HARLINGEN, Texas – Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to wear a mask in public, according to polling by Axios/Ipsos.

Axios/Ipsos has been tracking this issue and others related to COVID-19 since March 20.

The latest data runs up to July 17, 2020.

In answer to the question, are you very concerned about the COVID-19 outbreak, 83 percent of Democrats said “yes,” compared to only 38 percent of Republicans who said “yes.”

Asked do you always wear a mask when you go outside your home, 83 percent of Democrats said “yes,” compared to only 41 percent of Republicans who said “yes.”

Asked if they had visited a friend or relative in the last week, 61 percent of Republicans said they had, compared to 36 percent of Democrats.

Reporter Mike Allen of Axios said these numbers track the President Trump’s rhetoric on the coronavirus.

No matter who supports wearing masks the most, Gov. Greg Abbott thinks they are a good idea. He issued a mandate that Texans wear a mask in public on July 2.

“Epidemiologists and disease modelers say they are cautiously optimistic that the mandate is helping the state turn a corner in its efforts to contain an outbreak that has killed more than 4,500 Texans,” Abbott said, in a tweet responding to a story on KWTX’s website.

“A community lock down is not needed as long as masks & other distancing strategies are used,” Abbott wrote Monday on Twitter, citing the analysis by Rajesh Nandy, a professor of biostatistics and epidemiology at the University of North Texas Health Science Center.

Abbott also tweeted in response to a story on Fox4News. He wrote: “Scientific Report shows that the mask mandate is successfully slowing the spread of COVID-19 in North Texas. The report also shows that a community lock down is not needed as long as masks & other distancing strategies are used.”

The story on the KWTX website was penned by The Texas Tribune. It said that while there is widespread consensus that more people wearing face coverings in public will slow viral spread, researchers disagree over how much credit to assign to the statewide mask order.

“We will probably never know for sure whether the mask mandate is affecting what looks to be at least a leveling off of cases,” said Catherine Troisi, an infectious disease epidemiologist at UTHealth School of Public Health in Houston.

“It is certainly possible the mask mandate is decreasing spread,” she said. “I hope that’s true, but it’s hard to prove.”

The Texas Tribune said disease modelers estimate a figure called the reproduction number, which essentially represents how many people, on average, a person infected with the coronavirus will pass it on to. A reproduction number above 1 signals rapid growth, a value of 1 indicates stable growth, and less than 1 means an area is experiencing a decrease in new cases over time and has slowed the rate of transmission.

“Even if new case counts remain steady, Texas has a long way to go toward reducing the rate of viral transmission as other states have done. New York, for example, has reported an average of roughly 700 new cases per day in recent weeks, after an April peak of more than 12,000,” the Texas Tribune story stated.

“Nandy’s analysis of mask orders found that states, such as New York, that acted quickly were able to avoid the virus’ June surge experienced in Texas. New York, one of the country’s earliest hot spots, began requiring face masks in mid-April; Abbott announced Texas’ statewide mask order July 2.”

The Texas Tribune story that after waffling on mask mandates, first prohibiting Texas cities from enforcing them and later issuing a statewide order, Abbott hopes to avoid the possibility of a business shutdown, which is even more unpopular among members of his party.

An Abbott spokesman did not respond to emailed questions Thursday.

National polls have found broad support for mask mandates among Democrats and Republicans. But are mask mandates effective enough to take a shelter-in-place order off the table?

“There’s just not enough evidence either way,” James Scott, a professor of statistics and member of the University of Texas COVID-19 Modeling Consortium,” The Texas Tribune story stated.

“I understand that there’s an enormously difficult set of tradeoffs that have to be navigated when you contemplate locking the economy down,” he said. “But I think it would be premature to rule out the possibility of subsequent lockdowns if things got really, really bad.”

Public health experts warn that more restrictive lockdowns may still be appropriate in the state’s hardest-hit regions, as the disease continues to infect about ten times as many people each day compared with two months ago, ravaging some parts of the state more severely than others.

State data now appears to show new daily infections leveling off, albeit at nearly record highs. There were around 9,100 daily new cases of the virus on average over the past week. The state recorded its largest number of daily new cases July 15, at 10,791. On Thursday, that number was 9,507.

“The downside is even though we are approaching another plateau, we are at a much higher level than in May,” Nandy said.

The average percentage of coronavirus tests coming back positive has also fallen over the past week.

Taken together, epidemiologists say those trends may indicate that Texas is reaching a plateau of new cases, where the number of cumulative infections climbs steadily, rather than exponentially. That would hardly represent a victory over the pandemic, but it would help keep hospitals from being overrun with sick patients.

Public health experts say more time is needed to see if daily case numbers hold steady or, ideally, decline — which would also lead to fewer hospitalizations and deaths.

The four county judges of the Rio Grande Valley have wanted to impose stringent stay-at-home orders in order to flatten the curve of new coronavirus cases but Gov. Abbott says such orders are not enforceable. 

A Rio Grande Guardian reader, Summer Joy Gonzales said the reason the Valley does not have a stringent stay-at-home order is because Abbott listened to business leaders in North Texas.

“Abbott was coerced by Judge Chris Hill from Collin County to reopen. Judge Hill and 30 CEOs from North Texas met and put pressure on Abbott. Since that is where Ken Paxton is from (McKinney, TX) they all pushed Abbott to reopen. They put profits before people and by declaring many of our people as essential. That’s how we got this problem. Judge Clay Jenkins (of Dallas) pleaded with Abbott to stay closed but they bullied him.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Texas Gov. Greg Abbott throwing out a virtual first pitch before an opening day baseball game between the Texas Rangers and the Colorado Rockies, Friday, July 24, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (Photo: AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter)

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