Other Voices: Be smart with the relaxing of COVID-19 restrictions

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 17, 2021


orth Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper has substantially relaxed COVID-19 restrictions for bars, restaurants, nightclubs and sports venues, among others.

But some people still grumble that it’s too little too late.

Maybe they should move to Texas.

Fresh off a monumental bungling of the state’s electrical grid that plunged millions of Texans into the dark in bone-chilling cold, Gov. Greg Abbott apparently was looking for what he could screw up next.

So Abbott declared victory over COVID-19 in his state, where an average of 7,000 new cases and 232 deaths were being reported daily.

Abbott has issued an executive order that completely lifts the state’s mask mandate and allows all businesses to reopen “100%.”

Abbott triumphantly proclaimed: “With the medical advancements of vaccines and antibody therapeutic drugs,” Abbott said, “Texas now has the tools to protect Texans from the virus.”

Just as it had the tools to keep Texans warm and safe.

Only about 7% of Texans have received both doses of the coronavirus vaccine.

The CDC and other health experts were none too pleased, advising strongly against the lifting of mask mandates in both Texas and elsewhere.

Some exasperated Texans were not happy either.

The phrase “I hate it here,” began to trend on Twitter after Abbott’s announcement.

But Texas has company.

Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Mississippi and West Virginia all announced significant loosening of COVID restrictions during the first week of March.

Governors are invoking the mantra of “individual responsibility.”

“We no longer need government running our lives,” Abbott said. “Instead, everybody must continue to assume their own individual responsibility to take the actions that they have already mastered to make sure that they will not be contracting COVID-19.”

That kind of thinking makes sense when you’re talking about, say, seatbelt or motorcycle helmet laws.

In those cases, those individuals alone would suffer the consequences of their actions. They alone would take the risk of sustaining a catastrophic brain injury or hurtling through a car windshield. (And yet we still have seatbelt and motorcycle helmet laws in North Carolina, though no bicycle helmet requirements for adults.)

It doesn’t work that way with a highly infectious disease.

Your personal choice not to wear a mask can harm others, as well as yourself.

The lifting of mandates also places pressure on businesses to enforce the rules on their own and can encourage defiance by people who don’t want to comply.

“This is the second time that our state leadership has put us in a bad position by reopening too early,” an Austin chef, Michael Fojtasek, told the Austin American-Statesman. “We had made some progress, and now it’s all going to be walked back.”

Further, why let down our guard so near to the end of this global crisis?

More and more Americans are being vaccinated against COVID-19. More than 92 million doses have been administered, reaching more than 18% of the population. More vaccines are being made available, and more places to get them are being established, including a federal mass vaccination site at Four Seasons Town Centre. A site for college faculty and staff in Guilford County has opened at UNCG.

In light of this progress, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines that permit vaccinated people to gather indoors with others who have had COVID shots without masks or social distancing.

Still, the CDC also cautioned Americans to still wear masks and socially distance in public settings, even if they’ve been vaccinated.

The upshot: With an end to this crisis within sight, why risk setbacks with premature reopenings?

Why defy the advice of the CDC?

Why ignore the threats posed by new strains of the virus?

Why play the role of the reckless hare to the health experts’ more deliberate tortoise?

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg may have put it best on Twitter: “You don’t cut off your parachute just as you’ve slowed your descent.”

Yet, here we are, near the end of a long, scary and confounding nightmare, and some of our leaders are behaving like a scrum of Walmart shoppers at midnight on Black Friday.

— The Greensboro News & Record