I also teach at the University of Texas, where face-to-face classes begin next Wednesday. Thanks to Abbott, the school is not allowed to require student immunization or the use of masks. We are not even allowed to ask our students if they are vaccinated. Meanwhile, in the area of eleven counties around the city of Austin, which included, there was a total of four ICU beds as of Thursday.
When I read that Abbott tested positive for Covid-19 on Tuesday, I didn’t see it as karma, as so many others did. I didn’t feel any kind of frequency. I didn’t even find it unpleasant that Abbott, asymptomatic and completely vaccinated, received monoclonal antibody treatment. I do not deceive those who are ill for having taken all legally available measures to improve, although I wish everyone else to have the same access to advanced care and treatment as our elected leaders.
But I was angry. Angry because Abbott’s positive test reveals a lesson many have not yet been able to learn in the last 18 months: the SARS-CoV-2 virus that Covid-19 causes does not discriminate. And while those who are vaccinated are better protected against serious illness, hospitalization, or death, they can transmit the virus to others, including those who are not vaccinated.
I am angry that so many adults still seem unaware of the benefits of vaccines and the need for continued protections like masks, especially because we see more positive cases among fully vaccinated individuals like Abbott.
I am also angry, because I am the father of two children too young to be vaccinated. Texas has not only banned public schools from requiring students, staff and teachers to wear masks; the state also does not require teachers or other staff members to be vaccinated. And when there are positive cases (as there have been in Austin since it officially began on Tuesday), schools are not required to contact positive tracking cases to identify the scope of potential clusters and students are not. forced to quarantine even when they know they were exposed.
It should not be difficult to see the difficulty in which this position puts everyone, nor the degree of unnecessary stress it creates. Not surprisingly, school districts in even more conservative parts of Lone Star State also openly challenge Abbott about these policies. And while school districts and other government institutions that reject Abbott’s executive order by issuing mask warrants may lose the ongoing legal battle, their struggle is worthy: every additional day that can be done complying with the use of masks is worth it.
All this anti-mask and anti-macabre hysteria revolves around a fundamentally flawed and hopelessly selfish conception of “freedom”. Even in Texas, we have seat belt laws, speed limits, and in many jurisdictions we ban smoking in workplaces, restaurants, and bars. And you wouldn’t know, we even have vaccination requirements for school-age children, at least for diseases no called Covid-19.
Before Covid-19 became politicized, we seemed to understand and accept the importance of public health and safety, even if it required some degree of personal sacrifice. This is because, like any other state, Texas recognizes the millennial principle that my right to swing my arms ends up in your nose, and vice versa. That’s why in July 2020 we had a statewide mask mandate – one imposed by, you guessed it, Abbott. So why are mask mandates suddenly banned, when Covid cases are now higher in Texas than last summer?
When people like Abbott launch the fight for mask mandates in terms of “freedom,” they consciously deceive the public. This debate is not about “freedom” in any analytically coherent sense; it is about the politicization of a specific public health crisis, where “owning libs” has become a political priority, especially for those like Abbott, who seem to demand attention and support.
There should be some more important things than scoring political points. I would have thought that the health and well-being of our children would be near the top of this list, with the health and well-being of our neighbors not far behind. That Abbott continues to challenge science in favor of partisan politics even after giving Covid-19 a positive is insane for lack of a better word.