LUBBOCK, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) - Texas Governor Greg Abbott's announcement ending the 8-month-long statewide mask mandate and opening up Texas 100% makes it the largest state to lift orders intended to prevent spread of COVID-19.
"Under no circumstances can a county judge put anyone in jail for not following COVID orders and no penalties can be imposed for failing to wear a face mask," said Gov. Abbott. "Today's announcement ensures Texans can tap into their own self-reliance to seize the opportunities our state has to offer."
By next Wednesday, March 10 all businesses can open at 100%. If restrictions are imposed at the county level, all entities must be allowed to operate at, at least a 50% capacity, according to Abbott.
"Make no mistake, COVID-19 has not disappeared, but it is clear from the recoveries, vaccinations, reduced hospitalizations, and safe practices that Texans are using that state mandates are no longer needed. Today's announcement does not abandon safe practices that Texans have mastered over the past year. Instead, it is a reminder that each person has a role to play in their own personal safety and the safety of others. With this executive order, we are ensuring that all businesses and families in Texas have the freedom to determine their own destiny."
"If businesses want to limit capacity or implement additional safety protocols they have the right to do so, it is their business and they get to choose how to operate their business the way they want to," said Abbott. "Businesses don't need the state telling them how to operate."
Abbott made the announcement from Lubbock on the same day Texas reported a new one day record for the number of people receiving vaccines—more than 216,000.
"With the vaccine increasing so rapidly, Texas will soon expand the categories of people who are able to get them and some medical professionals say within a few months, every Texan who wants a vaccine shot will be able to get one," said Abbott.
He said it's safe to open Texas 100% because there are vaccines against COVID-19, medicines to treat those who get the virus, and there's an abundance of COVID tests and PPE.
Should Texas see another surge in COVID cases, Abbott said that if COVID hospitalizations in any of the 22 hospital regions in Texas rise above 15% of the hospital bed capacity in that region for seven straight days, then a county judge in that region may use COVID mitigation restrictions in that county.
In response to Abbott's announcement, some health officials advised against removing masks.
"It's still too early," Dallas County Health and Human Services Director Dr. Philip Huang said. "We would love to be able to get back to normal, but with all the variables that are out there, we still have a lot more people that need to be vaccinated. It's not the time to relax."
One Dallas doctor, Dr. Charles Powell with Health Care Associates of Texas said, "We are happy with the Governor's decision give freedoms back to the people to be responsible, but people need to still exercise their responsibilities and respect the decisions of business owners that can continue to make their own choices. Our mask policy existed before the state mandate and it will exist after. As a healthcare business we have a higher concentration of COVID patients as well as people at risk for COVID. We will continue to make decisions to protect our staff and patients that enter our facilities."
Health professionals aren't the only people who shared their immediate reaction after Abbott's announcement to fully reopen Texas in response to COVID-19.
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price released the following statement:
"In light of Governor Abbott's announcement today, we will withdraw the agenda item related to a local mask order at this evening's City Council meeting. It is my understanding that we will no longer be able to issue a local mask order, and our current local mask order will expire today. We are still assessing how the executive order will impact various City services.
It is heartening to see hospitalization rates move in an encouraging direction as more and more people receive their COVID-19 vaccine. Normalcy is on the horizon, but it is so important to keep in mind we are not out of the woods just yet. Personal responsibility remains key, and I continue to encourage residents of Fort Worth to do the same thing I have encouraged for the last year – support your community by doing all you can to keep yourself and those around you safe."
Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson issued the following statement:
"The people of Dallas should continue to mask up and take precautions to slow COVID-19's spread and mutations. We are getting closer to achieving herd immunity, and now is not the time to let down our guard. Vaccines, masks, and social distancing are the best tools we have for fighting this virus, which has claimed far too many lives in the last year."
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick applauded the governor's decision to open the state.
"The Texas economy is coming back stronger than ever and Governor Greg Abbott's announcement today will help us restore the livelihoods of millions of Texas even faster. Texas has proved what I have said throughout this long year of the pandemic — we can do two things at once — maintain our economy and fight COVID-19. Today, Texas is one step closer to a return to normalcy."
