One marvels at the struggle between Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who prides himself as a no-holds-barred champion of innocent life in raging abortion battles, and big-city schools across Texas that, in defying his executive order banning mask mandates in public schools, strive to protect not only similarly innocent young lives but the lives of teachers, support staff, even parents. If anything proves our society is broken by partisan politics veering into tribal madness, the viral crisis packing hospitals and imperiling schools is Exhibit 1.
For those interested, at least one legal argument allowing city and county officials to pursue mask mandates pivots on the assumption Abbott exceeded his authority under the Texas Disaster Act of 1975 given that his power extends only over state agencies, not local jurisdictions responding to public health crises. All this gets down to whether one holds that cities and counties are mere state subdivisions or something more. More broadly, it reveals that Abbott and the Republican Party of Texas no longer embrace the old-fashioned, all-American conservatism that championed the virtues of local control.
The Waco and Midway school districts clearly seek to avoid any confrontation with a governor who is rolling dice on the lives of schoolchildren in his maniacal bid for reelection against three Republican primary election challengers, all jockeying to get to the far right of one another. Midway ISD will permit elective masks, emphasize physical distancing even amid more crowded conditions, host rapid testing and even partner with vaccine clinics. Waco ISD will provide face masks for teachers and students who wish to use them and encourage vaccinations. Good luck.
The rest of us? Disinformation is rampant, so allow us to state a few certainties lost in the mix: Getting a vaccination won’t ensure you don’t contract this latest, more infectious delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, but statistics indicate it’s far more likely to keep you from landing in the hospital and winding up in intensive care, sustained by a respirator (and, incidentally, most or all ICU beds in Waco remain in use). Getting vaccinated, being smart about social distancing and masking up when mixing with others is your best bet to safeguard yourself and your family and lessen strain on overburdened medical resources.
Yet local leaders must do better. With all the money from federal COVID-19 assistance, why can’t we get free coronavirus tests? Testing has been one of the greatest shortfalls of this pandemic: We failed to roll it out promptly, failed to communicate why it was necessary and failed to successfully implement the contact tracing to make it relevant. COVID-19 relief should be more about dealing with the here and now — and right now even those of us who are vaccinated find ourselves back in the market for additional tests, thanks to freedom-loving brethren clogging up not only hospitals but elevators, waiting rooms, grocery stores and bars in the midst of a fast-spreading and merciless variant.