Gov. Greg Abbott’s Executive Order No. GA-34 on March 2 lifted the mask mandate in the state of Texas. Following Abbott’s order, the University of Dallas’ President Jonathan J. Sanford lifted masking in the residential halls from 5 p.m. until 6 a.m. every day in a memo on March 9, but left other restrictions in place.
In an interview with The University News on March 18, Sanford explained that he wasn’t ready to loosen other restrictions without more guidance from the university’s COVID-19 task force.
“I hope to be able to slowly roll back a few other features. I was very glad to loosen up the dorm restrictions because students are in classes all day and then they have to go back, they live in the dorms, our residential students. This was some relief there,” Sanford said. “I would like to see more relief in our athletic center, that might be the next area that we will be looking at.”
Sanford said that he would reexamine the situation next week because he wants to receive further guidance from the COVID-19 task force.
Abbott’s executive order lifts all operating limits on businesses and lifts the Texas statewide mask mandate.
“We must now do more to restore livelihoods and normalcy for Texans by opening Texas 100 percent. Make no mistake, COVID-19 has not disappeared, but it is clear from the recoveries, vaccinations, reduced hospitalizations, and safe practices that Texans are using that state mandates are no longer needed,” Abbott stated in a press release.
Executive Order GA-34 prohibits any public authority from requiring any person to wear a face covering and prohibits the issuing of any penalty for failure to do so, although it allows private institutions to make and enforce rules regarding face coverings and other COVID-19 prevention protocols.
The executive order does make provisions allowing county judges to issue and enforce COVID-19 prevention guidelines in the event of increased hospitalizations due to COVID.
“‘Area with high hospitalizations’ means any Trauma Service Area that has had seven consectutive days in which the number of COVID-19 hospitalized patients as a percentage of total hospital capacity exceeds 15%.”
County judges in the areas specified above are allowed to impose guidelines so long as businesses are not required to operate under 50% capacity and as long as no restrictions are placed on religious services, public or private schools, institutions of higher education and child care services.
Other leaders have responded in various ways to Abbott’s new order.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins wrote in a tweet that the move to reopen Texas was not based on science and instead is an attempt to divert attention from the winter storm crisis.
Meanwhile, on March 5, the Diocese of Dallas Bishop and University Chancellor Rev. Edward Burns issued a statement addressing the Governor’s decision.
“As your shepherd, I will always do whatever I can to protect my flock. Please join me in praying for an end to this horrific pandemic that has claimed countless lives. May our Heavenly Father grant us patience and understanding as we all work together to help bring an end to the spread of this deadly virus and the tremendous suffering it has caused,” Burns wrote.
Students have reacted to the COVID-19 policies in different ways.
Sophomore Business major Anna Walters was particularly concerned with the effect Abbott’s order would have on the state of Texas.
“With our citizens still catching COVID everyday, I think it is an inappropriate time for Abbott to end the lockdown and mask mandate in Texas,” Walters wrote. “I understand that people are tired of wearing masks, I am too. It is just simply not worth the risk of killing more people. With the vaccine on its way to being widely distributed, we will likely be able to resume a sense of normalcy in the coming year or so, but Gov. Abbott took it upon himself to decide the pandemic was over, when it is very much not.”
Walters also commented on UD’s change in its response to the pandemic.
“I think [Sanford] took a little after Abbott by lifting masking policies in dorms. Luckily, due to the nature of UD and it’s more suburban location, I don’t believe this action will pose a serious threat to our fellow Irving citizens. Overall, I respect his decisions concerning COVID matters, as he is doing a good job of keeping those at risk safe.”
In an email, sophomore Business major Gabriel Barba commented on President Sanford’s response to the changes in the pandemic.
“I think he’s doing good. If Texas follows Florida’s trends, we should see a regular and somewhat rapid (especially compared to the incredibly sluggish pace of policies concerning COVID across the nation over the past year) return to normal, and I hope that is reflected here at UD as well. I hope that Dr. Sanford continues to act in a way that upholds his responsibilities while also treating the students like adults and not small children to be led by the hand.”
As for the future, Sanford hopes masking will end at UD before next semester.
“The CDC, I saw today is going to be recommending 3 foot as opposed to 6 foot distancing. That won’t make a difference in our classrooms this semester, but for planning for next semester. It will make a big difference if we can sit in greater proximity to each other,” Sanford said. “I really hope that we do not have to wear masks, at least it would be nice if presenters don’t have to wear masks.”
“My principal lane is to make sure that we don’t cease in person classes.”