Texas Speaker of the House Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) released the following statement:
"The unparalleled efforts of government and the pharmaceutical industry to defeat the novel coronavirus prove what we've always known: vaccines work. With greater access to vaccinations, better treatment options, and decreasing hospitalization rates, the Texas approach empowers citizens to exercise personal responsibility about their health in the fight against COVID-19. Today's action marks an important step in the reopening of Texas, improving the mental health of our students, increasing the reporting of domestic violence and child abuse, and revitalizing our business climate. I also appreciate that there are safeguards in place to prevent spread from increasing as the state reopens. The past year has been difficult for all Texas families, and there is now hope that we will defeat and eradicate COVID-19."
Texas Association of Business (TAB) CEO, Glenn Hamer released the following statement praising Governor Abbott's announcement today that lifts COVID-19 restrictions in hospital regions where coronavirus patients make up less than 15% of the hospitals' capacity:
"Throughout the pandemic, Governor Abbott has implemented measures that protect our communities, while ensuring Texans still have the ability to earn a paycheck and put food on their tables. Once again, the Governor is striking the right balance by removing the heavy hand of government and allowing businesses to operate as they see fit. One year into dealing with COVID-19, organizations understand what protocols they must implement to function safely, and TAB knows Texas companies will operate responsibly.
"Today's decision will unleash the full might of the Texas economy and create more and better-paying jobs for hardworking Texans. Furthermore, this will lead to a full economic recovery not only for our state, but the entire country, and TAB applauds the Governor's announcement today."
The President and CEO of the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council, Stephen Love said in a statement:
"Governor's Abbott's decision to remove the mask mandate in Texas is very unfortunate and could increase community spread of COVID-19 and potentially cause mutations called variants. Face masks ( worn properly ) can block respiratory droplets of COVID-19 produced when an infected person coughs. Face masks help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 infection in pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic people who do not realize they have the infection. Masks help protect your fellow Texans by tamping down the community spread of the virus. Wearing masks can help the economy recover by slowing the spread of the infection in business places like restaurants and bars. Through our efforts to wear masks, physical distance and wash hands we have decreased the infection rate, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 in North Texas over the past 5-6 weeks. Let's not reverse that trend because the COVID-19 virus with variants are still here and we have not achieved herd immunity.
While we respect Governor Abbott and realize he has faced enormous challenges with the COVID-19 virus and the recent winter weather issues, we strongly disagree with removing the mandatory mask requirements because the community spread increases will once again cause our exhausted healthcare heroes to diagnose, treat and save the lives of newly infected patients. If the community spread increases, the risk of mutations also increases creating an additional set of challenges. If you truly want to honor our healthcare heroes---WEAR A MASK! We hope Governor Abbott will please reconsider this decision."
Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa issued the following statement:
"What Abbott is doing is extraordinarily dangerous. He is the worst Governor in modern Texas history. This will kill Texans. Our country's infectious disease specialists have warned that we should not put our guard down even as we make progress towards vaccinations. Abbott doesn't care.
On this Texas Independence Day, once again Abbott's actions are made independent of logic or reason. From leaving Texans to literally freeze to death, to letting a deadly virus have an open season on our residents, Governor Abbott has proven many times over that he neither understands the struggles of everyday Texans, nor does he care about doing his basic duty to protect them.
What Abbott calls pro-business is anti-people. Make no mistake: opening Texas prematurely will only lead to faster COVID spread, more sickness and overcrowding in our hospitals, and unnecessary deaths. There is no economic recovery without beating the coronavirus pandemic. This will set us back, not move us forward.
Abbott removing a statewide mandate while preaching personal responsibility to prevent the spread of COVID is an abdication of his own personal and professional responsibility to keep Texans safe.
By removing all previous state mandates and opening the state to 100%, Governor Abbott, who has never taken this pandemic seriously, is doing what he does best: leaving Texans to fend for themselves."
More than 42,000 people have died from the virus in Texas, trailing only California and New York.
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