‘Tragic And Reckless’? What Rollbacks Of COVID-19 Restrictions Mean For Texans.

Analysis of Gov. Abbott’s new executive order, plus reaction from San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg.

By Jill Ament, Rhonda Fanning, Laura Rice & Caroline CovingtonMarch 3, 2021 1:27 pm, ,

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.

San Antonio mayor, Democrat Ron Nirenberg, is one of several municipal leaders speaking out against Abbott’s move to lift coronavirus restrictions.

On his reaction to Abbott’s announcement:

“It’s a tragic and reckless decision for Texas. Just as we’re getting this virus back under control in our communities and working very hard to get more vaccines out, to raise the level of immunity – opening up everything at 100% while simultaneously taking away one of our first lines of defense is just entirely negligent.”

On how San Antonians will react:

“I would say the great majority are very mindful of the public health guidance and our primary tool for fighting this virus, from the beginning – amidst all the mixed messages from the state and the federal government – has been a public trust and access to public health information. And knowing that, I think a lot of people are going to see this as very premature and potentially damaging to the progress that we’ve made after a very deadly fall and winter.”

On possible effects of the governor’s order:

“This complicates our situation immensely. As the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] has said, now is not the time to lift the masks or take the masks off, even if you’ve gotten a vaccine. Until we reach the level of herd immunity, which is not projected until sometime in the summer, people can still carry this virus. And, you know, while many of them will go without any major illness, the very disadvantaged members of our community, seniors, communities of color, are always the hardest hit. And this is going to have the most severe impacts on them, once again.”

Whether city restrictions will conflict with Abbott’s orders:

“No, because as you remember, back in April, end of April last year, the governor’s orders began to supersede local communities’ orders, with some rare [exceptions]. We did find the ability to require health standards, health codes, within our businesses. But, you know, again, with this order, it seems the governor has done what he can to even close those opportunities for protections of community. So our orders, once again, will fit within the state structure. But we’re going to have a much different message. This fight against the virus is not over. We are nearing the end. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but it is very easy for us to lose control again, especially with the variants that are transmitting and the level of vaccines that we’re receiving not close to adequate to what we need.”

Not enough vaccine in San Antonio:

“We have not received anywhere close to what we need to protect our community. And we’ve – my county judge and myself – been really banging on tables, asking for more doses. We have the resources and the infrastructure needed to [vaccinate] as many people as they would provide for us. We could do tens of thousands of people per day with the personnel and the infrastructure we’ve set up through our mass vaccination sites. But we have had very little support in terms of new doses coming into our community over the last couple of months.”

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