Dire COVID predictions about end of mask mandate were way off. Let’s be glad for that

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This week, Dr. Anthony Fauci acknowledged something truly shocking.

When asked on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” why COVID-19 cases in Texas have been steadily declining despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to lift the state’s mask mandate and capacity restrictions on businesses one month ago, Fauci half-heartedly conceded: “I’m not really quite sure.”

Texas has been a disappointment in recent weeks to detractors who have all but insisted, and perhaps even hoped, that the state’s complete “reopening” — the result of what President Joe Biden called “Neanderthal thinking” — would culminate in an epic resurgence of COVID-19.

It hasn’t.

In fact, xaseloads have been consistently falling. Tarrant County’s infection rate indicates the virus is in decline.

It’s a reality we should all be celebrating — cautiously, if we must.

Fauci is correct that it’s too early to be completely certain that this trend will continue, that another surge is possible if a variant takes hold in Texas; , that this virus has a “confusing” pattern of delayed case increases and lagging hospitalizations and deaths.

It’s also possible that lifting restrictions and returning to some semblance of normalcy simply won’t have the deleterious impact we’ve spent over a year trying to avoid and the catastrophe public health officials are still trying to scare us into believing will befall us all if we dare to live like it’s 2019.

There are a lot of reasons for that, beginning with the simplest explanation that many Texans have approached their returned freedoms with caution, prudence and consideration.

I’m not sure what people like Fauci were anticipating, but as I pointed out in the days after the reopening took effect, the contention that Texas would become the “Wild West” overnight was completely unfounded.

Most businesses still require or recommend masks, and most patrons oblige.

The confrontations many envisioned between cantankerous anti-maskers and store clerks haven’t dominated human interactions, either.

People now have the option to vote with their feet, and many choose establishments run by those whose masks and distancing requirements align with their own thinking.

They can also make their own risk assessments: Have they had the virus? The vaccine? Do they already limit contact? Are they high-risk?

And as I observed during my first (and completely delightful) mask-free stroll through the Fort Worth Zoo this week, plenty of people still choose to don a face covering, even outdoors, where the risks are proven to be low, if not non-existent. Some will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

That’s probably futile, but so what?

Indeed, even while the CDC’s own data about masks and capacity restrictions show both to have a measurable but surprisingly limited impact on case numbers, people and businesses will continue to do what they believe is safe for them.

Have at it.

But it’s becoming increasingly clear — given the number of recoveries and increasing statewide vaccination rates — that lots of things are or will soon be “safe” to do.

The Star-Telegram reported last week that according to analysis by Dr. Rajesh Nandy of the UNT Health Science Center’s School of Public Health, the combination of infections and vaccinations has North Texas at about 60% immunity, close to the minimum 80% most public health experts identify as “herd immunity”.

Nandy says that should happen around mid-June.

And while more contagious, albeit less-deadly variants are plaguing some parts of the country (including many states that are still “closed”), they haven’t run rampant in Texas. If vaccines become as readily available as Biden says they will soon, variants will probably stay at bay.

Even after a packed Rangers game.

So whether you find it confusing, maddening or refreshing that Texas has defied the most dire predictions for its reopening, it might just be time for us all to breathe deeply and enjoy it.