Gov. Greg Abbott announced this week that he is lifting the mask mandate in Texas and allowing all businesses to fully reopen, a decision drawing mixed reactions from residents in the city where he shared the policy changes.
Abbott was at Montelongo’s in Lubbock Tuesday when he made the announcement. In recent weeks, Lubbock’s COVID-19 cases have significantly decreased and hospitalization restrictions were lifted last month since those numbers were down, too, after being over 15% for more than 100 days.
Lubbock has also received attention for how efficiently the COVID vaccination clinic is run – thousands of people get their shots there almost daily, and most are in and out within 30 minutes – leading Lubbock to havethe highest coronavirus vaccination rate in the state.
At Montelongo’s, Abbott explained, “It is clear from the recoveries, from the vaccinations, from the reduced hospitalizations and from the safe practices that Texans are using, that state mandates are no longer needed.”
Abbott said that he is overturning two COVID-19 prevention measures that have been in place since the summer – the capacity limits for businesses and the mask mandate. The changes begin on March 10.
“It is now time to open Texas 100%,” Abbott said. “Everybody who wants to work should have that opportunity. Every business that wants to open should be open.”
The crowd at the restaurant cheered Abbott’s announcement, though he followed by saying it’s still up to individuals to be responsible with COVID-19 precautions.
“Removing state mandates does not end personal responsibility or the importance of caring for your family members and caring for your friends and caring for others in the community,” the governor said. “Personal vigilance to follow the safe standards is still needed to contain COVID. It’s just that now, state mandates are no longer needed.”
Kristi Giemza, a nurse practitioner and volunteer for Lubbock’s COVID vaccination hub, worries it may be too soon to lift restrictions. She said she does not believe Abbott’s decision was based on science.
“His messaging may be personal responsibility,” said Giemza, “but it’s clear many people will get the wrong message and take this as a sign to stop taking precautions.”
Dr. Craig Rhyne with Covenant Health said that most people will probably continue to do what they have doen for the past year – whether that means following medical advice or not.
“Those that have been resistant to wearing a mask will continue to do exactly what they’ve been doing which is not wearing a mask when they should be wearing a mask,” said Rhyne.
Local officials have said people continuing to follow health recommendations has significantly contributed to Lubbock’s drop in COVID cases. The city has experienced three surges, and for most of the past year, hospitals have stayed full and death rates high.
Right now, there are fewer than 300 confirmed cases in Lubbock. That’s the lowest number since June. As of Wednesday, 62,781 Lubbock residents have had their first dose of the vaccine and 35,349 residents have been fully vaccinated.
Have a news tip? Email Sarah Self-Walbrick at email@example.com. Follow her reporting on Twitter @SarahFromTTUPM.