Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday that he will soon lift the state mask mandate, even as federal officials have urged states not to abandonprecautions and have noticed a decline in cases across the country.
“Make no mistake, COVID-19 has not gone away, but it is clear from recoveries, vaccinations, reduced hospitalizations, and safe practices Texans are using that state mandates are no longer necessary,” he said Abbott, a Republican, in a statement. .
Texas will join a dozen other US states that do not currently have a state requirement to wear masks, including neighboring Oklahoma, according to a tally by the state’s National Academy of Health Policy. It is currently the most populous state without a state mandate.
The governor’s executive order, which takes effect March 10, also lifts capacity restrictions imposed on state-owned companies. Local officials can still impose “mitigation strategies” if hospitalizations increase in their area, but they are prohibited from punishing residents who defy the mask’s orientation and cannot limit business capacity to less than 50%.
COVID-19 cases and deaths had plummeted after a surge that followed the winter holiday season across the country, including in Texas. The governor justified his decision by pointing to the state’s drop in case counts, noting that daily case counts are the lowest since last November.
But last November, COVID-19 cases spiked in Texas. At the time, Governor Abbott was resisting calls for stricter measures to slow the spread of the virus despite spikes in hospitalizations.
Health data also shows that the state continues to record new worrying COVID-19 cases and hospital admissions, making it one of the three “red states,” states with the most worrying test positivity data, in the latest federal guide. And as states have relaxed restrictions, the Biden administration has repeatedly warned that the country’s decline in COVID-19 cases has slowed amid reports of mutant variants of the virus spreading more rapidly.
“Please hear me clearly: at this level of cases, with the expansion of variants, we may completely lose our hard-won ground. These variants are a very real threat to our people and our progress,” said the director of the CDC, Rochelle Walensky. reporters on Monday.
“Now is not the time to relax the critical safeguards that we know can stop the spread of COVID-19 in our communities,” added Walensky.
The White House’s senior adviser for the COVID response, Andy Slavitt, criticized the decision Tuesday night, arguing that “now is not the time to do this.”
“We appreciate the challenges governors face in making all the decisions they face and we recognize that many of them are theirs,” Slavitt said on MSNBC. “But the president has made it very clear that we will save many lives if the first 100 days – 50,000 lives, that’s the estimate, if everyone wears a mask. And that’s why we think it’s critical, especially now that we’re starting to see a Increase in cases in Texas, which we’ve seen over the last week, and particularly since we now have plans to vaccinate the country. Now is not the time to do this. ”
At a press conference Tuesday announcing his decision, Governor Abbott cautioned that lifting the mask requirement “does not end personal responsibility.”
“Personal surveillance is still needed to follow safety standards to contain COVID. It’s just that now state mandates are no longer necessary,” the governor said.