Summary List PlacementGov. Greg Abbott announced on Tuesday that he would lift Texas’ mask mandate and reopen the state “100%” starting next Wednesday, but a Texas ER doctor says the state is “nowhere near” its goal of herd immunity in order to safely reopen.
Dr. Natasha Kathuria, an emergency medicine physician based in Austin told Insider that lifting health safety restrictions “is a very dangerous message that the governor is sending to Texans that may have dire consequences.”
In January, Texas became the first state to administer one million doses of the vaccine and had administered 5.7 million vaccines by the time of the Tuesday announcement. But as the second-largest state in the country, “only 7% of Texans have been fully vaccinated as of today, with about 13% receiving one dose,” Kathuria, who has expertise in public health and epidemiology, said.
“That’s nowhere near the goal of 75%, which would achieve herd immunity,” she added.
Kathuria told Insider that lifting the state’s health safety guidelines was a “devastating” blow to the state’s medical community — one that comes just after the devastating winter storms that slammed Texas last month.
As hospitalizations and cases improved with the vaccine rollout, the ER doctor said there was a “new sense of hope as a very palpable weight of fear was lifted off our shoulders.”
“But before we knew it, we were blindsided by a new tragedy — the Texas freeze of the century,” she told Insider. “This hurt us in a way that COVID-19 never did, paralyzing many of our hospitals, shutting down labs, halting water and power to some of our hospitals, and preventing ambulance transfers, while leaving millions upon millions without heat, water, or power.”
“We’re still seeing the fallout of that storm. Patients who couldn’t get medical care during the storm are now presenting with debilitating conditions over a week later,” Kathuria continued. “And COVID-19 is still here, still circulating, and still causing suffering.”
Experts told The New York Times that conditions caused by the winter storm could have contributed to the doubling of infections in the state, which grew from a seven-day average of 4,412 cases on February 20 to 7,693 by Monday.
“While our daily vaccination rates are higher than ever and our medical community has been giving our all to fight this infection, we are not ready to roll back our mask mandates or open up to 100%,” Kathuria told Insider. “We have come so close to the finish line in America and we have the end in sight with vaccines rolling out faster than ever, but we can’t let our guards down this soon.”
Abbott’s announcement to reopen the state comes a day after Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned states not to reopen too soon as coronavirus variants continue to spread.
Kathuria said she urges her fellow Texans to heed the advice of scientists, saying she is seeing the suffering caused by COVID-19 “first-hand in every shape and form in my ERs.”
“We must come together as a community to ease that suffering on humanity,” she said. “I urge our citizens to please heed the scientists during these times and during these matters of science. We must heed to the experts: the epidemiologists, physicians, virologists, researchers, and the CDC.”
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