Hendrick Health: Stay the course, don't abandon masks yet

Steve Nash
Brownwood Bulletin
Dr. Stephen Lowry (left), chief of staff at Hendrick Health, and Dr. Rob Wiley, chief medical officer, discuss Gov. Greg Abbott's order lifting the statewide mask mandate.

Texans should “stay the course” and continue practices including wearing masks in public that have helped reduce the number of COVID cases, Hendrick Health officials said.

Hendrick Health chief medical officer Dr. Rob Wiley and chief of staff Dr. Stephen Lowry said they would have preferred a “stepped approach” from Gov. Greg Abbott rather than Abbott’s action to end the statewide mask mandate and allow 100% capacity for businesses beginning Wednesday, March 10.

As of Wednesday, four COVID patients were hospitalized in Brownwood, the Hendrick Health Facebook page states.  

“I would still encourage us to continue to do what we’ve been doing,” Wiley said. “We’re in a great place. Numbers are down. The hospital is in much better shape than what it was two months ago. But we are not out of the woods. I would feel much better to see where we are in the first week of May.”

Additionally, Hendrick Health said via email:

“While Hendrick continues to be encouraged by the declining COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases in our area, along with the increasing numbers of vaccinated residents, it is too early to let up on the evidence-based practices that have kept Texans safe over the last year. With new COVID-19 variants quickly spreading across our communities, masking up, physically distancing from others and practicing good hand hygiene are all the more important to protect each other, to help stop the spread and to reduce transmission of these mutations.

“In light of Governor Greg Abbott’s Executive Order (GA-34), which lifts the state’s mask mandate and COVID-19 restrictions for businesses, Hendrick Health would like to reinforce the importance of continuing to follow the CDC’s guidance to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including wearing a mask.”

Wiley said the mask mandate “has been very effective” in reducing COVID numbers. “Our recommendations are, continue to follow what has been very effective and what the CDC has recommended,” Wiley said. 

“We’re going to encourage our community, our businesses, continue masking for their employees and for customers. What we have been doing has been very effective, and I think we are in the place we are because Texas has done a good job with its masking. I think we may be a little preemptive in lifting those requirements. I think there is still a lot of unknowns that are out there.”

He said another surge will likely occur in April because students will be moving around and traveling over Spring Break and because of the variants in COVID. Wiley said he hopes it’s not as severe as the surge that occurred over the previous three months.

“The last thing we want to see is another surge because we were irresponsible,” Wiley said. 

“My concern is what happens if we go to this full-tilt no masking. I believe we’ll see another surge, which will require us to step back in what we’re doing, requiring masks again, requiring limitations.”

Lowry said the medical community has learned a lot about COVID this past year and “developed ways to deal with the constantly changing environment around us.” 

Texas “needs to be very careful,” Lowry said. ”Citizens need to prepare to flex as the situation progresses.”

If cases start to rise after the mask mandate is lifted, people will “hopefully have a shared sense of personal responsibility” to mitigate the spread, Lowry said.