Op-Ed: Defeating COVID-19 Requires Respect and Trust in One Another
Even before the recent surge of coronavirus cases in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, North Texans expressed caution about returning to their pre-coronavirus lives. And it’s going to take more than public policy and business-instituted rules for many people to feel comfortable when they’re out in public — especially with the pandemic now straining hospital capacity in the region.
If there is one word that characterizes how most people want their fellow Texans to act around other people during these challenging times, that word is “respectful.”
According to a recent poll conducted for Texas 2036, a group focused on the state’s economic future, two-thirds of North Texans (66 percent) think the risks of returning to their pre-coronavirus lives are large (37 percent) or moderate (29 percent).
What concerns more respondents than anything else? Two things: people who gather in large groups without wearing masks or social distancing (62 percent said they are very concerned about this), and leaders who share mixed or conflicting information about the coronavirus (60 percent are very concerned).
Majorities said they would be at least somewhat more likely to go out in public with safety protocols and government requirements in place. However, those protocols do not have the universality of support that suggests they would make a difference in people’s behavior.
In other words, while most people say better-defined safety protocols would make them more likely to go out, that sentiment lacks enough intensity to be impactful. Further, at least a third say the changes would have no impact on their desire to go out in public.
Why aren’t these proposed changes more effective in raising the public’s comfort level? One issue may be limited enforcement power. Based on what people are experiencing in public settings, they may lack confidence in businesses or local authorities to enforce safety standards and requirements. North Texans also may have low expectations for compliance: when people see others ignoring existing rules, it erodes confidence that big majorities of the public will follow new, more stringent requirements.
So, what’s our next move? According to the poll, the region should work together to foster a renewed sense of community built on mutual respect and trust in one another. An overwhelming majority (84 percent) of North Texans agree that “wearing a mask shows respect for the first responders and health care professionals who put their lives on the line for us,” and 81 percent agree that “wearing a mask is a sign you respect your friends and neighbors.” Masking up and social distancing will help North Texas put the coronavirus on its heels — a first step toward economic recovery.
Texans have a reputation for fierce independence, a trait that has been on full display during the pandemic. But we’ve also seen the lengths Texans will go to help neighbors in need. Texans came together from all over the state to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey — they donated money, sent food and clothing, and even organized flotillas to rescue people when local and state governments couldn’t.
We need to harness that Texas spirit to beat the pandemic.
David Iannelli is a partner in Hudson Pacific, the firm that conducted the poll.