Horns up, masks on, together

Richard Lee

It’s been a long four months since the world paused due to the global pandemic. Slowly but surely, we’ve begun to return to work and go back out into the world.

However, the reopening of Texas led to an alarming surge in confirmed cases of COVID-19. Without an accessible treatment or vaccine available to the public, the spread of the virus is likely to continue accelerating if Texans don’t take proper mitigation measures. 

The responsibility of protecting the community from COVID-19 is on each individual. To keep each other safe and slow the spread, members of the UT community must abide by Gov. Greg Abbott’s mandatory face covering order.

Evidence suggests the majority of SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease — transmission occurs via the spread of respiratory droplets produced from coughing, sneezing or talking. Masks offer protection by containing these droplets to contagious individuals and blocking healthy individuals from inhaling them.

Mask wearing and physical distancing can be incredibly effective in stopping transmission. 

At a hair salon in Missouri where two symptomatic employees tested positive, none of the 140 clients served were linked to a confirmed case, and all who were tested received negative results. All employees and clients were required to wear masks and social distance by staggering appointments.

In Asia, where masks are commonly worn even in the absence of COVID-19, nations such as South Korea and Japan experienced declines in COVID-19 cases following case peaks earlier in the year. However, there is a cultural adversity to mask-wearing in the United States which makes mask policies difficult to enforce.

Following the order, protestors gathered at the state capitol to claim that masks cause carbon dioxide toxicity. They do not. No fines or warnings were handed out to maskless protesters for violating Abbott’s order.

While many take the threat seriously and abide by safety guidelines, others have chosen to ignore these measures — including students and young people.

“One bar I walked past was packed, and no one was wearing a mask,” said Audrey Graham, a health and society junior. “Things like that are inconsiderate and put us all in danger.”

It's important to remember we can’t protect ourselves and others from the virus without safety measures. Even seemingly healthy individuals are capable of unknowingly spreading the virus. A study of the outbreak in Vò, Italy found that over 40% of positive cases came from individuals who exhibited no symptoms at all.

As Texans, we must come together by collectively adopting protective habits to defend ourselves and each other.

“We really need to be mindful that this virus is present and carried by humans,” said Mona Mehdy, associate professor of biology. “We as individuals have to make regular habits. Wash or sanitize your hands. Wear a mask. Separate from others both indoors and outdoors.” 

Though there is still so much uncertainty surrounding how things will turn out on campus this fall, it’s crucial that the tens of thousands of students, faculty and staff returning to Austin take care of each other by wearing masks. 

“We need to enforce our mask measures,” psychology junior Maya Neicheril said. “I feel safer when others wear their masks. They are meant to protect others.”

To prevent further spread of COVID-19 and protect the UT community, everyone needs to abide by all safety measures. Mask wearing plays a crucial role in slowing the spread of disease, but other habits including hand-washing and social distancing cannot be overlooked. Only with a great majority of us working together can we effectively combat this challenge.

Lee is a civil engineering junior from Plano, Texas.