On Tuesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced he was removing statewide COVID-19 restrictions, including the mask mandate.
During a Lubbock Chamber of Commerce event, the governor said about the restrictions: “This must end.”
His executive order, which goes into effect on March 10, rolls back almost all of the restrictions that have been in place since last spring. Businesses will be able to reopen to 100% capacity.
Allie Morris, Austin bureau correspondent for The Dallas Morning News, told Texas Standard that Abbott’s decision has been widely criticized by public health officials, as well as by county judges and leaders of Texas’ larger and Democratic-leaning cities. On the other hand, many Republicans in the Legislature, who’ve criticized Abbott about the restrictions for months, praised the decision.
COVID-19 cases aren’t rising as quickly as they were after the winter holidays. But Morris says that the threat of the coronavirus is still very real, especially because “only a fraction” of Texans have been vaccinated, she says. Public health experts also tell her that now is a “critical time” to keep restrictions in place to keep cases on a downward trend heading into the spring break holiday.
“People tend to gather, travel, you know, go out to bars with friends,” she said. “[Health experts say] that we really need to be vigilant heading into this time.”
SEE BELOW: One Texas Mayor Criticizes Abbott’s Decision
In his address, Abbott said that removing the restrictions doesn’t mean Texans should stop social distancing or wearing masks. But he put the onus on individuals to monitor themselves.
“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 your community. Personal vigilance to follow the safe standards is still needed to contain COVID. It’s just that now state mandates are no longer needed,” Abbott said.
Morris says Texas has gone the farthest of any state when it comes to removing or relaxing restrictions. She says two of Abbott’s medical advisers told her they weren’t consulted before he made the decision.
Some Texas Democrats suspect Abbott’s announcement is meant to be a distraction from the winter storm power outage calamity that paralyzed the state just a couple weeks ago. Abbott is also running for reelection in 2022, but Morris says it’s not clear whether this decision is tied to his reelection bid.