LUBBOCK, Texas - Governor Greg Abbott has said "it is now time to open Texas 100%" at a news conference in Lubbock Tuesday where he announced the lifting of statewide COVID mandates.
The governor announced that he was issuing an executive order lifting the statewide mask mandate and that effective next Wednesday, March 10 at 12:01 a.m. all businesses of any type are allowed to open 100%.
"With the medical advancements of vaccines and antibody therapeutic drugs, Texas now has the tools to protect Texans from the virus," said Governor Abbott. "We must now do more to restore livelihoods and normalcy for Texans."
Abbott noted that "COVID-19 has not disappeared" but he says "it is clear from the recoveries, vaccinations, reduced hospitalizations, and safe practices that Texans are using that state mandates are no longer needed."
"Today's announcement does not abandon safe practices that Texans have mastered over the past year," Abbott added. "Instead, it is a reminder that each person has a role to play in their own personal safety and the safety of others. With this executive order, we are ensuring that all businesses and families in Texas have the freedom to determine their own destiny."
The lifting of the mandates is not a surprise as Abbott hinted in recent days that he would be doing so as he faced sharp criticism from some Republicans over his use of executive orders to issue statewide pandemic restrictions.
Gov. Abbott's mask order was put in place on July 2 during a spike in coronavirus cases in the state. Cases dropped sharply under the order but began to rise again after Labor Day and with the easing of some restrictions on restaurants and bars.
CAN COVID RESTRICTIONS BE PUT BACK IN PLACE?
Businesses may still limit capacity or implement additional safety protocols at their own discretion. The governor says if COVID-19 hospitalizations in any of the 22 hospital regions in Texas get above 15% of the hospital bed capacity in that region for seven straight days, county judges in that region may use COVID-19 mitigation strategies.
Judges may not impose jail time for not following COVID-19 orders nor may any penalties be imposed for failing to wear a face mask. If restrictions are imposed at a county level, those restrictions may not include reducing capacity to less than 50% for any type of entity.
WHAT HAS BEEN RESPONSE TO ABBOTT'S DECISION?
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick issued a statement Tuesday following Gov. Greg Abbott's announcement reopening Texas saying:
"The Texas economy is coming back stronger than ever and Governor Greg Abbott’s announcement today will help us restore the livelihoods of millions of Texas even faster. Texas has proved what I have said throughout this long year of the pandemic — we can do two things at once — maintain our economy and fight COVID-19. Today, Texas is one step closer to a return to normalcy."
Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan also expressed support for the governor’s decision, saying it is an important step in the reopening of Texas.
Meantime Austin Mayor Steve Adler spoke out against Abbott's decision. On Facebook Live Monday night, Adler said, "Texas should be guided by that science and that data. There is far too much at stake to compromise the positions that we have so earned just because we're getting overconfident or we have a political imperative of some sort that we need to realize."
Adler encouraged Austinites to continue wearing masks despite the lack of a mandate. "The governor didn't say that you can't wear a mask. He gave everybody a choice. We have to make sure that in this community we make the right choice. I sure hope that people continue to wear masking, whether in public or in closed spaces. I hope that businesses continue to insist that those in their stores wear masking," said Adler.
Prior to the governor's announcement, Adler and Travis County Judge Andy Brown had urged Abbott to keep the mask mandate in place in a Facebook post.
"Wearing a face mask while in public or within closed spaces remains one of the most effective, proactive measures anyone can take to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus according to the US Center for Disease Control," said Adler in a press release. "We as a state should be guided by science and data, which says we should keep the mask mandate. Too much is at stake to compromise the positive outcomes we have seen with over-confidence. Our priorities should continue to focus on the further opening of schools and businesses, but we must do everything we can to ensure the success of those two goals."
"I, along with the Mayors from Houston, Dallas and San Antonio are calling upon the Governor not to create any ambiguity or uncertainty about the importance of wearing a mask by changing the rules at this time," added Mayor Adler
In a tweet, Rep. Lloyd Doggett blasted Abbott’s announcement, claiming it shows the Governor "cannot follow science" and it will assure even more COVID deaths in Texas.
The Texas Democratic Caucus called Tuesday’s announcement a political ploy, arguing Abbott is trying to "change the subject" from his "recent failures during the winter storm", adding that "masks work."
Capital Metro announced Tuesday it will continue to maintain the federal requirement to wear a face mask on CapMetro vehicles and at facilities, in compliance with the federal order requiring the wearing of masks.