Editor’s Note: Ayelet Haimson Lushkov is an associate professor of classics at the University of Texas at Austin, and a Public Voices Fellow of The OpEd Project. The views expressed here are her own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
As the governor of my state of Texas, Greg Abbott, you’ve issued two executive orders barring government entities, including school districts, from imposing mask mandates or requiring Covid-19 vaccinations. Even though I felt this decision was rushed, I had hoped that the high rates of vaccination in some Texas cities, including Austin, where I live, would allow us to return to normality by the start of the new school year.
With the Delta variant now spreading in Texas, I worry that the decision to do away with these preventative measures will only endanger those who need your protection the most: our children. I’m the mother of two young children who attend a public day care program, and your executive orders negatively impact my ability to protect them.
While there is still much to learn about the Delta variant, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky believes the available Covid-19 vaccines offer protection against the variant. But those who are unvaccinated remain at risk, which could have consequences for our children. Children under age 12 are currently not eligible for vaccines and won’t be until more data is collected and reviewed.
Adults and even teenagers can at least choose their fate. But until a pediatric vaccine is approved for emergency use, young children and their caretakers cannot. That’s why it’s so important to encourage those in eligible age groups to receive the vaccine. An Israeli study published recently in Nature found that for every 20% increase in vaccinations of those 16 and older, the share of caseloads in those under 16 fell by half. To protect our children, shots in arms are a must.
The Delta variant is no laughing matter. Even countries with high vaccination rates, like the UK and Israel, are seeing an uptick in cases, and Israel has reinstated its indoor mask mandate. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has recommended masks even for those who have been vaccinated.
Children too young to get vaccinated against Covid-19, along with other unvaccinated people, are especially vulnerable to the Delta variant. It is highly transmissible, and may cause more severe disease. While adults can protect themselves through vaccinations, consistent mask wearing and social distancing, these are either unavailable or difficult to enforce for young children. (I don’t know when you last tried to get a 2-year-old to keep his or her mask on, but I assure you it is no walk in the park). And when children are vulnerable, so are their families and the communities they live in.
If a young child gets Covid-19, that means there is an increased risk for his or her parents, especially if they are unvaccinated. The ripple effects could be manifold. Children who become ill could cause entire schools to go into quarantine, which would force parents to take time off work to take care of them. The impact, as we saw earlier in the pandemic, will disproportionately affect women, and exacerbate the anxiety of trying to transition back to normal life.
Even if you were willing to take the risk of illness or death in small children, just as your lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, was willing to do for older Texans (as he explained early in the pandemic), is it really in Texas’ best interest to take away the power of parents to protect their own children? Shouldn’t our government help us live safe, happy and long lives, especially in a pandemic?
As the Delta variant threatens to sweep through unprotected schools and child care centers, you and your fellow governors in the 27 states that have now abandoned universal mask mandates in schools can instead make important strides to help our communities weather what will hopefully be the tail end of the pandemic. You can encourage vaccination, implement mask mandates and give public schools, day cares and other facilities that care for young children the authority to implement measures that will help protect our children from the Delta variant.
Governor Abbott, I didn’t vote for you, and I don’t agree with your politics. But as a mother of two, I ask you to help parents as we try to keep our children safe. Surely, we can all come together to agree on that.