Gov. Greg Abbott Frees Texas From Tyranny Of Local Control, Masks During Pandemic
In yet another of his blows to public safety, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed an executive order Tuesday banning public schools and most other government entities from requiring masks. Let freedom ring and spread the coronavirus!
The order prevents any government entity from mandating masks. This includes counties, cities, school districts, public health authorities and government officials who might be Democrats. Anyone who doesn't comply with the maskless mandate is subject to fines of up to $1,000. We'd make the obligatory zinger about “local control," but we should all know by now that Republicans are authoritarian hypocrites.
It's not entirely stupid, at least: Public schools can continue requiring masks for another two weeks. State-supported living centers, government-owned or -operated hospitals, criminal and juvenile justice facilities, and county and municipal jails are also exempt from Abbott's MAGA pandering.
"Texans, not government, should decide their best health practices, which is why masks will not be mandated by public school districts or government entities," Abbott said, according to CBS affiliate KHOU. "We can continue to mitigate COVID-19 while defending Texans' liberty to choose whether or not they mask up."
The problem is that children and public employees can't choose not to catch COVID-19 from the people who refuse to wear masks. As of now, almost 40 percent of the state population is fully vaccinated. That's encouraging, but it's not herd immunity, which America is unlikely to reach thanks to rightwing vaccine “hesitancy." It's a widespread problem in Texas that crosses party lines.
From Dallas Morning News:
More Republicans than Democrats expressed hesitancy or outright refusal to get a COVID-19 vaccine, but 1 in 4 Texas Democrats (27%) also expressed reluctance in a recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll. This is representative of a broader underlying problem: Skepticism about vaccines exists among a broad array of Texans.
Black Texans, a predominately Democratic group and 12 percent of the population, are also less likely than white Texans to say that they will definitely get a COVID-19 vaccine: 38% of white Texans say they will do so, but only 28% of Black Texans. Vice President Kamala Harris needs to parachute into Houston and set our people right.
At least Republican Governor Mike DeWine in Ohio is actively encouraging vaccinations. Last week, he announced that five people could win $1 million each in a weekly lottery program, paid for by federal coronavirus relief funds, that Ohioans can enter with proof of vaccination. DeWine sounded like a 1980s electronics salesman while pitching the idea on Twitter.
I know that some may say, "DeWine, you're crazy! This million-dollar drawing idea of yours is a waste of money." But truly, the real waste at this point in the pandemic — when the vaccine is readily available to anyone who wants it — is a life lost to COVID-19.
Turns out DeWine wasn't so crazy: MSNBC's Kyle Griffin reported that "Ohio health officials experienced their highest vaccination day in three weeks after the state announced its $1 million lottery campaign to encourage vaccinations."
Abbott remains hesitant to push vaccinations that much. He just keeps saying it's “voluntary," but so is visiting your in-laws. You need to provide a greater incentive for compliance, but Abbott consistently refuses. Last month, he banned so-called “vaccine passports," digital proof of COVID-19 vaccination that would immediately benefit retail, travel, and restaurant industries.
Abbott's not all about the carrot, though. He poked a stick in poor people's eyes this week when he joined 19 other GOP-run states that are withdrawing from federal pandemic-related unemployment benefits.
Supported by Republican governors and lawmakers as well as national and state chambers of commerce, the decision will eliminate the temporary $300-a-week supplement that unemployment recipients have been getting and will end benefits for freelancers, part-timers and those who have been unemployed for more than six months.
See, Abbott will defend Texans' “liberty to choose" if that choice doesn't include workers refusing to expose themselves to maskless, unvaccinated people.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."