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Texas Matters: To Mask Or Not To Mask

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Anti-mask protesters at San Antonio City Hall
David Martin Davies
Texas Public Radio
Anti-mask protesters at San Antonio City Hall

The deadly virus that is COVID-19 is once again surging in Texas. The delta variant is twice as contagious and it’s tougher on children — sending more to pediatric care units across the state.

There is a safe, effective and freely available vaccine, but children under 12 are not eligible for the shots. So, the best way to keep the young ones safe is with mask wearing and social distancing.

Mask-wearing is somehow controversial, but going back to school for on-campus learning is not. Everyone agrees that children need to be in the classroom for their education and social interaction.

However, there are four school districts in Texas right now that have shut down on-campus learning because of the spread of COVID — these are all rural ISDs where fewer than one-third of residents are fully vaccinated and there are staffing shortages at nearby hospitals.

There’s a lot of misinformation about the benefits of masks. But make no mistake — masking up works to provide some protection against COVID and also RSV, a childhood respiratory infection that’s also raging right now.

But also masks are uncomfortable, they make it difficult to talk, breathing isn’t as effortless and they are just a hassle. And for many who are naturally defiant, we don’t like being told what to do. It rubs us the wrong way to be told to wear a mask.

But we are in a pandemic. A pandemic is a time of tragedy. And it’s a time when there are no easy choices. We can’t close our eyes and wish the COVID away. COVID doesn’t care about your political party or about your conspiracy theories or about your Facebook post. COVID wants to infect you so you can spread COVID to others.

Even Gov. Greg Abbott agrees. Abbott who has tested positive for COVID has consistently said masks work and people should wear them but he doesn’t support mask mandates. Instead he wants Texans to decide for themselves to wear a mask.

But now that COVID hospitalizations are increasing faster than at any other time. Local officials and school leaders are rebelling against Abbott’s ban on mask mandates.

And the Rebellion against Abbott’s use of emergency powers to ban mask mandates is working so far.
On Thursday The Texas Supreme Court dismissed Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Gov. Greg Abbott's request that it disallow mask mandates in Texas school districts.

Last week Fort Worth ISD tried to join a number of Texas school districts in defying Abbott’s executive order but In a court hearing last Friday a district court judge granted a temporary restraining order to district parents against the mask mandate.

Todd Daniel is one of the parents who filed the suit. I spoke with him to learn more about why he thinks school mask mandates should be struck down.

Disability Rights Lawsuit

There are a lot of lawsuits right now about masks in Texas. It’s hard to keep up. But here’s one more.
Disability Rights Texas has filed a federal lawsuit against Gov. Greg Abbott for his executive order prohibiting schools, cities and counties from mandating masks in schools.

In a complaint filed on behalf of 14 students, Disability Rights Texas argues the ban violates protections for people with disabilities under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. The nonprofit says the students are at particular risk of COVID-19 because they are too young to get vaccinated.

Julia Longoria is a parent of a child being represented by Disability Rights Texas in a federal lawsuit against Gov. Greg Abbott for his executive order prohibiting schools, cities and counties from mandating masks in schools.

COVID & Bioethics

As we try to make our way in this time of COVID there are plenty of arguments about individual rights to not wear a mask or to refuse the vaccine. But there aren’t many making the argument about the community’s rights during a public health crisis.

Laurie Zoloth is a University of Chicago bioethicist. She says it’s our duty to get a COVID-19 vaccine and wear masks

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David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi