Health care workers warn removing masks could lead to more hospitalizations, or worse

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Gov. Abbott will lift the mask mandate Wednesday, but some health care workers worry that if people stop wearing masks, it could prolong the pandemic and also increase hospitalizations.

“I am ending the statewide mask mandate,” said Gov. Greg Abbott this past Tuesday as he also announced businesses will be able to open at 100{b5d304c96e94113bdfc523ff4218a1efff4746200bdb9eeb3214a56a1302f2e4} capacity starting March 10.

While those in attendance to the announcement cheered at the news, health care workers like Ariana Lucio are worried the move is premature.

“I was kind of shocked at the timing,” said Lucio said. “It came out of nowhere.”

As a nurse in El Paso, one of the hardest hit cities across the nation, Lucio spent months trying to save lives.

“We were just overwhelmed overworked, physically, emotionally and we don’t want to go back there,” Lucio said.

Her experiences are something many people outside the hospital setting don’t see firsthand. She spoke of the isolation and loneliness of those fighting the virus, unable to see loved ones for weeks or months, while some pass away alone in the hospital.

“As a nurse, you try to keep it together, and they might be crying and you are just trying to support them and stay professional, but when you get home that is when you let it all out,” Lucio said.

Lucio is now urging Texans to keep wearing the mask until we get the all clear.

“We in public health are still absolutely pro mask,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist with Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Dr. Schaffner says there is light at the end of the tunnel, but how soon we get there will depend on how we respond.

“From here to there I would put us until the end of the summer if everything goes well,” Schaffner said. “We need to vaccinate between 70 and 80 or maybe even a little more than 80{b5d304c96e94113bdfc523ff4218a1efff4746200bdb9eeb3214a56a1302f2e4} of the adults in this country in order to really reduce the spread of this virus.

Masks are a big part of getting back to the way things were before the pandemic, Schaffner said. He said masks stop the spread of the virus which is especially important as new, more contagious variants emerge.

“The fewer times this virus has to multiply, the fewer mutations happen and the fewer variants that can be created,” Schaffner said. “We could give this virus new opportunity to spread, then we will have to catch up again to suppress the virus.”

Dr. Schaffner says the addition of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine along with Moderna and Pfizer sending out more doses are good signs.

Increased vaccine availability is one reason Gov. Abbott said he considered in his decision to lift the mask mandate.

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