Rep. Tom Oliverson (R-Cypress), one of the members on the committee and the chair of Speaker Dade Phelan’s (R-Beaumont) workgroup on COVID-19 protocols in the House, introduced a resolution that would have removed the mandate, but requested that it be left pending.
“I filed this because I thought it was the right time to have this conversation,” said Oliverson. “However, I think based on what the experts have come up here and testified, and what I’m hearing from members on the dais, [. . .] I would at this time ask that we leave House Resolution 333 pending and that we revisit it at a later date.”
Another resolution from Rep. Bryan Slaton (R-Canton) which would have removed all of the special rules including the mask mandate was also left pending in the committee on Monday.
“Let’s not give the appearance of, or actual special treatment to, us elected officials in the House with special rules that the general public does not have, and let’s open up the Texas House 100 percent,” said Slaton.
The committee heard testimony from two medical professionals: David Lakey, the chief medical officer at the University of Texas (UT) System, and John Zerwas, a former representative and the current executive vice chancellor for health affairs at the UT system.
Lakey said he was concerned about an uptick in cases as a result of the recent spring breaks and new variants of COVID-19.
“Although we have made progress in getting our most vulnerable Texans immunized, I would note that those who are 50-64 only started being eligible [for vaccinations] about two weeks ago, and those between the ages of 18-50 only became eligible starting today.”
Though Lakey said that as a state employee he was not testifying in favor or against the bill, he recommended that the committee delay consideration of removing the mask mandate for another six weeks — two-thirds of what is left in the 140-day session.
Zerwas, who has been one of Governor Greg Abbott’s pandemic response advisors, also said that “the science proves” that masks have been “an effective intervention.”
“It’s frankly what’s gotten us all through this period of time,” said Zerwas, adding that the committee needs to consider what will allow the legislature to conduct their necessary business for the remainder of the legislative session “safely and effectively, that does not compromise your ability to accomplish the huge amount of work that you have.”
The most recent demographics data from the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) indicates that 68 percent of confirmed cases are among patients below 50 years old, but the same age group accounts for only 7 percent of fatalities.
Total COVID-19 fatalities in Texas represent about 2 percent of all confirmed cases, meaning that about 0.14 percent of confirmed cases among persons under the age of 50 lead to fatality.
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Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.