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Greg Abbott announced Tuesday that he will end Texas' statewide mask mandate next week and will allow all businesses to operate at full capacity.
Masks will no longer be required in public for the first time since last summer. Meanwhile, the spread of the virus remains substantial across the state, with Texas averaging over reported deaths a day over the last week.
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Texans and Americans of color have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. More than half of the deaths due to COVID have been Black or Hispanic people, and advocates have reported that these communities have fallen behind in the vaccination efforts in Texas. More than 40, people have died in from the virus in Texas since the pandemic began.
Texas will become the most populous state in the country not to have a mask mandate. More than 30 states currently have one in place. Abbott urged Texans to still exercise "personal vigilance" in navigating the pandemic. Greg Abbott lifts mask mandate].
While he was allowing businesses to fully reopen, Abbott said that people still have the right to operate how they want and can "limit capacity or implement additional safety protocols. But soon after the announcement, the grocery chain H-E-B indicated in a statement that it won't require customers to wear masks. Acknowledging that some local leaders remain concerned about the spread of the virus in their communities, Abbott laid out a strategy that allows them to take matters into their own hands under certain circumstances.
However, Abbott specified that "under no circumstance" can a county judge jail someone for not following their orders.
They also cannot impose penalties on people for failing to wear masks — or on businesses for not mandating that customers or employees wear masks. The lifted mandate raises questions for public universities, which have been requiring masks for in-person classes and other activities. Multiple public universities have said they are reviewing what the new order will mean for in person activities and will provide updates before the mandate is officially lifted. Texas public schools will be allowed to continue offering virtual learning under the new order, and some superintendents have said that they will continue to require masks unless they receive receive word that they can't.
The order also lifts a mandate that halted inmate visitation at county and municipal jails, though it was not immediately clear how that would affect individual jails. The new order specifically kept in place, however, a controversial order to restrict who can be released from jail without paying cash bail during the pandemic. Abbott's announcement prompted outcry from local leaders in Texas' biggest cities.
Other Democrats swiftly denounced Abbott's announcement, with the state party chairman, Gilberto Hinojosa, calling his actions "extraordinarily dangerous" and saying they "will kill Texans. Abbott's critics also noted the announcement was coming in the wake of the winter weather crisis that left millions of Texans in the cold and the dark, exposing deep flaws in Texas' electrical grid under GOP leaders including Abbott. In a radio interview after his announcement, Abbott said he had wanted to move even faster to fully reopen businesses and lift the mask mandate.
He told Lubbock host Chad Hasty that he wanted to make the announcement over a week ago — the last Monday in February — but held off to allow the vaccination distribution process to get "back up and running at full speed" following the storm.
It is not just Democrats who have been critical of Abbott's pandemic management.
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He has also faced criticism from some in his own party who say he has been too slow to reopen Texas, especially compared to other GOP-led states. Allen West, the Texas GOP chairman who has been critical of some of Abbott's pandemic handling, reacted to the governor's announcement by saying he was "glad Gov. Abbott is following the example of" Florida Gov. Kristi Noem. Both DeSantis and Noem are widely seen as potential presidential candidates; Abbott has not ruled out a White House bid of his own.
In Lubbock, Abbott defended his reopening decision by saying Texas is "far better positioned now" than when he issued his last executive order on the pandemic in October. Abbott further argued that the state is in a "completely different position" than it was in when the pandemic first prompted him to take statewide action nearly a year ago.
He said the state now has an "abundance" of personal protective equipment, the ability to do overtests a day, medicines to treat coronavirus patients and wide awareness of protocols such as social distancing and hand-washing. Most importantly, he said, vaccines are available and the supply "will continue to increase rapidly," with Texas preparing to expand the of people eligible to get vaccinated.
Abbott told Hasty that "announcements will be made this week" about opening up the. Still, only 6. And while Abbott listed bits of the state's coronavirus data as a reason for optimism, the true trajectory of the virus has been difficult to measure lately due to last month's winter storm.
During the storm, many large counties were forced to close their testing centers and not report any new cases, which artificially lowered the statewide s. Hospitalization reporting appears to have been less disrupted, however, and state data has shown that the of COVID patients occupying hospital beds has declined steadily since late January.
When it comes to vaccinations, experts say Texas is a long way from reaching herd immunity.
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Scientists do not yet know for sure whether or how well the vaccines prevent the spread of the virus, though some preliminary research has suggested that some vaccines might be able to do so to some extent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people who have received two doses of the vaccine continue to avoid crowds, stay at least 6 feet away from people who live outside their households and wear masks to cover their nose and mouth.
Texans have been under a statewide mask mandate since July of last year — and they have grown widely comfortable with it, according to polling. The absence of statewide restrictions should not be a al to Texans to stop wearing masks, social distancing, washing their hands or doing other things to keep the virus from spreading, said Dr.
He also expressed concern that new virus variants, specifically the U. Abbott's announcement Tuesday was not entirely surprising. Prior to the announcement, Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner sent a letter to Abbott asking him to keep the mask requirement in place.
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In Hidalgo County, where the hospitalization has dropped from around to under in the last month, the eased restrictions could threaten the progress that has been made, said Dr. Ivan Melendez, Hidalgo County health authority and a local physician. Disclosure: Steve Adler, a former Tribune board chair; H-E-B; Rice University; Texas Medical Association; and University of North Texas have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors.
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