I usually try to be a little more clever with the titles to these columns, but yesterday’s news deserves to be called out for what it is.
Less than 10 percent of Texans have received a Covid-19 vaccine, and less than half of that number has gotten both doses. With cases and deaths beginning to trend upward, and with the Biden administration announcing that we’ll have enough vaccines for every American by the end of May, now would be a logical time to double down on the mask mandates and social distancing policies that have helped slow the spread of the virus for nearly a year.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, of course, has a different approach in mind that has nothing to do with science or protecting Texans and everything to do with distraction and bad primary politics. Abbott’s announcement yesterday that he was rescinding the statewide mask order and allowing every business— bars and restaurants, movie theaters, and even strip clubs— to open to 100 percent capacity isn’t designed to help small businesses recover or to reclaim the normalcy in our everyday lives.
Abbott’s decision to rescind those common-sense orders is purely designed to give the press something other than his disastrous handling of the big freeze, a topic that had remained national news until roughly yesterday when Abbott elbowed it out of the national consciousness.
Greg Abbott knows the withering criticism he’s faced for his handling of that crisis has damaged his standing across the board, even among Texas Republicans. He’s also watched as another red-state governor, Ron DeSantis of Florida has built a robust approval rating and stirred talk of a presidential bid with his business-first approach to keeping the Florida economy open at all costs, even human lives.
To be clear, there is no compelling public health argument for doing what Abbott has set in motion, and it contradicts guidance from the CDC on what states should be doing. It also comes as Texas has struggled to get enough vaccines into the arms of our residents, and glaring questions continue to persist on the equity of vaccine distribution.
It also comes as the state continues to refuse to add service industry workers to groups prioritized for vaccination. While Abbott and some Texas business owners are excited to get the wheels of our economy spinning anew, they’re placing frontline workers into an even greater state of peril with these forced reopenings.
It is remarkably cynical politics, even for the Texas GOP and Greg Abbott, and again demonstrates that depraved indifference for human life I’ve talked about in this space earlier this year.
The decision to place so many Texans at risk is nothing short of criminal. When Abbott eased coronavirus restrictions last summer it led to a surge in cases and deaths, and Abbott himself acknowledged that he allowed bars to reopen too soon.
Now, with deadly variants of the virus beginning to spread like wildfire, Abbott has decided the certain death of an untold number of service workers and at-risk Texans is worth rolling the dice and completely reopening the state.
It’s the type of decision making that only makes sense in the context of fighting off a Republican primary, and Abbott is betting on Texans to be too exuberant at the prospect of catching a movie or going to a happy hour to see that he’s reducing them to pawns on his political chessboard.
Unfortunately for Abbott, he’s attempting to play chess with a faded checkers set. Texans are much more forcefully skeptical of Abbott than they were before the big freeze. Elected officials across the state that are fearful of Abbott’s decision have been encouraging all Texans to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing, and a growing number of businesses have reiterated their own mask requirements, again having to step up to fill the void in leadership left by Abbott’s political maneuvering.
Abbott’s decision sends a clear message to Texans that we are on our own when it comes to beating the Covid-19 pandemic. As unfortunate as it is for Texans to be left to fend for themselves by their state government, we’ve been here before and know how to make it through the toughest times together, and we know what to do:
Mask up, wash your hands, keep your distance and vote Greg Abbott out in 2022.
Joe brings over a decade of experience as a political operative and creative strategist to Texas Signal, where he serves as our Senior Advisor and does everything from writing a regular column, Musings, to mentoring our staff and freelancers. Joe was campaign manager for Lina Hidalgo's historic 2018 victory for Harris County Judge and is a passionate sneakerhead.