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Texas governor ends mask mandate and says all businesses can reopen

The Independent logo The Independent 02/03/2021 Oliver O'Connell
Greg Abbott wearing a suit and tie © Provided by The Independent

Texas governor Greg Abbott has announced that all businesses can reopen at 100 per cent capacity and that he is lifting the statewide mask mandate, implemented to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

The governor has been under pressure from fellow Republicans to remove the mask rule that has been in place for eight months. Restrictions end on 10 March.

Not long after Mr Abbott’s announcement, Mississippi governor Tate Reeves announced that his state would be doing the same from Wednesday. Both states have seen steady increases in the number of Covid cases for more than a week.

Nationwide, case numbers, deaths, and hospitalisations have dropped from the peak of the winter surge, but health officials have expressed concern that the decline has plateaued and have specifically warned against relaxing restrictions.

Texas has the third-highest number of deaths from Covid-19 after California and New York, with more than 44,000 Texans having died from the virus.

At a press conference on Tuesday, the Republican governor announced that he was issuing an executive order to rescind his previous orders that brought in the restrictions on business operations.

“Effective next Wednesday, all business of any type, are allowed to open 100 per cent,” he said to applause.

“That includes any type of entity in Texas,” he continued. “Also, I am ending the statewide mask mandate.”

The decision, which was announced at a restaurant in Lubbock, will allow food and beverage establishments to serve at full capacity inside.

This is a particular worry for health officials already concerned about an increase in cases from the recent winter storms that saw millions of Texans left without power and running water for days and forced to shelter wherever there was a source of heat.

The state had initially resisted implementing restrictions, but when the first surge hit in the summer, officials relented.

A strange duality then existed between those that didn’t believe the state was doing enough, led by the mayors of the largest cities, contrasted by spotty enforcement of state orders, with some local authorities refusing to police the restrictions.

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Democratic lawmakers asked the governor to reconsider.

“Texas will experience more cases, more hospitalisations, and more deaths,” state representative Richard Peña Raymond, told Mr Abbott in a letter on Monday.

Mr Abbott stressed that a state mandate was no longer needed but that people should still exercise “personal vigilance”.

His decision will almost certainly spark an outcry from mayors of Texas’ largest cities who were the original proponents of the mask mandate.

The governor’s announcement came as Houston became the first US city to find that every major Covid variant is circulating in the population, with origins ranging from Brazil, the UK, and New York.

Cases in Texas fell consistently throughout February after the seven-day rolling average peaked at approximately 23,000 per day in mid-January. On 20 February the average bottomed out at about 4,200 before rising again to almost 8,000.

On Monday, Dr Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said she was “deeply concerned” after the decline Covid-19 cases and deaths stalled amid new variants spreading through the US.

In a reflection of the latest figures out of Texas, Dr Walensky said there has been a two per cent increase in the seven-day average nationwide to 67,200 new infections per day. Deaths have also increased to an average of 2,000 per day.

In the past year, there have been more than 2.6 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Texas and 44,107 officially recorded deaths.

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