FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MARCH 4, 2021
The head of the National Black Leadership Commission on Health today called decisions by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves to lift all pandemic-related mask mandates “unconscionable and uncaring” at a time when thousands of college students are scheduled to head to those states during spring break.
“It is essential workers, most likely to be Black or people of color, and who have likely been the last to be tested or get the vaccine, who will be exposed to visitors who will not be masked and traveling from states where variants have introduced uncertainty into the future of the pandemic,” said C. Virginia Fields, the president and CEO of NBLCH.
“These are unconscionable and uncaring actions at a time when the pandemic continues to rage and variants are introducing greater uncertainty and threats to health.”
“Lifting mask mandates will encourage increased infection and will have the effect of discouraging compliance with public health directives, especially in resort and hotel environments where owners will be reluctant to impose such mandates on their own,” Fields said. “President Biden was right when he said these governors’ decisions reflect Neanderthal thinking. We are better than that.”
Fields pointed out that Texas and Mississippi, along with Florida and South Carolina, are among the states that draw the most spring break students and are also states that have opted out of participation in the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obama Care. That action exacerbated longstanding racial and ethnic disparities when it comes to access to affordable health coverage, which have been exposed to a greater extent.
Those disparities particularly affect communities of color most likely to be working in the beachfront hotels and resorts, including the 18 percent of Galveston’s population that is Black and 28 percent that is Hispanic, or the 37 percent of Gulfport, Mississippi, residents who are black.
Fields is reaching out to national associations of black mayors and public health officials to raise a unified voice warning that spring break is precisely the kind of event that can create super spreader events that can then transport infections back to the students’ home states and cities.
She also spoke about the social pressures that can discourage employees, or even customers, from asking unmasked patrons to mask up, warning there have been situations where such a request has sparked confrontations that have led to violence.
“We have to mobilize our voice in support of commonsense health directives to keep our essential workers, and all of our fellow Americans, safe as we see light at the end of the pandemic tunnel,” said Denise Tyler, Executive Director of the National Policy Alliance, a leadership hub for major organizations representing Black elected and community leaders.
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