TFort Worth’s mega driver’s license center closed abruptly, just a few minutes before 1pm Tuesday. Staff removed the two tables outside the entrance that recorded contact information for all visitors, their health records, and performed temperature checks.
Since its reopening on June 3, the facility had separated interior seating to meet social distancing guidelines, cleaned surfaces regularly, and only served those who booked appointments online. All workers wore masks, and anyone who entered was required to cover their faces. But despite precautions, a Covid-19 case had been reported there.
One of the rejected people was Laurie Smith, 50. She is an administrative employee at a local church, where she is also a member, and calls the mandatory mask requirements a “sad” sign of government manipulation. “My college-age children can follow the recommendations without question, but my husband and I are from a different generation, and we value our freedom to make our own decisions. So we question it more than they do, ”he said.
Her daughter shook her head silently in the passenger seat but said nothing. Neither of them was wearing a mask.
The science of wearing masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus appears to be widely established, but the politics around it are still in full swing, especially in conservative forts like Texas. Stores, churches, small businesses, government offices, and other institutions across the state are grappling with how to enforce public health standards without alienating those who disagree.
Mask It soon developed into a partisan dispute between freedom lovers who hate government mandates and supporters worried about getting sick or infecting others. The consequences of deep divisions begin to appear as coronavirus cases in Texas increase, but a mask remains a public, political, and religious health statement.
Statewide Covid-19 hospitalizations have more than tripled since the beginning of the month, reaching a daily record of 8,076 cases on Wednesday, according to the state health department. Greg Abbott has refused to order a state requirement to wear masks to protect people’s liberty and avoid alienating its central base, but has nonetheless asked citizens to do so.
Across the state, a patchwork of loosely enforced local regulations has emerged. Nine mayors unsuccessfully applied for the power to make mandatory masks. The governor’s own health commissioner recommends masks. Dr. John Hellerstedt said: “This is the biggest Covid-19 challenge Texas has faced since the coronavirus hit our state. All Texans must be part of the solution and must join the battle to reserve these trends. “
The void left between the two sides is becoming a tinderbox.
“We do not live in a communist country! This is supposed to be America, “said Tee Allen Parker, who has banned the use of masks at her bar.
The 45-year-old owner of the Machine Shed Bar & Grill in Kilgore, East Texas, has become the face of the resistance fight. use of masks among the business community in the state.
She said: “It is an individual choice. There has been nothing scientific to say that masks are effective. I choose not to use it, but I don’t let thousands of people breathe on me. ”
Parker leads 22 bar owners and Texans who sued the governor for closing bars again last week after a further spike in Covid-19 cases. She notes that Abbott met the George Floyd family without wearing a mask.
She said: “There is a photo of the governor sitting with his family without a mask. You can’t tell me to do something you won’t do. You lead by example.
Nowhere is the schism as wide as in churches, in a state where 88% of adults say they believe in God and 63% pray daily. The root of mistrust of official directives among some Christian conservatives stems from government decisions at the height of the pandemic.
“The churches were closed by government order, and this makes many Christians nervous, as they should be. I didn’t like it, but I support it, “said Austin-based Jon Stokes, who co-created the tech news site Ars Technica. He has realized Fear of government involvement in the church within Christian circles, and the wearing of masks has become a symbol of this.
The CDC, the White House Coronavirus Task Force, and most of the United States government recommend wearing masks to slow the spread of the virus. Vice President Mike Pence has come reluctantly and is now covering his mouth and nose in public, as are some Republican leaders.
Joe Biden says he would make wearing a mask in public mandatory. But Trump and the bulk of the Republican establishment are opposed, and many of his supporters follow suit. “In the faith community, we import many of these divisions of politics. This has always been a struggle, ”Stokes said. “Because it’s a divided issue in popular culture, it’s also in the church.”
Her pastor, Rodney Shaw of New Life United Pentecostal Church, has had to navigate sensibilities with his diverse congregation. After the Austin mayor ordered companies to apply the use of masks indoors, Shaw asked his assembly to do the same.
“It is quite controversial and we have every opinion you can imagine represented in our church and our leadership. But we had almost complete compliance, maybe only one or two were not wearing a mask, ”he recalled.
Two members of the church have died, suspected of being Covid-19. Another died on Monday. The crisis has hit home, and Stokes has noted a decrease in skeptics.
David Smith of Arlington is one of those concerned about the politicization of mask use. “I’m 80 years old, so I’m in the range that can really hit me badly. My son is in a rest house, “he said. “I don’t want him to die, I don’t want him to get sick, and I don’t want people with the virus near him because he’s trapped there.”
The Texas Republican Committee can still hold a convention in person next month in Houston, the fourth-largest city in the United States, where coronavirus cases have doubled since late May. Harris County, which includes the city, extended its mandatory mask order until the end of August. Employees or customers of companies that do not wear a mask are at risk of being fined $ 1,000.
Lameese Williams, a 30-year-old African American nurse and mother of three, lives in North Texas, where masks are not required. She cares about her family. “I believe in Jesus. I plead the blood on my children every morning. I have to work because I am the only provider, but these people do not take it seriously,” she says.
The Texas Medical Association recommends wearing masks. But with the wrong national and state leadership on the subject, citizens are left to the interpretation that most agrees with them.