Gov. Greg Abbott says it’s time to re-open businesses in Texas and remove the state’s mask mandate.
“It is now time to open Texas 100%,” Abbott said in Lubbock, joined by Lubbock business leaders at Montelongo’s Mexican Restaurant. “Everybody who wants to work should have the opportunity. Every business that wants to be open should be open.”
The announcement comes after Abbott hinted that his COVID-19 orders could soon be lifted. On Monday, sharing a tweet about his approval ratings, Abbott teased that “exciting news” was coming Tuesday.
Abbott’s regular updates on guidelines for business operations have slowed since October, when he issued an executive order permitting most businesses to operate at 75% capacity. There are some exceptions, such as salons, where there’s no occupancy limit but there are health guidelines. Bars, which are open in Tarrant County, can operate at 50% capacity with county judge approval.
The rollback of business operations is triggered by an area’s COVID hospitalization rate.
Abbott’s statewide mask mandate has been in effect since July.
“Wearing a face covering in public is proven to be one of the most effective ways we have to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Abbott said at the time in a statement. “We have the ability to keep businesses open and move our economy forward so that Texans can continue to earn a paycheck, but it requires each of us to do our part to protect one another — and that means wearing a face covering in public spaces.”
The number of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Texas have been trending down in recent weeks.
The Texas Department of State Health Services on Monday reported 1,637 confirmed cases of the virus and 59 fatalities. The state reported Monday that nearly 1.9 million people are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 — 6.5% of Texans.
Ahead of his news conference, Abbott touted that Texas on Tuesday will report “a new one day record for the number of people receiving vaccines — more than 216,000.”
It’s premature to roll back COVID-19 rules, said Dr. Peter Hotez, a vaccine expert and dean for the National School of Tropical Medicine in the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
“The science says we can vaccinate our way out of this epidemic, and I think in time, as people start getting vaccinated, what will likely happen is that will allow masks to come off, for instance.” Hotez told Houston’s KOHU. “Not right now. We don’t have the full evidence base for it, but it’s moving in that direction.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended masks be worn in public settings as a barrier against respiratory droplets that could spread COVID-19.
History shows local officials are limited in their ability to go against Abbott’s executive orders related business operations.
In El Paso, County Judge Ricardo Samaniego tried to go beyond Abbott’s order as the community grappled with spiking COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. El Paso County was sued by Texas after shuttering non-essential businesses. Ultimately a state appellate court sided with Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office, and El Paso’s non-essential businesses were allowed to remain open.
“If conduct is allowed under the Governor’s order, that County cannot prohibit it,” an order from Texas’ Eighth Court of Appeals reads. “If activities are prohibited by the Governor’s order, the County cannot allow them.”
The Texas Supreme Court sided with the state after Austin and Travis County tried to close dine-in food and beverage services from 10:30 p.m. to 6 a.m. from Dec. 31 through Jan. 3.
Ahead of his Tuesday announcement at least two lawmakers wrote to Abbott asking the state’s face cover requirement remain in place.
The letters from State Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, D-Laredo, State Rep. Vikki Goodwin, D-Austin, expressed concerns over COVID-19 variants that are highly transmissible.
Repealing the order will cause more coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths, the letters — which largely mirror each other — read.
“As the coronavirus pandemic continues to afflict the state, we must remain vigilant in addressing and containing the virus through coordinated, carefully considered action,” Raymond said in his March 1 letter. “To that end, your commitment to upholding as mask mandate is essential.”
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.