On March 2, Texas governor Greg Abbott made a horrifying announcement: Texas officials are forcing the complete reopening of the state, throwing out their mask mandate, and undermining local officials’ authority to protect working people.
The high death toll of this winter storm was thanks to the complete deregulation of the energy and fossil fuel industries in Texas, and the collusion of politicians with big oil and energy companies. The same deadly capitalist-fueled libertarian urge for deregulation and decentralization is behind Abbott’s reopening order.
Alongside the winter storm, an extremely low vaccination rate in the state and an impending end to eviction moratoriums will undoubtedly cause even more suffering and death.
Abbott has billed the new order as a victory for “freedom,” even as he undermines cities’ freedom to protect their own populations with mask mandates and protective measures. The new orders also restrict workers’ freedom to enjoy workplaces free from deadly disease. In addition, a surge of COVID-19 in Texas will undoubtedly lead to surges in nearby states and Mexico, impinging on the freedoms of millions.
Abbott and his administration, who have all had priority access to life-saving vaccines, will not be facing the same risks as most Texans. In fact, Texas ranks nearly the worst in the country for vaccine distribution.
An order timed for maximum suffering
The order could not have come at a more devastating time for Texans. Residents are still recovering from a winter storm that killed at least dozens of people and hospitalized hundreds. An unknown number of people are still without running water.
Texans are facing the prospect of eviction at an alarming rate. In January, 1.6 million residents of the state expressed “little or no confidence” in their ability to pay the next month’s rent. Despite this, a Texas judge is attempting to declare the federal moratorium on evictions unconstitutional, many landlords across the state are illegally evicting tenants, and even when not challenged or bypassed, the federal eviction moratorium and patchwork local efforts are set to expire on arbitrary dates in the near future.
Hospitals were overwhelmed beyond capacity due to COVID-19 just three months ago. Just weeks ago, they saw a massive influx of patients and near-system collapse due to the winter storm. They are now bracing for another influx due to the forced reopening, and the undermining of mask mandates. Even before the pandemic, the state was facing a critical shortage of nurses and physicians.
Abbott’s order comes before Texans have been vaccinated. The state ranks 48th in the country for vaccination rate. It ranks near the bottom for distribution of vaccines. Even with the generous estimates of vaccination rates that Abbott is promising, 93 percent of Texans are still completely vulnerable to the disease. And new coronavirus variants, possibly more contagious, more deadly, and vaccine-resistant, are now reaching Texas.
Just as disturbing, Texas’ forced reopening of businesses and ending of mask mandates will undermine the effectiveness of the vaccine. Areas often receive an initial surge of COVID-19 cases in the weeks after vaccination becomes available, due to a false sense of security before the vaccine becomes effective. Vaccines still have “pretty much zero” effectiveness until about 14 days after vaccination.
When Texas “reopens 100%,” with workers unable to stay home due to mounting bills and the state’s entitled ruling class like Abbott refusing to wear masks, the virus will spread rapidly before vaccinated people can develop a resistance. This action will undo all the progress made in the past few months and give COVID-19 ample breeding ground to spread and mutate.
Abbott’s version of ‘freedom’ is exploitation and misery for Texas workers
Abbott and his associates say that the government shouldn’t interfere in the lives of Texans, and denounce any attempt to save lives or control the spread of COVID-19 as a form of “tyranny.” In fact, by imposing his “freedom” by force and coercion onto Texas cities — by fighting mask mandates and worker protections — he imposes the tyranny of corporate exploitation onto suffering people.
Workers have fought and died in struggles for the freedom of higher wages, the freedom from 14-hour workdays, the freedom to a safe workplace free from preventable illness, and the economic freedom to secure a decent home.
Abbott’s “freedom” is the freedom of bosses to pay their workers sub-living wages, the freedom of landlords to evict desperate people, and the freedom of the ruling class to infect whomever they want with a deadly disease. Every “freedom” that Texas politicians enact onto the population is a direct assault on the freedom of workers to live dignified lives. In the case of COVID-19, it is also an assault on Texans’ freedom to live.
Moments before getting vaccinated three months ago, Abbott claimed, “I will never ask any Texan to do something that I’m not willing to do myself.” By forcing unvaccinated Texans with substandard or no health care back into unsafe working conditions, while he enjoys the luxury of full vaccination and state-subsidized health care, he is breaking this promise.
We must demand that our elected officials be held responsible and change course on this disastrous new order. Once again, our lives depend on it!
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0