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The Texas state mask mandate ended March 10. Companies can now also operate at full capacity as long as hospitals in their region have not treated a large portion of their COVID-19 patients. Governor Greg Abbott announced that he was loosening those restrictions so that “businesses and families in Texas have the freedom to determine their own destiny.”
Health officials still emphasize the importance of wearing face masks to contain the spread of the virus, along with hand washing and social distancing. Several Democratic leaders called the executive order “dangerous,” including President Joe Biden, who said it was a “big mistake” to end the mask’s term. Additionally, three of Abbott’s four coronavirus medical advisers say they were not directly consulted before he lifted the mandate.
Abbott said the state is in a “completely different position” than last year, with more access to tests, successful treatments, protective equipment and vaccines. Yet Texas is still slipping from a severe winter surge that killed thousands and overwhelmed intensive care units across the state. Abbott’s decision to relax restrictions was announced as Texas averaged more than 200 reported deaths per day and Houston reported the presence of each variant of COVID-19, the Houston Chronicle reported.
Here’s a look at what the eased restrictions mean for Texans:
- Across the state, masks will no longer be required in public for the first time since last summer. Abbott made face covers mandatory for most Texans on July 2. While more than 30 states still require masking, Texas is the most populous state that does not require it. But federal, state and local health officials say masks must still be worn and other precautions must be taken to slow the spread of the virus.
- School boards, courts, and college campuses may still require masks. Local governments can also require them at their facilities. Masks are still required on federal property, on public transportation, and in public schools. Days after Abbott’s announcement, leaders from Austin, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and El Paso announced that masks will be required to enter city-owned indoor spaces such as libraries, police and fire headquarters, convention centers and centers Of transport.
- The legal protections to enforce the use of masks have been significantly reduced. Under the order, county judges and local officials cannot jail or impose penalties on those who refuse to wear a mask, or penalize companies that do not require the use of masks. However, they can still enforce the transfer ordinances.
- Austin and Travis County Public Health Leaders They say they will continue to require residents to wear masks in public. But officials did not say how they will enforce the order. If Austin tries to enforce its mask rule, it could set up a new legal showdown between the state and its capital city.
- Many business owners have said that they will need masks, while others feel powerless to enforce that rule. Some companies have already faced backlash.
- Businesses can return to 100% capacity, but can still limit capacity or enforce security protocols “at their own discretion.” as per Abbott’s latest order. That directive states that companies can still require employees or customers to wear masks. HEB, ALDI, Kroger, and Target are among the companies that will still need skins. As of Tuesday, Walmart had not released an updated guide after the announcement; your current policy still requires in-store masking.
- Officials in Areas with a large proportion of COVID-19 hospitalized patients may reduce business operations. Local officials can limit business operations to 50% of their capacity if more than 15% of the hospital capacity in their region is used to treat COVID-19 patients for seven consecutive days or more. If that threshold is met or exceeded, there are no automatic restrictions; local officials must issue them.
- Inmate visits may be resumed at county and municipal jails for the first time since Abbott declared a public health disaster last year, bringing some relief to Texas prisoners. Visits must be scheduled in advance and only one adult can visit at a time. A negative test result and face masks will be required, and no physical contact will be allowed.
- Everyone state parks are beginning the process of returning to full capacity, according to a press release from the state parks. Director Rodney Franklin still strongly encourages visitors to cover their faces, especially indoors, and social distance. Most parks have expanded capacity, but others may have some capacity limits or are still recovering from the February winter storm. Many parks are expected to reach capacity for both campers and day-use visitors during peak hours, according to a press release from state parks, which was common before the pandemic.
Disclosure: HEB and Walmart have financially supported The Texas Tribune, a non-profit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations, and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in Tribune journalism. Find a complete list of them here.