While most of the country is trying to grapple with how long we will need to wear masks and social distance through this pandemic, Texas Governor Greg Abbott made that decision. In a shock to many, effective March 10, he is lifting the statewide mandate on masks and said that ALL Texas businesses can return to 100 percent capacity.
The Republican made the sweeping move — on Texas Independence Day — even as public health officials say restrictions are still critical to control the pandemic, which has killed more than 42,500 Texans.
According to the Dallas Morning News, Abbott cited growing vaccination rates in his decision.
Abbott himself said Tuesday 5.7 million vaccine shots have been administered in the state, there is a surplus of personal protective equipment (PPE) and “10 million Texans have recovered from Covid.”
Why Texas and Why Now?
Abbott also pointed to declining hospitalizations, but experts warn those gains are slowing and could reverse.
Texans will be in charge of managing their own individual safety, Abbott said, using practices learned over the pandemic.
Starting next Wednesday, March 10, 2021, all Texas businesses will be allowed to open at 100% capacity for the first time in nearly a year. While Abbott noted businesses can still choose to limit customers or require masks, the change opens the door to potentially massive social gatherings, including at sports stadiums, concert halls and other large venues.
“Too many Texans have been sidelined from employment opportunities. Too many small business owners have struggled to pay their bills. This must end,” Abbott said at a crowded restaurant in Lubbock, where many around him went without masks.
“It is now time to open Texas 100%,” he said to cheers from an audience that included members of the local chamber of commerce.
“Removing state mandates does not end personal responsibility and caring for your family members, friends and others in your community,” Abbott said. “People and businesses don’t need the state telling them how to operate.”
The announcement puts Texas at odds with federal experts, who have said that even as vaccinations rise, people still need to wear masks, avoid crowds and socially distance.
“This is not a time to relax restrictions — especially the governors who are all high-fiving themselves saying we’re out of this. We’re not,” Dr. Peter Hotez, co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children’s Hospital, said Tuesday.
“Especially when we have vaccines coming … just hold off another couple of months, and that’s going to be such a game changer. We could save so many lives right now if we were to just adhere to (restrictions) for a bit longer, until we could fully vaccinate,” Hotez told CNN’s “New Day.”
Dr. Zeke Emanuel, who was a member of the Biden Transition Covid-19 Advisory Board, told CNN something similar Monday.
“We should not ease up, allow indoor dining, big groups … getting rid of mask mandates. We have to hold on for another two or three months in this condition,” Emanuel said. “We’re still having, on average, 2,000 (Covid-19) deaths a day. We cannot become inured to that.”
What Happens if Texas Numbers Rise?
If Americans relax too early, Covid-19 numbers are “going to reverse and go up,” he added.
Abbott said he knows some officials will worry that opening the state 100% will lead to worsening of Covid in their communities. He says his executive order