AUSTIN, Texas (KTRK) – Greg Abbott declared Tuesday that he would stop his mask order and “open Texas 100 percent,” a move opposed by public health advocates, city and county officials, and President Joe Biden.
Dr. John Hellerstedt appeared before the House Public Health Committee via remote video, was asked by state Rep. Erin Zwiener, D-Driftwood, “Did the governor consult with you on the decision to remove the mask mandate?”
Gov. Abbott Ended Texas Mask Mandate Without Discussing With Medical Advisors
Hellerstedt responded, “We have regular decisions with the governor’s team on what we see in terms of patterns.” When pressed by Zwiener, Hellerstedt said before Abbott’s announcement that he “did not have a personal discussion” with him.
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One of four medical advisors on the governor’s Strike Force to Open Texas is Hellerstedt, the commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, who is in charge of overseeing the spread of COVID-19 nationwide and vaccine delivery. The strike force, which was formed last year and worked until October, was commanded by James Huffines.
Two further medical advisors stated that they were not contacted before the governor’s announcement. “Texas has made some real strides,” one of the advisers, Dr. Mark McClellan, a Duke University professor of finance, medicine, and politics, told the Austin American-Statesman, part of the USA TODAY Network.
“I was not interested in this decision,” said Dr. Parker Hudson, an assistant professor of infectious diseases at Dell Medical School. Dr. John Zerwas, the fourth medical advisor, said that he spoke with Abbott prior to his announcement.
“In the same breath as you declare an end to the state mandate, there needs to be a powerful statement that public health policies continue to be very relevant as we make our way through the pandemic,” said Zerwas, the University of Texas system’s executive vice chancellor for health affairs and a former state senator from the Houston district.
“He said those points, but they get buried in the broader news, ‘Governor rescinding state mandate,’” Zerwas explained. As cases soared in the early summer, Zerwas, an anesthesiologist, said the mandate served its function as a backstop when Texans weren’t completely compliant with public health guidelines.
He said, “It’s time for personal accountability to take center stage.” “The state mandate is in the rearview mirror,” says one Texan, “and most Texans are well-versed in ways to keep the epidemic from spreading.” When asked about the timing of the mask mandates being lifted, given the spread of coronavirus variants causing concern, Zerwas said, “I do think it’s good” because they “can be more virulent but don’t make you sicker.”
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Who did Abbott get advice from?
Abbott’s executive order, which takes effect on Wednesday, rescinds several of his previous directives, including company occupancy limits. “Texans have perfected the everyday patterns that will save them from contracting COVID,” Abbott said on Tuesday. “It’s obvious from the recoveries, vaccines, decreased hospitalizations, and good practices that Texans are employing that state mandates are no longer needed,” he said.
“Removing state mandates would not eliminate personal accountability,” he said. “Personal diligence and adherence to healthy practices are also required to include COVID – state mandates are no longer required,” he said.
Abbott disagreed with being interviewed for this story. “The governor frequently talks with Dr. Hellerstedt and Dr. Zerwas, as well as others in the medical sector, about yesterday’s announcement,” Abbott spokeswoman Renae Eze said.
Both agreed that Texans should continue to follow medical guidelines and nutritional standards to defend themselves and their loved ones from COVID-19, much as they do for other medical problems.”
Before the governor decided to remove the coronavirus limits, The Statesman lodged a lawsuit under the Texas Public Information Act for communications between him and other officials. Abbott cited the vaccines and decreasing hospitalizations across the state on Tuesday (a percentage higher than the number of Texas COVID-19 patients when Abbott released the mask requirement eight months ago).
Health specialists from the federal government warned against the change. During a White House COVID-19 briefing Wednesday, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said, “I think we at the CDC have made very clear that now is not the time to release all constraints.”
She went on to say: “I’ll also point out that, regardless of what the states decide, every citizen can do the right thing here. I will also advise people to put on a shell, socially separate themselves, and do the right thing to protect their health.” The governor did not meet with Texas Medical Association President Diana Fite, according to the Statesman. “I would have said our advice is to obey the evidence and the CDC guidelines,” she said, referring to the use of masks, maintaining social space, having vaccinated, and frequently washing hands.
“We welcome (the governor’s) emphasis on the fact that stopping the mask mandate would not mean ending personal accountability,” she said. “We have no way of knowing whether or not a government mandate is completely appropriate.”
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Rep. Bobby Guerra, D-Mission, disrupted a lecture about the benefits of wearing a mask at a state House health committee meeting. He said, “How does this square with the governor’s statement yesterday about that topic and lifting conditions on several restaurants?”
“I can tell you that the governor and I are on the same page in terms of guidelines for COVID-19 prevention,” Hellerstedt replied. “People are more conscious now than they were in the early days of the pandemic that it is a true danger, an infectious illness and that there are measures that can be done to combat it. I’m aware that the governor took action to suggest that the government will take a different position than before, not to discourage the use of masks.”
According to Guerra, Abbott’s announcement is “extremely confusing for the media.” “That announcement has angered elected officials in South Texas. They’re out and around arguing that we should all be wearing masks which seems to refute what the governor says.”
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