Texas has officially rescinded their statewide face mask mandate as well as all capacity limits on businesses, signaling a major easing, if not a complete end of COVID-19 restrictions in the state.
Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott announced during his press conference on Tuesday Afternoon that the state would remove the COVID face mask orders for all counties and would allow all businesses to reopen at 100 percent capacity, WFAA reported. The order is expected to take place on March 10.
“Businesses don’t need the state to tell them how to operate,” Governor Abbott said during the conference, adding that it was “time to open Texas, one-hundred percent.”
“Too many Texans have been sidelined from employment opportunities, Too many small business owners have struggled to pay their bills, this must end.” Abbot said, which was met with cheers from an enthusiastic crowd.
The executive order, GA-34, was signed earlier on Tuesday that removed the operating limits for any business in counties that don’t have “high COVID hospitalization” rates that exceeded 15 percent capacity in the county. Individuals who were in areas that did not have a high rate of hospitalizations were still “Strongly encouraged” to wear face coverings and maintain social distancing, but no jurisdiction could mandate mask-wearing.
The order did, however, state that any county that saw high hospitalization capacity stemming from COVID could be placed back under mitigation efforts by a county judge. The judge, however, would not allow business capacity to go below 50 percent in the county or jail any resident who violates any order that was issued to address COVID. Judges could also not impose any penalty “of any kind” for those who refuse to wear a face covering, but other officials could remove people from the property at the request of the establishment.
Abbot did acknowledge that although the virus has not disappeared in entirety, he suggested that the mandates for the state “are no longer needed,” KSAT reported. Abbott pointed to decreasing hospitalizations and positivity rates to justify the decision.
“With the medical advancements of Vaccines and antibody therapeutic drugs, Texas now has the tools to protect Texans from the Virus.” A press statement from the Governor’s office said following his remarks. The statement did reiterate that businesses could still issue safety protocols at their discretion, including capacity limits.
The order makes Texas the 12th state to remove mask mandates in their entirety, and is reportedly the largest state to do so as the pandemic drags on, the Associated Press reported. The order, which was introduced last summer to curb growing cases, was met with harsh criticism from his party, even prompting talk of a primary challenger for the 2022 gubernatorial race.
The Associated Press also reported that several Democrats in the state are asking the Governor to reconsider his decision to remove the mandates. State Representative Richard Raymond wrote to Abbott on Monday that removal of the mandates would lead to “more cases, more hospitalizations and more deaths,” adding that the governor should not “abrogate [his] duty.”