“Don’t mess with Texas” is a popular bumper sticker that stands for the swagger, bravado and confidence many people consider a hallmark of the culture and personality of the Lone Star State.
But the conduct of Texas Governor Greg Abbott shows how swagger, bravado and self-confidence can be counterproductive, even harmful.
In the face of the global COVID-19 pandemic and surging new cases across Texas, other Southern states (including my home state of Arkansas), and elsewhere due to the highly transmissible Delta variant, Gov. Abbott derided the idea that face masks should be mandated to protect public health.
He threatened sanctions and filed lawsuits against cities, counties and school districts that require people to wear masks indoors. And the governor refused to wear a face mask when he attended indoor gatherings in recent days.
Now, Gov. Abbott has tested positive for COVID-19.
According to press reports, he is continuing his work in quarantine. Because he was fully vaccinated and received Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody treatment, his condition will probably not require hospitalization or going on a ventilator.
One hopes that Gov. Abbott will now reconsider his attitude about face masks.
It would be good if he recanted his past denouncements about mask mandates. It would be good if he directed his lawyers to dismiss the legal challenges to mask mandates filed in the Texas Supreme Court.
It would be good if he completed his period of quarantine and wore a face mask as he approached microphones at an indoor press conference to urge people in Texas to take the free COVID-19 vaccination and to wear face masks.
Then, it would be a strong message if Gov. Abbott held up a bumper sticker that included images of a face mask and a vaccine needle and contained these words: “DON’T MESS WITH COVID. GET VACCINATED AND WEAR FACE MASKS!”
COVID-19 does not grant exemptions from infection based on political party affiliation. It does not respect conservative, liberal, libertarian and progressive differences about the role of government.
COVID-19 is a public health threat driven by virology, not personal or partisan ideology. Texans would be well served if Gov. Abbott said so.
Such actions by Gov. Abbott would help stem the opposition to mask mandates and perhaps influence some among the vaccine resistant.
Doing so would help counter misinformation and disinformation about the value of face masks and the efficacy of vaccination.
It would help parents, students, workers, teachers, other public workers and seniors become less vulnerable to infection, sickness, the risk of hospitalization and death.
And it would encourage hospital administrators, doctors, nurses and other health care workers who are doing their best to save the lives of unvaccinated people who are severely sickened from the Delta variant.
I don’t live in Texas and Gov. Abbott doesn’t know me, so this column is the best way I know to make this appeal to him.
If you live in Texas or know Gov. Abbott, please share the column with him. Encourage him to read it and follow the course of action I recommend.
It makes no difference to me whether Gov. Abbott credits my suggestions. I have other reasons for wanting him to lead Texans to wear face masks and get vaccinated.
I love dear kinfolk, cherished colleagues and good friends in Texas, including children and other persons whose health conditions prevent them from being vaccinated. Their well-being matters to me.
It would be good for them if Gov. Abbott urged Texans to wear face masks. It would be good for them if Texans who can be vaccinated take the free vaccines.
I’m not messing with Texas. COVID-19 is. I hope someone besides me will say so.
Pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, a state court trial judge, a trustee of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, author of one book and three blogs, and a consultant on cultural competency and inclusion.