By Gaige Davila
The day Governor Greg Abbott declared he would not impose a new mask mandate despite rising cases throughout the state, I, fully vaccinated since April, contracted COVID-19.
The day the Rio Grande Valley saw 648 new cases for COVID-19, the first time cases have reached that number in months, every breath felt, and sounded, like air being pushed through inflamed flesh, followed by violent fits of bloody coughing.
The day the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that people vaccinated for COVID-19 should continue to wear face masks, I could breathe through my nose for the first time in four days, not needing to gasp for air through my mouth just to have some amount of oxygen inside my fluid-filled lungs.
The day Greg Abbott issued an executive order that no city or local government could enforce mask wearing or vaccine requirements, I could finally ascend my apartment stairs without seeing stars.
I didn’t know any of this was happening at the time, however, because I was bedridden, hardly able to do more than get up periodically to eat and drink bottle after bottle of Gatorade and water and listen to albums in full, sound tracking my fever dreams.
How many MF DOOM, Pharcyde, Pink Floyd and Thin Lizzy albums could I get through? Surely not all of them, I thought. But I did, because I couldn’t do anything else but listen to music, attempting to calm myself as I teetered on a needle-tip thin edge towards a panic attack, convinced I would lose my ability to breathe at any moment. By the third day of not being able to take full breaths, my lung capacity getting lower, I wagered how much energy it would take to drive myself to the hospital, not wanting to transmit the virus to anyone who would opt to drive me there.
Thankfully, before I had to seriously consider my emergency medical care options, I came up for air.
Within the last three days of my quarantine, I was able to paint, hold extended conversations with people over the phone, read and even taste and smell the food I made (sort of). This past Saturday, when I was cleared from quarantine, I had to recoordinate myself, had to relearn how to check my blind spots while driving, and had to find a place to sit or lay down once my chest started hurting.
As of writing this, I’ve been COVID free for at least a week, but the experience has changed how I see, and tolerate, everything related to the virus that has thrown most of the world’s population into a mutual exile.
First, I wasn’t taking the pandemic as seriously as I should after I was vaccinated. I continued wearing my mask wherever I went, but I was convinced I would be fine. I exercise regularly, eat healthy, and I’m 25. What I failed to incorporate, however, was that I’ve been smoking since I was 15, my immune system is not strong, I’ve had lung issues since I was an infant and I didn’t wear a mask while training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, which is how I contracted COVID-19.
That being said, I don’t believe that means I deserved to contract COVID or nearly be hospitalized from it, the latter of which was only prevented, most likely, because I’m vaccinated. Most everyone hospitalized from COVID-19 in Cameron County was, is, unvaccinated.
This dangerous, pervasive attitude to not wear masks and to not be vaccinated, as if they were badges of machismo honor, is the fault of no one else but Governor Abbott and the base he is trying to cling to as the November general election approaches.
COVID-19 cases are rising in the Rio Grande Valley and across the state, now possibly more dire than before with the more contagious Delta variant’s presence. We, along with Florida, are leading the country in new COVID case transmissions.
With this in mind, why would Abbott insist on not implementing measures he did more than a year ago, when, compared to now, hardly any COVID-19 cases were present in the state?
Predictably, because he panders at those that will keep him, a man who knows nothing about how working class people live, before the COVID-19 pandemic and now, in power. Why, then, do so many use his orders, as if he was informed at all about how viruses work, or cares, as the basis of which they live?
This is where the “personal responsibility” trope gets thrown at me and anyone else who points out this obvious folly of Abbott. That argument can only carry to a point: the point being when even those who are most cautious of COVID, staying home as often as possible, wearing masks, getting vaccinated, participate in the mutual exile out of respect and empathy for others, there are those who don’t aren’t because it is their “right” and they have the “freedom” to.
By that logic, what personal responsibility do hundreds of students at PI-ISD have who, along with still dealing with the mental anguish they suffered last year during the first year of the pandemic, in not getting sick if, God forbid, they decide to take off their masks to get a fuller breath in a hot classroom? Do they deserve to get sick with COVID if they do that, because other students choose not to wear masks or get vaccinated, because their parents or themselves are believing the latest round of misinformation surrounding either?
And while those who are being careful continue to be in mutual exile, waiting for those who aren’t to learn, the easy or hard way, that the more people who practice COVID-19 safety the less we have to shelter in place, wear masks, socially distance and, hopefully return to life as we knew it, not what we are collectively doing, which is pretending life is back to normal, solely because businesses and pro-business governments are saying it is.
To quote Cormac McCarthy, if the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule?
Hence why mandating the initial protocols issued at the beginning of the pandemic is paramount, more so now than ever. Take it from me, you don’t want this God damn virus, even if your symptoms are mild. The people you could pass it too might not be so lucky, as so many in this community and across the globe have learned.
The state can help us financially, if we force the political will to do so. The money is there, in inflated budgets across cities, counties, the state and federally. And we can accept this help for the greater good of our community who is still struggling. And we can safely have tourism here, if we were allowed to mandate COVID-19 protocols, another victim of Abbott’s pandering.
I am sorry to anyone who has had to experience COVID-19, whether themselves or via their loved ones. But I am not sorry for the anger I’ll hold perpetually against Abbott and the needless suffering that his leadership has caused and you shouldn’t be either.