On Tuesday, the governors of Texas and Mississippi announced that they had lifted state-wide mask mandates and rolled back a substantial number of Covid-19 health mandates. The announcements, which came merely a day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned against the ongoing dangers of Covid-19, have raised significant concerns for Amherst students and alumni who hail from Texas and Mississippi.
In Texas and Mississippi, which have both been ranked within the top 10 in terms of deaths per capita among U.S. states, vaccines have not yet been widely distributed according to the Washington Post.
In general, Amherst Texans and Misssissipians are displeased with their governor’s decisions. Though some students rest assured that their friends and families will remain steadfast in their dedication to following Covid safety precautions, they are less optimistic about others. As politicians lift restrictions against the advice of public health officials, students and alumni worry about the safety of loved ones.
Kobe Thompson ’24, a student from Houston, is deeply concerned about the eventual effects of lifting Covid restrictions. “I’m very worried about anything that might increase the spread of the virus. Hospitals in my locale are packed to the brim and that’s from Covid alone. It makes it extremely dangerous for my friends who have any health issues that bring them in close with hospitals for any reason.”
Thompson’s concerns stem from first-hand experience. He recalled that many Texas residents disregarded Covid-19 regulations. He said, “Before coming to campus, I forgot people were taking this virus seriously. You’ll see masks around the chin, under the nose, not on at all. People don’t like following the Covid rules in Texas, and places don’t like enforcing them.”
Edward Farmer ’05 has similar concerns about lifting restrictions in Texas. From Memphis, TN originally, Farmer has spent much time in Mississippi. He wrote a novel that takes place in the state and visited the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) in November. Farmer is particularly unsettled by the potential effects that the governor’s decisions will have on the poor — the population that has been unequivocally hurt by the pandemic. “I’m extremely concerned that the state with the highest poverty rating is ending its mask mandate, let alone any state. With poverty comes many underlying health conditions that could lead to more deaths. This is one of the simplest measures we can take,” he said.
“We have to listen to public health officials,” he added. “I wouldn’t go to a governor for open heart surgery. Likewise, I wouldn’t go to a heart surgeon about my taxes. We see light at the end of the tunnel, yet some people want to believe we’re already there. We have to make it first.”
Cameron Matsui ’23E spent the last semester working on Covid modeling research at The University of Texas. He noted that it is crucial that the state’s political leadership communicate that they value the mitigation of the virus. He believes that Texas Governor Greg Abbott has done a mediocre job in his past policy decisions, and he has doubts about repealing mandates now. “Even though the vaccine supply chain has exceeded expectations, this is not the time to drop restrictions. We should wait until the state’s vulnerable are protected, and we haven’t reached that point yet in Texas (or in any other state for that matter),” he said.
Thompson is less tolerant of the governor’s judgment.“The governor’s decision comes from a place of arrogance and contrarianism. I can’t support such a blatant rejection of guidelines when my own county has been in [red] status for who knows how long,” he said.
Some students, though anxious about the mask mandate repeal, are less concerned by the decision to end business restrictions. Eric Ingram ’23, from Austin, noted that some of his friends from back home work essential jobs and are frightened that they may be even more exposed to the virus now. However, he does recognize that allowing business to operate at 75 percent capacity has contributed to economic recovery.
“I’m mostly fine with [Governor Abbott’s] decision to end business restrictions,” he said. “I do think the restrictions on restaurants and bars should’ve stayed [closed], though, as they are the most risky places to come in contact with Covid. I [also] don’t really agree with the removal of the mask mandate. As public officials have pointed out, Texas lags a bit behind in vaccination numbers, which makes this removal risky.”
Despite their displeasure with the Governor’s decisions, Amherst students and alumni have confidence that their family and friends will do everything in their power to protect themselves.
Thompson shared that many of his friends are refusing to listen to Abbot. They plan to continue wearing their masks and are encouraging other Texans to do the same.
Likewise, Farmer knows that his loved ones will continue to wear masks to ensure their own safety. “I come from a very vocal family,” he explained. “They have no problems telling people to get back and mask up.”