Catherine Yackira ‘24
It has been one year since a national emergency was declared because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In March of last year, Holy Cross students were sent home, suddenly leaving friends, ending internships early, and for seniors, saying goodbye to the Hill in the most unexpected way. It is impossible to calculate what people have lost in the past year. 2.66 million people have died from COVID, and 535,000 of those deaths happened in the U.S. alone. Healthcare workers have had to work endless hours and undergone unimaginable stress and pain. Millions have lost jobs and financial security. Isolation has been especially difficult on those who have mental health issues and people living in abusive households. But now, finally, after a year, it seems that the end really is within sight. Over 107 million doses of the vaccine have been administered across the U.S. After an entire year of nothing but quarantining and watching the death toll tick up and up, it is only natural to cling to every piece of good news we can get. Vaccine rollout is certainly something to celebrate; however, it should not be used as an excuse to decrease restrictions.
Governor Greg Abbott ended the mask mandate in Texas on March 2, saying, “Covid has not suddenly disappeared… but state mandates are no longer needed.” Now five states – Texas, Mississippi, Iowa, Montana, and North Dakota – have dropped their mask mandates. But many healthcare workers fear that it is too early to be dropping restrictions. Dr. Natasha Kathuria, an emergency room doctor and global health specialist from Texas, expressed concerns about Governor Abbott dropping the mask mandate. She says that front-line workers are “at an exceptional risk for potential confrontation with patients who may be unwilling to wear a mask now that there is no mandate.” Images of healthcare workers with cuts and bruises on their faces from wearing masks for hours on end defined the COVID response towards the beginning of the pandemic, and healthcare workers have not stopped working since then. The CDC reported that over 1,400 health care workers have died from COVID, though that study only reported on less than one-fifth of health care workers, meaning the number is almost certainly higher. With restrictions being dropped, it is possible that hospitals will once again be flooded with COVID patients, increasing the already enormous burden on health care workers; those who have not been vaccinated will continue to be at risk for getting the disease and could be exposed to new variants.
Dr. Marc Broom, CEO and president of Houston Methodist hospital, said “It has been demoralizing for a lot of very fatigued health care professionals who see that light at the end of the tunnel but feel like the path has gotten rockier.” Those who have not yet gotten the vaccine but work in close contact with people, whether that be at grocery stores or restaurants, are especially at risk. Britt Harasmisz, a bartender in Texas, says, “A lot of people have been vaccinated — Governor Abbott was vaccinated, but a lot of us on the front lines have not.”
Some are pointing to Iowa and Montana, states that have had mask mandates rescinded for roughly a month and have not experienced surges in COVID-19. The success of these two states has been attributed to citizens continuing to socially distance themselves, wash hands, and remaining vigilant. However, with only a month of data, the success in these states is no reason to believe that it will work in a state like Texas, which has roughly five times the population of both states.
According to Dr. Fauci, “the best way that we can avoid any threat from variants is do two things: Get as many people vaccinated as quickly as we possibly can, and to continue with the public health measures, until we get this broad umbrella of protection over society, that the level of infection is very low.” Twenty-one percent of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated, which means that we are still far away from the seventy percent herd immunity threshold. The end is in sight, but now is not the time to lessen restrictions. Now is the time to continue to wear masks, socially distance, and keep doing what we have been doing for a year so that we can return to normal in the near future.