Fear among health officials of variant spread as Texas reopens

Texas to reopen as health officials issue warning
Texas to reopen as health officials issue war... 03:43

Last Updated Mar 9, 2021 7:26 PM EST

There may be trouble in Texas. The state is set to reopen tomorrow but it comes as the Houston Health Department issued a dire warning. 

Beginning Wednesday, all businesses, including restaurants, can operate at 100% capacity. The statewide mask mandate also ends. 

"No more six people in the store, waiting in a line outside, so silly. Done. Finished," said Bob Woody, a bar owner. 

The Houston Health Department said the highly contagious U.K. variant has been found at 31 of the city's 39 wastewater treatment plants.

"We do know is that there is a fairly large amount of the U.K. variant in our community and it is spreading," said Dr. David Persse, the chief medical officer for the City of Houston.

Texas ranks 47 out of 50 for vaccinations in the percent of the population that's received at least one dose.

"I worry we're in for the perfect storm. We're lifting restrictions, the B.1.1.7 variant is here in a big way, and we're lagging behind on vaccinations. None of that is good news," said Dr. Peter Hotez, the dean of Baylor College of Medicine. "We're going to be in a much better shape in a couple of months from now. I don't quite understand the urgency to lift restrictions." 

Businesses and schools in Texas can still require masks, but one school district near Houston has already voted to make them optional. 

"My thing is the psychological effect it's going to have on them, also for all of us. It just doesn't make sense to cover our faces and not be able to breathe," said Ashlee Gonzalez-Rios, the parent of a second-grader. 

Meanwhile, in California, where masks are still mandatory, the newest mass vaccination site is injecting hope into a state on the road to recovery. Just two months ago, Los Angeles hospitals were at a breaking point, with patients in the hallways and a lack of beds in intensive care units. Now, Los Angeles County hospitalizations are down 86%, the average of new cases has plummeted 92% — all as vaccine rates soar. Nearly one in five people in the state have received as least one dose of the vaccine. 

"It's been a year and it's just nice to see light at the end of the tunnel," Bill Block, a vaccine recipient, said. 

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    Jonathan Vigliotti is a CBS News foreign correspondent based in London.