Texas has revoked its mask mandate and lifted restrictions on business capacity related to the pandemic, even when Biden administration officials called on U.S. states to stop introducing rules aimed at slowing the spread of Covid-19.
Greg Abbott, the Republican governor, acted as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continued to fall in Texas, reflecting improvement trends in most other parts of the U.S. after the fall in early fall and early winter.
“It’s time to open Texas 100%,” Abbott said, issuing an order to lift restrictions that took effect on March 10.
His move has been criticized by prominent Texas Democrats, including Sylvester Turner, the mayor of Houston, who said he was “disgusted” by the decision and would look for ways to maintain the mask’s mandate in his city.
Abbott’s action also came just a day after Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned that “recent declines [in coronavirus cases] it seems to be dragging on ”.
“With these new statistics, I am really concerned about reports that several states are introducing accurate public health measures that we have recommended to protect people from Covid-19,” she said during a White House briefing.
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Governors in Iowa and Montana finalized requests for masks last month, while Arkansas was due to end its mandate for masks in late March if positive rehearsal rates remain low. States including Georgia, South Carolina and Florida, the third largest in terms of population, did not impose nationwide mandates for masks during the pandemic.
Several states have relaxed other Covid-19 rules as well. Gretchen Whitmer, the Democratic governor of Michigan, on Tuesday allowed an increase in indoor dining and retail capacity and the resumption of small closed gatherings.
The U.S. reported less than 50,000 new coronavirus infections on Monday for the first time since mid-October. Hospitalizations, which have been falling every day since Jan. 13, have fallen to their lowest level in four months, according to an analysis by the Financial Times data from the Covid Tracking Project.
Vaccinations also reached new milestones this week, fueling optimism that the U.S. is turning a corner in its fight against the virus.
The CDC said vaccine deliveries exceeded 100 million doses on Tuesday, a day after figures showed more than 50 million Americans had received at least one injection since the introduction began late last year.
Texas – the second most populous state in the United States – received almost 6 million doses of the vaccine, and 3.7 million people received at least one injection, according to the CDC. The state expects more than half of seniors to receive at least one dose by the middle of next week, the governor’s office said.
Under Abbott’s order, Texas counties can implement some mitigation strategies if coronavirus-related hospitalizations in their area increase above 15 percent of bed capacity for seven consecutive days. Counties could limit business capacity in such cases.
The order states that residents are still “strongly encouraged” to wear face covers when social removal is not possible. Businesses may also limit capacity themselves or require additional security measures.
“Make no mistake, Covid-19 hasn’t disappeared, but it’s clear from the recovery, vaccinations, reduced hospitalization and safe practices used by Texans that state mandates are no longer needed,” Abbott said in a statement.
Turner, the mayor of Houston, accused Abbott of lifting his mask mandate to reject harsh criticism at the expense of his handling of last month’s winter storm that left millions of Texans without electricity and heat in the middle of freezing temperatures.
Eric Johnson, the mayor of Dallas, said “it’s not time to let down our guard” because cases remain elevated and new variants are spreading.