how schools in Texas will operate going forward — and also could lead to a national rise in COVID-19 cases just as cases have begun to level off and vaccination rates climb. Here’s what parents in Texas (and across the country) need to know.
What Does End of The Mask Mandate Mean For Schools?
Update: As of the late afternoon on Wednesday, March 3rd, the TEA (Texas Education Agency) has announced that masks are still required in public schools unless school boards make them optional, according to reporting from The Texas Tribune. This could mean that some school districts do-away with masks while others keep them.
Abbott said in a radio show that school districts and school boards can make their own choices when it comes to wearing masks, etc. The TEA’s recent announcement basically affirms that decision by saying that as a default, masks will be required unless school boards of certain districts decide to make mask-wearing optional.
This is despite the fact that literally all federal guidance from the CDC, public health experts, and more say that mask-wearing in schools is a full-on requirement for staying open without driving up cases or leading to death and illness.
As such, the extent to which students are required to wear masks will depend on what school districts they attend school in. Some school boards will unanimously decide to keep mask guidances, and others will not, and others will have big fights ahead of them.
According to The Dallas Morning News, nearly 70,000 staff members in public schools around the state have had COVID-19 and about 120,000 students have since last August in data that was updated at the end of February. If the mask-mandate is done away with at certain schools or in certain districts due to people playing politics rather than listening to the most accurate and data-driven health guidance, that number could skyrocket.
Unfortunately, the TEA has decided to punt this decision on the backs of school boards across this state.
“Every student, teacher, or staff member shall wear a mask over the nose and mouth when inside a school building, school facility, facility used for school activities, or when in an outdoor space on school property or used for school activities, wherever it is not feasible to maintain six feet of social distancing from another person not in the same household,” the statement reads, except for if school boards want to get ride of the guidance altogether.
What Does It Mean For The Rest of the Country?
Well, namely, Texas does not live in a vacuum. The decisions that Governor Abbott makes about mask-wearing, social-distancing and limiting capacity in private businesses could cause such a rise in cases that will reverberate around the country just as some have begun to see the light at the end of the tunnel re: COVID-19. After all, borders are porous.
Travel to and from Texas is not regulated — cases will spread not just within the state but across the country just like they did at the beginning of the pandemic with other places like New York City.
Students and teachers could get more sick, depending on if school boards decide to do away with masks in their own schools and how their students and families act outside of school. After all, schools can only reopen safely insofar as community members follow public health guidelines and engage in COVID-19 mitigation strategies (so the CDC, and public health experts, say.)
With those guidelines being thrown out of the window, it’s hard to look ahead and not see a trainwreck that will hurt many, many people, especially people who work in hospitality, who will have to contend with customers who don’t want to wear masks and won’t have the backing of state mandates to protect them while enforcing those rules. People will get sick. This is not a “what-if.”
And, of course, it feels avoidable. The vaccine is here. Herd immunity is on the horizon. While mask-wearing may be a reality for a while, some aspects of life could change by 2022. The decision to jump the gun, so to speak, will be a disaster.
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