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A Doctor's Perspective on Governor Abbott Lifting the Mask Mandate

I'm tired. Just like everyone else, I wish the pandemic was not happening. I wish I could do all the things I used to love- going out to restaurants, taking my son on playdates, having friends over for dinner. We have all sacrificed a lot over the past year, especially those who personally suffered from COVID-19 and its long term effects, or lost a loved one to the disease.

After I received my vaccine, I finally started to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I felt more comfortable going out to run errands (still masked and social distancing), because I felt that these multiple layers of imperfect protection working together would be enough to not only keep me safe, but prevent me from potentially spreading an infection to someone more vulnerable- my infant daughter, my elderly patients, my loved ones with chronic diseases. I was so excited to see more and more of my vulnerable patients receive the vaccine (although many are still waiting). It seemed like the bickering about wearing a mask in public had finally died down enough that I could feel confident that if I went somewhere, mostly everyone I encountered would be wearing a mask. I felt relieved that soon, once enough people were vaccinated and we had herd immunity, we could start relaxing these restrictions and eventually go back to normal again.

Unfortunately, Governor Abbott decided to remove all the mandates before we reached that point, against recommendations of public health experts, putting us in a position to backslide to where we were before. I learned about this the same day that I learned Houston is the first major city in the US to have identified all of the major novel coronavirus variants. Some of these variants may even go on to affect vaccine efficacy, we still don't know.

I understand that businesses are struggling. My own business suffered substantially from the pandemic last year- my clinic had been open less than 3 months when I had to take a 3 month pause on progress and work virtually from home while caring for my 2 year old son until I could find safe and reliable childcare and enough protective equipment to keep me safe enough to work while pregnant. I think that removing capacity mandates on businesses while keeping the mask mandates would have been a more appropriate way to gradually relax restrictions. It also would have allowed people like me to feel more comfortable patronizing these businesses despite increased capacity if I knew that the other patrons would be masked.

Governor Abbott said in his statement "Today's announcement does not abandon safe practices that Texans have mastered over the past year. Instead, it is a reminder that each person has a role to play in their own personal safety and the safety of others. With this executive order, we are ensuring that all businesses and families in Texas have the freedom to determine their own destiny." His new executive order states "individuals are strongly encouraged to wear face coverings over the nose and mouth...but no person may be required by any jurisdiction to wear or to mandate the wearing of a face covering." I wish that mask mandates from the government were not necessary to ensure that everyone would keep the safety of others in mind, but I am sure we all know at least one person who is adamantly against wearing a mask. There has been so much misinformation and politicization of mask-wearing that even with the mandates, I usually will see one or two people without a mask on the rare occasion that I venture out to a grocery store on an errand. I am concerned that without this mandate, the number of unmasked people will increase substantially, and we will lose significant control of viral spread.

If you are reading this, I hope that you will take to heart that in a pandemic, individuals do not have the "freedom to determine their own destiny." Our choices directly impact the wellbeing of others. Those who wish to avoid excessive exposures can choose not to patronize businesses where masks are not being worn, but many workers in these businesses need to work to support their family. They cannot choose not to work, and despite choosing to wear a mask to protect themselves, they would be much better protected if all of the patrons were wearing a mask as well. Continue to wear a mask to protect those around you until we have wider vaccine distribution and solid evidence that the new variants are not affecting the efficacy of the vaccines. We are too close to waste all of our progress now.

Keep the masks on Texas!

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