News that Texas plans to open up — all businesses, 100 percent, and no more pesky mask mandate — is a slap in the face to the rest of the United States.
It’s a punch in the mouth to New Mexico.
Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday he plans to open up all businesses and lift his state’s mask mandate next week despite warnings from health experts that now is not the time to become complacent.
He’s doing this at a time when the recent, encouraging drops in COVID-19 cases in the United States are stalling. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, announced Monday the number of new cases has remained steady at about 70,000 on a rolling average for a week.
That’s because many states, including New Mexico, are pulling back on public health measures designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Yes, the nation must begin a slow return to life with few restrictions, but that has to be accompanied by a robust vaccination strategy similar to what is happening in New Mexico. That’s not the case for Texas. No wonder there are extra shots in Amarillo for New Mexico residents who drive there.
Only some 12.9 percent of the Texas population has received one or more doses of vaccine. The state hasn’t begun to reach enough people so its population is protected. Over and over, we have seen that a too-rapid opening of businesses and activities leads to wider outbreaks of COVID-19. And poor New Mexico is on the border of two states — Arizona and Texas — that have become hot spots because of reckless public safety practices.
Under the Texas governor’s order, local governments aren’t allowed to put into place more stringent rules in individual cities or towns — except perhaps for some occupancy limits below 100 percent. No jurisdiction can impose a penalty against people who don’t wear masks. That most basic public health safeguard is being tossed aside.
The virus does not respect borders. As one of Texas’ nearest neighbors, New Mexico should be concerned that our friends and relatives in the Lone Star State remain healthy and don’t spread COVID-19 to cities such as Las Cruces, Clovis and Lovington.
Especially as spring break arrives, when Texans visit Santa Fe in droves, it would be wonderful to welcome them without worrying they will make us sick.
Many Texans don’t like New Mexico’s rules. That often means servers and hospitality workers have to engage with rude customers who endanger their health — and complain while doing so. The yearlong pandemic guidelines are stressful enough without having to babysit grown men and women who won’t wear a mask or stay 6 feet apart.
Texas still is digging out of the crisis that erupted when the state’s energy grid crashed during a spell of frigid weather. Some cities still are having problems with their water supplies — news website Vox reported Monday that 390,000 Texans still lack drinking water. Surely, Texas doesn’t need another coronavirus outbreak on top of what state residents have named “SNOVID.”
One crisis at a time, please.
For Abbott to ignore the science and put his citizens — and the rest of us — at risk, is irresponsible. Naturally, our state Republican Party is urging New Mexico to follow suit: Open up. Forget about masks. Do what you want, when you want.
No, thanks. In New Mexico, we will take care of each other — including finding financial support for businesses and individuals hurt because of the virus shutdowns. We will wear masks. We will respect our health care workers. We will be patient.
Incredibly, all of that might not be enough if Texas’ recklessness starts a fourth wave — just as New Mexico and the country are recovering. Thanks, neighbor.