‘Extremely reckless’: Central Texas leaders react to Gov. Abbott’s announcement of relaxed COVID-19 measures

Coronavirus

AUSTIN (KXAN) — After Gov. Greg Abbott announced relaxed COVID-19 measures in Texas scheduled to take effect next week, Central Texas leaders are worried it’s too soon because the COVID-19 pandemic is still a threat.

On Tuesday afternoon, Abbott said a new executive order effective next Wednesday would allow businesses to open at 100% if they want. The statewide mask mandate would also be lifted then.

Austin leaders

Mayor Steve Adler said state leaders should be listening to health experts and science.

“Wearing a face mask while in public or within closed spaces remains one of the most effective, proactive measures anyone can take to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control.”

“We as a state should be guided by science and data, which says we should keep the mask mandate. Too much is at stake to compromise the positive outcomes we have seen with over-confidence. Our priorities should continue to focus on the further opening of schools and businesses, but we must do everything we can to ensure the success of those two goals.”

Adler went on to say he, along with other Texas mayors, have crafted a letter asking Abbott not to change the mandates at this time.

Austin City Council member Greg Casar, who represents District 4, said the relaxed measures are endangering lives.

Gov. Abbott continues to ignore the advice of trusted health professionals. He’s endangering Texans’ lives so that he can score political points. Locally, we are working around the clock to care for the sick, we’re wearing masks, and we’re providing help to those who need it, despite the recklessness and cowardice of our governor.”

Council member Sabino “Pio” Renteria of District 3 said this puts vulnerable populations at risk.

“At a time we should be knuckling down, Abbott continues to play politics with the lives of the most vulnerable Texans. As for us, we will continue prioritizing the safety of Austin families in spite of the irresponsible actions from the Governor’s office.”

Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said people must keep being safe and practice COVID-19 precautions otherwise.

“Despite the impending removal of the state mask mandate, we must continue our vigilance with masking, distancing and hand washing. These remain critical in our ongoing fight against COVID-19.”

Mayor Pro-Tem Natasha Harper-Madison said not enough people have been vaccinated in the state yet.

“Right now, less than one in 10 Texans is fully vaccinated, and it will still be months before everyone has access to one of the three vaccines that are now available. With 44,000 Texans already lost to COVID-19, and with marginalized communities still most at risk, rescinding rules that are actively safeguarding lives right now is extremely reckless. Unless everyone continues to stay masked, stay distanced, and do what our medical experts say to do to stay healthy, we will continue to see more unnecessary tragedies unfold across our state.”

District 5 council member Ann Kitchen said “everyone should wear a mask.”

“I understand everyone’s desire to get back to normal, but we are not there yet. With very few vaccinated, it’s too early to let down our guard.”

District 10 council member Alison Alter asked her Twitter followed to pledge to continue to wear masks.

“I believe in science and I pledge to continue to wear my mask. How about you?”

District 2 council member Vanessa Fuentes issued the following statement:

A few days ago, Austin came together to honor the lives lost from the devastating effects of the pandemic. This remembrance allowed our community to share in the collective loss we have faced for more than a year.

And, yet this morning we saw a glimmer of hope during the Council’s COVID-19 briefing. Dr. Escott shared the positive news that our case numbers are headed in the right direction. His message included potentially moving into Stage 2 in the spring. Then the news of Governor Abbott lifting mask mandates and reopening the state hit. 

We have lost more than 850 people in Travis County alone. I question the timing of this announcement. At a point when state leaders are on the hot seat for their failure to act and prepare Texans for the winter storm, it makes me ask, why now? This is another attempt to distract from the ERCOT and PUC catastrophe—a politically driven move that is both dangerous and disrespectful to everyone who has been impacted by this horrific virus.

Hays County leaders

County Judge Ruben Becerra said he is “very concerned” and that the virus is not behind us yet. He also said he met with Hays County Emergency Coordinator Alex Villalobos, who said COVID-19 variants have been found in the county, and we must continue to follow recommendations from the CDC.

KXAN will continue to update this story as we receive responses from leaders.

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