On Tuesday, March 2, Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced that he will be lifting his statewide mask mandate and that businesses will be allowed to reopen at 100 percent capacity. This was shortly followed by Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves echoing these same sentiments for his own state. 

Texas is the largest state by population to take these drastic measures since the beginning of the pandemic. This comes at a time when many states, including Texas and Mississippi, have seen considerably declining numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths. According to the New York Times, this past week Texas has seen an average of 7,259 cases per day, which is down 10 percent from the previous average two weeks prior. As for Mississippi, its average this past week has been 582 cases per day which has decreased by 29 percent from its previous average two weeks ago. This, in part, can be attributed to the continuous and successful rollout of the vaccine as Governor Abbott pointed out, “With the medical advancements of vaccines and antibody therapeutic drugs, Texas now has the tools to protect Texans from the virus.”

Of course, the decisions by these governors have, undoubtedly, received lots of backlash and harsh criticism. According to NBC News, some Texas doctors have declared Governor Abbott’s decision to be premature and that it may risk another surge. Even director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, declared, “I know people are tired; they want to get back to life, to normal, but we’re not there yet.” Luckily, with the vaccine, if there were to be any new uptick, it would not be anything like the initial outbreak last March. The country is now well-prepared and equipped with loads of personal protective equipment. Still, many fear the overcrowding of hospitals and the overwhelming of healthcare workers. Some feel as though we are so close to the end of this pandemic so why hastily risk it?

President Biden has also offered his take on the situation. He called Governor Abbott’s decision, “Neanderthal thinking.” While this is an interesting way of putting it, essentially, President Biden feels as though removing the masks is a reckless idea. He and his administration believe that allowing businesses to open at 100 percent capacity and lifting the mask mandate would significantly jeopardize the vaccine rollout and they continue to emphasize the statement “follow the science.” 

While I firmly believe in following the science – wear a mask, wash your hands, socially distance – we are now one year into this pandemic. Other areas of science have shown equally disturbing outcomes as a result of these lockdowns. There has been an increase in mental health issues such as depression, loneliness, and fear as well as financial and economic struggles for many. These cannot go ignored.

While many view Governor Abbott’s decision as risky and irresponsible, others, including myself, view it as just the opposite. The people of Texas can judge accordingly and make their own responsible decisions. He is not saying not to wear a mask, one now just has the choice. As a young college student, this seems like an ideal situation since the younger population is known to be less at risk for serious complications from COVID-19. It seems like the best of both worlds – those who feel more vulnerable can opt to wear a mask while those who are less worried will choose the alternative.

Further explained by Governor Abbott in his remarks I mentioned above, with approximately 5.7 million Texans vaccinated, the state is on a good track and will continue this successful rollout with almost all seniors guaranteed to receive their vaccination by the end of March. According to the same article by NBC News, there is also the perspective of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton who believes that the virus “was going to spread one way or the other” and the focus should now be on “individual responsibility.” Why impede on Americans’ freedoms any longer when we have much more knowledge than we once had almost a year ago? For me, the most important aspect of his lifting the mandates is that businesses and schools can now reopen.

It is also important to point out that the state of Florida has not had a statewide mask mandate. Governor Ron DeSantis and his administration recommend, but do not require, residents to wear a mask. The state has also allowed businesses to operate at full capacity since September 2020. Florida’s COVID-19 numbers have not been much different from states like Texas, New York and California in recent weeks, indicating that maybe the lockdowns, in my opinion, do not make a substantial difference.

As you can see, there are two sides to every argument. Many different perspectives have been vocally offered and this certainly remains a difficult situation to assess. While I do not see this as a political issue, it is instantly viewed that way by many. To me, this is simply a matter of health, safety and the preservation of livelihood for Americans. That includes making sure the rise in mental health issues and increase in the permanent closure of many small businesses, that this pandemic has brought about, are prioritized when making these big decisions. 

Therefore, I would say that the decision by Texas Governor Abbott seems like a good one considering states like Florida and South Dakota have been doing just fine (and maybe because I am a young college student who is tired of being cooped up myself!) What makes Texas and Mississippi any different? After almost one year of living and dealing with this pandemic, I believe that people are smart and well-informed to make personal decisions on what precautions to take to keep themselves and their families safe. Additionally, with the continued success of the vaccine rollout, we are in a much better position than we were just a few short months ago.

The main priority should always be both the health and freedom of all citizens. While it may be hard to find that balance, ultimately one cannot have a successful country without both healthy and happy people. We, as Americans, are still left with many questions to ponder. Do lifted mask mandates and full capacity orders pose a major health risk? Do state-imposed rules cause more harm than good? Are we seeing the light at the end of the tunnel? Or maybe the most important question of all remains: if not now, then when?

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