AJ Media Editorial Board


The Texas face covering mandate has been in place for just more than four weeks, and while there is still a long way to go in the state’s battle against the coronavirus pandemic, it appears some slow and steady progress is being made.


Our story earlier this week indicated hospitalizations have plateaued while the percentage of positive cases has declined, but these hopeful signs should not be interpreted as reasons for complacency.


Gov. Greg Abbott on July 3 tapped the brakes on the state’s phased reopening. He ordered bars to close and mandated face coverings in virtually all of Texas, a decision made in the face of rapidly escalating virus case numbers and one that resulted in fierce criticism from some within his own party. At the time, though, Abbott indicated these steps were probably final options before another lockdown that would undoubtedly further stress the reeling Texas economy.


Despite the opposition, the governor has stayed the course, imploring Texans to do their part by adopting these simple practices. Several recent polls indicate a vast majority of Americans (at least 75 percent) support face covering mandates with 86 percent wearing one in the past week, per a Gallup Poll early last month.


For their part, West Texans have largely complied with the mandate. Face coverings, maintaining social distance and frequent handwashing are proven strategies in mitigating the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus.


Early data suggest these measures are having an effect and continuing these practices will bring the numbers down. What has frustrated many people is the advice about wearing face coverings has fluctuated between the early days of the pandemic and recently. It’s also unrealistic to expect an immediate positive impact from taking these steps.


"Just like good policy or good behavior is reflected two weeks later, the same thing is true for bad behavior," Dr. Rajesh Nandy, a University of North Texas professor of biostatistics and epidemiology, who studied the effectiveness of masks across the country, said in our story earlier this week. "By the time we see the effects of lack of social distancing or masks, it’s already too late."


However, the medical consensus is face masks are shown to be effective in mitigating the spread of the virus.


"The only thing this points out is that there are improvements coming as a result of more people adopting this practice of wearing face masks, staying at home if at all possible, but if you do go out, keeping distance from others," Abbott said in a recent interview with San Antonio television station KSAT.


In a similar vein, Abbott wrote on his Twitter feed this week that as long as social distancing and face covering requirements are observed, a lockdown won’t be necessary. Even though some parts of the state have seen recent dips in new cases, there remains a long way to go. According to a Texas Tribune story earlier this week, daily infections across Texas are beginning to level off with an average of 9,100 new cases each day this past week. The single-day high for cases in Texas was recorded July 15 with 10,791.


"A combination of masking, physical distancing and handwashing has decreased the seven-day average across the state," Todd Bell, Amarillo’s city deputy health director, said earlier this week. "It’s important that we continue using these effective measures, and again, would just encourage people to comply with that."


In Lubbock, following a number of days in which the virus case count was in triple figures, the troubling trend has for the most part begun to reverse course.


"Lubbock, you’re doing a great job, and I think we’re starting to see our numbers come down just a little bit, and that’s because we’re wearing facial coverings now for a couple of weeks," Dr. Ron Cook, Lubbock’s health authority, said in our recent story. "It may take a little bit longer to see a significant fall, but I think we’re headed in the right direction."


As local health officials repeatedly have said, this is not time to relax. Making a little headway cannot give way to unbridled optimism. There remains a lot of work to do. We encourage West Texans to continue wearing face coverings in public settings, frequently washing your hands and maintaining social distance from those outside your own household.


Taken together, these small steps should continue to make a big difference.