By David M. Greenwald
In a week where California leaders cautiously agreed on a plan to re-open schools by the start of April, it is Texas that stole headlines on Tuesday—announcing the ending of a mask mandate and 100 percent re-opening of business even as health officials warned that this was the exact wrong approach.
On Monday, California announced a $6.6 billion plan by Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders to open schools for the youngest students by the end of March.
The plan agreed to by the governor and legislative leaders would offer grants to schools that open transitional kindergarten through second grade by the end of March and bring back at-risk students in all grades.
Schools in counties where infection rates drop to the red tier would open all elementary grades, some middle and high schools.
The plan calls for $2 billion for in-person instruction grants to accelerate and support reopening. It also allocates $4.6 billion in one-time Proposition 98 General Fund money to all districts to support expanded learning.
“California must safely re-open schools as soon as possible,” Senator Bill Dodd, who represents Davis and much of Yolo in the legislature, said on Monday. “This plan accelerates that goal, balancing the needs of students, families and teachers as we ramp up vaccinations and get children back in the classroom. It’s an important step toward relief and normalcy as we work to emerge from this devastating pandemic.”
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said during a White House press briefing this week, “I am really worried about reports that more states are rolling back the exact public health measures we have recommended to protect people from COVID-19.”
She said, “I understand the temptation to do this—70,000 cases a day seems good compared to where we were just a few months ago–but we cannot be resigned to 70,000 cases a day, 2,000 daily deaths.”
But, despite positive announcements on vaccines, which may now be in sufficient quantity by the end of May, officials are worried about the potential for new variants.
“Please hear me clearly. At this level of cases with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained,” she said.
“These variants are a very real threat to our people and to our progress. Now is not the time to relax the critical safeguards that we know could stop the spread of COVID-19 in our communities, not when we are so close,” she said.
Instead, throwing caution to the wind, Governor Greg Abbott of Texas announced that he was ending the statewide mask mandate effective March 10 and that all businesses in the state could then operate with no capacity limits.
“I just announced Texas is OPEN 100%” he tweeted on Tuesday afternoon. “EVERYTHING.”
“To be clear, Covid has not, like, suddenly disappeared,” Abbott said. “Covid still exists in Texas and the United States and across the globe.”
However, “state mandates are no longer needed” he said, citing advanced treatments now available for people with Covid-19. He believes that the state is able to test large numbers of people for the virus each day and 5.7 million vaccine shots have already been given to Texans.
“People and businesses don’t need the state telling them how to operate,” he said.
State Democratic leaders in the state reacted with strong criticism.
“What Abbott is doing is extraordinarily dangerous,” Gilberto Hinojosa, the state party chairman, said in a statement, adding, “This will kill Texans. Our country’s infectious-disease specialists have warned that we should not put our guard down, even as we make progress towards vaccinations. Abbott doesn’t care.”
“We’re never going to subscribe to the point of view of some of the other states,” California Governor Gavin Newsom said at a press conference in San Luis Obispo on Tuesday. “There was one large state today that said, ‘No masks, everything goes back to normal’ in the midst of a pandemic.
“We’re a little more mindful and sober of the potency of these variants and mutations, as well,” Newsom said. “A little mindful and sober of the experience we had last summer, where we moved forward and ultimately had to revert back, and we don’t want to do that ever again.”
The irony here is that the impatience of states like Texas and the push to re-open for the sake of business has probably done more harm than good. Each time the US has reduced the outbreak—last spring and summer, then re-opened a bit, it has triggered a new and even worse outbreak than before. The initial spring surge where the US weathered fairly well gave way to a stronger surge in the summer and that gave way to the strongest surge yet in the late fall and early winter.
Time is on our side. President Biden announced we would have enough vaccines for the entire country by the end of May. Then it is just a matter of distribution. But there is a lot of time between now and then, a lot of people could die—especially if the death rate remains at 2000 per day.
The people who can’t wait to re-open have ironically made this pandemic longer and worse than it needed to be. And the actions of Texas and some other states this week punctuate that problem.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
Support our work – to become a sustaining at $5 – $10- $25 per month hit the link: