LUBBOCK, Texas — After Gov. Greg Abbott’s announcement to lift the state’s mask mandate starting March 10, families of people with disabilities across Texas expressed their concern about how this could put their loved ones at an increased risk of getting the coronavirus and even dying from it.
For some, the decision was like taking a step backward in the fight against the virus just as the vaccine rollout was picking up steam.
“There’s no question that this decision hurts our group of people,” Chelsea Anders, who advocates for people with disabilities and whose daughter Olivia has cerebral palsy, said.
Anders said six-year-old Olivia’s cerebral palsy makes her high risk for COVID-19, and after the governor’s announcement, she felt disappointed.
“This feels like we just let our foot off the gas,” Anders said.
As the state opens up, she added, for people with disabilities, it might become more closed off again.
She fears lifting the mandate will give people an excuse not to wear masks or face coverings — something that could put people with disabilities, like Olivia, at greater risk for getting the virus.
“There is no amount of risk that I’m willing to take with my child’s life,” Anders said.
Now, Anders and her family are tasked with making the tough choice of whether or not to take Olivia out of in-person class. Anders said going back to virtual school would devastate her little girl, who loves learning.
“My kid is going to miss everything just because we’re not wearing masks anymore,” she said.
Anders has a reason to be worried. Research from the nonprofit Fair Health found that people with developmental disabilities are three times more likely to die if they have COVID-19, and Public Health England found that people with developmental disabilities could be up to six times more likely to die of COVID-19 complications.
Disability groups around Texas are also concerned about how their communities will be impacted.
“Their voices need to be heard when these decisions are being made,” Rebecca Moreau, assistant director for the Epilepsy Foundation Texas, said.
According to the EFTX, there are about 3.4 million living with epilepsy nationwide, but people with epilepsy often have other disabilities too, all of which predispose them to virus complications.
“With epilepsy, there comes co-morbidities, [such as] hypertension, diabetes, learning difficulties,” Moreau said.
Moreau also pointed out getting a fever, a symptom of the virus, can make seizures worse. In a given year, she added people with epilepsy often feel isolated, and the pandemic has only made the isolation worse.
Both EFTX and Anders emphasized it’s like people with disabilities were left out of Gov. Abbott’s decision.
“There has to be a decision that can benefit the majority of people instead of leaving one very large group of people out in the cold,” Anders said.