Texas businesses will be able to work at full capacity and state residents will no longer have to wear masks to visit them, Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday.
“It’s time to open Texas 100%,” Abbott, a Republican, said in a statement in Lubbock. “Government mandates are no longer needed.”
The easing of restrictions will take effect on 10 March. After about a month of closure last year, Texas allowed companies to reopen to varying degrees from May. Mr. Abbott set up a worm mandate in July when Covid-19 cases and hospital stays increased. More than 44,000 Texans have died from Covid-19. The state has logged almost 33,000 new cases in the past week, an increase from mid-February, but a significant decrease from January.
Mr Abbott’s move, which affects about 29 million people in the second largest state, comes after some smaller states, such as Iowa, Montana and North Dakota, removed worm mandates.
On Tuesday, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves also said he would lose the state’s mask mandate and all restrictions on business capacity. Mr Reeves, a Republican, said hospital stays from the virus had decreased.
“It was never to prevent all possible spread of Covid-19,” he said of the previous orders. “It was always about protecting the integrity of the healthcare system.”
Andy Slavitt, senior adviser to the White House on the Covid-19 response, said the Biden administration understood the pressure on governors to ease the guidelines, but did not agree with Texas and Mississippi decisions to lift their worm mandates and other restrictions.
“We think it’s a mistake to lift these mandates too soon,” Slavitt said in an interview with CNN. “Masks save many lives.”
Other places have also begun to reduce restrictions and cinemas, casinos and restaurants are slowly starting to attract visitors again. Some employees are on their way back to the office.
In Chicago, Democratic Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Tuesday that bars, restaurants and indoor events can reopen with 50% capacity. The city also opened schools for elementary school students on Monday and plans to welcome middle school students next week. On Tuesday, Virginia sports and entertainment venues were allowed to reopen with limited capacity.
In New York, the government said Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat cinemas can be reopened with limited capacity begins March 5.
Last weekend, 42% of North American theaters opened for business, up from 38% the week before, according to media survey company Comscore.
In Las Vegas, casinos are expected to raise the capacity limit to 50% from March 15, with worm mandates left. Casino operators have reported hectic weekends, but midweek days remain slow without major trade shows.
As of Tuesday, 6.6% of the Texas population had been completely vaccinated against Covid-19 and the state had 13.5% positivity for Covid-19 testing, according to Johns Hopkins University. The World Health Organization and other health authorities have recommended that a jurisdiction’s positivity rate fall below 5% before lifting the restriction restrictions.
Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned states on Monday against relaxing restrictions. She said she understood the temptation to do so, given that the number of cases had decreased from a few months ago, but that progress had stopped and more transmissible variants of the disease were a threat.
“Please hear me clearly: At this level of fall, with variants spreading, we can completely lose the hard-earned land we have gained,” says Dr. Walensky. “These variants are a very real threat to our people and our progress.”
Some Democrats said Abbott’s attempt to resume was careless. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the elected head of the county that includes Houston, said the decision would slow the state’s return to normalcy.
“Every time public health measures have been withdrawn, we have seen an increase in hospital stays,” Hidalgo said. “We are approaching the finish line for this pandemic – it is not time to turn around the gains we have worked so hard to achieve.”
Hidalgo suggested that Abbott’s move could be a way to distract from a recent catastrophic electrical failure during a week of freezing weather that has been blamed for dozens of deaths throughout the country.
Abbott said more extensive personal protective equipment or PPE and Covid-19 tests, better medical treatments, increasing vaccinations and the number of Texans who have already had Covid-19 – he estimated as many as 10 million – made it unnecessary to continue restrictions.
Mr Abbott added that Covid-19 still exists and said that the Texans have learned daily habits to avoid getting it.
“Removing the state’s mandate does not end with personal responsibility,” he said.
—Katherine Sayre, RT Watson, and Sabrina Siddiqui contributed to this article.
Write to Elizabeth Findell on [email protected]
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