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Gov. Abbott failed Texas, first with blackouts, now with COVID-19



TX – On the day after we learned that Houston was the first city in the U.S. to record all major COVID-19 strains, Governor Greg Abbott declared, “It is now time to reopen Texas 100%.”

This comes just over a week after the catastrophic failure of Texas’ power grid that was years in the making and left dozens of Texans dead and millions in the cold dark without water. During the debacle, Texans at risk of freezing to death were forced into crowded warming centers across the state, risking exposure to COVID-19 and likely increasing community spread.

As public health nurses working to educate our future nursing workforce and vaccinate Texans every day in our community, we have witnessed the enormous toll that the pandemic, and now the winter storm, have taken on health care professionals and other front-line workers. They have been forced to work in unsafe conditions, sometimes without proper PPE, and during the freeze, some even had to remove feces from toilets without running water.

And, despite news that the U.S. would have enough vaccines for every adult who wants one in just three months, Abbott once again gambles with our health by rescinding his single most effective pandemic policy: a statewide mask protocol.

While experts have sounded the alarm about more contagious and potentially vaccine-resistant strains, our governor decided to put hardworking Texans at risk in order to gain political favor. We were not altogether surprised that he turned his back on the science that tells us we are not ready to go maskless. We are, however, frustrated with the decision, as it goes against bipartisan public support for masks and sends a confusing message to Texans that masks are no longer needed.

The science on mask-wearing is settled: wearing masks protects you and your neighbors, and masks work best when everyone is wearing them. Texas lags behind other states in its vaccination rates and, based on the number of Texans who said in a Carnegie Mellon study they will not get the vaccine, the state is in danger of never reaching herd immunity. Therefore, masks are indispensable in our fight to end the pandemic.

Despite the enormous toll that the pandemic has taken, had we cared to look, the experiences of the past year could have taught us valuable lessons. Chief among these is that we are all connected, and the task of public health is to protect the common good. This requires thinking of consequences of our actions beyond our own individual spheres. Yet Abbott has abdicated his responsibility to use the power of public policy to protect our interconnected interests. Instead, and similar to the decision to let the Texas grid regulate itself, he has shifted the responsibility of protecting the collective good from the state to individuals.

Individuals play a crucial role in stopping the spread of COVID-19, of course. We saw the power of individual goodwill during the energy crisis last month as concerned residents across the state sprang into action to rescue stranded neighbors and deliver food and water. However, just as these valiant individual efforts could not save all lives or prevent the resulting economic devastation, relying solely on personal responsibility to end the pandemic will cause needless death and wreak havoc on our economy.

More than dictating personal behavior, state protocols reinforce the importance of the common good and provide political cover for individuals and businesses who want to do the right thing but are faced with backlash from others.

Weeks and months from now, we will look back on what could have been done to prevent yet another foreseeable catastrophe. We, as nurse educators, will again encourage our students and colleagues working in critical care to “hang in there” despite the constant insults to their sacrifice.

We implore Abbott to rethink this reckless repeal of proven public health strategies.

In the meantime, on behalf of our exhausted colleagues and those who have unnecessarily lost their lives, we urge our fellow Texans to remain diligent. Continue to double mask, wash your hands, avoid crowds, get your vaccine as soon as you can, and vote for leaders who will protect and honor the wonderful people of this state.